Cath Palug

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Cath Palug, also Cath Paluc, Cath Balug, Cath Balwg, literally "Palug's cat", was a monstrous cat in Welsh legend, given birth in Gwynedd by the Henwen the pig of Cornwall; the cat was later to haunt the Isle of Anglesey, and said to have killed 180 warriors when Sir Kay went to hunt it on the island.

Chapalu (Old French and usu. mod. form, var. Capalu, Capalus) is the French name of it. Vicious poem(s) were composed by Frenchmen claiming it killed King Arthur, according to a 12th-century Anglo-Norman author. A cat analogous to Chapalu (though not mentioned by name) is eradicated by Arthur in the Vulgate cycle's prose Estoire de Merlin.


In the name Cat Palug may mean "scratching cat", but this is just one of a range of possible meanings.[1]

The word palug (paluc) is theorized to have a common pal- stem, which may mean: "hit, strike" "cut, lop" "scratch, claw",[2] or even "dig, pierce".[1][a][b]

Chapalu, the French form can be broken down into chat "cat" + palu "bog", hence "the bog cat"; and in the Anglo-Norman poem (see §Li Romanz des Franceis) Chapalu and palu are connected in the story (the words are end-rhymed in the couplet).[c][4]

Aquatic nature[edit]

It was a sort of fish-cat which was the killer of King Arthur (and thus analogous to the chapalu) in a fragmentary German poem (§Manuel und Amande).[5][6] The monstrous cat of Lausanne, which was the analogue in the Vulgate Merlin started out as a black kitten caught by a fisherman in his net.[7]

The Cath Palug is always localised nearby water ; lake of Bourget and Lake of Geneva in France, the sea in Wales (See §Localisation).

Welsh sources[edit]

Cath Palug is mentioned in just two works among early Welsh sources, the triads and a fragmentary poem.[4]


Cath Palug's birth origins are given in "The Powerful Swineherds" in the Welsh Triads (Trioedd Ynys Prydain, end of the 13th century).

According to this source, it started life as a black kitten (lit "whelp"), given birth by the great white sow Henwen at the black rock in Llanfair [cy].[d] There the kitten was cast into the sea, but it crossed the Menai Strait and was found on Ynys Môn (Angelsey), where the sons of Palug raised it, not realizing Cath Palug was to become one of the three great plagues of the island.[8][9]

Pa Gur[edit]

Cath Palug was fought and slain by Cai (Sir Kay), or so it is implied, in the incomplete poem "Pa Gur yv y Porthaur" ("What man is the porter"), found in the Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin (The Black Book of Carmarthen, written before 1250).[10] Kay had gone to destroy lleown (possibly meaning "lions") in Môn (Anglesey). In the encounter, nine score (180) warriors were killed by the cat.[10][11][12]

The fragmentary poem states that Kay's shield is mynud against the cat, which has been construed in various ways,[e] but plausibly interpreted as "polished against Palug's cat".[13] This description coincides with the Middle English story in the Lambeth ms.,[14] in which Arthur raises a shield (presumably mirrored) causing the cats to attack their own shadows reflected in it.[15]

Arthur's fight with the cat[edit]

Outside of Wales, the cat's opponent has been transposed to King Arthur himself.

The chapalu (capalu) is the equivalent monster in Old French and Anglo-Norman sources.[f][16][17]

Several works (mainly OF or AN) relate a battle between the chapalu (or an anonymous cat) with King Arthur himself (rather than with Kay). Sometimes the beast wins, sometimes King Arthur wins.[18]

Some of the works only speak of an anonymous cat or cats, but are considered examples of chapalu encounters by commentators, due to the parallels.[g][19][20] The cat of Lausanne (Losan) that fought Arthur, in the Vulgate cycle is a notable example of the cat not being named.

