Just a quickie cut-n-paste post today, but I’m sharing because this illustration is awesome (I love the fish with the pointy fins and teeth!), and so is the story to go with it.
…Alexander the Great, whose fictional explorations of the natural world were retold throughout the Middle Ages, included a cat, along with the cock and the dog, as his companions in a proto-submarine. Here, the animal was not merely a pet, but a natural rebreather, purifying the air so Alexander would not stifle in the enclosed space. The dog was more unfortunate, chosen as an emergency escape mechanism: water, medieval readers were assured, would expel the impurity of a dog’s dead carcass. If Alexander encountered danger, he had only to kill the dog, which would be expelled to the surface, bringing Alexander with it. As for the cock – everyone knows how valuable they are for telling time with their crows, a useful function underwater, out of sight of the sky.
A link to a bigger image and more details about the illustration can be found here. According to the annotations, Alexander’s unfaithful wife is trying to murder him by cutting his glass-barrel-submarine free from the ship. In this version of the story, Alexander kills the cat, rather than the dog, so that the ocean spits him back up to the surface.
The illustration is from the French manuscript Le livre et le vraye hystoire du bon roy Alixandre, circa 1420. The illustrations are online courtesy of the British Library. Do click through to see them, they’re beautiful. And the Lolcat article is cute, too.