De kat en de uil

Below is a pen and ink calligraphic drawing by Jacob Labotz representing a cat and an owl. Online translator software is not very good with 18th-century Dutch, but it is obvious they are fighting for the possession of the mouse the owl is holding in his bill. The image is part of a series Labotz produced around 1775 (available at the Regionaal Archief Alkmaar web site).

kat_uil

While it is hard to imagine that Edward Lear saw this, it shows that the association of the two animals was a logical one, both prefer the night, hunt mice and spend a lot of time on trees, at least cats of the nursery-rhyme variety do, as in the famous quasi-limerick:

Diddlety, diddlety dumpty,
The cat ran up the plum tree;
      Half a crown
      To fetch her down,
Diddlety, diddlety, dumpty.

Given the similarities they are natural competitors, as in Labotz’s rhyme, while Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussy-cat” is set in an upside-down world in which the two animals can fall in love with each other.

By the way, climbing on trees appears to be a very dangerous activity for cats, as Lear himself testified in a draft for “The Children of the Owl and the Pussy-cat,” in which they tell the story of their mother’s unfortunate end:

In Sila forest on the East of fair Calabria’s shore
She tumbled from a lofty tree — none ever saw her more.

(Thanks to peacay of BibliOdyssey.)

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