Wednesday 26 June 2013

The Origins of the Cat

The first recorded mention of domesticated cats dates back two centuries before the birth of Christ to ancient Egypt. Indeed, it is from the cat goddess Bastet or Pasht, worshipped by Egyptians that it’s thought our word ‘puss’ derives. An alternative derivation of the name could be from the Latin, pusus – meaning little boy (or pusa, little girl)

Whilst is logical that savannah or desert wild cats first became associated with ancient civilisation because of mice in their grain stores, leading to the evolution of modern domestic cats – fable and folk tale offer other explanations for their creation. For you interest here are three of those stories:
Standing statue representing the Egyptian
goddess, Bastet.
Noah and the Ark
Trivia fact: cats are not mentioned in the bible.

An old Arabian legend does however connect the cat’s creation with the ark. The folk tale reports that the pair of mice taken on board multiplied to plague proportions. With no cat on board and conditions growing intolerable, Noah passed his hand three times over the lioness’s head and she sneezed out a cat.

Monkey and the Lioness
Another story about the origins of the cat also involves the ark but also a monkey and a lioness. In this tale the monkey sweet talks the lioness into forgetting her vows of fidelity to her husband, the lion. The result of this transgression of the laws of nature, is the birth of a cat.

Noni, (one of my cats) and her kittens.
Sun and Moon
Another story, recounted in 1664 by Pierre Palliot, writes of the involvement of the planets in the making of cats.
At the moment the world came into existence, the Sun and the Moon competed with each other to create animals. The Sun gave birth to the lion – showy, magnificent and fiery. When the moon saw the admiration of the other planets for the lion, she caused the cat to come forth – cool, elusive and mysterious. However, the Sun, jealous of the Moon’s achievement, belittled the Moon who tried to out-do herself by creating the Monkey. This was met with howls of derision from the stars. In a fit of pique, the Moon avenged herself by swearing an undying enmity between the Cat and the Mouse.
The Norse goddess, Freya.
Her chariot was pulled by cats.
And finally: Legends from Egyptian and Norse civilisations link cats with the sun and moon. The Norse goddess Freya rides in a chariot pulled by cats. The Egyptian goddess Pasht represented light, the sun and moon, indeed the Egyptian word ‘mau’ signifies both light and cat.

“The cat laps moonbeams in the bowl of water, thinking them to be milk” A Hindu poem.


Wednesday 19 June 2013

Cat Law in History

This week I take a quick romp through history and look at the law as it pertains to cats.

Old English common law states that cats and dogs are:
"Not property, being base by nature."

This seems a wise ruling, since in medieval England theft was punishable by hanging; given that cats are apt to wander and chose their own home, if cats are perceived as property householders could easily find themselves on the scaffold through no fault of their own.

Another 'cat' law was the 13th century "Rule of Nuns". This forbade holy women from keeping any animal other than a cat. I find this interestingly ironic given that a couple of centuries later, woman find themselves convicted of witch craft, based largely on that they owned a cat, which was considered - the devil's familiar.

Medieval Welsh laws are quite effusive about cats. The Venedotian Code clearly lays out the value of a cat:

The worth of a kitten from the night it is kittened until it shall open its eyes is a legal penny;
And from that time until it shall kill mice, two legal pence;
And after it shall kill mice, four legal pence;
And so it shall always remain.

At that time:
One penny       -was the value of a lamb or hen
Two pence       -a cockerel or gander
Four pence      -sheep or a goat

In return the qualities or 'job description' of a cat are:
To see, to hear, to kill mice, to have her claws entire, to rear kittens…and if she be deficient in any of these qualities, let one third of her worth be returned.

Another early Welsh law, the Dimetian Code describes the compensation due for killing or stealing a cat. This involves suspending the dead cat by the tail with its head on the floor. The corpse is then covered with grain until the tip of the tail is covered - and this amount of corn is the animal's worth - although the practicalities seem fraught with difficulty.

An interesting detail from this code relates to what becomes of the cat if a marriage breaks up. When the husband and wife's goods and chattels are divided, the relatively high worth of a cat is reflected in that:
The husband took the cat is there was but one
With any others [cats] going to the wife.

When it came to a cat killing creatures it shouldn't - such as a neighbor's birds - the law is a friend of the cat. In Scotland, a late 19th century, an aggrieved plaintiff (who owned the dead pigeon) took the cat's owner to court. The judge concluded:
"It was legitimate for the plaintiff to keep a pigeon, but just as much so for the defendant to keep a cat…but there is no obligation for the owner of a cat to restrain it to the house."

And finally:
Another interesting legal case, this time in Maine, - a plaintiff sued a neighbor for killing a valuable foxhound but was confounded by the defense's argument. The defendant claimed that the dog was chasing his cat, and the law states:
"Any person may lawfully kill a dog which …is found worrying, wounding, or killing any domestic animals..."
It seems the cat enjoys a protection in law, not afforded to birds!

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Animals in the Dock

A donkey on trial in a court of law.
In this series of blog posts about animal performers, today the focus shifts subtly to animals that were the centre of attention - because they were on trial. This bizarre idea was a result of believing that Satan could possess an animal and the practice reached a peak in ecclesiastical courts during the middle ages.
The cases below give some idea of how seriously these trials were taken, with defense and prosecuting lawyers, a jury and a system of acquittal or punishment.

