Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat

Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, catsAre you interested in learning about why the cat is so loved and hated today?  Do you wonder why women are associated with cats? Then this is the book to read.  Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat is now available for purchase.  With over 150 black and white illustrations and fully referenced, this book is meant for cat lovers who have always wondered about the history of the cat. 


PRAISE FOR Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat!

“Revered and Reviled:  A Complete History of the Domestic Cat by L.A. Vocelle was 7 years in the making – and well worth the wait.  Just over 400 pages, this book spans the timeline of the cat in history, from 20 million years ago to the present.  One notes from the dedication to the author’s cats and one special cat, in particular, that this creation was truly a labor of love.

Dozens upon dozens of photographs, paintings, and other illustrations bring the text alive, such as the photo of Mark Twain and his cat, “Tammany,” posing in a corner pocket of Twain’s billiard table.  Even those well versed in the history of the cat will find new cat related facts and insights in this volume, such as that cats are mentioned in many of Shakespeare’s 37 plays but always negatively.

This book, that should be a welcome addition to any ailurophile’s library, sequentially describes the rise of the cat, the cat as goddess and the cats in early Aegean and Mediterranean civilizations.  It then describes the Dark Ages and Middle Ages where the cat did not fare well, being persecuted by the Church and seen as familiars of witches.  Pope Gregory IX, in 1233, went so far as to issue a papal bull proclaiming the cat a vessel of the devil.  Conditions got better during the Early Modern Period (1500-1700) and really improved during what L.A. Vocelle  describes as “The Enlightenment” that was followed by the Victorian period of the 19th century.  The book concludes with descriptions of the cats in the 20th century and the status of the cat today.

For readers wanting to explore cat history even further, the book’s appendices and references contain 27 pages, including a timeline of the cat in history, lists of Theban tombs depicting cats, Egyptian cat cemeteries, and well notated references from each chapter.

L.A. Vocelle concludes her book by reflecting, “At last the cat has reclaimed its rightful place as a goddess to be worshipped and adored.  Today the cat is undeniably a goddess reborn.”  Read this book and you will be convinced of this, as well.”

– Gregory M. Simpson, Cat Writers’ Association


Book Review: Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat from The Cuddlywumps Cat Chronicles

I cannot begin to tell you how excited we are to tell you about this new book by L. A. Vocelle of The Great Cat. We have been longing for a book just exactly like Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, but nothing we’ve seen quite fits the bill. In fact, we were starting to think that we would have to spend years researching and writing to create a book just like this, but fortunately, Vocelle has done the hard work, and now we can all benefit from it.

Cats, from prehistory to the present

Revered and Reviled starts way back in time, with the ancestors of the first true cats. But don’t worry—you won’t have to read page after page of things that happened millions of years ago. The rise of the cat family is dealt with in just a couple of pages, and then it’s straight in to domestic cats, their characteristics and history. The chapter on cats in ancient Egypt is one of the best summations we have read on this subject—detailed but succinct, and we think most importantly, easily understandable. Egyptian culture is…well, let’s just call it complex. It’s easy to get confused about which god or goddess did what where when, but Vocelle manages to keep it straight for us.

Next, it’s on to one of old SoLT’s favorite topics, the early Aegean and Mediterranean. Most importantly from our point of view, we have been trying for months to find information on cats and the Phoenicians, and Vocelle delivers some—not a lot, but we suppose that is an indication of how little information there is. From there the book moves on to cats in Greece and Rome, and then into the Dark Ages and beyond. Along the way, the text describes how cats were depicted in works of art, and we learn how changes in religion affected how cats were viewed. We especially enjoyed the section on cats in Islam, a subject we knew very little about. Other interesting and informative sections cover cats in India, China, and Japan.

I won’t touch on every subject or time period Vocelle covers, so let’s skip a few centuries and move on to the 20th century. Did you know that someone attempted to take a cat on an airship crossing of the Atlantic in 1910? (The word “attempted” is a key part of that sentence.) Or that a street cat became the first cat sent into space in 1963? Just some of the little tidbits you’ll take away.

Cat illustrations and so much more

If you’re familiar at all with The Great Cat, you won’t be surprised to learn that Revered and Reviled is richly illustrated. Cats have appeared in art from ancient times through to the Internet age, and through this book, you’ll learn at least a little bit about each period. Yes, you’ll even learn about cats in movies, music, literature…

The illustrations and quotes are terrific, but there is far more of value in this book. I am talking here of the supplemental information: a timeline covering cats in history from 20 million years ago to the opening of the first cat café (in 1998), a list of Theban tombs with cats (so useful!), a list of cat cemeteries in Egpyt, and a reference list (again, so useful!).