The king is the victor in the Vulgate prose Merlin and in a Middle-English romance in the Lambert ms. noted above. His defeat is noted in several romances that are essentially non-Arthurian but, and can be viewed as a French joke against the English, although some researchers believed some genuine tradition of an alternative death of Arthur.[21]

Li Romanz des Franceis[edit]

In the early 13th century, the Anglo-Norman poet André de Coutance rebuked the French for having written a vindictive poem (or poems[22]) describing King Arthur's death by a cat. André indignantly added that this was an utter lie.[4][23]

This passage in André's work Li Romanz des Franceis ("The Romance of the French") has been excerpted and commented in various studies.[24][25][4][26][h] André's short résumé of the French work was that Chapalu kicked Arthur into a bog, afterwards killed Arthur, swam to England and became king in his place.[4]

Manuel und Amande[edit]

A French original is thought to have existed[28] to the fragmentary, Middle German poem Manuel und Amande written between 1170 and the beginning of the 13th century. It implies that slain by a sort of a "fish-cat",[5] or strictly according to the text, it was a fish which at the same time "had the form of a cat (katze gestalt)".[29][30][32] This was considered to be a work in the same tradition as the French works that told of Arthur's dishonorable demise, such as polemicized against by André the Norman.[f][25][24]

Vulgate Merlin[edit]

L'Estoire de Merlin ("The story of Merlin", written in the 13th century). A man fishing in the lake of Lausanne swears that he will dedicate to God the first creature that he catches, but fails to keep his oath. At the third cast of his line he catches a black kitten, which he takes home, only for it to grow to gigantic proportions. The giant cat then kills the fisherman, his entire family, and subsequently any traveller unwise enough to come near the lake. It is, however, finally killed by King Arthur.[33][7]

Galeran de Bretagne[edit]

Galeran de Bretagne ("Galeran of Brittany", written in the 13th century) is another work that refers to Arthur's combat with the cat. According to the summary given by Emile Freymond [de] (and by Gaston Paris), Galeran of Brittany beats his German opponent Guynant, and the latter tries to rile up the Breton by repeating the contrueve (idle lie) that the great cat killed Arthur in a pitched battle.[34][35]

There is some issue of dissent regarding this interpretation. The text can be read in the converse, so that the German knight says Arthur had killed the cat. Freymond noted that while this was grammatically possible, it was not an allowable interpretation in the context.[36] Gaston Paris agreed on this point.[35] However, John Beston (2008) translated the portion at issue as "the proverb about King Arthur killing the cat".[37]

Catalonian chivalric romance[edit]

The oldest chivalric romance in Catalan, The Book of the Knight Zifar speaks of a perilous situation figuratively, as tantamount to King Arthur facing the "Gato Paul", which is considered a reference to King Arthur fighting the monstrous cat.[i][38]

Other heroes[edit]

The chapalu is encountered by heroes from the Charlemagne cycle, in either late interpolations or later prose sequels to the original chanson de geste.

La Bataille Loquifer[edit]

Chapalu is fought by the knight Rainouart in a late version of La Bataille Loquifer [fr] in the Guillaume d'Orange cycle (aka La Geste de Garin de Monglane). The epic originally written ca. 1170 did not contain the episode, but a late-13th century interpolation to it introduced Arthurian elements.[39]

An extract containing the chapalu portion was published by Antoine Le Roux de Lincy in 1836,[40][j] Paulin Paris wrote summaries based on a different manuscript.[k]

Chapalu here was the son born after the lutin Gringalet[l][m] raped the fée Brunehold[n] while she bathed in the fountain of Oricon. Although Chapalu was beautiful, his mother could not bear her shame and turned him into a hideously shaped monster, and this curse could only be lifted when he has sucked a few drops of Rainouart's blood.[44][45]

The description of the Chapalu after his metamorphosis was that he had a cat's head with red eyes,[46] a horse's body, a griffon's talons (or dragon's feet[44]), and a lion's tail.[45][47][48]

Rainouart is then brought to Avalon by three fées,[49] and Arthur the king of Avalon commands Chapalu to fight this newcomer. In the ensuing battle, Chapalu laps some blood from his opponent's heel, and his human form is restored.[50][45]


Ogier de Danemarche / Ogier the Dane.,[51] Probably inspired by The battle of Loquifer. The fight between king Arthur and the Chapalu is presented in the form of a tale of disenchantment, in which only defeat in single combat can free the Chapalu from the curse that trapped it in monster form. When it is vanquished in battle the Chapalu becomes a human called Benoit (blessed).


