Learn where the myth that cats have nine lives comes from and why it's still popular today at EntirelyPets
The phrase "cats have nine lives" has made its way through the ages; though it's somewhat certain that cats are stuck with one life like the rest of us, you have to wonder where this dubious myth was first conceived. As it turns out, there are a number of possible origins for the phrase that extend far throughout history and across cultures.
1. The myth of cats' multiplicity of lives goes as far back as Ancient Egypt.
Egypt regarded these cats as sacred animals and even worshiped a god, Atum-Ra, that took the form of the cat. It is said that Atum-Ra gave birth to nine other gods which might be the origin of the relation between the number of nine and the nine gods that are associated with cats in Egyptian theology.
2. Other religions throughout history have also revered cats as sacred.
One such religion states that they are omniscient exalted souls who have been made mute to prevent their interference in the affairs of man. This association likely further built the myth across cultures that cats have something supernatural about them.
3. Though cats were often revered as sacred- the inception of "nine lives" remains a mystery and is apparently still up for debate.
Though nine seems to be the consensus in a majority of countries, certain Eastern European countries, including Greece and Germany, state that cats have seven lives. Turkish and Arabic countries reduce this figure to six- but interestingly many agree that it's definitely more than one.
4. Count Baldwin III helped show that cats can perform death-defying feats
One tragic tradition of the County of Flanders, an area near present-day Netherlands, is likely responsible for the spread of these myths. In the mid-10th century, Baldwin III was the Count of Flanders. Legend has it that Baldwin had an interesting predilection towards throwing cats out of his extremely tall tower. Though it is not known how often this occurred, records from the diary of the castle keeper reveal that "in spite of the height of the fall, [the cat] ran off quickly…" showing that the survival of these cats did not go unnoticed.
5. The myth was even mentioned in the first English novel
The first known mention of the myth of cats' nine lives is in the first English novel Beware the Cat by poet William Baldwin. The novel is a horror fiction which focuses on medieval witch craft. Though it does not explicitly state that cat's have nine lives, it does contain the phrase "It is permitted for a witch to take her cat's body nine times."
6. It's also in one of the most famous English plays of all time
The next reference to the nine lives of cats occurs shortly after the first in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Tybalt, who is mocked as the "King of Cats", is challenged by Mercutio to a duel. "Good King of Cats, nothing but one of your nine lives, that I mean to make bold withal, and, as you shall use me hereafter, dry-beat the rest of the eight," Mercutio declares this threat against Tybalt in the first scene of Act 3, further establishing the myth.
7. The number nine holds special significance
Since not all cultures agree on the figure of "nine" it's a bit curious as to where the figure really came from. Though the Egyptian tale of Atum-Ra is one possible explanation, nine has also been cited as a lucky number in Chinese culture. Another likely factor in Western cultures is that the number 9 has a sacred standing as the "trinity of trinities."
8. Cats are quick enough survive at least nine near-deaths
Though these past explanations refer directly to the spread of the myth, there is also good merit to the myth itself. The nimbleness and speed of cats allow them to escape many dangerous situations. This provides merit to the legend and likely contributed to its spread (though the specific numbers of 6, 7 or 9 are still anyone's guess).
9. Cats are amazing
Though the miraculous stories of cats surviving Baldwin's absurd antics, they are not entirely uncommon. Gathering data from patients, scientists have discovered that cats can twist and maneuver in the air to lessen impact and insure they land on their feet. This process allows cats to rather commonly survive falls of up to 45 stories! 132 cats have been recorded falling from a distance of more than 5.5 stories with only one third requiring emergency treatment. Additionally, cats purr at a frequency that acts as a natural healing mechanism through creating a resonance that strengthens bones and organs and accelerates healing.