HISTORY, ROMANCE AND...CATS!
Grace Elliot leads a double life as a vet by day and author of intelligent historical fiction by night. Grace is an avid reader and believes that smart people need to read romance - as an antidote to the modern world!
Grace is also obsessed by all things feline.
So why then are violins, stringed instruments and tennis rackets said to be strung with ‘cat gut’? It seems the answer lies with a medieval myth about16th century saddle maker, Erasmo. (*)
The story goes that Erasmo, working in the Italian mountain village of Salle, heard wind blowing musically through a drying rack laced with sheep intestine. It occurred to him what a good string the gut would make for a musical instrument. He experimented with a form of renaissance fiddle, the forerunner of the violin, and the resulting sound was so good he worried his idea would be stolen. When competitors asked what his strings were made from, his answer was “Cat gut,” since it was considered extremely bad luck to kill a cat and he hoped to deter imitation.
PS - Dont breath a word of this to Widget!
Erasmo was made the patron saint of string makers and Salle became the centre of Italian violin string manufacture for 600 years. The best strings were made by stripping the fat from warm, freshly removed sheep’s gut, which was then soaked in cold water. The best sections were then cut into ribbons, twisted and scraped until a string of the required thickness was made. As late at the early 20th century, the change to steel strings was made, because of a shortage of sheep intestine with the advent of the First World War.
(*) Some say that ‘Cat gut’ may be an abbreviation of ‘Cattle gut’, or indeed a corruption of ‘Kitstring’, where ‘kit’ refers to a folk term for a fiddle. However, to my ear, Erasmo’s story has the ring of human nature about it….
[With thanks to cheezburger.com for the last image.]