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The Cat Chronicles: A Look at Cats in Literature Throughout the Ages

From ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics to modern-day novels, cats have been a beloved and intriguing subject in literature for centuries. These mysterious and independent creatures have captured the hearts and imaginations of writers, poets, and readers alike. In this article, we will take a journey through the ages to explore the role of cats in literature and how they have been portrayed in various works of fiction and non-fiction.

The Ancient Egyptians: Cats as Divine Creatures

The earliest known depiction of cats in literature can be traced back to ancient Egypt, where they were revered as sacred animals. In Egyptian mythology, the goddess Bastet was often depicted as a woman with the head of a cat, representing protection, fertility, and motherhood. Cats were also believed to have the power to ward off evil spirits and were often mummified and buried with their owners.

One of the most famous literary works from ancient Egypt is “The Book of the Dead,” which contains spells and rituals for the afterlife. In this text, cats are mentioned as protectors of the deceased and are often depicted as companions to the gods. This portrayal of cats as divine creatures further solidified their importance in Egyptian culture and literature.

The Middle Ages: Cats as Symbols of Witchcraft

During the Middle Ages, cats took on a more sinister role in literature. They were often associated with witchcraft and were believed to be the familiars of witches. This belief was fueled by the widespread superstition that cats were able to see in the dark and had a connection to the supernatural.

One of the most well-known examples of this portrayal is in William Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth.” The three witches in the play are accompanied by a cat, which is seen as a symbol of their dark powers. This negative depiction of cats in literature during the Middle Ages had a lasting impact on their reputation and led to the persecution and killing of thousands of cats during the witch hunts.

The Renaissance: Cats as Companions and Symbols of Luxury

In the Renaissance period, cats began to be seen in a more positive light in literature. They were often portrayed as loyal companions and symbols of luxury and wealth. This shift in perception can be seen in the works of famous writers such as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe.

In Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet,” the character Mercutio compares Romeo’s love for Juliet to a cat’s love for its owner, saying “Why, is not this better now than groaning for love? Now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo; now art thou what thou art, by art as well as by nature: for this drivelling love is like a great natural that runs lolling up and down to hide his bauble in a hole.” This comparison highlights the loyalty and affection that cats can show towards their owners.

In Marlowe’s play “The Jew of Malta,” the character Barabas is described as having a “cat-like watchfulness” and is often seen with his pet cat. This symbolizes his wealth and power, as cats were considered a luxury item during this time period.

The Modern Era: Cats as Symbols of Independence and Mischief

In modern literature, cats are often portrayed as independent and mischievous creatures. They are seen as symbols of freedom and rebellion, and their unpredictable nature adds an element of mystery to many stories.

One of the most famous examples of this portrayal is in T.S. Eliot’s collection of poems “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” which was later adapted into the popular musical “Cats.” In these poems, cats are depicted as cunning and playful creatures, each with their own unique personalities and quirks.

Cats are also a popular subject in children’s literature, with characters such as the mischievous Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and the sassy cat in Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat in the Hat.” These portrayals of cats as independent and unpredictable creatures have cemented their place in modern literature.


Throughout the ages, cats have been a constant presence in literature, representing a wide range of themes and ideas. From their divine status in ancient Egypt to their mischievous nature in modern literature, cats have captured the hearts and imaginations of readers for centuries. Whether they are seen as symbols of power, companionship, or rebellion, one thing is for sure – cats will continue to be a beloved subject in literature for years to come.

Question and Answer

A: Cats have always been seen as mysterious and independent creatures, which makes them intriguing subjects for writers. They also have a rich history and have been associated with various themes and ideas, making them a versatile and interesting subject to explore in literature.

Q: How have cats been portrayed differently in literature over time?

A: In ancient Egypt, cats were seen as divine creatures and were revered as sacred animals. During the Middle Ages, they were associated with witchcraft and were often portrayed as sinister creatures. In the Renaissance period, they were seen as symbols of luxury and wealth. In modern literature, cats are often depicted as independent and mischievous creatures, adding an element of mystery and unpredictability to stories.

Q: What impact has literature had on the perception of cats in society?

A: Literature has played a significant role in shaping the perception of cats in society. From their divine status in ancient Egypt to their association with witchcraft in the Middle Ages, literature has influenced how people view and interact with cats. It has also helped to solidify their place as beloved and intriguing creatures in our culture.

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