The voyeuristic fascination with domestic cats grooming their anal area started a long time ago, well before the Middle Ages but these illustrations from books tell us a bit about the feelings of people towards domestic cats from the 5th to the 15th century in Europe. There is an implied criticism and denigration of the cat in these paintings, I feel.
American online article writers have described these pictures as cats licking their ‘butts’ but that is not quite right in my opinion because ‘butt’ is short for ‘buttocks’ and these pictures are of cats licking their anuses and anal area not their bottoms i.e. the whole around the anus.
I am being picky and technical but I want to be accurate because the fascination by people of the Middle Ages as illustrated in these pictures is with the idea of licking the anus. This is an act that was and still is considered of millions of people to be digusting or at least distasteful. It is perfectly normal and not disgusting at all but in the squeamish and sterilised world of the human it looks disgusting to many. Humans do like to avoid the reality surrounding feces. We have even created sweat euphemisms for it: poop and poo. And having a shit is ‘visiting the bathroom’.
Not long ago a pet product manufacturer brought out a colourful plug for the domestic cat’s anus. Quite bizarre. But it was an attempt to make the domestic cat more modest. You can laugh but it is true.
For me, this voyeuristic fascination with the ‘disgusting’ or distasteful is why the illustrators of books from the Middle Ages incorporated these pictures.
Interestingly, dogs appear to be featured less (or not at all) in pictures from the Middle Ages of them licking their anal area but they do it like cats. Why the prejudicial difference in treatment? I am not sure. It may be to do with witchcraft and superstition. At that time people were quite supersitious about the domestic and stray cat. Perveyors of evil and the devil.
P.S. The Middle Ages is also referred to as Medieval times or the Medieval period.