Centuries ago, a cat left its paw prints on a manuscript

Centuries ago, a mischievous cat immortalized itself by leaving its inky paw-prints on a medieval document.

In 2013, while researching in the State Archives of Dubrovnik, Croatia, a doctoral student at the University of Sarajevo, Emir O. Filipović, stumbled upon the paw prints on the pages of a 15th-century book.

Photo by Emir O. Filipović

Filipović describes his discovery:

It is a pleasant and heartwarming experience to see a photo I took receive so much positive attention from so many people in different parts of the globe. It has now been re-blogged, re-tweeted, shared and commented on so many times that I cannot keep track of it all, and the story has been covered in English, Russian, Japanese, Greek, Romanian, French, Hebrew, to name just the ones that I saw.

But why could a simple photo of cat paw prints on a medieval manuscript become so popular on the Internet? Do manuscripts and felines make a good combination, or can this popularity be ascribed to the fact that many contemporary cat owners identify themselves with the unfortunate medieval scribe? ….

My story line follows a simple path: I was doing some research in the Dubrovnik State Archives for my PhD, I came across some pages which were stained with cat paw prints, I took a few photos of this (as I do whenever I notice something interesting or unusual on any old book I’m reading), and carried on with my work not paying too much attention to something which at that time could essentially be only a distraction….

[A] truly positive aspect of the story, beside the obvious worldwide promotion of the State Archives of Dubrovnik, is that the document with the paw prints is going to be featured in the Interactive Album of Medieval Paleography, which is maintained by Dr. Marjorie Burghart in Lyon, France. This will, hopefully, allow students and other medieval historians to familiarize themselves with the kind of documents which I have been working on during these last couple of years. Apart from that, another advantage of the photo is that I got an opportunity to share the other interesting bits and pieces I found in Dubrovnik/Ragusa, a truly remarkable place on the eastern coast of the Adriatic….

The photo of the cat paw prints represents one such situation which forces the historian to take his eyes from the text for a moment, to pause and to recreate in his mind the incident when a cat, presumably owned by the scribe, pounced first on the ink container and then on the book, branding it for the ensuing centuries. You can almost picture the writer shooing the cat in a panicky fashion while trying to remove it from his desk. Despite his best efforts the damage was already complete and there was nothing else he could have done but turn a new leaf and continue his job. In that way this little episode was ‘archived’ in history.

Read the rest of Filipović’s account here.

Dubrovnik, a Croatian city and seaport on the Adriatic Sea with a 2011 population of 42,615, is one of the most prominent tourist destinations in the Mediterranean Sea.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Emir O. Filipović is now a lecturer in medieval Bosnian history at the University of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

H/t Smithsonian.com

~Eowyn

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AnonymousLophattWatertenderSteven BroilesKelleigh Nelson Recent comment authors
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William
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William

There is something heartwarming and reassuring about this that can’t be put into words. This is something my cat would do – A laboriously transcribed manuscript you say? Oh well. Sorry. Deal with it. Some things are permanent and unchanging. Like cats. May they never change

Alma
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Alma

Cats were revered by the ancient, not only on the manuscript but they leave their prints on our hearts. I admire cats for their independence and endurance and in their peculiar way, they let us know they love us too, all you have to do is listen how they purr.

MarkyMark
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MarkyMark

My cat always hops up on the desk to ‘help me study’… 😉

William
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William

Of course. They’re helpful like that

Auntie Lulu
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Auntie Lulu

I think this is a rare insight into the lives of medieval people . . . . obviously, they must have “loved” their cats, or pets, as much as we do in this day and age. I think that is counter-intuitive to what I may have previously believed . . . I was thinking that due to the fact that life was so hard for them, that they would not necessarily allow animals to occupy space inside their homes. I find this very interesting.

Excellent Article. Thank you.

Kelleigh Nelson
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Kelleigh Nelson

That is just too cool.

Steven Broiles
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At first look, it appears as if the cat strode atop the open book. But after I looked at it a second time, it looks as if the cat’s rear paws are on the left and its front paws are on the right, but that the cat had to have stepped on the left page first, stepped off the book, and then stepped on the book again but on the right. If you look at the right page in the photograph, it looks as if the left paw is cocked at an angle, which would suggest a second step onto… Read more »

William
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William

I came to Christianity by faith and reason both. Always “rational,” I pursued naturalistic answers to life’s questions. The astrophysicist and Christian Hugh Ross has stated that science can now describe the origin of the universe back to the first trillionth of a second after the “big bang”. But he misses the point that because God exists beyond space and time a trillionth of a second might as well be a thousand years. Science cannot begin to describe the creation of the universe prior to that, ex nihilo. Not for lack of trying, Lawrence Krause, an atheist, has written a… Read more »

Watertender
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Watertender

I can not read or write anything without Julian and Walter “helping”… My handwriting is bad enough without their assistance. They are family and we love them dearly. Walter will be 2 next Saturday and we will actually have a small party for him. Julian will be 13 in August and we will celebrate for him too. They are 2 very spoiled and loved cats

Lophatt
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Lophatt

All my cat did was ruin my keyboard by spilling my coffee on it. There are several old paintings of scribes with cats on the desk. No matter how we like to see ourselves we must remember that we are not really “removed” from our ancestors. We may have different (note that I didn’t say “better”) technology, but we are NOT “smarter” than they were. I love to read copies of old books. There is much food for thought in just trying to reason in an ancient manner. Theirs was a world where relatively few received a good education, but… Read more »

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Kitties gonna kitty.