Monstrous Felines in OF Arthuriana

Monstrous Felines in OF Arthuriana at Kalamazoo’s 48th Medieval Congress
Brandy N. Brown, Penn State U

on floor of cathedral Tronto, Italy (1165) is mosaic, image of crowned figure with scepter
King Arthur riding a goat/horse (with bridle’s erased during restoration)
next to him is a black cat
to right (later) is nude figure, Merlin
Arthur being mauled by black cat while Merlin watches.

in two texts (Welsh and French) epic hero has to prove himself in battle against Chapalu
originally is a beastly cat
later is a Muslim captured in body of cat

Chapalu evolved in response to Islam during Crusades

Geoffrey Cohen’s argued that monster …
“other” in physicality and spirituality
Saracens cannot be presented as normal. Even before Crusades, pagans were weirdly bodied.
Sign of monstrosity.

Chapalu = Muslim trapped who must battle forever until he has been fought and defeated by a knight
stays at the court

Welsh Triads glassy smooth cat that became a devastation to an island, which Kay eliminates…
Merlin Arthur defeats the cat “filled with devils”

large black cats were considered avatars for the devil

cat kills and destroys whatever it touches
Arthur decides to kill.
Cuts the cat in half with his sword.
Arthur’s wounds are then treated with an ointment to draw out the poison.

In 12th C, cat captures and kills near a swamp. “hell cat”
contemporary Latin elegy tells same story

In this tradition, battle with cat is final fight.

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