Monday, March 25, 2013


Cat and Mouse, ca. 1295-1075 B.C.E., XIX to XXth Dynasty 

 An ostracon is a smooth flake of stone (or, less often, pottery) that the Egyptians used instead of expensive papyrus for drawing or writing. This example of an "animal fable" vignette shows a plump, middle-aged mouse seated on an elaborate stool and holding a drinking bowl, a flower (or a fish skeleton?), and a piece of cloth. Before him stands his servant, a scrawny cat, who fans him while presenting a trussed fowl and a bolt of cloth. A number of such scenes have survived showing animals acting as humans but with their natural roles reversed. They may have illustrated popular fables, or they may have been intended as satires on upper-class life in the Ramesside Period, when almost all were made.

 Brooklyn Museum Catalogue Description: Limestone ostracon with ink drawing of a standing tabby cat on the left offering a feather fan and plucked goose to a seated female mouse (right). The mouse has drooping breasts, wears a long skirt and has a flower on her forehead. She holds a dish in her right hand, and holds a flower? and cloth (often held by pharaohs) in her left hand. The cat also holds a similar cloth. The mouse is seated on a folding stool with animal legs and covered with an animal hide with the tail hanging over the edge of the stool. It is similar to numerous folding stools in XVIII Dynasty painting. Traces of white paint are on the body of the mouse. It is possibly a caricature or illustration to a current fable or perhaps a satire of the royal family. Condition: Good, several small chips on surface of the piece.

NOTE:  Many times I wish I could show this ostracon drawing to my cats and tell them: “This is what is likely to happen to you in the next life if you do not lay off the mice.  They’re pretty, pleasant and they mean you no harm.  Ignore them.” 

Our first cats, U and Santa, did just that.  Natural aristocrats, angels both, neither of them ever bothered a mouse throughout their long, productive and distinguished lives.  When Rose and Pansy, American shorthair calicos descended from the professional mousing population that came over on the Mayflower arrived, things changed.  Watching them wait by mouseholes for hours, years even, stalking prey was distressing. Then when they taught dear Claude, the baby cream-colored Persian to mouse, we knew all bets were off.   

Now, apart from Claude, we live in a household of rescued feral cats. Mice don’t stand a chance
chez nous, although Caroline and I occasionally manage to save one.

George Hermann, Krazy Kat, 1922

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