TRAJAN IS NOT EMPEROR OF THE ROOFTOPS!
This is what I would scrawl on the forum walls if I were a rebellious Roman teenager in 100 AD. Assuming I wasn’t busy getting stabbed or dying of dysentery.
Archeologists recently discovered first-century cat prints made on a drying Roman rooftop tile. The offending feline was Octavianus Viridius Tertius, a loyal servant of the gods and Rome.
Ok, so I don’t know the cat’s name or loyalties, or even if the charming beast was domesticated. But I love seeing evidence that cats have walked across our metaphorical keyboards for thousands of years.
Cats do not care about your stuff.
I’m also a big Roman history geek. I once said the phrase “Julio-Claudian dynasty” on a date. I’m not kidding. There was not a second date.
Romans did keep cats as pets. Tile mosaics—the closest thing Romans had to Instagram—depict cats sitting with humans or creeping by on the hunt for mice. But the rooftop tile is the earliest evidence we have of their adorable destructiveness.
Cats only got better at this over the centuries. Another recent discovery shows a 14th-century monk’s failure to protect his work. A cat walked through his ink AND precious manuscript in a single pass.
Poor guy. Writing those ancient manuscripts with pen and quill took FOREVER. Kudos to the monk for leaving the paw prints in rather than starting over. It’s what I would have done.
Another monk (eleventh-century this time) was less forgiving of the cat that peed on his manuscript and wrote a curse on the feline in the text. The last line of the curse is a warning to other writers:
Et cavendum valde ne permittantur libri aperti per noctem ubi cattie venire possunt.
“And beware well not to leave open books at night where cats can come.” (Erik Kwakkel)
The current state of cat-induced entropy (and love) is well-documented. If an alien society discovered our internet, they would probably assume humans and cats are a symbiotic species.
And if they saw the rest of the internet, we’d get a collective laser beam to the face.
My own cat accomplished all the following in just the last week:
1) Sneezed full-on in my face from two inches away. Not a dry sneeze. And my eyes were open.
2) Puked three times, choosing only cloth surfaces as targets. Bed, couch, rug. (I have hardwood floors. 90% of all surfaces in my place are non-porous. Kill me.)
3) Pulled the blinds completely away from a window and onto the floor. I still don’t know how he managed this. They were anchored in.
What about the future? Will cats be messing sh*t up for the next thousand years?
Unless the apocalypse is of the planet-dissolving variety, cats will find their place. Aliens, chimeras, our new AI overlords—they will need love too, right? Doesn’t all sentient life appreciate companionship?
Humans won’t qualify as pets—we’ll be too busy trying to smash servers and blow up power plants. We’re a surly lot, prone to holding grudges if you take our planet away. And I just don’t foresee AI having a dog lover’s personality.
So why not cats? Our robot masters won’t even be allergic to the dander.
I’m glad the Roman mosaics survived. And the medieval tributes, like this 9th-century poem by an Irish scholar about his pet cat, Pangur Bán (from the Irish by Robin Flower):
I and Pangur Ban my cat,
‘Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.
Cats don’t care if we immortalize them. But I worry that the internet and digital images won’t survive a collapse. How will the great machines of 3016 learn about affectionate head-butting?
Maybe we should take a cue from this graffiti-spraying prophet and show some concrete love.
What beautiful destruction have cats wrought on your belongings? I don’t want to leave out the dog people, either. Canines are cool. I haven’t seen Must Love Dogs, but I’m aware it is a film that exists. Good enough? This video is the cliff notes version, right?