Cat fanciers who consider their pets majestic have history on their side: felines were domesticated in ancient Egypt around 2000 B.C. while their European cousins still ran wild. Over the centuries they gained an exalted position in royal society-revered as an incarnation of a goddess, modeled in bronze statuettes, and even mummified and buried with their owners. Yet cats also won commoners' respect for their humble origins and protective instincts, earning them a prominent place in the personal religion of ordinary people.
Egypt scholar Jaromir Malek has called on a variety of artistic and written sources to tell how the cat became one of the most widely esteemed animals in that ancient society. He shows how we can date the domestication of cats from their depiction in art-first from the tomb of Baket III, in which a cat is shown confronting a field rat; then increasingly in images where cats are seen under the chairs of wives, a depiction that complements the long-established motif of dogs situated beneath the husbands' chair.
His book includes more than a hundred illustrations-many in full color-that show how cats came to be widely represented in tomb paintings, sculpture, papyri, jewelry, ostraka, and sarcophagi. Throughout the text, he provides sufficient information on ancient Egyptian religion, society, and art to help general readers understand how the cat achieved its place of honor.
Today cats can be seen throughout Egypt, wandering in bazaars or asleep in shaded courtyards, evidence of an enduring relationship with humans that this book warmly captures. The Cat in Ancient Egypt is an informative and entertaining work that will delight cat lovers and history buffs alike.
Egyptologist and cat lover Jaromir Malek is Keeper of the Archive at the Griffith Institute, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
"The definitive account of the feline in Egypt."-Cats