For up to 8,000 years, cats and people coexisted, and throughout that time, several misconceptions about our feline friends have developed. We frequently hear the proverb “cats have nine lives” in conversation. However, where did this myth of near immortality originate? And why, specifically, would a cat have nine lives?
How many lives do cats have?
The notion that cats have nine lives has had its origins in ancient Egypt. According to legend, the sun deity Atum-Ra assumed the shape of a cat in order to travel to the underworld.
According to legend, Atum-Ra was the mother of eight other gods. As a result, some people have connected this tale with the proverb that “cats have nine lives”—the eight gods plus Atum-Ra equal nine lives.
We can only rely on tales like those from ancient Egyptian periods, according to Anita Kelsey, a U.K. feline behaviorist and the author of Let’s Talk About Cats, who told Newsweek: “No one really knows for sure where that statement comes from. The story that the statement originated there does sound plausible because the Egyptians worshipped cats.
Cats are said to have traveled through trade routes into Europe and beyond as a result of the Egyptians’ infatuation with them, which is thought to have contributed to the species’ global dispersal.
And as they spread over the globe, the concept of numerous lifetimes did too.
The number of lives a cat is reported to have varies in diverse nations and cultures.
Cats are frequently said to have six lifetimes in Arab nations. Cats are rumored to have seven lives in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries. This is believed to be connected to the belief that the number seven is a lucky, magical number. Cats are among the luckiest creatures when it comes to avoiding danger, thus it seems sense to give the species seven lives.
Numerous ancient societies placed emphasis on the number nine. It was a magical number to the Ancient Greeks and was connected to the gods. For instance, they thought it took nine days for heaven to fall to Earth.
Nine is regarded as a perfect and heavenly number in Hinduism. Nine in Chinese culture is linked to the dragon, a powerful emblem.
Celia Haddon, a cat behavior specialist, told Newsweek that “certain numbers appear to have a unique importance, and perhaps this is why cats have nine lives rather than 10 or 8.” 49 times throughout the Bible, the number nine is used to denote completeness.
The ninth hour of the day saw the death of Christ. Or perhaps it is thus because nine steps were traditionally employed to determine legal distances in Wales. It materializes just in time to “save nine stitches.”
Shakespeare or old proverbs may have also inspired the notion of nine lives.
The belief that cats have nine lives is directly referred to in an old English adage of unclear provenance. A cat has nine lives, it says. He wanders for three, plays for three, and remains for the final three.
In his 1597 play Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare also makes a reference to nine lives. It appears in Act 3, Scene 1, during a battle between Tybalt and Mercutio.
Why do we say cats have nine lives?
One of the most intelligent, nimble, and independent household pets is the cat. Cats, in particular, may survive falls that would quickly kill a human, which may help to explain the origin of the popular belief that cats have nine lives.
A domestic cat in New York City once managed to survive a fall of 32 stories with very minor injuries, according to a case study. The remarkable anatomy of cats is the only cause of their capacity to endure despite all odds:
Many wild feline species still live in trees because cats evolved to do so. They have developed to manage it well since they have been leaping or falling from a height for millions of years.
They have a remarkable “righting reflex” that allows them to turn their bodies while falling and land on all four feet.
Cats’ huge body surface area in relation to their weight also lessens the impact force of their landing.
Additionally, their bones and ligaments are very flexible, which permits them to withstand less damage from hits.
The Origins of the Myth
Nobody is really sure where the notion that cats have nine lives began. However, historians have various theories concerning the origins of the mythological aspect of cats’ propensity for survival.
Ancient Egypt’s belief in the divinity of cats. In ancient Egypt, cats first acquired a mythological aspect. Due to cats’ nurturing, protecting nature, the ancient Egyptians worshiped gods that resembled cats or had feline features. The feline was revered by the Egyptians, who associated it with divinity and longevity.
Literature in English about cats. Some people think an English proverb is where the notion of the nine lives first appeared. According to the saying, cats have nine lives. He wanders for three, plays for three, and remains for the final three.
Although the original intent of this adage was to simply explain the lifespan of a cat from kitten to adult to senior, it’s probable that it spread and people started to think that cats truly have nine lives.
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, Scene 1, when Mercutio tells Tybalt, “Good king of cats, naught but one of your nine lives,” also contains a reference to the tale.
The Number Nine’s Cultural Meaning In several different traditions and civilizations, the number nine has special meaning. In Chinese culture, the number nine is considered auspicious because it has the same pronunciation as the term “long-lasting.” Greek mythology also mentions nine muses.
In the early Christian faith, nine may also be seen as auspicious since it is a trinity (three times three).
Do cats have nine lives, or seven, or six?
It’s interesting to note that the idea that cats have several lives is widespread. However, the number varies from culture to culture and isn’t necessarily nine lives. Cats, for instance, are said to have seven lives in some parts of Spain. Cats are said to have six lives according to various Turkish and Arabic folklore.
The fact that nine has long been thought of as a magical number may also assist to explain why cats are said to have nine lives.
The trinity of all trinities and a supernatural number that evokes tradition and religion were both associated with the number nine in ancient Greece. Over the years, cats have been both revered and feared, and they have frequently been considered to be supernatural beings.
