Skip to comments.Why Do 16th-Century Manuscripts Show Cats With Flaming Backpacks?
Posted on 03/23/2014 5:31:14 AM PDT by JoeProBono
A series of 16th-century manuscripts that have been making waves on the Internet look like a Monty Python version of the Renaissance: They show cats outfitted with flaming backpacks, attacking castles and villages.
But the illustrations are legit. They're intended to show how cats and birds could in theory be used to set fire to a besieged city, according to a University of Pennsylvania scholar.
Mitch Fraas, scholar in residence at the University of Pennsylvaniathe university digitized the manuscripts last yearsays that the drawings are from artillery manuals and are accompanied by notes explaining how to use animals as incendiary devices.Fraas translated from the original German:
"Create a small sack like a fire-arrow ... if you would like to get at a town or castle, seek to obtain a cat from that place. And bind the sack to the back of the cat, ignite it, let it glow well and thereafter let the cat go, so it runs to the nearest castle or town, and out of fear it thinks to hide itself where it ends up in barn hay or straw, it will be ignited."
Fraas is skeptical that any army ever deployed what he calls a "pretty grisly" tactic: "It seems really hard to believe that would ever work."
The texts were likely expensive to create and were probably owned by nobility or others who were studying battle tactics and kept their books in a library, safe from conflict, Fraas said.
Surprisingly Common Idea
Fraas first heard about the cats when a friend alerted him to an Australian blog that had posted the peculiar images from Penn's digital collections last November.
Over the past three years Penn has digitized its collection of pre-1800 manuscripts and has shared them online for the public to browse.
Early modern and Renaissance manuscripts are rife with unusual doodles and unexpected marginalia, and Fraas said he "figured it was an idiosyncratic thing that a particular illustrator had drawn."
After getting the initial tip, Fraas turned to Twitter to see if he could find more explosive feline images. That unleashed more tips, which sent him hunting through more digital archives.
It turns out that pictures of explosive felines from the Renaissance are not all that uncommon."It's a pretty stable form, and I think we've seen seven or eight instances of this illustration in manuscripts copied at various times over the 16th century," Fraas said.
Fiery attack cats and birds showed up in a number of hand-painted manuscript illustrations and also in etchings from volumes printed years later. "It's clearly something that had staying power," Fraas said.
And plans for deploying firebombs on animals were not limited to Europe.
"Over the past couple of days, I've gotten a lot of emails of people pulling examples out of history," Fraas said. "The folks in China and Japan have a long history of these manuals."
In the Chinese manuals, oxen and horses are the animal arsonists of choice.
The weaponized felines, for their part, have become known simply as "rocket cats" on the Internet.
"It sounds a little better than fire cat or cat with explosive sack," Fraas said.
I suppose I should look at the text but that is only an interpretation.
I for one, welcome my robot jetpack animal overlords.
It was a fashion statement.
I read the translation. Just believe it's a crock.
I suspect that these pages might be an early version of..The Onion....
The idea that a cat or bird will "cooly" fly to some strategic destination when their "coolie" is on fire is absurd. Someone was playing with someone's head.
Can we outfit the Viking Kitties with those?
This is where they got the idea for gorilla warfare.
That is a primate example that ever one needs a little....kitty....now and then
Judges 15:4 - And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails. 5And when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives.
I was just thinking about the Muzzies....weren't they going to use a balloon or something to carry some kind of WMD?
Not to mention that any man who can, in a short period of time, catch 300 foxes by himself is NOT someone you want to mess with.
So cool....Love ya Joe.
Reminds me of a scene from “Wanted” where they use thousands of rats all carrying nuggets of HE and timers.
Then I imagine a police state gone bad and individuals down in secret sewer passageways under police stations opening cages after cages of “bomber-rats” into the HVAC systems.
Perhaps they were part of their postal system of carrier pigeons for first class mail and rocket boosted cats for the heavier parcel post. Both being the precursor to our pony express and finally to snail mail?
I’ve read that the US did the same thing using bats with small incendiary packs in WWII, against the Japanese.. It didn’t work.
One day when my kitty was sleeping, I could see her eyelids moving like she was dreaming, then her nose twitched. I went to her ear and whispered “ birdie”. She started salivating, moved her little paws, flicked her tail, and looked like she was trying to run and pounce.
I repeated the same thing over the next week with the same results. Then one night she was sleeping next to me, I dreamed I was a cat along with her, and she said, “all kitties are Pegasus cats when we sleep”
I treasure that image.
oh no.....old skoo CURSIVE...
My mother is in the hospital, but you made me laugh. Thanks.
That looks incredibly cruel and painful.
If the fire truly is aimed at the cat’s rump and tail, I can’t imagine its doing anything but run away screaming to die.
It’s barbaric, and not a whit amusing.
Not the least bit amusing...war never is...and barbaric?...bodies, plague riddled were hurled over city walls as instruments of war...
I’m a cat lover. The little purry-pet-me things give me a lot of joy, and torturing them with fire and pain is abhorrent to me.
As someone mentioned above, flaming arrows work just as well, and even better when besieging a citadel, since cats can’t leap over the walls.
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