A big thing that drives me bonkers is people trying to understand medieval societies purely from what was written down at the time

Normal people were not in control of the written record in medieval Europe. Literacy was not widespread, and writing materials were expensive. People did not generally write down their thoughts and observations about society unless they had a good amount of authority and privilege, and as a result these writings are usually moralistic in some way.

An example of this is the common wisdom that people in the Middle Ages "hated cats."

Why do we know this? Well, because there are all kinds of written screeds about cats being devilish, immoral, untrustworthy, secretive creatures associated with women and Jews. If they wrote it down, it must be true, right? Everyone killed cats in acts of superstitious zeal, right? And then they died of the plague because they killed all the cats, right? Medieval people were sooooo dumb, right?



The main question to ask is "why do all these moralists spend so much time and parchment railing against cats, if 'everyone' hated them?"

And why are there so many charming marginal illustrations of cats doing cat things, like messing with this nun's yarn while she's trying to work?

And why did this monk let a cat track ink all over his manuscript?

Just because moralists think one thing, it doesn't mean that everyone is on board. Imagine people judging today's society by Matt Walsh's blog.

@alpine_thistle i feel like a good metaphor here is "imagine if people in the future reconstructed their idea of how average people from this era felt about cops based on cop shows and nothing else"

@alpine_thistle the cat tracking ink is the medieval equivalent of keyboard stepping

@nev @alpine_thistle lil friend just adding some extra flavor. who needs illumination when you got cats

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