For millenniums men and cats lived one next to the other without one noticing the existence of the other.Their paths never crossed.Some were hunters and predators.They,the human beings,used to live from hand to mouth keeping themselves busy with sheep and goats and the pasture was uninhabited. They would set out with their hunting companions, the dogs,armed with javelins,bows and arrows in pursuit of new prey.Others were small animal predators,for the most part noctural,always engaged in the discovery of something new. It seemed really that men and cats had nothing in common as long as men didn't begin to have a fixed abode. In Africa they occupied the shores of the Nile: regularly, during the rainy season, the river would reach high tide distributing like this it's own water to neighbouring fields. The season having ended, the land would dry up, becoming arid, and to cover those long periods of scarcity the ancient Egyptians constructed silos: the first big attractions of the followers of the cultivation of man: rats and mice. In the meantime, in the depths of South Africa lived still the little specialist. Of the few mice at this point left, it somehow managed to find rare examples of them from the african coasts.
Perhaps it found the way to the Nile Delta by itself, or perhaps the hunters or the warriors drove it way over there, we will never know; however, about 4000 years ago the dark yellow African cat discovered the gigantic silos of the Egyptians and that is the great Land of Plenty. It remained there, it found the means to be satisfied, and there it bred. At the beginning it was tolerated by man, then having discovered it's talents as a mouse hunter, it was this way utilized and in the end it was elevated to goddess-protector of foods. With that it had begun the fabulous ascent of the only living being that decided freely to become a domestic animal.
With the Egyptians the tranquil life was an easy thing: like a member of the family it earned it's own place at the table, and that is a bowl always full of milk. In the end Bastet, as god of the sun, divinity with a cat head of the god of the sun, Ra, had his own temple in which a circle of priests took care of its well being. The cat also symbolized the god of the moon: it was said that in the daytime, it would imprison the rays of the sun in its eyes which would irradiate them during the night. The outward appearance of an Egyptian family was tied fast by the number of its striped or spotted companions: he who could say a considerable number of male or female cats were his was called rich and powerful. To this end used to correspond the sumptuousness of the funeral rites of a cat. The external sign of mourning would consist of shaving one's eyebrows; one would say the deep mourning was over only when one's eyebrows were regrown. The divinities were buried in a fitting cemetery. Their bodies were embalmed and protected by special cloths for mummies, and on the mask, as a sign of mourning, the moustache, the eyes, and the nose were highlighted. The little mummy was then laid to rest in the coffin and thus began the beginning of the ultimate ritual by means of the most prestigious gifts: statuettes, gold or even mummified mice had to accompany them into the kingdom of the night.
The poor families in the end used to take up collections with the neighbors to assure the dead a "proper" ceremony. Burial in the cemetery of Bubastis was quite a special honor. Bastet was deity bastis: all the towers, the houses, and the bridges would serve as embellishment to the symbol from the slender head, to the erect ears and to the almond eyes, Bastet. Hundreds of thousands of men, year after year, used to fulfil their pilgramage to Bubastis, to render homage to the animal, and as many men used to arrive there to bury their favorite cat. In the golden age of the worship of the cat, around 800 B.C., the animal had already changed it's appearance: the color of the fur looked gray and black, the teeth were smaller and the frame had become more slender. From the timid and dark yellow wild cat developed the first domestic cat: a breed traceable only in the ancient Egyptian empire. The Pharaohs were to work things out in such a way that the cat, acknowledged deity, remained in the borders of their own domain. Not only was it prohibited to harm a cat, the punishment being death, or directly kill it, but it was also forbidden to bring it out of the country. The ancestral cat was not as fertile as our domestic cats of today, for it still followed the natural reproductive rhythms of its wild ancestors. The heat cycles were less frequent and the litters were smaller.
In fact, it seems that in the span of seven years one female would be able to give birth to 28 kittens, probably 4 kittens per litter per year. All that increased its value and consequently it enriched the impulse of the smugglers to export some specimens of these clever hunters of mice and rats towards Greece or to Rome. it is still uncertain if the secret and illicit trade had positive results, or if it was the same cat to exceed mysteriously the boundaries of Egypt. For two thousand years it was, however, the god of a people. Then the Egyptian Empire failed and the god met its end. But not the cat and its successors: they knew new honors and in the ancient Roman Empire and in Greece, they had new ranks. In China, "Mao", the cat that is, is the protagonist of valued writings. In Arabia the cat acquired the same value as a horse. Hinduism imposed and obliged one to notice each stray cat and to feed it. Buddhism made it rise again on the throne of divinity like the god Sastht. Of the pet of Mohammed, they say that prophet may have cut the sleeve of his robe in order not to wake the cat when he got up from the straw-filled mattress that he used to share with him. Also, the first pre-Christian monks would show love and warmth for the cat.
The cat was actually the first living being that had an animal protection law established for it. The Prince Howel of Galles punished severely the killing of cats. It was again the cat to be used as valuable merchandise of exchange of the Chinese and Japanese, versus silk, valuing its skills as a predator of mice. In the space of about 1500 years the cat had conquered the ancient world. Of its own will, it followed man in every city, adapting itself to each new environment, undergoing only little outward transformations. In Japan they preferred the white and reds; in China the flattened muzzle; in Scandanavia the smaller cats; in France long haired cats. Inwardly it remained nevertheless always the same. A predatory animal that was able to manage alone. An autonomous being, yet without denying a certain submissiveness. Then came the decline. At the height of the age of superstitions, around 1200 A.D., the persecutor became the persecuted. The god became the devil. People wh o, until that moment had venerated and consecrated it with devotion, put it quickly to the stake.
In the following 450 dark years, our domestic cats payed for human friendship on pain of death, and with them hundreds of thousands of cat owners were burned, tortured and stoned to death like witches and sorcerers. The pitiless fight had exchanged roles: the rats, that used to travel on the fleets, rapidly multiplied and brought diseases and epidemics. The plague caused carnage: entire cities were destroyed. Three quarters of the Europeans died, from the middle of the XIII century until the middle of the XVI century, the epidemic struck without pity, 25 million men suffered the consequences. Perhaps by chance, at the height of the period of the plague, the cat regained its power; perhaps it was still by chance that, a few years after, the "Black Death" began to make less frequent its victims. It wasn't certainly by chance that men returned to utilize the predator of rats and mice. The animal would hunt the rodents and would rouse them with extreme ease also in the homes of man. The French were the first to re-evaluate the precious predator, the farmers first, absolutely, the city dwellers then followed. But in the end "Le Chat", "El gato" and "The Cat" won back its place also near the Spanish and English nobility.
When the first European ships landed in America the cats were also aboard: together with the pioneers they occupied the "Wild West" and together with the Mormons they distributed themselves on the plains. As long as they did not multiply rapidly, they were extremely good exchange commodities, in the South a cat used to cost a piece of gold. The second fabulous rise of the cat had begun in the early 18th century: the antique Egyptian features of the orange-gray-black striped cat transformed themselves in numerous variations. The muzzle became thus pointed and round, with the nose more or less flattend. From god it was elevated to an artistic symbol in poetry and in painting. In the meantime, its service as a predator of mice had almost run out. It had a touch of independence left in a universe of rules and regulations as well as a touch of naturalness in the artificiality in our world full of concrete. A delightful tale versus a reality. A modern tale versus the oppressive concrete.


Thanks very much to my friend Vincenzo Gioia for translation from Italian to English.