Leigh Claire La Berge is Professor of English at Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York, and author of
Menace and Menagerie: The Feudal Mode of Production and Its Cats, 800–1500
Lion Kings: To understand the economic system of capitalism fully, one starts with its predecessor, feudalism, the economic system of the Christian Middle Ages, whose archive is dominated by multiple felines: empire-seeking Christian kings were called lions and devils appeared in the form of domestic cats. This chapter explores lions as a prized imperial bounty or donation in an empire-making age. Likewise, it introduces domestic cats, whose fantastic shape-shifting abilities allowed them to appear everywhere, as they were said to host the bodies of Jews and witches. Philosophers had to contend with being accused of possessing cat-like intentions as did vegetarians. Cats’ presence guides a historical narrative as they were on the scene for the Christian Crusades, for technological invention, and for the elimination of the commons of Europe.