This 16th Century Painting Features a Cat Wearing a Jet Pack

Centuries before cats were a meme on the Internet (we're looking at you, Grumpy Cat and Lil Bub) cats were deistic symbols, beloved house pets and, based on recent revelations, jetpack-wearing agents of war.

A researcher at the University of Pennsylvania was recently digitizing drawings prepared for a German prince who was trying to squash a peasant uprising in 1530, and came across, of all things, illustrations of jetpacks strapped to the back of our feline friends, with text accompanying: "set fire to a castle or city which you can't get at otherwise."


The treatise was written by artillery master Franz Helm of Cologne, who was said to have battled against the Turks in south-central Europe during a time when gunpowder was changing warfare. Apparently, he was a visionary.

Helm instructed, "Create a small sack like a fire-arrow. If you would like to get at a town or castle, seek to obtain a cat from that place. And bind the sack to the back of the cat, ignite it, let it glow well and thereafter let the cat go, so it runs to the nearest castle or town, and out of fear it thinks to hide itself where it ends up in barn hay or straw it will be ignited."

So not exactly a jetpack in execution, but definitely in appearance and insanity.


If you've ever had a cat, you'll know it's virtually impossible to get them to do anything, so did people actually use this rather silly technology? The simple answer? No, according to Mitch Frass, a historian and digital humanities expert at Penn library.

"[It's] sort of a harebrained scheme," he said. "It seems like a really terrible idea, and very unlikely the animals would run back to where they came from. More likely they'd set your own camp on fire."

But for a second there, we all dreamed.

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Emily Barasch

Emily is a writer living in New York. Her writing has appeared on theatlantic.com and dowser.org. She graduated from Yale where she was Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Herald.

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