Do Cats Really Have Nine Lives

Deconstructing the myth!

Do Cats Really Have Nine Lives

Cats have nine lives – have you ever heard someone say that? No one exactly knows where this expression came from. This popular belief is a myth that has been around for centuries and it exists in many cultures around the world. However, it is not always nine lives and the number varies from different cultures. Turkish and Arabic legends claim cats have six lives, while some Spanish-speaking regions believe cats have seven lives.

Myths are old stories that generally feature a person, animal, hero or event. Although they have no basis in fact, they usually try to give explanations to an idea or a natural phenomenon. So, where did the myth about cats having nine lives come from?

William Shakespeare refers to the myth in his play Romeo and Juliet. There is also an old English proverb states “A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays” – although the proverb is not thought to be meant in seriousness, this could be where the myth came from.

One notion behind why cats have nine lives came from the ancient Egyptian reverence of cats, according to Wyrdology. The ancient Egyptian sun god, Atum-Ra, was believed to take the form of a cat on visits to the underworld. Legend has it that Atum-Ra gave birth to eight other gods and thus Atum unified nine lives in one. On the other hand, ancient Egyptians also believed that cats were divine creatures with psychic or supernatural powers. The sacred animals, cats were worshipped as gods in ancient Egypt.

Nine is also a magic number. The ancient Greeks said that the number nine referred to the trinity of all trinities. It is a mystic number which invokes tradition and religion. The nine lives theory could also have originated in China. Although it is not as lucky as six or eight, the number nine is considered lucky in China and featured heavily in the mythology of Chinese dragons.

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Fact Behind The Myth

Cats don’t really have nine lives – and this popular idea can be explained by the ability of cats to jump and land.

Cats are particularly agile and possess great dexterity. They are able to negotiate huge heights whilst being able to land on their feet. The reason for this is because they have what is called a ‘righting reflex’ – a cat is able to twist around very quickly in the air to land safely on her feet. They have flexibility in their bones and ligaments (required for quiet stealth to attack their prey) that helps allow them to sustain minimal injury from many types of accidents, said Sally Morgan, the holistic physical therapist.

Over time, human witnessed cats survive in situations that surely would have severely injured other animals. Thus, some people likely began to believe that cats must have multiple lives – they believe the nine lives myth is related to cats’ ability to always land on their feet.

Updated: November 4, 2017.

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