History of the Nine Lives Legend
Are there truly nine lives for cats? No, in a nutshell, but there’s something so alluring about a cat’s behavior that makes it seem nearly feasible that cats may have extra lives.
Origins of a Cat’s Nine Lives in Antiquity
It all began with the saying “A cat has nine lives. He wanders for three, plays for three, and remains for the final three.
There is no information on the origin of this well-known English quote, as there is with the majority of oral storytelling.
But William Shakespeare was aware of the proverb since he used it in his late 16th-century play Romeo and Juliet: “Good king of cats, naught but one your nine lives.” This indicates that the tale predates the late 1500s and could have ancient roots.
What is known, according to Science magazine, is that ancient Egyptians’ obsession with cats began around 12,000 years ago in their homes and places of worship.
The Egyptians believed that cats were celestial beings endowed with superhuman abilities. Most notably, the goddess Bastet’s propensity for transforming into a cat and back into a person may have contributed to the widespread belief that cats had several lives since she constantly reappearing.
The domestic cat’s migratory path from the Middle East to Greece, China, and Europe, finally dispersing to every corner of the globe, appears to have been followed by its magical nature.
However, by the time cats arrived in England, people respected them more for their capacity to fend off vermin than for their ability to reincarnate. Cats continued to exude mystery despite their role as micers.
Is There Any Truth Behind the Myth?
Cats do not literally have nine lives, despite the myth that they are godlike and invulnerable and the fact that nine is an important number in many cultures.
The Myth of Nine Lives is busted. For starters, not all cultures refer to cats as having nine lives. The belief that cats have several lives is widespread in some parts of the world, but not elsewhere.
For instance, cats are said to have six lifetimes in regions of the world where Arabic is spoken. And people think that cats have seven lives in Spanish-speaking regions of the world, as well as in Italy, Greece, and Brazil. The myth’s lack of universal acceptance as fact demonstrates that it is more folklore than reality.
Beyond the myth’s contradictions, the science is clear: Cats, like all other creatures on the world, have just one life, which terminates in a manner akin to that of other living things.
According to a research that was published in October 2016 in Scientific Reports, renal illness is the leading cause of mortality for cats (at the conclusion of a long life), and cats often pass away at the age of 15 from acute kidney failure.
The Partially True Statement That Justifies the Myth’s Survival. Many people think that cats have nine lives, even though this is a fallacy. This is because cats can survive falls that would be fatal to most people. But science is able to explain this occurrence.
Cats have an air-righting reflex, to start. Even when they are dropped from extremely high altitudes, cats have the innate ability to twist their bodies around and land on their feet. Furthermore, coming to a full stop on all fours lessens the force of the fall.
Cats also have more vertebrae than people do. Due to their great flexibility, exceptional balance, and rapid reflexes, cats are also able to avoid dangerous falls and difficult circumstances.
The fact that cats are generally intelligent may possibly be a factor. Cullen M. Dauchy, DVM, a veterinarian and previous owner at the Katy Veterinary Clinic in Katy, Texas states, “For instance, I’ve treated numerous dogs in my practice career for toxic snake bites, but I’ve never treated a cat for poisonous snakebite; they’re too smart to approach a snake.”
Can cats cheat death?
Our cats are remarkably agile and have lightning-fast reflexes and decision-making abilities. They are skilled at disappearing at the first indication of peril or ambling casually over precarious ledges that would terrify most people.
One instance in which death may have been evaded occurred when a cat named Jack ran away from his travel carrier at John F. Kennedy International Airport in the US. Two months later, the cat, now frail and afraid, fell through the airport’s roof.
Another time, a cat by the name of Jessie vanished after traveling throughout Australia with her owner. Jessie visited her former home a year later. Since Jessie detested riding in automobiles, her owner said that Jessie must have hiked 1,865 miles across the nation, through a desolate desert!
These skills might occasionally appear exceptional to us—even otherworldly. However, the superstition that cats have nine lives and that black cats are either lucky or unlucky is untrue. Cats thus require the same level of care and attention as any other pet.
Cats in Action
Why is it believed that cats have nine lives despite this being a myth? And why do people think it’s true? Any cat parent will tell you that all it takes to understand why this myth endures is to watch a cat jump, twist, and land on its feet.
Cats have an almost miraculous capacity to transition quickly from a low, crouching stance to a high, lengthy leap. It’s their biological makeup, not any supernatural abilities.
The size of their muscles and the length of their rear legs contribute to their amazing leaping abilities. The back legs of your cat are so powerful that they can easily leap six times their height!
Keep in mind that cats are not bulletproof and don’t always fall on their feet, despite their impressive jumping abilities. Do they spring up on your refrigerator, cupboards, or closet doors? By cat-proofing your home and avoiding enticing objects like toys, snacks, and catnip at high spots, you may deter them from engaging in this activity.
It’s advisable to hide them or maintain a low profile since your pet will try to acquire them. Invest in a cat condo or tree to provide them a place to practice their climbing and leaping.
While seeing your cat’s daring activities might be entertaining, including them in safe play can go a long way toward ensuring that they have happy and healthy lives.