The next time your friend’s pet cat sinks its fangs into your wrist, bear in mind that the beast is probably still laboring under the impression that it’s guarding the granaries.
Anthropologist Eva-Maria Geigl’s animated Ted-Ed Lesson, The History of the World According to Cats, above, awards special recognition to Unsinkable Sam, a black-and-white ship’s cat who survived three WWII shipwrecks (on both Axis and Allied sides).
It’s a cute story, but as far as directing the course of history, Felis silvestris lybica, a subspecies of wildcat that can be traced to the Fertile Crescent some 12,000 years ago, emerges as the true star.
In a Neolithic spin of “The Farmer in the Dell,” the troughs and urns in which ancient farmers stored surplus grain attracted mice and rats, who in turn attracted these muscular, predatory cats.
They got the job done.
Human and cats’ mutually beneficial relationship spelled bad news for the rodent population, but survival for today’s 600-million-some domestic cats, whose DNA is shockingly similar to that of its prehistoric ancestors.
Having proved their value to the human population in terms of pest control, cats quickly found themselves elevated to welcome companions of soldiers and sailors, celebrated for their ability to knock out rope-destroying vermin, as well as dangerous animals on the order of snakes and scorpions.
Thusly did cats’ influence spread.
Bastet, the Egyptian goddess of domesticity, women’s secrets, fertility, and childbirth is unmistakably feline.
Cats draw the chariot of Freya, the Norse goddess of love.
Their popularity dipped briefly in the Late Middle Ages, when humankind mistakenly credited cats as the source of the plague. In truth, that scourge was spread by rodents, who ran unchecked after men rounded up their feline predators for a gruesome slaughter.
Nowadays, a quick glimpse at Instagram is proof enough that cats are back on top.
(Yes, you can haz cheezburger with that.)
Dogs may see our service to them as proof that we are gods, buts cats surely interpret the feeding and upkeep they receive at human hands as evidence they are the ones to be worshipped.
Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. See her onstage in New York City January 14 as host of Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.