The fight between King Arthur and Cath Palug is figurated on a mosaic in the Cathedral of Otranto. The creature believed to represent the Cath Palug is a spotted feline, seeming to attack King Arthur (labeled "REX ARTVRVS" ) mounted on some horned animal, wearing a crown, and holding a club (or scepter).[52] The crown on Arthur and the horns on the mounting beast appear to be artefacts of the restorer, based on preserved drawings of the mosaic from earlier.[53]


The legend about a fight between Arthur and the devil cat of the Lake of Lausanne (in present-day Switzerland) is now considered to have been localized in near the Savoie region of France near Lake Bourget, where could be found the Mont du Chat [fr]. This conforms with the account in the Estoire de Merlin that Arthur, in order to commemorate his victory over the cat, renamed a place that was called "Mont du Lac" as "Mont du Chat" ("cat mountain").[54]

The modern rediscovery of the Arthurian lore here is credited to Emile Freymond [de], who initially searched for local tradition or onomastics around Lausanne, in vain, then crossing the border into France, and found this spot.[54] The community still retained vestigial lore of encounters with the monstrous cat, though Arthur did not figure in them. There was also a piece of 13th century writing by Etienne de Bourbon saying that King Arthur carried out a hunt at Mont du chat.[55][54]

The Welsh tradition gives as localisation the Isle of Anglesey but born at Llanveir.

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the Pendragon (role-playing game) module "Savage mountains" (1991) there is an adventure called "The Adventure of the Paulag Cat".
  • In Fate/Grand Order, Fou is a Cath Palug, and Merlin's familiar.
  • In Nanatsu no Taizai by Nakaba Suzuki, Cath is the cat belonging to King Arthur Pendragon.
  • In "The Ghost Rats of Hamelin," a Donald Duck comic book story in the Tamers of Nonhuman Threats series, Donald uses various Arthurian relics to revive the ghost of the Cath Palug (called "Taurog's Monster Cat" in the story), using it to exterminate an army of ghost rats.

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ Some words in the group are palu "to dig" and paladr "(spear) shaft".
  2. ^ In the group belongs the word palach ("club"; pl. pelach glossed in Latin as clavae), which occurs in the nickname Pen-Pelach ("Cudgel-head"), which alongside Cath Palug is listed among Arthur's or Kay's enemies in the poem Pa Gur.[1][3]
  3. ^ Bromwich adds this is a case where a Welsh word of an entirely different meaning has been reinterpreted in French in a different meaning. Another example being Caradoc Vreichvras.
  4. ^ Llanfair-is-gaer, a former parish in Arfon (district), Gwynedd
  5. ^ Skene translated this as "ready", Bromwich as "a fragment(?) against".
  6. ^ a b Gaston Paris made the important connection comparing Manuel und Amande with the Anglo-Norman poem and the prose Merlin (Paris (G.) (1888), pp. 219–220), but did not extend the comparison to the Welsh sources. Connection to the Cath Palug of the Welsh were made by Nutt and by Freymond.[16][17]
  7. ^ Similarities in the personages involved (Arthur) and other motifs. A motif analysis is given for example in Freymond (1899), pp. 354–357
  8. ^ The lines in the poem skipped over by the commentators in ellipses explicitly state that the French were motivated patriotism and wished to "exact vengeance on the English" ("S'en volent vengier li Engleis).[27]
  9. ^ Michael Harney (Harney (2003)) credits María Rosa Lida de Malkiel with this observation. Charles Philip Wagner [es](1903), The Sources of El Cavallero Cifar, pp. 49–50 has noted this also.
  10. ^ Le Roux e Lincy identified his manuscript as La Vallière no. 23, now Bibliotheque nationale, Français 24369-24370.[41]
  11. ^ P. Paris in the summary in Hist. vol. XXII, relies more on ms. 7535, ca. fol. now BnF Français 1448, 295; he does give ms. 2085, now BnF Français 368, ca. fol. 231, as variant.[42]
  12. ^ "Rigalez .j. muton" in Le Roux de Lincy (1836), p. 253.
  13. ^ Gringalet is also the name of the horse of Gauvain. This might explain the description of the chapalus: the body of a horse (Freymond gave notice of this, crediting his friend S. Singer).[43]
  14. ^ "Brunehold" is given in Paris (P.) (1852), p. 537. "Burneholt" appears as heading in e.g., Walter, Philippe (2015), Dictionnaire de mythologie arthurienne. "Brunehaut" is used in J. Vannérus (1938). "Bruhan" in Le Roux de Lincy (1836), p. 253.


