How Medieval Cats Became 2020’s Hottest Meme

Meet the original Grumpy Cats

Illustrated car in medieval manuscript
In medieval times, this cat demonstrates excellent Crossfit technique.
Walters Art Museum
By Tobias Carroll / March 10, 2020 2:42 pm

When it comes to memes, people sure do love cats. But in one of the more gloriously strange turns that 2020 has taken, the hottest cats for meme creation right now are neither virally adorable kittens nor snarkily captioned images from the film adaptation of Cats. No, the cats that are all the rage right now are, evidently, medieval in nature.

At Tenderly, Rae Paoletta explores the growing popularity of bizarre cats found in the pages of medieval manuscripts. And in doing so, Paoletta ponders many of the questions that come to mind when looking at these often-bizarre illustrations:

The sheer absurdity of these drawings raises some flags. Were cats simply body snatched for a few hundred years? Were they ephemerally replaced by humanoid fur demons, or did the monks who wrote manuscripts just really prefer dogs?

Paoletta’s research suggests that cats looked demonic in these medieval illustrations because, at the time, many people felt that they were. For some, this was due to their disposition; for others, this was due to the belief that they might be in league with unsettling supernatural powers.

Social media isn’t the only place to explore the popularity of cats in medieval manuscripts. Not long ago, the British Library held an exhibition spotlighting the same phenomenon. Experts Eleanor Jackson and Kate Thomas weighed in on the subject there, which included a forensic reconstruction of a cat curling up atop an admired medieval encyclopedia.

As for why strange medieval cats instead of murderous medieval rabbits have become famous … well, the internet is a strange place.

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