Our subject today is an Egyptian fable from the Christian era (that’s from 30 BC to AD 640, give or take). The fable was recorded on papyrus that has been badly damaged, so unfortunately we don’t have the whole story. What we do have tells the story of a debate between a cat and a jackal. It goes like this:
There once was a giant cat, a representative of the Egyptian goddess Bastet. There once was a small jackal. One day these two met and began to talk about philosophy (as you do).
The cat’s argument
The cat said, “The gods are in charge of everything, and they will always reward good and punish evil. If anyone harms even a tiny lamb, that person will meet with retribution—eventually. Even when the sky is dark with clouds, the sun is always shining and will always break through, scattering the clouds and bringing light and joy—eventually.”
The jackal’s argument
“Boy, what a load of hooey!” the jackal retorted. [These were possibly not his exact words, but you get the idea.] He went on, “In this world, the strong will always triumph over the weak. Just look at how the lizard eats the insect, the bat eats the lizard, the snake eats the bat, and the hawk eats the snake. As for evil, your measly little prayers have no power over an evil man.” [Again, possibly not his exact words.]
The cat’s passion
The two argued back and forth, with the jackal offering reasoned arguments while the cat said some more stuff about good always winning—eventually.
In fact, the cat was so ineffectual in her arguments that sometimes she could do nothing but “fall into a passion”—that’s what the translated papyrus said. We imagine this would look something like an antiwar protester beating someone over the head with his peace sign. Only with claws. The little jackal naturally had a certain amount of respect for the cat’s claws.
Unfortunately, that’s all that can be gotten from the damaged papyrus. Who won the debate? Perhaps we’ll never know, though it seems the writer may have been on the jackal’s side.
Katharine M. Rogers, The Cat and the Human Imagination: Feline Images from Bast to Garfield (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998), 10.
A. Weidemann, Popular Literature in Ancient Egpyt, transl. by J. Hutchison (London: David Nutt, 1902), 14–16.
Stock images of cat and jackal via Abode Stock.