The History of Cats
Cats have been fascinating ordinary and famous folk since practically the beginning of civilization. In ancient Egypt cats were revered as royalty and their images can be seen accompanying those of ancient Kings and Queens on tomb walls.
It is believed that cats were first tamed in 3000 B.C (from a species known as the African Wildcat). The purpose of taming cats at all was to protect Egypt's precious grain reserves from being consumed by rats. It wasn't long before these wild cats purred their way into the hearts and arms of human beings and into the favor of Egypt’s royal families. Egyptian royalty admired the cat’s grace, preparatory instincts and healing nature. The feline species was soon assigned it's own God and Goddess: Bast and Bastet. Bast and Bastet were images in human form outfitted with cat like (as opposed to human) heads. Metaphysically this God and Goddess were given a wide domain, being in charge of war, protection, home, hearth, healing, wealth, love and magic.
Egyptians were so devoted to their cats that their pets were embalmed and buried in special coffins in their own graveyards. A person who lost a cat went into mourning and shaved his head. To kill a cat, even accidentally, could be punishable by death.
Phoenician sea merchants introduced the friendly African wildcat, which was a shorthaired species, across Europe. Still seen as a mystical creature it was thought that a cat could warn a sailor of a storm by playing with the cat's tail – this was called “a gale of wind in her tail.” On the other hand if a cat washed its ear, it meant good weather was on its way. A winking cat indicated the approach of rain.
The popularity of these domesticated animals soon spread to Italy, Arabia, China and other countries, where previously they were seen merely as another dose of protein for a hungry family. In northern European countries, cats were highly prized possessions and purchased for a high price from vendors from the South.
In the pagan cultures that dominated the pre-Christian age, many perceived cats as spiritual guardians and protectors from evil energies. The Vikings in particular revered cats. Norse goddess Freya, is portrayed as riding a chariot drawn by cats. The Norse, being seafarers, revered shipboard cats rodent-catching abilities.
The cat's fortunes changed during the middle Ages, when the Christian church, aware of the animal's connection with paganism and witchcraft, began a systematic elimination of the species. Cats were often burned alive, along with their owners who were considered to be witches. This practice was finally stopped by the arrival of the bubonic plague (or the "Black Death" as it was called.) The cat became popular again after it was realized that the fleas on rats spread the plague. The feline's usefulness for reducing vermin populations made the cat, once again, a respected guest in many households. Even as late as the Salem witchcraft trials however, cats were often burned or hung with those accused of witchcraft.
History also has its share of famous individuals who were clearly in love with cats.
- In the 9th century, cat lover King Henry I of Saxony decreed that the fine for killing a cat should be sixty bushels of corn.
- In the thirteenth century, an Egyptian sultan left his entire fortune to the stray cats of Cairo. For many years after his death, homeless cats received a daily free meal.
- Sir Isaac Newton, who discovered the principle of gravity, invented the swinging cat door for the convenience of his many cats
- Abraham Lincoln loved cats and kept four at the White House.
- Nurse Florence Nightingale owned more than sixty cats in her lifetime.
- Winston Churchill adored cats. Churchill used to refer to his cat, "Jock", as his special assistant. "Jock" was reported to be on the bed with his master when he died.
- Ernest Hemingway kept 30 cats at his home in Havana.
To this day, cats are more popular than the dog when it comes to being the ideal low maintenance pet. Cats eat less than dogs and don't require your assistance to find a place to go to the bathroom. They are independent, yet at the same time affectionate, understanding and a solid companion.