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|History of the Cat |
The cat family can trace their genealogy back to ancient Cyprus and Egypt. Unlike the domestication of the dog, pack animals with a built-in cooperative instinct, the full domestication of the cat (about 4,000 years ago) was not so easily achieved.
It seems that the first cats to live near people were the African wild cats of Egypt. These cats were probably attracted by the mice and rats that filled the Egyptian grain stores. Apparently, the ancient Egyptians were very appreciative of the cats' help in vermin control. In fact, a cult of cat worship eventually grew until it became an integral part of Egyptian society. The cat goddess Bastet (also known as Bast or Pasht) became one of the most revered figures of worship. Bastet had the body of a woman and the head of a cat. Associated with fertility, motherhood, grace, and beauty, Bastet's largest temple was in the city of Bubastis. The word for cat in ancient Egypt was "mau," similar to our "meow," a universal cat word. The cats were considered gods and killing a cat was punishable by death.
So revered were cats in the Egyptian society, that during times of calamity - fire or flood as an example - cats were often rescued before humans.
During the Middle Ages, however, cats did not fare so well, particularly in Europe. Superstitions grew about cats and they came to be seen as harbingers of evil, often believed to be endowed with powers of black magic--an associate of witches and warlocks and perhaps the embodiment of the devil. Cat owners were the subject of suspicion and were often persecuted along with their cats, sometimes sharing death with them. Cats were hunted, tortured, and sacrificed. On religious feast days, large numbers of cats were sometimes burned alive as part of the celebrations. Live cats were sealed inside the walls of houses and other buildings as they were being constructed, in the belief that this would bring good luck.
The persecution of cats was so extensive that the population of disease-carrying rats flourished, resulting in wide-spread epidemics and plagues throughout Europe.
During the twentieth century, cats enjoyed a renaissance. As the urbanization of western society grew, cats demonstrated an amazing ability to adapt to a myriad of different lifestyles and living conditions. Their independence and often aloof nature presented a striking contrast to the gregarious nature so typical of the pet dog. And yet, just when it seems your cat needs no one or anything, they find the comfort of your lap. Regal, mysterious, mischievous, playful, a hunter, a loner, a family icon - what a companion!!
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