Cats in Ancient Egypt
The cat is an animal that has played a very significant role in the evolution of a man. It has been associated with shaping of the western world in many different ways. Its role as a control against pests was of great significance in many parts of the world, including the western world. Cats have helped some of these populations that were starving.
By killing mice and rats, the cats helped to prevent the occurrence of certain life threatening diseases. This was achieved through the destruction of pathogens that may otherwise have been introduced by these pests. Advancements in science and technology have demoted the role of the cat to the lesser significant one (Engels 2).
The love affair that Egyptians had with cats started a long while back. They are believed to be the first society to have domesticated the creature. This is thought to have occurred between the old and the middle kingdoms of Egypt (Capel, Roehrig, and Fazzini 209). The exact time of the domestication is still in contention, and there are contrary opinions and evidences as to this question. As the years past, the role that the cat took grew greater. At the height of this love was the worship of the cat as the goddess, which they referred to as Bastet.
The cat as pest control
The first role that the cat had in ancient Egypt was that of pest control. This was an accidental role, as the cat was only trying to scavenge for food. The cat simply ate the rodents that resided in the stores of grains, thereby protecting the farmer’s stores of grain (Steele 11). The importance of this function was due to the fact that Egypt needed the large amounts of grain that were stored for the dry months. During such time there was no grain production from the farmlands.
This role of the cat is not unique to ancient Egypt and persists to date in certain societies. The admiration of the cat at this point in ancient Egypt was still in its infancy stages. The Egyptians kept them outside but provided them with food in appreciation for their service.
The cat as a pet
The role of the cat was later moved to that of a house pet. Thus, the role of the cat moved from being an animal just for the outdoors to being a member of the family. This transition occurred during the new kingdom. Evidence of this is pointed out in the fact that there are various paintings and tomb drawings that depict the cats in homes.
This shows that the Egyptian cat had acquired an increasing role in the family. Families at this time even called their daughters names that at the time were ascribed to the cats. The examples were the names Mit or Miut.
The sacred cat
The cat’s next role was that of a goddess. The role which was bestowed the cat at this time extended even further than the Egyptian borders. There are various depictions of the cat as a goddess over the years. One of this was Bastet, who was depicted as a lady with the head of a cat. She is one of the goddess that was most revered in ancient Egypt and known by various names. They were Pasch, Bast, and Ubasti.
There was also Mafdet, who is less famous than the previous one. Then there was Sekhmet, whose depiction was as a lion-headed deity. The cat’s depiction by the Egyptians at this point in time moved away from just paintings on every piece of jewellery and started encompassing sculptures.
The rise of the cat to this sacred position is the one that is unusual and very remarkable (Ma?lek 73). This rise of the cat from a simple domesticated animal to a religious sacred animal is usually associated with the Bubastite dynasty. The popularity grew to the point that laws were created to protect the cats from any harm.
This role was later curtailed by the Emperor Theodius, who decreed that it was illegal to practise paganism (N. Langton and B. Langton). The religious function of the cat, though, remained in a few quarters and in certain religions such as Islam.
Other roles that the cat had in ancient Egypt included those of collecting the catch when the Egyptians went hunting. This is inferred from the fact that the cat was the animal of choice during many hunting expeditions. Ancient Egyptians also believed that the cat was able to foretell the death of an individual (Engels 26). The cat may also have been used in war. There is Egyptian folklore that ascribes a victory to the release of the cats before the battle. Upon seeing this, the enemies ran away from the fight, thus delivering Egypt the victory.
There are various different functions that may be attributed to the ancient Egyptian cat: from the point in time where the creature was used to simply guard against rodents, up to the point where it was revered as a sacred being. The role definition has changed throughout the times but has remained significant and relevant nowadays. This role has far moved past those ancient times to influence even modern day societies that still hold the cat with a certain level of esteem around the home. They treasure it as a pet like the ancient Egyptians did – as a pest control measure. Some remnants of the initial pagan worship culture still regard the cat as a sacred creature.
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