A Scribe and His Cat

The Reichenauer Schulheft manuscript is really interesting because of the lines you see at the bottom of the verso (on the left here) page of this spread:

It’s a piece of marginalia (i.e. something written into an empty space around the main text) in Old Irish. About a cat. Specifically, a white cat named Pangur. Here is a translation, from here (the website also has a transcription and reading of the Old Irish by Máire Ní Mhaonaigh). Thanks to Silva Nurmio for the link. You can see the version I had posted originally below.

I and white Pangur
practise each of us his special art:
his mind is set on hunting,
my mind on my special craft.

I love (it is better than all fame) to be quiet
beside my book, diligently pursuing knowledge.
White Pangur does not envy me:
he loves his childish craft.

When the two of us (this tale never wearies us) are
alone together in our house,
we have something to which we may apply our skill,
an endless sport.

It is usual, at times, as a result of warlike battlings,
for a mouse to stick in his net.
For my part, into my net
falls some difficult rule of hard meaning.

He directs his bright eye
against an enclosing wall.
Though my clear eye is very weak
I direct it against keenness of knowledge.

He is joyful with swift movement
when a mouse sticks in his sharp paw.
I too am joyful
when I understand a dearly loved difficult problem.

Thought we be thus at any time,
neither of us hinders the other:
each of us likes his craft,
severally rejoicing in them.

He it is who is master for himself
of the work which he does every day.
I can perform my own work
directed at understanding clearly what is difficult.
Translation from: Gerard Murphy, Early Irish Lyrics

The historical value is obvious, but let’s face it, we like it because it’s adorable. A monastery must have been a great place for a cat: mice, big houses and lands to play in, and monks to feed and cuddle you when they get bored/tired of their work.

The poem’s deeper allegorical meanings aside, we forget sometimes that monks were people too. That they got tired of their work sometimes, that they found certain things difficult, that they liked to watch kittens play with mice.

The same thing occurs in another manscript, where in pen trials (doodles or short marginal lines to ensure the pen works properly on that particular piece of vellum) a monk complains about bad weather, bad parchment, his aching back, etc. etc. A list of these was floating around Twitter a few weeks ago.

Talk about the human element.

If you’re interested in more marginalia (and even more kitty marginalia!) check out the series over at Got Medieval.

I leave you with Monk Cat:

[Here’s the translation, from here, that I had posted originally.

I and white Felix,
each of us two (keeps) at his specialty:
his mind is set on hunting,
my mind on my special subject.

I love (it is better than all fame)
to be quiet beside my book, with persistent inquiry.
Not envious of me White Felix;
_he_ loves his childish art.

When we two are (tale without boredom)
alone in our house,
we have something to which we may apply our skill,
an endless sport.

It is customary at times for a mouse to stick in his net,
as a result of warlike struggles (feats of valor).
For my part, into _my_ net falls
some difficult crux of hard meaning.

He directs his bright perfect eye
against an enclosing wall.
Though my (once) clear eye is very weak
I direct it against acuteness of knowledge.

He is joyful with swift movement
when a mouse sticks in his sharp claw.
I too am joyful
when I understand a dearly loved difficult question.

Though we are always like this,
neither of us bothers the other:
each of us likes his craft,
rejoicing alone each in his.

He it is who is master for himself
of the work which he does every day.
I can perform my own task,
directed toward understanding clearly that which is difficult.]

 

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