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You have my cat Ellie to thank for this blog post. Instead of folding laundry or taking the recycling to the bins or cleaning the house–in other words, doing something useful, I’m sitting here in front of my computer because she wants a lap.

But this cat-induced break gives me a chance to ponder a poem I stumbled across in Pierre Riche’s Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne. This ninth-century piece is about a cat named Pangur Ban, written by an Irish monk and found in a monastery in today’s Austria. In the poem, the author compares his hunt for knowledge to the cat’s hunt for mice and describes the satisfaction both get from their arts.

The poem reveals the affection the poet has for his pet, so much that he’s given his animal a name, and he refers to his cat as “he” rather than “it.” “Pangur Ban” is also relevant to those of us who write and research today. Do we not rejoice when we capture that elusive piece of information we’ve been stalking? Are we not so proud we want to meow and drop the prey at our companion’s feet, I mean show it off?

This delightful poem shows a universality in affection for our pets and the pure joy of learning. In many ways, we’ve not changed much from our ancestors, but in this case, it’s a good thing.

Cats in Medieval Manuscript

From Northumberland Bestiary fol. 33, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons