Excerpted from “Town and Country Cat” by Lynn Hollyns.
The paw prints of the ancient cat on desert sands have long been erased, but the feline has made an enduring impression in history. The cat, who seems to have descended from the African wildcat, first deigned to share the homes of the Egyptians more than 5,500 years ago. The Egyptian families loved these furry creatures for the same companionship, beauty and grace for which we cherish them today. Whether for their prowess in hunting rodents or their mystical qualities, they came to be revered as gods. In the ancient city of Bubastis, a temple was erected, dedicated to the cat goddess, Bastet, mistress of love and all matters feminine. The monumental sphinx embodies the union of human and feline — an icon surround by an aura of mystery.
The feline has been an ever-changing presence throughout history. In Scandinavia, the cat was fabled as the protector of butter and cream; its quiet steps were associated with love’s soft advances. The Arabian cat was depicted as bold and daring, while the Greek Aesop moralized time and time again about the wisdom of cats. In the Middle Ages, reverence changed to fear, and cats were sacrificed as witches, but they soon regained their rightful place in the hearts of Europeans. Armies of rats had accompanied the Crusaders home, and seventy-five percent of Europe’s population perished in the Bubonic plague that followed. The feline became the hero in the struggle against the rodent hordes and some historians credit the cat for the survival of European civilization. Thus by the end of the Renaissance, cats were once again comfortably settled by the cozy hearth.