Cat and dog anthropomorphism from centuries 13 to 17

Well out of my period and I had forgotten I even meant to write about this, but in the Thomas Bisson Festschrift there is an article by Alan Friedlander about notaries’ symbols in 13th-century Languedoc. I am academically fascinated by individualised documentary practices anyway, but had I not been I think I would have been sold on the work by this first page:


I love this stuff. The goat is in fact the authentication sign used by the notary public of Lésignan-la-Cèbe who wrote the transfer charter, Maitre Raimond André de Fontiès, who used this sign so that his work could be recognised. All the notaries public of the area had their own signs like this, though not usually quite so cute. Friedlander goes on to give some careful thought and evidence about how this system worked and what people used it for but mainly he is having fun showing drawings by people being funny, or symbolic, and sometimes both. And fair enough. It’s just that, from four hundred years later, I recognised one of the jokes. See this:


This is, as he says, the mark of Pierre Catala de Pézenas, and maybe it’s just my mind that finds it perfectly natural that he’d have come up against the homonymy before and decided to react against it rather than with. On the other hand, when I saw this I was immediately reminded of something else, an English seventeenth-century token issued by a man with a name like Doggett, bearing a cat on the obverse side. I have to guess, because I can’t find it in our catalogue, which mystifies me as I can only have seen it here; but it’s not here, and so if I only read about it, or dreamt it which given how many of these things I was once dealing with is quite possible, I don’t have an image to give you. (Should a numismatist who knows the piece I mean stumble across this page in a websearch, please let me know I wasn’t dreaming it.) Instead, here is another such token with what I suspect is a similar process going on.

Halfpenny token of Peter Sammon, Kensington, London, 1667, Fitzwilliam Museum, CM.BI.1051-R

Halfpenny token of Peter Sammon, Kensington, London, 1667, Fitzwilliam Museum, CM.BI.1051-R

What I take to be going on here is that again, a man whose name contained an obvious icon opted to twit it, perhaps with some rationalisation like, “and what liketh a Sammon better than a catte?” I mean, okay, maybe he just had a cat and this was well known in his street. Maybe Pierre Catala had a dog. I think it’s probably the same thing going on. This is all too late to prove what I would like it to prove, or rather disprove, the idea that individuality began in the eleventh century, but I like being able to show that the same small joke occurred to two people of no particularly special status or achievements beyond being well-to-do and trusted (no point in issuing tokens if you weren’t) across four hundred years and rather more miles. Helps one remember that one’s studying human beings with whom, were time travel and one’s languages good enough (remember: we already travel in time, it’s just changing direction that’s proving tricky), one could talk, and whom one might like or dislike but who would not be the same as any other person you might meet. Each one a missing person to recover. We are going to return to this theme, oh yes.

The article is, as you can see above, Alan Friedlander, “Signum mei apposui: Notaries and their Signs in Medieval Languedoc” in Robert F. Berkhofer III, Alan Cooper & Adam Kosto (edd.), The Experience of Power in Medieval Europe, 950-1350: essays in honor of Thomas N. Bisson (Aldershot 2005), pp. 94-117, reproductions here of pp. 94 & 101. The discovery of the individual hypothesis can be found in Colin Morris, The Discovery of the Individual 1050-1200 (London 1972) or Aaron Gurevich, The Origins of European Individualism, transl. K. Judelson (Oxford 1995), and it is contested by Caroline Walker Bynum, “Did The Twelfth Century Discover the Individual?” in Journal of Ecclesiastical History Vol. 31 (1980), pp. 1-17, with a reply by Morris, “Individualism in Twelfth-Century Religion: some further reflections”, ibid. pp. 195-206, and complicated by Michael Clanchy, “Documenting the self: Abelard and the individual in history” in Historical Research Vol. 76 (2003), pp. 293-309. Make what you can…

7 responses to “Cat and dog anthropomorphism from centuries 13 to 17

  1. That goat is really very charming. I love little stories like this, that give you a feel for the quirkiness of ordinary people living hundreds of years ago.

  2. Dogs sure are one of the most amazing gods creation lol

  3. oh wow I had no idea notary went back this far in history! My friend is a notary. She informed me of all the legal do’s and dont’s etc etc, I wish she told me about that! It’s really neat history.

    • The notariate is even older than that, it’s an office defined in Roman law, and what you see in this post is its revival after a few centuries without enough use of written documents to sustain professionals who produced them. So there’s more than is dreamt of in your friend’s philosophy, perhaps, and also in your spam links, of which I’ve removed all but one. You get to stay because you gave me a teaching moment, though.

  4. Pingback: Book bit bullets III « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  5. Pingback: Tiny diplomatic details of delight | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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