Miss Cuddlywumps muses on miu
(Swamp cat [Felis chaus].)
Photo by Petra Karstedt /
[CC BY-SA 2.0 de], via
When it came to naming different kinds of cats, ancient Egyptians were not very specific. In hieroglyphic writing, all cats are called miu, or mii, or miit for a female. Whether it was an African wild cat, a swamp cat, or a domestic cat, it was a miu. This is sort of like calling domestic cats, lions, and jaguars “meow” in English.
We at first thought this was a little bit lazy of the Egyptians. Surely they could think of unique terms for what were obviously different species? But then we realized that the Egyptians didn’t categorize animals according to the modern genus, species, subspecies system.
(African wild cat [Felis silvestris
lybica].) Illustration by Donovan
Reginald Rosevear in The
Carnivores of West Africa (1974).
Public domain, via
To them, the heavily built wild creature that had long, tufted ears and liked swampy areas (swamp cat) was a cat; the smaller wild creature with the long, dark-ringed tail (African wild cat) was a cat; the friendly creature that had quick, bright eyes, a long tail, and that killed rodents and scorpions in their homes was a cat. Maybe on some level the Egyptians distinguished between them, but not in their hieroglyphs.
And that brings me to names for cats. I am talking now about the individual kitty cats that may have been pets in people’s homes.
(Domestic cat [Felis catus]).
Photo by Lisafern [CC0],
via Wikimedia Commons.
Did ancient Egyptians name their domesticated cats anything other than miu or miit? Was there some equivalent of Fluffy or Princess or Fang and we just don’t know it because it was either never written down or that writing has not survived? Or was the cat-human relationship more impersonal in those times (in, say, the second millennium BC), so that even domesticated cats did not need their own names?
I’m sorry to have raised more questions than I answered, but sometimes the past is a puzzle!
For more on miu, see "How to Write 'Cat' in Egyptian Hieroglyphs."
Malek, Jaromir. The Cat in Ancient Egpyt. Rev ed. London: British Museum Press, 2006.