69:  Vexations

A black cat (Nero) peeking round a door.Nero came by.  He arrkst if I intended to compose a verse for my late sister and give it out at the Cats’ Field.

I sayt I would not.  I write to joy myself and others, not tell of my private sorrows.

“Then I might,” sayt he. “I’ll think on it.”

Next he sayt, “You’re like to go soon.”

I arrkst him how many winters he’d seen.

“Eight,” sayt he.

I gave him the lie.  I told him he was no kitling when we became akwaynted.  And that was eight or nine winters past.

A ship underwater with fish swimming past.
Tropick waters: a shipwreck with sea monsters.

“True,” he sayt.  “But I’d been at sea.  We sailed in tropick waters where there are no winters.”

I yawned to show my disbelief.

Nero added, “Salt keeps all flesh sound.  I was shipwracked, and swam for my verie life with a host of sea monsters coming hot behind me.  Salt water has preserved me.”

He’s a fickle-tongued fellow.

My little niece (though she be not so little now) has been woeful since her mother went.

She complains of her grown sister, now the barn queen.

Viz, her sister gives her evil looks, and finds fault with all she does.  And her cousins who were once her playfellows have grown unkind.

I sayt, “It’s the way of the world.  When the highest falls, another rises.  And her friends rise with her.  Such is fortune.”

“I will not bide where I’m distained,” sayt she.  “I shall lodge with you.”

I sayt, “That cannot be.  All the places in my household are taken.”

“But,” sayt she, “are you not the highest there?  Can you not do as you list [like]?”

I was shamed then.  In truth, to aid her is my dutie.

“But what of your kitlings?” I arrkst.  “Few born in this house will be left to you.  The queen cats employed here to keep down mice and rats scarce see any of their kits live to be full-grown.”

“Why can’t I be cut as you were?” she arrkst.  “Then I need not be troubled by kits.”

What a wicked fancie.

I sayt, “It’s not possible for a she-cat to be cut and live to tell of it.  Your testes, that the common sort do call your stones, are hid deep within your belly.”

“How know you that?” she arrkst.

“From a learned book that told of men and women.  Certes, we cats are quicker in our wits and our doings than they, but we are like in our bodies.  This book sayt that Nature concealed women’s testes well.  Why?  So that women might not know they’re as well-made as men.  Were women to know that, they’d lose all shame and be even more uppish than they are.”

A young and fluffy black, white, and orange cat.
Gib’s Niece

“I’ve never seen nor heared a book,” sayt she.

I sayt, “Some books tell nowt but lies.  But it come to me that the Queen Cat of Heaven hid she-cats’ stones within their bellies for their greater safety.”

My niece sayt, very sour, “My mother told me that had she been a gib-cat like you, she might have been a poet.”

“Your mother did not know her letters.  How could she have writ?”

“Nero does not know his letters,” sayt she.  “Yet he’s a poet.”

That’s true.

I begin to comprehend why her grown sister and her cousins find her vexatious.

Editor's Note. Small image of a quill pen.The idea that female bodies were designed to convince women of their inferiority appealed to Renaissance anatomists, whose own theories were derived from Hippocrates (BC c.460-c.375), Aristotle (BC 384-322) and Galen (AD 132- c201).

However, feline society is dominated by matriarchs, so Gib provides a different explanation as to why the female testes (i.e. ovaries) are hidden.  But what book is he referring to? 

In 1592 (50: My Observations) Gib announced that he was “learning Italian, as the nobilitie do”.  Presumably, he’d been sitting in on the Earl of Southampton’s conversations in Italian with his tutor John Florio (1553-1625).

John Florio, from the 1611 edition of his Italian & English dictionary.
John Florio, from the 1611 edition of his Italian & English dictionary.

John Florio’s first language manual Florio his Firste Fruites was published in 1578 with a dedication to Elizabeth I’s long-term favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.

Around the same time, the Earl of Leicester was among the patients of an Italian doctor Giulio Borgarucci (known as Dr Julio), who became a royal physician.  Dr Julio’s brother Prospero was Professor of Anatomy at Padua, and published Della Contemplazione Anatomica sopra Tutte le Parti del Corpo Umano in 1564.  Dr Julio probably had a copy.

John Florio may have known Dr Julio, so Gib could have heard Florio speak of Professor Borgarucci’s book.

Florio has been suggested as an influence on Shakespeare; he’s sure to have influenced Gib.