Nine Lives


Published January 2011

Have you ever wondered about the saying, "A cat has nine lives"? It is one of the most commonly repeated feline myths.

Shakespeare even makes reference to a cat's nine lives in Romeo and Juliet:

Tybalt: What wouldst thou have with me?
Mercutio: Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives.

We cannot really know where the saying that a cat has nine lives began... but here are a few theories...


There is an ancient proverb that states:

A cat has nine lives.
For three he plays,
for three he strays,
and for the last three he stays.

But how did the folklore come about that suggests every feline has nine lives to live? There are a variety of theories and folktales that try to explain...


Landing On Its Feet

Having multiple lives may have sprung from the cat's unique ability to always "fall on its feet". In olden times, observing a cat emerge undamaged from a fall that would have killed another animal, ancient man could be forgiven for thinking the cat must have more than one life.


The Witches Companion

The well-known saying may have its origins in witchcraft. A book titled "Beware the Cat" written by English author, William Baldwin, in 1584 contained the phrase, "It is permitted for a witch to take her cat's body nine times". Perhaps it was these words that stated the myth.


The Egyptian God Atum-Ra

Of course, cats were revered in ancient Egypt. The god Atum-Ra took the form of a cat when visiting the underworld and then gave birth to eight other gods. Perhaps this where the myth of a cat having nine lives arose.


The Gluttonous Feline

Then there is the story of a very hungry cat that entered a house one day and found a plate of nine fish that were going to be eaten for dinner by the nine starving children who lived there. The hungry cat gobbled up all of the fish in nine quick bites. With no food on the table, the nine starving children died of hunger the very next day, along with the cat who died from eating WAY too much. When the cat went up to heaven and spoke with God, God was so angry with the cat that he threw him out of heaven and made him fall for nine days all the way back to earth. To this day, the cat still holds the nine lives of the starving children in his belly, which is why he must die nine different times before he will stay dead.


Chinese Luck

And finally, another suggestion is that the nine lives theory may have originated in China where the number nine is considered especially lucky.



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