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A brief Look at Literary Cats – January 2007

“They say that the test of literary power is whether a man can write an inscription.
I say, ‘Can he name a kitten?"

Samuel Butler (1835-1902)

The lives of many authors have been touched by our feline friends over the years and their literature tends to reflect the human fascination with, and attraction to, the unique combination of qualities that define them.

Given the somewhat autocratic nature of cats, it is perhaps fitting that one of the earliest literary notations dedicated to a cat was from the inscriber for the Royal Tombs at Thebes who wrote, “Thou art the Great Cat, the avenger of the Gods, and the judge of words, and the president of the sovereign chiefs and the governor of the holy Circle; thou art indeed...the Great Cat."

The attributes that we commonly associate with cats serve both to tantalize and torment cat lovers and haters alike and are reiterated in verbal descriptions of aloofness, pride, independence and beauty in literature. Many of the most well known writers have strayed from their usual literary path to include poetry and prose in recognition of cats large and small, a small sample of which follows :-

William Blake – The Tyger
 
“Tyger! Tyger burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”
 
William Wordsworth – The Kitten and the Falling Leaves
 
“What intenseness of desire,
in her upward eye of fire!
With a tiger-leap half-way,
now she meets the coming prey.
lets it go as fast, and then;
Has it in her power again.”
 
Rudyard Kipling – The Cat that walked by Himself
 
“He will kill mice, and he will be kind to babies when he is in the house, just as long as they do not pull his tail too hard. But when he has done that, and between times, and when the moon gets up and night comes, he is the Cat that walks by himself, and all places are alike to him.”  
TS Elliot – The Naming of Cats
 
“But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular,
A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?”
 

 

One of the more famous North American authors with overt fondness for cats was Ernest Hemingway who had up to 30 cats at any given time. Hemingway was particularly keen on polydactyl cats, cats with more than the standard number of toes, so much so that he collected them and they are now colloquially called “Hemingway Cats” He built a separate building, the Cat House, for his cats which can still be visited today. Hemingway’s attachment to cats was perhaps surpassed by that of Mark Twain who apparently could not live happily for an extended period of time away from his cats and is said to have once rented two, Sackcloth and Ashes, when he had to be away from his own. One of his more famous comments on the subject which many true cat lovers will agree with, was “If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man but deteriorate the cat.”

References
  1. http://www.catquotes.com
  2. Coren, Stanley (2002). The Pawprints of History. The Free Press. ISBN 0-7432-2228-8
  3. Priya Kapoor, Nandita Jaishankar. Very Important Pets. Lustre Press Roli Books. ISBN 81-7436-332-7
  4. Bryant, Mark (2002). Casanova’s Parrot and Other Tales of the Famous and Their Pets. Carrol & Graf Publishers ISBN: 0-7867-1092-6
  5. The Rattle Bag. Faber and faber ISBN 0 571 119

 


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Dogs – Our Oldest Companions. [ click here ]

Dogs – Our Oldest Companions.

“All knowledge, the totality of all questions and answers, is contained in the dog.”
Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

The paw prints of our oldest companions tread steadily alongside our footprints throughout recorded history. The earliest evidence of domesticated dogs living and working with human beings is depicted on the walls of caves in places as diverse and widespread as India, Spain and South America. It is there that we first see dogs playing the many roles that we know them in and appreciate for today– hunting partner, loyal companion, faithful friend and early warning system to name but a few.
Those who think that the strong human-animal bond that exists today is a recent phenomenon have only to look back to some of our oldest known civilizations to see the truth of the matter.
While not achieving the divine status of their feline antagonists in ancient Egypt (popular opinion deems Anubis to have the head of a jackal not a dog), dogs did succeed in forging a strong bond with their owners all the way into the after life as many dogs were mummified and buried with their owners. The dogs that are depicted most often on ancient Egyptian monuments and paintings strongly resemble the modern saluki or greyhound.

From ancient Egypt the story of the domestic dog and the greyhound in particular, moves on to ancient Greece and Rome. Dogs are portrayed in the presence of Hecate, the goddess of wealth and Pollux, the god and protector of the hunt and lauded in Homer’s Odyssey. Perhaps the most famous dog of the period is Alexander the Great’s dog, Peritas, after whom he named a city.

Contemporaneously in the Far East the dog, in the form of the Pekingese, was making its documented entry into ancient Chinese civilization during the early part of the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD). Small enough to fit in the sleeve of an empress, Pekingese were bred as companions for the members of the Imperial Palace. The dogs’ resemblance to the revered Chinese Lions, led to them being considered guardian spirits and they were sometimes referred to as Dogs of Foo (or Fu). Decorative and symbolic representations of the Dogs of Foo can still be seen guarding the gateways of Chinese ancient buildings including, imperial palaces, temples and tombs together with many modern restaurants and hotels.

