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A History of Cats and Their Role in Popular Culture

Cats and humans have a long and complex history, and they are thought to have been domesticated for around 12,000 years. Early evidence suggests cats were reared by humans to guard food storehouses in the middle east, where early human settlers had started to develop agricultural techniques and needed to protect their harvest.

While they don’t satisfy the loyal servitude given by a dog, cats have their own attitude and benefits, one of which still remains: the control of vermin. But they now take on a number of roles in modern societies, some of which are reflected in popular culture through characters and artwork. This blog aims to highlight some of the more popular examples and the roles they play.

Oil painting by Marguerite Gérard 

This painting dates back to the early 19th century and depicts a cat eating lunch from a human (presumably their owner), while a dog watches on. Cats have always maintained a regal elegance, elevating them above other pets and this picture perfectly reflects this notion that still stays with us today.

Ancient Egypt

Going even further back in time, the ancient Egyptians revered cats and mummified them in the same way as humans. Their god, Bastet (pictured), was a cat and stood for protection, perfume/ointments, fertility, pregnancy, children, music, the arts, and warfare… quite a responsibility!

The killing of cats was totally forbidden in ancient Egypt, and according to records, when a family cat died, the whole family would shave their eyebrows and travel to the city of Bubastis to bury them and pay their respects to the feline god, Bastet.

Tom & Jerry

Fulfilling their more well-known servile role, Tom & Jerry has entertained children and adults for decades with their antics, often proving fruitless for the cat. The cartoon sees the more popular notion nowadays of the cat being the villain and a typical hunter gatherer. It never fails to provide amusement when Jerry gets away, despite each show following more or less the same pattern.

Modern Day Depictions

Cats most commonly appear in advertisements and memes, as a funny and harmless companion. Whether that’s fair or not, you’d have to ask them. But one thing we do know: people are crazy about them and they will continue to appreciate their kind and calm nature for years to come.