One of the most persistent myths about cats is that they have nine lives.
Of course, they don’t actually have nine lives but where did this myth come from?
While the exact origin is unknown, it is likely derived from a combination of a cat’s ability to survive and the air of mystery, awe and worship of cats throughout history.
Ancient Beginnings Of The 9 Lives Myth
The myth probably has ancient origins but would have been an oral story that has been passed through generations.
Even William Shakespeare included the saying in Romeo and Juliet when he wrote “Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives.”.
This was in the late 16th century.
The fascination with cats is thought to date back around 12,000 years to the Ancient Egyptians when cats were worshipped.
Cats have always retained their air of mystery and this is something that has been with them since they first spread across the globe as domestic cats.
There is an Old English Proverb that says:
“A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays.”Old English Proverb
This is a possible origin for where the number nine was brought into the myth.
This proverb was not meant in seriousness, it was not to say the cat literally has nine lives to live.
The statement is about the hardy nature of cats and that they tend to stay close and enjoy the most cuddles when they are older.
Cats “Always” Land On Their Feet
Well, they almost always land on their feet.
A cat’s ability to frequently land on their feet is thanks to their “righting reflex” which means they can twist and turn very quickly so they will land on their feet.
The balance and reflexes of a cat are extremely good, they also have more vertebrae than humans making their backbones very flexible.
It is thought that the main reason behind the myth that cats have multiple lives is due to how good cats are at jumping and landing.
A cat is able to climb high trees, run around and jump from high places without harming themselves.
The thought process behind them having multiple lives is simple – surely an animal with one life wouldn’t behave in such a way?
Cats do though, and thanks to their evolution they are agile and excellent at jumping.
There are stories across the world of cats that have jumped/ fallen from high places such as tall buildings and have survived.
The following traits all contribute to cat’s impressive ability to jump from heights, land and survive:
- A cat’s weight is low and surface area is large meaning the force of landing is reduced
- They evolved to live in trees so have adapted to handle falls
- They have a “righting reflex” to help them land on their feet
- They have flexibility in their bones and ligaments
All of these factors come together to help cats thrive and survive, leaving humans astounded.
Can Cats Cheat Death?
The skill, dexterity and intelligence of cats helps them to survive with lightning-fast reflexes.
They can get themselves out of tough spots and are able to escape from potentially life-threatening situations without a single scratch.
Despite all of this, the reality is that cats have one life just like everyone else.
Why Nine Lives?
Nine is something of a lucky or magical number in many cultures.
Cats have been viewed as sacred, they have been worshipped and even viewed as gods.
They have been thought of as mysterious creatures with multiple lives so having a number that also has magical or mystical beliefs tied to it is no surprise.
It’s also interesting to note that not all countries and cultures state the number nine in this myth.
In Spain, it is seven and in Arabic and Turkish legends it is six.
The important takeaway is more that the numbers have symbolic meanings rather than literal ones.
The underlying belief of this myth was that cats had more than one life.
Cats Only Have One Life
Cats may be talented daredevils but they are not indestructible.
They can find themselves in unfortunate situations, get stuck in garages and their antics can get them hurt.
This is why it is important to take steps to help keep your cat safe at home.
For example, encouraging them to use a cat tree to practice their climbing and jumping skills rather than shelves or the top of the fridge.
There are many different sources where the nine lives myth could have originated from.
Primarily it comes from a cat’s natural ability to survive and the fact that cats have been worshipped or thought of as a divinity in many cultures throughout time.
The biggest takeaway is that the myth is a result of humans being astonished at how hardy these animals are.