Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/103

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
93
CATS AND THEIR FRIENDSHIPS.

compounded from two words that give the meaning of "wavy tail."

The Latin name of the cat tribe (Felis) appears to have been originally applied to the weasel and other mousers, and afterward to the wild cat. The word catus or cattus came into use in about the fourth century, and is found first in the agricultural writer, Palladius, who recommends that cats be kept in artichoke-gardens for protection against mice and moles, and remarks that men had previously been served for this purpose by weasels. The PSM V37 D103 Wildcat.jpgFig. 2.—Wild Cat (Felis catus.) name catta is found later in the Greek church historian, Evagrius Scholasticus, about a. d. 594. Historical inferences have been drawn from the absence of the remains of cats in the ruins of Pompeii, and from the fact that the name common to all the other Romance languages does not occur in Wallachian. It is concluded that the domesticated animal had not become common when Pompeii was destroyed, in a. d. 79, or when Dacia was isolated from the rest of the Roman world by barbarian conquest, in the third century. Mr. W. Boyd Dawkins infers, from his researches in the caves in which the Celts took refuge from the Saxons, that cats were unknown in Great Britain before about the year 800.

Cats easily commended themselves as efficient vermin-destroyers to such extensive grain-raisers as the ancient Egyptians; and a people so ready to deify everything needed little prompting to put them in their pantheon. They may also have made themselves useful in killing snakes, an occupation in which, if the stories are true, they sometimes become very expert. Rengger, who has written of the mammals of Paraguay, declares that he has more than once seen cats pursue and kill snakes, even rattle-snakes, on the sandy, grassless plains of that land. "With their rare skill," he says, "they would strike the snake with their paw, and at the same time avoid its spring. If the snake coiled itself, they would not attack it directly, but would go round it till it became tired of turning its head after them j then they would strike it another blow, and instantly turn aside. If the snake started to run away, they would seize its tail, as if to play with it. By virtue of these continued attacks they usually destroyed their enemy in less than an hour, but would never eat its flesh."

Cats are represented on some of the Egyptian monuments as accompanying their masters on hunting expeditions. In a wall-