History of Cats
The History of cats'
relationship with man is as old as civilization and stretches back over
9,500 years. Cats have figured in the history of many nations, are the
subject of legend and are a favorite subject of artists and writers.
Cats, known in ancient Egypt as the miw, played a large role in ancient Egyptian society. Beginning as a wild, untamed species, cats were useful for keeping down vermin populations in the Egyptians' crops and harvests; through exposure to humans, the cat population became domesticated over time and learned to coexist with the human population.
Since many equated
the Black Death with God's wrath against sin, and that cats were often
considered in league with the Devil thanks to their aloof and
independent nature, cats were killed en masse. Had this bias toward
cats not existed, local rodent populations could have been kept down,
lessening the spread of plague-infected fleas from host to host.
In the Renaissance, cats were often thought to be witches' familiars (for example, Greymalkin, the first witch's familiar in Macbeth's famous opening scene), and during festivities were sometimes burnt alive or thrown off tall buildings.
Folklore dating back to as early as 1607 tells that a cat will suffocate a newborn infant by putting its nose to the child's mouth, sucking the breath out of the infant. A jury in England once found that a child had died from a cat sucking the breath out of him: this conclusion was probably reached because of the widespread acceptance of the tale. Many explanations are given to attempt to support it, the most common of which is jealousy from the cat towards the infant, as a result of the level of attention that the infant receives. Another explanation advanced is that the smell of milk from the infant's mouth attracts the cat to do so. However, it has been shown that, unless the cat is raised on milk, the cat prefers water.
Today some people still believe that black cats are unlucky or that it is unlucky if a black cat crosses one's path, while others believe that black cats are lucky. It is common lore that cats have nine lives. It is a tribute to their perceived durability, their occasional apparent lack of instinct for self-preservation, and their seeming ability to survive falls that would be fatal to other animals.
In Japan, there is
the Maneki Neko, also referred to in English as the "good fortune" or
"good luck" cat. It is usually a sitting cat with paw raised and bent.
Legend in Japan has it that a cat waved a sword at a Japanese landlord,
who was intrigued by this gesture and went towards it. A few seconds
later a lightning bolt struck where the landlord had been previously
standing. The landlord attributed his good fortune to the cat's
fortuitous action. A symbol of good luck hence, it is most often seen
in businesses to draw in money. In Japan, the flapping of the hand is a
"come here" gesture, so the cat is beckoning customers.
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