  1. ^ a b c Bromwich (2014), p. 473.
  2. ^ Lloyd-Jones (1952), pp. 130–131.
  3. ^ Lloyd-Jones (1952).
  4. ^ a b c d e Bromwich (2014), p. 475.
  5. ^ a b "gatto-pesce, Novati (1888), p. 580, tr. Eng. in Wheatley (1899), I, pp. ccxxxvi–ccxxxvii
  6. ^ Paris (G.) (1888), p. 219
  7. ^ a b Lacy (superv.) & Pickens (tr.) (1993), Ch. 55, "The Devil Cat of Lausanne; King Claudas's Men Routed", Story of Merlin, pp. 410–
  8. ^ Bromwich (2014), pp. 50–58, 473–476.
  9. ^ Guest, Charlotte, Lady (1877), The Mabinogion : from the Welsh of the Llyfr coch o Hergest (The red book of Hergest) in the Library of Jesus College, Oxford, London: Quaritch, pp. 268,
  10. ^ a b Bromwich (2014), pp. 473–475.
  11. ^ Skene, William Forbes (1868), "BBC XXXI What man is the porter?", The Four Ancient Books of Wales, Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1, pp. 261–264; II pp. 50-53 Pa gur ẏv ẏ portarthur (Welsh), pp. 350-351 (notes)
  12. ^ "The Black Book of Carmarthen". National Library of Wales. Archived from the original on 23 July 2015. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
  13. ^ Jackson, Kenneth Hurlstone (1959), "Arthur in Early Welsh Verse", Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, p. 14; quoted by Matheson (1985), p. 88
  14. ^ Matheson (1985), p. 88.
  15. ^ Matheson (1985), pp. 86–87.
  16. ^ a b Nutt (1890), pp. 251–252.
  17. ^ a b Freymond (1899), pp. 17–18.
  18. ^ Bromwich (2014), pp. 474–475.
  19. ^ Freymond (1899), pp. 354–357.
  20. ^ Weston, Jessie L. (1900), "(Review) Artus's Kampf mit dem Katzenungetüm, by Freymond", Folklore, 11: 414–416
  21. ^ Matheson (1985), p. 89.
  22. ^ Novati (1888) believed "André alludes not to one but two stories"; tr. Eng. in: Wheatley (1899), I, pp. ccxxxvi–ccxxxviii
  23. ^ Wheatley (1899), I, pp. ccxxxvi–ccxxxviii.
  24. ^ a b Paris (G.) (1888), pp. 219–220, see Nutt (1890), pp. 251–252
  25. ^ a b Novati (1888), pp. 580–581, tr. Eng. in: Wheatley (1899), I, pp. ccxxxvi–ccxxxviii
  26. ^ Matheson (1985), pp. 88–89.
  27. ^ Jubinal (ed.) (1842), p. 2.
  28. ^ Wheatley (1899), I, p. 236.
  29. ^ Zingerle (1882), pp. 297–307.
  30. ^ Wheatley (1899), I, p. ccxxxvi.
  31. ^ Paris (G.) (1888), p. 219: "il semble que le chat était en même temps un poisson"
  32. ^ Gaston Paris called it a being that was "a cat and fish at the same time".[31]
  33. ^ Sommer (1908), pp. 440–444.
  34. ^ Freymond (1899), pp. 25–26.
  35. ^ a b Paris, Gaston (1900), "(Review) Beiträge zur romanischen Philologie, Festgabe für Gustav Gröber (1899)", Romania: 121–124 (in French)
  36. ^ Freymond (1899), p. 25, note 2: "Ich fasse also le chat als Nominative.., etc."