Our verdict

Except for some small subset of you, Revered and Reviled is probably not a book that you will sit down and read from cover to cover. Yes, it’s well written, and yes, it’s fascinating, but there’s a lot here to digest. Unless you’re a serious history buff, it can look overwhelming. I’d recommend that you start by dipping in and taking a look at the chapters or sections that most interest you. Do that, and I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll be turning the page to find out “What about this…?” and you’ll be staying up way past your bedtime (at least that is what happened to us).

As I said at the start, this is exactly the book we have been dreaming of. It will have a treasured space on our cat-history bookshelf for years to come, and you can bet that it will be well used.

Highly recommended!


Here’s an excerpt to give you an idea of what is included in the book. And if you decide to purchase, please leave a review on Amazon.


“What sort of philosophers are we, who know absolutely nothing of the origin and destiny of cats?” Henry David Thoreau

Cats are the most popular pets in the world. As both social and cultural icons, their feline influence has even spread to the world of the internet and social media. Approximately 85.8 million cats are owned in the United States, (National Pet Owners Survey APPA for 2015-2016), and it is estimated that more than 600 million are owned worldwide. However, this was not always so. Just a few centuries ago, after the cat’s reign as the ancient Egyptian goddess Bast had just barely been forgotten, cats, based on a long history of religious beliefs and superstitions, were deemed to be the epitome of evil. The mass killing and torture of cats were common place activities in a world where they were seen as uncontrollable devils, and feared simply because of their indomitable independent nature. Only in the 17th century did the cat’s status in society begin to improve, with artists, writers and intellectuals befriending the free-minded feline. As a representation of rebellious independence, the cat aptly served social reformers as a symbolic reflection of man’s own society. Bohemian anti-establishment artists and writers would soon portray the cat as a metaphor of mystery, magic, and evil, as well as domesticity and motherhood, and solidify the cat’s ancient bond with women. Throughout history the cat’s aloofness and unpredictable nature have been its blessing and its bane. Revered as goddesses and reviled as magical creatures with fearful powers, cats have been an enduring part of man’s history for thousands of years.

A complete history of the cat is lacking in today’s literature, and the purpose of this book is to fill that void. Some books may address certain segments (eras) of the cat’s history, such as Engle’s Classical Cats, The Rise and Fall of the Sacred Cat which focuses on the cat in Egypt, Greece and Rome, or Malik’s The Cat in Ancient Egypt.  Some, such as Carl Van Vechten’s Tiger in the House, address the cat’s influence in differing areas of interest, but no published book within the past ten years presents the complete history of the cat from its domestication up to the present day. Following the cat’s path through history is necessary in order to understand its place in today’s society as a social and cultural icon, and it is also essential to fully comprehend the unbreakable bond it has shared with women. This book focuses on the integral part the cat has played in history, art and literature as both symbol and inspiration.   

There are various theories regarding the exact place and date of the cat’s domestication, which are still being contested by scholars today. The cat, Felis Silvesterus Libycus, is indigenous to Egypt and, after ingratiating itself into ancient Egyptian homes as a welcomed protector of food stores, it soon rose to become a beloved goddess of fertility, motherhood and domesticity. Even though a crime, cats were smuggled out of Egypt and thus, gradually, spread to the very edges of the Roman Empire. With the rise of Christianity under Theodosius I in AD 394, pagan rituals and worship were proclaimed illegal throughout the Roman Empire, of which Egypt, by that time, was a part. Ancient Egyptians clinging to the old faith were punished, and temples destroyed. With the slow conversion to Christianity, the old gods and goddesses disappeared, and with them the cat goddess Bast. Because of the cat’s past association with the goddess Isis, the Greeks came to see it as a symbol of magic, an omen of evil, and eventually the inevitable embodiment of Satan. The other-worldliness of the cat and its identification with Isis and the feminine moon led to its association with mysticism and the occult.

From the very beginning of history the cat has been associated with women. The ancient female cat goddess Bast represented fertility, motherhood, and the home. The Greeks and Romans established a firm foundation for this bond between women and cats in Western Civilization by associating the Egyptian goddesses Bast and Isis with their own goddesses Artemis/Diana and Hecate. Hecate, goddess of the underworld, had the ability to change form and so, during the Dark and Middle Ages, witches were accused of having the power to change into cats. Fearful of pagan traditions, Christians struck out against the old beliefs and punished women for their association with cats and witchcraft (paganism).Vulnerable women who showed any kindness towards cats were soon persecuted and accused of having cat familiars. For better or for worse, the duality of woman and cat forged an unbreakable bond that would forever link them in history, art and literature. 

Christianity, preoccupied with the hunt for witches and their familiars, would not come to know of and admit to Jesus’s compassion towards cats until much later in history. According to TheGospel of the Holy Twelve, several instances of Jesus’ kindness towards cats are documented, but yet there is no reference, good or bad, to the cat in the Bible except in the Letter from Jeremiah. On the other hand, Islam has always respected the cat. Prophet Mohammed’s behavior towards his cat, Muezza, is mentioned in the Hadith. It is also stated in the Hadith that causing a cat to suffer unnecessarily will deprive the offender of his place in paradise. Conversely, the Jewish holy book, The Talmud, mentions the cat simply as a magical creature. In the East, Chinese and Japanese mythology viewed the cat ambivalently. Some stories portray the cat as a vicious vampire, biting necks and sucking blood, others give testament to its devotion and faithfulness as in the Edo period folktales of the Maneki-neko.

In the Dark and Middle Ages the cat plummeted to its lowest depths, ostracized, tortured and killed for its supposed association with pagans, witches and devils. Even though the Christian hierarchy demonized the cat, not all would accept such beliefs. Some saints, intellectuals and artists found the cat a valuable inspiration, if not simply a useful rat killer. 

Among the first illuminated manuscripts, The Lindisfarne Gospels and TheBook of Kellscontain lovely drawings of cats, not as demons, but as highly decorative creatures going about their cat business. For example, a cat slithers down the side of a page in TheLindisfarne Gospels, its stomach visibly containing a just-eaten cormorant. Depictions of cats spread to other holy books such as Bestiaries, Psalters, and Books of Hours as well as to church architecture and interiors. Carvings of cats would even decorate misericords in the 14th  and 15th centuries.

Cat lovers would begin to immortalize their pets in poems, and laws were even instituted to protect them. Already initiated into literature in AD 550 in a poem by the Greek Agathias, the cat would next appear in a 9th century poem penned by a lonely monk describing his cat, Pangur Ban. Also, in the 9th century, the Welsh King Howell the Good (880-950) instituted laws to protect cats because they were so important for keeping rodents in check. Later, Henry I of England (1068-1135) enacted laws to ensure the cat’s welfare just as Howell the Good had done.

In contrast, the church continued to focus on the cat’s imagined propensity for evil. Both the Cathars and the Knights Templar would be accused of heresy founded on their supposed worship of a demonic cat. These charges were, most likely based on the fact that the church was threatened by the idea, supported by both the Cathars and Knights Templar, that individuals had the power to communicate with God on their own and not through a priest. To further condemn all its enemies, the church commissioned paintings of Jews that included the cat as a symbol of heresy. 

Although cats served man by keeping large numbers of rodents at bay, man repaid them with torturous deaths by burning and even throwing them from belfries and towers, as was done in Ypres, Belgium from Cloth Hall up until 1817. Most of these abominable actions took place during Christian religious festivals or to celebrate Saints’ birthdays. These festivals were a constant reminder that the cat was part of the pagan belief system and should be feared and loathed. 

Even though the great artist and inventor, Leonardo da Vinci said, “The smallest feline is a masterpiece,” the cat’s place in society was little improved during the Renaissance. Instead, it became a symbol of political rebellion, and the discontented rabble used cats in political and religious protests where hundreds of innocent felines suffered horrible deaths. During the Reformation, it was the cat that represented Catholicism, and in one instance, Protestants dressed a feline victim as a priest and ceremoniously hanged it in Cheape, England. Later, Catholics used shaven headed cats to symbolize Roundheads in order to illustrate their being less than human. Perhaps fittingly, the first novel in English, Beware the Cat by William Baldwin (1515-1563), uses cat characters to illustrate the undying power of the Catholic Church. 

However, by the 17th century the cat’s situation began to improve. Dutch genre painters found the cat the perfect example of domesticity and included cats and kittens in their works. Commissioned by well off Dutch merchants, these works captured the cat in energetic Baroque paintings of domestic settings, sometimes conveying a message for proper social behavior.

Many societal changes occurred that positively impacted the cat during the Enlightenment. With the new discoveries of Louis Pasteur, sanitation and cleanliness became more important, and the cat, albeit never seen as a dirty animal, now took the fore as an example of cleanliness. A renewed interest in pagan beliefs by philosophers led to a rekindled respect for nature and animals. Consequently, new laws were instituted to lessen their suffering and abuse. Even though not quite eradicated, the old superstitions of witchcraft were slowly fading away and opening the door to more scientific thinking.

Les Chats published in 1727 was the first book written entirely about cats. François-Augustin de Paradis de Moncrif (1687-1770), a member of the Académie Française and the royal historiographer to Louis XV, was highly ridiculed at the time for writing such a book. However, other great thinkers and writers also expressed their fondness for their cat companions. Samuel Johnson, the creator of the first English dictionary, was just one of many who pampered their cats. Johnson was known to feed his cat Hodge oysters. Today you can see a statue of the cat with an oyster at his feet near Johnson’s home commemorating his love for his feline Hodge. 

Victorian pet-keeping, begun in the early 1800’s, influenced both domestic acceptance of the cat as well as its appearance in well-known artists’ and writers’ paintings and poetry. The cat continued to be placed in paintings of domestic scenes and was often seen in portraits of women. Lengthy poems mourning the loss of dearly departed cats would become the fashion. Stricter laws were instituted to protect the cat and other domestic animals from abuse, and the first shelters for homeless and unwanted cats and dogs were founded in Paris. But the cat continued to be equated with women in a negative manner. For example, Alphonse Toussenel (1803-1885), a French naturalist and writer, was one of many who equated women with cats based on their lustful appetites.

Even so, it was during the Victorian age that the first cat show took place at the Crystal Palace in London in 1875. In addition, the first pet cemetery, Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques, in the small city of Asnières-sur-Seine just outside Paris, was founded as another example of the newborn respect and love for animals.

During the latter part of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, prolific artists that drew and painted primarily cats, such as Louis Wain and Théophile Steinlen grabbed the public’s attention by portraying the cat as either an anthropomorphic representation of man, or as an exotic, sensuous, miniature leopard. 

As the foundations laid for the cat’s welfare begun in Europe spread to the United States, the 19th century cat became even more ubiquitous. With its new-found notoriety, the cat began to appear even more in literature and art. Writers such as Poe, Twain, and many others used cats as potent symbols in their literature and fondly kept them as pets. Edward Lear, both an artist and writer, captured his beloved Foss in his drawings and perhaps thought of him while he composed the poem The Owl and the Pussy Cat.

Cats, especially black ones, had become seafaring animals from their days in ancient Egypt because of their association and assimilation with the goddess Isis Pharia, and thus, beginning with the Romans, became a necessary accompaniment on ships as a symbol of good luck. Both Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton took cats along when they ventured to the South Pole in the early 20th century. During war, cats kept ships free of rodents, and during trying times they provided much needed affection to distraught sailors. Cats were even awarded medals for their bravery and ability to survive the terrors of battle. In the 20th century, the cat’s charms were even thought to extend to provide safety to aircraft as well. The airship America carried Kiddo, and Charles Lindbergh took a Felix the Cat doll with him on the first transatlantic flight. During WWII fighter pilots proudly displayed drawings of Felix on the sides of their planes as a symbol of courage, cunning and the ability to overcome all odds. Ideals taught in the cartoon first aired in 1919 had influenced a whole generation.   

Today the cat is as close to regaining its rightful place as a worshipped goddess as it has ever been at any other time in history. Cats are everywhere and most importantly on the internet and social media. Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter are bursting with pictures of cute cats, some even dressed in clothing not much different from the photos taken by the 19th century photographer Harry Pointer. Cat celebrities such as Grumpy Cat and Lil Bub appear on the TV with news anchors and in advertisements uttering words of disdain about having to deal with people. YouTube videos feature the French existential cat Henry and his ongoing boredom with being a cat. Hello Kitty, based on the Japanese folktales of the cat Maneki-neko, produces fashionable apparel and trendy accessories sporting the ancient beckoning white cat motif.

Throughout history the cat has been an indomitable influence on societies and cultures, first as goddess, then as demon, and now as hero and social media empress. Man’s view of the cat has come full circle. As both mascot and muse to great adventurers, writers, artists and statesmen, the cat has offered comfort and inspiration. Never obsequious or ordinary, always elegant and inscrutable, the cat has played a fundamental role in civilization through the centuries, and this is its story.


Revered and Reviled A Complete History of the Domestic Cat


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