Often people say that cats have 9 lives. If this is true, they are the luckiest creatures alive! So, where does this myth originate from? Let us find out if there is any truth to the saying and why this saying came about.
Cat’s nine lives and cultures
Many cultures associate cats with nine lives. The Egyptians were the first to come up with this theory, and China and Japan followed, also believing the myth about cats’ nine lives. Other cultures believe myths about cat’s nine lives too, or that cats have multiple lives, but less than 9.
For example, Spanish-speaking regions, along with Italy, Greece, and Germany, are less generous regarding cats and their lives. They grant them 7 lives. Some Turkish and Arabic traditions grant cats 6 lives. However, just like the Egyptian culture, English literature has always granted cats 9 lives too.
The Egyptian belief
The Egyptians believe in cat’s nine lives. Egyptians believe in a god they call Ra. The story of Ra has many versions, but according to the most popular one, Ra gave life to 8 gods. Ra could change the form and often changed form into a cat when he visited the underworld. So, people started associating Ra with having 9 lives (plus the 8 he gave birth to). Ra’s existence represented his own, plus the eight other lives he gave birth to, so nine in total. This eventually translated to the belief about the cat’s nine lives, just like Ra did.
The Chinese belief
The Chinese also believe in cat’s nine lives. They believe that 9 is an impressive number – a lucky number, which signifies eternity in Chinese culture. From this, it can be derived the belief of cats having 9 lives to the belief that cats live too long because they have 9 lives, or ‘eternally.’
The Japanese belief
Japanese culture believes in cat’s nine lives and a symbol of good luck, which is the “Maneki Neko.” The symbol is of a cat raising its paw. Some people may think this is threatening, but actually, it is a gesture of peace and welcome.
The Japanese believe that cats, especially black ones, are lucky and signify something good coming to you. They also believe in cat’s nine lives. So, for them, the cat having 9 lives is a good sign, like a sign of resilience.
The English belief
The origins of where this belief of cat’s nine lives in the English-speaking world came from are a bit blurred, but many people like to credit Shakespeare for planting the idea of cat’s 9 lives. In one of his famously renowned plays, ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ two characters are having a conversation. Tybalt asks Mercutio, “What wouldst thou have with me?” to which Mercutio replies, “Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives.” In this, he mentions the belief about cat’s nine lives and indicates that cats have 9 lives and that Mercutio wants one of those lives from Tybalt, who is the prince of cats in the play.
The number 9 has much significance in many religions, including Christianity and Hinduism. It signifies a sense of being complete or finality.
The myth about cat’s nine lives is just something that people have come up with over the years. There is a more logical reason why people believe that cats have 9 lives, and that is a phenomenon called the “righting reflex.”
The “righting reflex.”
This is a reflex that cats have in them naturally. This reflex allows them to land on their feet every time they fall, no matter how much height they fall or what angle. This reflex also grants them the ability to twist around while being in mid-air.
They do this so quickly that sometimes it won’t even be obvious to the human eye till you try to pay attention to what your cat is doing. So, if cats fall or are deliberately dropped from a height where they would get hurt otherwise, they can save themselves by twisting in mid-air and landing right on their feet. It saves them from any injury they could have gotten if they had not landed on what is upright for them.
This is a special ability that not many animals have. It allows the cat to fix the orientation of their body and direct the motion of their limbs, so they can prevent any injury they may sustain in the event of a fall. It helps them escape potentially dangerous situations without so much as a scratch.
Even though it is a fact that the myth about cat’s nine lives is false and that they save themselves from getting hurt in dangerous situations because of their fast reflexes, the myth of a cats’ nine lives is still very much alive and popular today. Still, the cat’s nine lives myth is easily believable. How come this is so?
Cats are fast
Cats may be able to save themselves from catastrophic disasters more than one time. This may not be simply because they are lucky, but rather because they can run fast. They can elongate their spines, which flexes their back, allowing them to take strides that are extra long. They can run as fast as 30 mph at small intervals.
Cats are flexible
Humans have 33 vertebrae (individual bones) in their spine. In contrast, cats have 53, almost double that of humans. This allows for much flexibility so that they can rotate their bodies in many angles. Cats can even rotate their bodies as much as 180 degrees. Because of this special ability, they tend to land on their feet every time.
Cats are springy
Cats have very springy and often muscular legs. This helps in absorbing shock when they land.
Due to all these reasons, the myth of a cat’s nine lives is quite believable. It is actually because they are very agile and flexible that they can save themselves from many disasters waiting to happen.