A postcard of the St Julien region of France.
Case Number One: Weevils
In 1587 the vineyards of St Julien, France, were being destroyed by weevils. In response to the demands of wine producers to protect their livelihood, the local authorities put the weevils on trial. Lawyers were employed to prosecute the case, which went something like this:
Prosecution: Insects were created before man and their purpose was to serve him as loyal minions. That they were gluttonous meant they were willfully disobeying God's directive and as such should be excommunicated.
Defense: The inhabitants of St Julien were sinful and the weevils were innocent messengers, employed by God to demonstrate his displeasure.
The Verdict? The debate raged for 8 months. Ultimately a compromise was reached whereby the weevils would be given 'sanctuary' in a field of their own. No comment exists of the practicality of this solution!

Case Number Two: A Reactionary Parrot
The French revolution was a dangerous time for people, and birds! In Paris, a parrot faced trial for 'counter-revolutionary activities'. In a crowded public place the bird repeated, "Vive le Roi, Vive les nobles" [Long live the King, long live the aristocracy] The bird was duly arrested, along with his two lady owners, and brought before the revolutionary tribunal.  Fortunately for the ladies, in the courtroom the bird became taciturn and refused to speak other than to whistle. The women were threatened with the guillotine, but ultimately, were acquitted due to lack of evidence.

A pig in the dock, on trial.
Case Number Three: The Blasphemous Pig
In 1394 a sow stood accused of blasphemy. The unfortunate creature had strayed into a church, where she had eaten a communion wafer left out on the altar. Such disrespect could not be tolerated, but when it came to deciding a punishment the priests had a theological problem. When the sow ate the sacred wafer had her flesh transubstantiated into that of Christ's?
Eventually, the pig was executed, by which time there was no trace of wafer in her gut - much to everyone's relief.
Case Number Four: Mitigating Circumstances
Animals on trial were so widespread as to be popularized in plays. One such work was Les Plaideurs [The Pleaders] by Jean Racine. In this comedy a dog is put on trial, accused of stealing a chicken. The dog is found guilty and given a life sentence of hard labor on a galley. But the defense lawyer produces a litter of puppies, the 'children' of the accused, and pleads with the judge not to make these innocent creatures homeless orphans. The judge is duly humbled and the dog acquitted.

A different sort of dog trial!
And finally…The apposing argument to putting animals on trial was that they cannot discriminate good from evil and have no concept of what is a crime, thus punishing them was pointless. In 1717 the Pope forbade the excommunication of animals and few trials took place after this date.

Monday 3 June 2013

Traditional English Food Trivia

Welcome to the Summer Banquet Blog Hop and giveaway (see end for giveaway details- NOW CLOSED)!
The theme of this blog hop is historical food and so I thought it would be fun to look at trivia associated with some traditional, English regional dishes.

Black Pudding and the Wars of the Roses
As a vegetarian of twenty-five years, I'm bemused to admit that as a child, black pudding was a favourite treat! For the uninitiated, the main ingredient is blood (which gives the black colouration) mixed with a filler to make it solid enough to form into a sausage. In past centuries it was considered a delicacy, especially in Lancashire.

Black pudding
Indeed, the Lancastrian towns of Bury and Ramsbottom still host 'The World Black Pudding Throwing Championships'. The aim is to throw six-ounce black puddings at a pile of Yorkshire puddings sitting on a 20-foot plinth. This tradition is said to go back to the Wars of the Roses when opposing soldiers ran out of ammunition and threw food at one another.

The Black Pudding Throwing Championship

Roast Beef and Beefeaters

When mighty Roast Beef was the Englishman's food,
It ennobled our brains and enriched our blood
Out soldiers were brave and our courtiers were good
Oh! The Roast Beef of old England,
And old English Roast Beef!
Henry Fielding, 1731, The Grub Street Opera

Roast beef and the English have become synonymous, and is the reason the French disparagingly call us 'rosbifs'. In Shakespeare's 'Henry V' on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt, the French trembled facing the English because:
"…great meals of beef and iron and steel, they will eat like wolves and fight like devils".
Such was the reputation of beef that King James I gave his royal bodyguard, the Yeoman of the Guard, extra rations and hence they became known as 'beefeaters'.
A Yeoman of the Guard, or beefeater - at the Tower of London
Cornish Pasties and the Devil
A pasty is an old English term for a pie baked not in a dish. The traditional pasty was a portable meal for tin miners, with a thick pastry edge to hold the pie by, keeping dirty fingers away from the food. The filling would be beef, potato, onion and swede or turnip, and some had a fruit filling at the other end - a sort of two course meal.
A Cornish pasty
According to a Cornish saying, the Devil took care to stay on the Devon bank of the River Tamar [dividing the counties] in case he ended up diced in a pasty.
The River Tamar
GIVEAWAY - details.
With the release of Verity's Lie just a couple of weeks away, my giveaway prize are an eBook copy of Eulogy's Secret AND Hope's Betrayal! For a chance to win just enrol for my NEWSLETTER and leave a comment with your email address. Winner announced on June 10th.
AND THE WINNER IS DEBBY- congratulations Debby, your ebooks are in the mail.

Coming soon!
Blogs participating in this hop: