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The Cat in Ancient Egypt.

From the people of the jaguar to those of that smaller but incomparably finer feline, the cat, currently infesting the basement offices of ANTIQUITY in prodigous numbers and diverse sizes (applications for adoption more than welcome). JAROMIR MAALEK's The cat in ancient Egypt (144 pages, 111 illustrations. 1993. London: British Museum Press; ISBN 0-7141-0969-X hardback |pounds~14.95) is illustrated sufficiently lavishly to satisfy even the most insatiable felophile, and the text is a disarming mixture of scholarship and anecdote. The roles of the Egyptian cat (miu or mii in pharaonic Egyptian -- a case of palaeoonomatopoeia) are intricate and instructive. The wild African Felis silvestris libyca, from which domestic cats descend, seems to have entered into a fully symbiotic relationship with the Egyptians around the end of the 3rd millennium BC, largely because of its skill in suppressing mice, rats and snakes. The dating of this process comes less from ambiguous faunal evidence than from the depiction of cats in domestic contexts from c. 1950 BC, the use of cat names for men and women, and the first appearance of feloform amulets. Further evidence is furnished by Petrie's find at Abydos of a cat burial with possible milk offerings -- the taste for milk in adult cats (the secondary products revolution once removed?) being a consequence of human involvement. The symbolic place of the cat in art echoes other recent emphasis on the noneconomic dimensions of domestication. Once domesticated, cats became engendered, being shown beneath womens' chairs, in contrast to hunting dogs, then already long associated with the male. Equally striking is the fact that, whilst the wild swamp-living Felis chaus was only rarely portrayed in illustrations of the Egyptian marshes, the domestic cat was often shown in marshland hunting scenes of the New Kingdom, not as a natural denizen of the reeds but rather as a cultural introduction, either accomplice on the hunt or part of the implicitly erotic message of such scenes in ancient Egyptian iconography. Cats even appeared in satire by the late New Kingdom, most remarkably in a papyrus from the workers' village of Deir el-Medina. The apotheosis of the cat and the trend to mummification reached their climax in the 1st millennium BC. Quantitative data regarding the latter practice escape us; a late 19th-century AD record of the shipment of 19 tons of mummified Ptolomaic cat (or an estimated 180,000 animals) to England for conversion into fertilizer may raise as many questions concerning the expropriation (recycling?) of the past as it does issues of sample size and statistic method. More pussies galore in the reprint of JULIET CLUTTON-BROCK's Cats: ancient and modern (96 pages, numerous illustrations (many in colour). 1993 (first published 1988). Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press: ISBN 0-674-10407-2 hardback $16.95).

WILLIAM J. MURNANE & CHARLES C. VAN SICLEN III's The boundary stelae of Akhenaten (Studies in Egyptology. xvi+227 pages, 33 plates. 1993. London & New York (NY): Kegan Paul International; ISBN 0-7103-0464-1 hardback |pounds~75) is by contrast a sober publication of the 15 inscribed monuments that marked out the extent of the territory of Akhenaten's capital at Tell el-Amarna.

Further aspects of Egypt:

A.J. SPENCER. Early Egypt: the rise of civilisation in the Nile Valley. 128 pages, 91 illustrations. 1993. London: British Museum Press; ISBN 0-7141-09746 paperback |pounds~9.95.

GAY ROBINS. Women in ancient Egypt. 205 pages, 85 illustrations. 1993. London: British Museum Press; ISBN 0-7141-0956-8 paperback |pounds~14.95.

PETER HODGES. How the pyramids were built. Edited by Julian Keable. (Modern Egyptology.) xiv+154 pages, 129 figures, 6 tables, 2 maps. 1993. (First published in 1989.) Warminster: Aris & Phillips; ISBN 0-85668-60(1-X paperback |pounds~15 & $29.95.
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Author:Broodbank, Cyprian
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1993
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