Date of Award

Spring 2020

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

Historical & Political Studies; College of Arts & Sciences

First Advisor

Geoffrey Haywood

Abstract

The spiritual chasm of status that exists between man and beast is daily put to the test by the very beasts kept in our homes. Human beings have a long history of keeping animals for one reason or another, but it has only been recently that the concept of animals purely maintained for companionship has taken center stage. The Middle Ages in particular served as a transformative moment in the history of the “pet,” where not only was the role of the animal within man’s existence re-examined, but so, too, were the specific animals preferred by different cultures more solidly defined. As the old axiom of “man’s best friend” is so ubiquitous within the Christian consciousness today, so does Islam parallel this with the normalized presence of cats in urban centers like Istanbul – and the roots of this divergence can be found in the Medieval period. Pet ownership for the sake of companionship is at least demonstrated to be most common amongst the elites. Pets are far more likely to be used for their ability to aid humans, and any friendship the owner may take up with the animal is often regarded as incidental. Dogs can be utilized for their skills of hunting and tracking, something that would be more widely useful for the common man, or even for a Christian nobleman interested in hunting for sport. Cats, contrastingly, are primarily beneficial in terms of their ability to control rat populations, protecting not only food stores, but also expensive texts that may be chewed by them; furthermore, cats are notoriously independent and difficult to train.The preference for cats in the medieval Muslim world and dogs in the medieval Christian world can thus be explained not by differences in the religions or animals themselves, but rather by a complicated blend of factors ideological, political, and social in the respective environments.

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Rational Creatures: Examining the Cat-Dog Divide in the Medieval World

The spiritual chasm of status that exists between man and beast is daily put to the test by the very beasts kept in our homes. Human beings have a long history of keeping animals for one reason or another, but it has only been recently that the concept of animals purely maintained for companionship has taken center stage. The Middle Ages in particular served as a transformative moment in the history of the “pet,” where not only was the role of the animal within man’s existence re-examined, but so, too, were the specific animals preferred by different cultures more solidly defined. As the old axiom of “man’s best friend” is so ubiquitous within the Christian consciousness today, so does Islam parallel this with the normalized presence of cats in urban centers like Istanbul – and the roots of this divergence can be found in the Medieval period. Pet ownership for the sake of companionship is at least demonstrated to be most common amongst the elites. Pets are far more likely to be used for their ability to aid humans, and any friendship the owner may take up with the animal is often regarded as incidental. Dogs can be utilized for their skills of hunting and tracking, something that would be more widely useful for the common man, or even for a Christian nobleman interested in hunting for sport. Cats, contrastingly, are primarily beneficial in terms of their ability to control rat populations, protecting not only food stores, but also expensive texts that may be chewed by them; furthermore, cats are notoriously independent and difficult to train.The preference for cats in the medieval Muslim world and dogs in the medieval Christian world can thus be explained not by differences in the religions or animals themselves, but rather by a complicated blend of factors ideological, political, and social in the respective environments.

 
 

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