1. What were the first cats’ names?

Bouhaki is the first cat name to appear in history in the ancient Egyptian 11th dynasty (2134-1991 BC).  The cat sits imperiously on a statue at the feet of the Babylonian King of Hana. Inscribed on the statue is its name: Bou meaning house, and hak the symbol of the divine healer (Simpson, 1901, p.5).

The next cat name to appear in history is Nedjem, or Pleasant One which was found inscribed on the tomb walls of the noble Puimre dating to 1450 BC.

 2. Was a cat ever given its own royal funeral in ancient Egypt?

Yes, the young prince Thutmose had a pet cat named Ta Mit for whom he had a custom sarcophagous made with inscriptions to protect it in the afterlife.

Ta Mit's Sarcophagus

3.  How can cat mummies be recycled?

In Beni Hassan, Egypt, cat mummies’ linen wrappings were sold and exported to the United States and turned into linen-based paper during the American Civil War (1861-1865). (Yurco, 1990)  The remaining 20 tons of unwrapped cat mummies were then sold by Egyptian farmers to a British businessman who shipped them to Liverpool where they were sold for fertilizer for 4 pounds a ton (Mery, 2006).

 4. Why is the cat associated with fertility and the moon?

From the beginning of history, man has associated the cat with fertility and the moon.  It was the Ancient Egyptians that linked the cat with the mother goddesses and protectors of children and home, perhaps after observing the cats’ instinctual protection of their own young.  The Greeks associated the cat goddess Bast and Isis with their own goddesses Artemis and Hecate who both represented the moon. While the lunar goddesses Artemis, Isis and Hecate were associated with magic and the dead, the cat was identified with the moon through its sexual and nocturnal behavior.

 5. Is the cat considered good luck for sailors?

Because of the cat’s association with the goddess Isis, it became good luck for sailors to keep a cat on board a ship, and according to the Roman writer Martianus Capella, an image of a cat was often seen on a ship’s bow (Engels, 2001). So pervasive was/is this belief that up until 1975 British ships were required to have a black cat onboard for good luck.

USS Nahant Ship's Mascots 1898Credit: Edward Hart, Detroit Public Library (LOC)

 6. How did the idea of people changing into cats start?

In Medieval times witches were often accused of changing into cats which can be traced back to the cat’s relationship with the Roman goddesses Artemis and Hecate who changed into a cat to fight against the god Typhon.  Seduced by the cunning cat, Typhon was easily defeated by Zeus.

 7.  Who was the first person to write about a cat?

Theocritus, a Greek who lived in the 3rd century BC, refers to a cat in his dialogues of the Syracusans in “The Women at the Adonis Festival”.  In those dialogues, the mistress Prassinoé  calls to her slave to “Bring water!” and complains “How slow she is! The cat wants to lie down and rest softly.  Bestir thyself.  Quick with the water, here!” (Champfleury, 2005 p. 16) 

 8. When and why was the black cat associated with evil?

In Aristophanes’ play, The Ecclesiazusae, a black cat is referred to as a bad omen (Aristophanes, 2004).  So, by at least the 5th century BC, the Greeks viewed the black cat as an omen of evil due the cat being identified with the magic of Isis and Hecate.  Isis was the black virgin and Ancient Egypt was known as Khemia, the black land, thus the black cat held special importance.    

 9.  How many of Aesop’s original fables have cat characters?

The actual answer is none, as Aesop (620-546BC) wrote his fables with ferrets in mind.  And why ferrets?  Because the Greek word for cat included ferrets and even pole cats.  Only later were the earlier Latin versions changed so that the ferrets were referred to as cats in about 15 of his fables.

 10. Who wrote the first poem about a cat?

In 550AD, the Greek poet and historian, Agathias, mentions a ravenous cat attacking one of his beloved partridges in the first recorded poem about a cat.

 “O CAT in semblance, but in heart akin
To canine raveners, whose ways are sin;
Still at my hearth a guest thou dar'st to be?
Unwhipt of Justice, hast no dread of me?

Or deem'st the sly allurements shall avail
Of purring throat and undulating tail?
No! as to pacify Patroclus dead
Twelve Trojans by Pelides' sentence bled,
So shall thy blood appease the feathery shade,
And for one guiltless life shall nine be paid.”