Cat - History and Mythology

History and Mythology

Traditionally, historians tended to think that ancient Egypt was the site of cat domestication, owing to the clear depictions of house cats in Egyptian paintings about 3,600 years old. However, in 2004, a Neolithic grave was excavated in Shillourokambos, Cyprus, that contained the skeletons, laid close to one another, of both a human and a cat. The grave is estimated to be 9,500 years old, pushing back the earliest known feline–human association significantly. The cat specimen is large and closely resembles the African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica), rather than present-day domestic cats. This discovery, combined with genetic studies, suggest that cats were probably domesticated in the Middle East, in the Fertile Crescent around the time of the development of agriculture and then they were brought to Cyprus and Egypt.

In ancient Egypt cats were sacred animals, with the goddess Bastet often depicted in cat form, sometimes taking on the warlike aspect of a lioness. The Romans are often credited with introducing the domestic cat from Egypt to Europe; in Roman Aquitaine, a 1st or 2nd century epitaph of a young girl holding a cat is one of two earliest depictions of the Roman domesticated cat. However, it is possible that cats were already kept in Europe prior to the Roman Empire, as they may have already been present in Britain in the late Iron Age. Domestic cats were spread throughout much of the rest of the world during the Age of Discovery, as they were carried on sailing ships to control shipboard rodents and as good-luck charms.

Several ancient religions believed that cats are exalted souls, companions or guides for humans, that they are all-knowing but are mute so they cannot influence decisions made by humans. In Japan, the maneki neko is a cat that is a symbol of good fortune. Although there are no sacred species in Islam, some writers have stated that Muhammad had a favorite cat, Muezza. He is reported to have loved cats so much that "he would do without his cloak rather than disturb one that was sleeping on it".

Freyja—the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility in Norse mythology—is depicted as riding a chariot drawn by cats.

Many cultures have negative superstitions about cats. An example would be the belief that a black cat "crossing your path" leads to bad luck, or that cats are witches' familiars used to augment a witch's powers and skills. The killing of cats in Medieval Ypres is commemorated in the innocuous present-day Kattenstoet (cat parade).

According to a myth in many cultures, cats have multiple lives. In many countries, they are believed to have nine lives, but in Germany and some Spanish-speaking regions they are said to have seven lives, while in Turkish and Arabic traditions the number of lives is six. The myth is attributed to the natural suppleness and swiftness cats exhibit to escape life-threatening situations. Also lending credence to this myth is the fact that falling cats often land on their feet, using an instinctive righting reflex to twist their bodies around. Nonetheless, cats can still be injured or killed by a high fall.

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