  37. ^ Renaut (2008), Beston, John (trans.), ed., An English Translation of Jean Renaut's Galeran de Bretagne, Edwin Mellen Press, p. 107, ISBN 978-0-7734-5096-7
  38. ^ Harney, Michael (2003), Dove, Carol, ed., "The Spanish Lancelot-Grail Heritage", A Companion to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle, DS Brewer, p. 186, ISBN 9780859917834
  39. ^ Larrington, Carolyne (2006), King Arthur's enchantresses Morgan and her sisters in Arthurian tradition, London New York: I. B. Tauris, p. 47, ISBN 978-1-845-11113-7
  40. ^ Le Roux de Lincy (1836).
  41. ^ BnF. "Français 24370. II". Retrieved 14 November 2017.
  42. ^ Paris (P.) (1852), p. 537.
  43. ^ Freymond (1899), p. 342, note 2.
  44. ^ a b Paris, Paulin (1852), "Bat. de Loquifer", Histoire littéraire de la France, Paris: Firmin Didot, 22, p. 537
  45. ^ a b c Léglu, Catherine (2007), "Nourishing Lineage in the Earliest French Versions of the Roman de Mélusine", Transmissions: Essays in French Literature, Thought and Cinema, Peter Lang, p. 41
  46. ^ Le Roux de Lincy (1836), p. 252: "Les yex ot roux".
  47. ^ Le Roux de Lincy (1836), p. 253, "Teste ot de chat et queue de lyon, Cors de cheval, ot ongles de griphon, Les dens agus assez plus d'un gaignon;" (gaignon=mâtin)" The last portion reads "teeth as sharp as a mastiff-dog's".
  48. ^ Le Roux de Lincy (1836), pp. 253.
  49. ^ Paris (P.) (1852), p. 535.
  50. ^ Paris (P.) (1852), pp. 536–537.
  51. ^ The article Holger Danske in Nordisk familjebok (1909)
  52. ^ Nickel, Helmut (1989). "About Palug's Cat and the Mosaic of Otranto". Arthurian Interpretations. 3: 96. JSTOR 27868662
  53. ^ Nickel (1989), p. 101.
  54. ^ a b c Nickel (1989), pp. 98–99.
  55. ^ Freymond (1899), p. 377.
(primary sources)
—(What man is the Porter?)
—(Li Romanz des Franceis)
—(Bataille Loquifer)
  • Le Roux de Lincy, Antoine Jean Victor (1836), Le livre des légendes, Paris: chez Silvestre Librarie, pp. 246-; "Appendix 5: extrait du roman de Guillaume au Court Nez, ms. du Roy, n° 23 Laval, tome II" (in French)
—(Manuel und Amande)
—(Vulgate Merlin continuation / Livre d'Artus)
  • Sommer, Heinrich Oskar (1908), "Lestoire de Merlin", The Vulgate Version of the Arthurian Romances, Washington: Carnegie Institution, 2, pp. 440–444 (in French) (in English)
  • Lacy, Norris J. (superv.); Pickens (tr.), Rupert T. (1993), "Ch. 55: The Devil Cat of Lausanne; King Claudas's Men Routed", The Story of Merlin, Lancelot-Grail, New York: Garland, 1, pp. 410–, ISBN 0824077334
—(Middle English prose Merlin)
  • Wheatley, Henry Benjamin (1899), The Story of Merlin, EETS o.s. 10, 21, 36, 112 - in 4 volumes, II, New York: Early English Text Society(text)I (Introduction)
—(Middle English romance in Lambeth ms)
(secondary sources)