Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Pangur Ban, an Irish cat

How did I miss Thomas Cahill's How The Irish Saved Civilization when it came out in 1995? It's crammed with remarkable stuff like Pangur Ban, a fourth century Irish poem about a cat:

I and Pangur Ban my cat,
'Tis a like task we are at;
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

'Tis a merry thing to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

'Gainst the wall he sets his eye,
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Ban my cat and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Cahill's book goes a long way to explaining salient features* in the life of my favorite saint, St. Gertrude of Nivelles. Abbess* of a double monastery* in Nivelles, Belgium in 639 A.D., Gertrude was renowned for her hospitality* to the Irish monks who, according to Cahill, were scurrying all over Europe rekindling the lamps of literacy at this time. Her iconography includes a cat* and one or more mice* some of which scurry up her crozier*!

*Features of Irish monasticism familiar to Pangur Ban, no doubt!



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