Dating back to the 7th millennium BC, the cohabitation between humans and cats was a highlight in Ancient Egypt between 3000 and 1500 BC. AD
The most popular animal of Ancient Egypt, the cat played a role of protector and guardian as well as faithful companion and play partner. Divine incarnation, he was given sacred respect for his life, at his death and after his death. death.
A prominent role of protector
The close relationship between cats and humans seems to have its origins in agriculture. In ancient times, the cat played a key role in crop protector.
Despite the dry and arid climate, the Nile allowed the Egyptians to practice flourishing agriculture. However, protecting crops in fields and storage areas was vital. By furrowing the fields, cats eliminated rats and mice that could damage crops. They also protected the grain silos.
In addition, by eradicating rodents, the cat suppressed vectors of communicable diseases such as plague. By hunting snakes such as horned vipers, he secured the surroundings of the houses.
The cat was thus respected by all social classess.
For the poorest, it was so important that in times of famine, they would rather starve than eat cats. The historian Herodotus reports that "when the house is on fire, no one extinguishes the fire, only cats count".
Domesticated, the cat was very appreciated by wealthy families for its mischievous, gentle and quiet character. His grace and nonchalance made him a sought-after pet. He sometimes accompanied his master on the hunt to flush out birds hidden in the tall grass bordering the Nile or to bring him game. This role of hunting animal will be fulfilled by the dog a few centuries later.
The cat was protected by laws. It was forbidden to kill him, mistreat, insult or upset him, offenders exposing themselves to heavy penalties. Its export was prohibited outside Egypt and punished by the death penalty!
The cat had a special treatment at his death.
A day of mourning was organized and he received all the honors during his burial. Tradition had it that his master shaved his eyebrows in respect and mourning lasted for seventy days.
He was in fact one of the rare animals to access the privilege of mummification (with the ibis or the bull), just like humans. Sometimes mummies of mice were added to his burial. As the afterlife was more important to the Egyptians, their cat had to continue his work in the afterlife. Incarnation of the goddess Bastet, his ka (soul) would find his body and he would be reborn after death.
The cat was thus embalmed, mummified and then buried in a necropolis or in the family's tomb.
Quote about ancient Egypt:
“A good character is the protection of man. "
Amenemope proverb; Egyptian wisdom of the XXIe dynasty.
A sacred character
The cat was perceived as theincarnation of the gods on Earth.
According to Egyptian mythology, the cat helped by Re Seth and Isis, fought every night Apophis (giant snake attacking the boat of Re sailing on the Nun), god of evil forces and night, symbolizing chaos and evil seeking to destroy the divine creation. Apophis being defeated each time, each sunrise marked the victory of Re.
The oldest form of deity represented in Egypt was Mafdet, the lion-headed goddess [- 3100 BC]. His worship was associated with the healing of body and mind.She was then supplanted by Bastet, a lioness goddess, like her sister Sekhmet, later represented in the form of a cat, softened version of the terrifying power of her sister. Sekhmet and Bastet were considered the eyes of Re.
Bastet, goddess of gentleness, in the form of a cat adorned with jewels, spread joy and love. In the guise of Sekhmet, she fought the enemies of Re and the Pharaoh. Responsible for natural calamities or their absence, she was honored during the New Year to preserve men and the pharaoh.
An important religious movement with the advent of the New Kingdom, its cult took on an unparalleled scale when Sheshonq Ier created the city of Bubastis east of the Nile Delta.
Very popular because symbolizing fertility, motherhood, protection and benevolence, her statue was transported by boat on the canal surrounding the Bubastis temple during the annual festival. Prayers and offerings accompanied the ritual. Thousands of cats mummies have been found in Bubastis.
The cat was holding a sacred role of guardian, many representations showing a cat beheading the monstrous snake Apopi, the enemy of Re, the Creator. Re is sometimes represented with a human body with a cat's head.
In the temples, cats were raised, nourished by the offerings of the faithful, eager to obtain a favor from the gods. The priest in charge of cats had an important job. When one wanted to address a request to Bastet, the cat goddess, they gave a sum of money to the priest in charge of cats; this one gave the cat the fish equivalent and the priest interpreted the behavior of the animal.
Little by little, the cat saw its role decline. Remaining a pet, he was no longer worshiped in the temples and his protective role disappeared with the recoil of diseases and plague.
Pagan worship was officially banned by the Edict of Thessaloniki, decreed by the Roman Emperor Theodosius Ier February 27, 380 BC
Quote about ancient Egypt:
“Whoever obeys ends up being obeyed. "
Egyptian proverb; Kegemni lyrics - IIIe millennium BC AD
The cat is the animal the most represented of all Egypt antique (paintings, statues, toys or jewelry). Cat sarcophagi were found, as well as steles.
Surprisingly, papyri and ostraka [limestone shards or fragments of pottery] from the Ramesside period have been found representing scenes of cats and mice where the hierarchical relationships are reversed, the cats being at the service of the mice. It would be satires of the powerful, a form of protest against the normal order of society.
Sacred animal in Ancient Egypt, at the same time protector, hunter and guardian, the “domesticated” cat has since been confined to the sole role of a pet although retaining a fascination still intact.