If You Give a Cat a Necklace (Mmm… Marginalia #30)

This week’s* image can be found in a decorated border in the lower margin of a 14th-century missal:


I’m not 100% sure on this one, but I believe this is an illustration of an old medieval folk-tale. It goes thus:

If you give a cat a necklace, he’ll want to throw a party.

If the cat throws a party, he’ll want to invite over all the dogs who used to chase him to lord it over them.

If he wants to lord his necklace and party-throwing panache over those dogs, he’ll have to hire some entertainment to play music to set the mood.

If he hires entertainment to play mood-setting music, he’ll have to go with the bagpipe playing fox, who is the only one available on such short notice.

If he goes with the bagpipe playing fox, his groupies the geese will come too. They go everywhere with him.



If the geese come, the owl will follow behind, but he’ll mostly keep to himself at a table alone.

If the owl stays at a table by himself, they’ll probably call up the flute-playing monkey in hopes of cheering him up.

If they tell the monkey who plays the flute, he’ll come, but he’ll be totally disinterested in the cat’s party and only make things more awkward–for the owl and for everyone else.

If the monkey acts like he’s above the party, the cat will be filled with an impotent self-loathing.

If the cat is filled with an impotent self-loathing, he will forget he is anthropomorphic, throw his necklace away, and feast on the tender flesh of a mouse who just came to the party to get a cookie…


Why, heartless, foolish world, why did you give the cat a necklace? Now a poor defenseless mouse is dead and the king of the cats has forgotten how to sit at the table and use a knife and fork. And all because you gave a cat a necklace.

It’s either that, or we’ve got a medieval-version of the Goofy/Pluto problem on our hands here. While all the other characters are anthropomorphized animals, the King of Cats’ pet cat is still a non-anthropomorphic cat. Perhaps this is why the monkey looks so pensive. If there are non-anthropomorphic cats in his marginal world, is it possible that he is just a normal monkey, and not an anthropomorphic one?

*Yeah, yeah, I know I’m a week behind again. Sue me.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Janet

    That is brilliant! Thank you… 🙂

  • Shinyfluff

    Charming! Oh please do a whole series of these folktales. They really bring life to the image in a way that I’ve not encountered.

  • MasterGote

    Can a monkey be non-anthropomorphic and yet play the flute? It’s a real conundrum.

  • bklynharuspex

    Pipe and tabor, to be precise.

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  • Prankqueen

    Did you make this up? Or is it an old story?

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