It is interesting to note the documented existence of two entirely different breeds of dog, the greyhound and the Pekingese, as early as 200BC. The selective breeding of dogs by their human companions has continued unabated since that time, with characteristics such as hunting ability, retrieving ability, strength, size, coat and general appearance dictating the choice of sire and dam. Some research points to an initial 14 ancient breeds (listed below) from which the several hundred distinct dog breeds of today have resulted.

Afghan Hound (Afghanistan)
Akita (Japan)
Alaskan Malamute
(United States (Alaska))
Basenji (Congo)
Chow Chow (China)
Lhasa Apso (Tibet)
Pekingese
(China)
Saluki (Egypt,Persia)
Samoyed (Siberia)
Shar Pei
(China)
Shiba Inu (Japan)
Shih Tzu (China/Tibet)
Siberian Husky
(Siberia)
Tibetian Terrier (Tibet)


Big or small, shaggy or smooth - we can thank our ancestors for the wide variety of breeds that dog lovers can choose from today.

References
  1. http://www.akc.org/breeds/miscellaneous_class.cfm
  2. http://www.lam.mus.ca.us/exhibitions/dogs/sevolution/selection
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_dog_breeds
  4. The Journal Science (http://www.sciencemag.org)
  5. http://www.louisevillgrayhounds.org/history2.htm
  6. http://credenda.org/issues/10-2historia.php?type=print
  7. Coren, Stanley (2002). The Pawprints of History. The Free Press. ISBN 0-7432-2228-8
  8. Bryant, Mark (2002). Casanova’s Parrot and Other Tales of the Famous and Their Pets. Carrol & Graf Publishers ISBN: 0-7867-1092-6
  9. McGreevy, Paul (2004). Dog Lover’s Companion. Fog City Press. ISBN 1-877019-58-8


Thousands of years ago, cats were worshipped as gods... [ click here ]

Thousands of years ago, cats were worshipped as gods...

"Thousands of years ago, cats were worshipped as gods. Cats have never forgotten this." Anonymous Love them or hate them cats have played a focal role in family life for thousands of years and here’s how it all started…. The first evidence of domesticated cats was found at ancient Egyptian archaeological sites where statues, paintings, jewelry and mummified cats indicates that cats had a very special role to play in the lives of the ancients. Ancient Egyptian art predominantly shows two types of cat in Egypt at that time, a large partially “spotted” cat that was apparently used for hunting and the second, similar to the modern Abyssinian breed, that was domesticated and kept as a household pet. The ancient Egyptian way of life was founded upon farming the fertile soils along the Nile. As the Egyptians learnt to tame the ebbs and flows of the Nile, the farmers became more successful, growing food in such quantities that there arose the need to store the excess grain and food products. Of course, as all good farmers know, the storage of grain attracts unwanted guests, in particular rats and mice. It is at that point that the Egyptians came into contact with a welcome interloper – the African wildcat. Scenting an easy source of prey, the wildcats came in from the desert and began to rid the granaries of vermin. The Egyptians domesticated the cats and as their popularity increased, their status in society shifted from vermin catcher to pampered pet and ultimately to divine being. Ancient Egyptians worshipped Bast, the goddess of love and the moon and while Bast was originally portrayed with the head of a lion, later statues and paintings portray Bast with the head of a cat. It is thought that ancient Egyptians perceived the changing shapes of a cat’s pupils as a reflection of the waxing and waning of the moon. In keeping with their status as a goddess, temples were erected to cats and sacrifices offered to them. When a household cat died the entire family and servants would shave their eyebrows and go into mourning, mummifying the cat and placing it one of the many cat cemeteries that have been found in Egypt. The death of a temple cat was even more devastating, resulting in widespread mourning throughout the city. Stories are told of a Persian king who captured an Egyptian town by instructing his troops to carry cats into battle thus ensuring that the Egyptians would not resist in case they hurt the cats! The custom of keeping cats spread slowly from Egypt through the Middle Eastern countries and then into the Far East, domestic cats are not recorded in North America and Europe until much later. Unfortunately for them, as domestic cats spread from home to home across the globe, they did not manage to maintain their early status as divine beings and were quickly relegated to a more humble status. Many cat owners today will, however, concur that their cats continue live under the motto "Once a goddess, always a goddess".







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