Aielouroi

John Reinhard Weguelin, The obsequies of an Egyptian cat, 1886
John Reinhard Weguelin, The obsequies of an Egyptian cat (1886)

Πολλῶν δὲ ἐόντων ὁμοτρόφων τοῖσι ἀνθρώποισι θηρίων πολλῷ ἂν ἔτι πλέω ἐγίνετο, εἰ μὴ κατελάμβανε τοὺς αἰελούρους τοιάδε· ἐπεὰν τέκωσι αἱ θήλεαι, οὐκέτι φοιτέουσι παρὰ τοὺς ἔρσενας· οἳ δὲ διζήμενοι μίσγεσθαι αὐτῇσι οὐκ ἔχουσι. πρὸς ὦν ταῦτα σοφίζονται τάδε· ἁρπάζοντες ἀπὸ τῶν θηλέων καὶ ὑπαιρεόμενοι τὰ τέκνα κτείνουσι, κτείναντες μέντοι οὐ πατέονται· αἳ δὲ στερισκόμεναι τῶν τέκνων, ἄλλων δὲ ἐπιθυμέουσαι, οὕτω δὴ ἀπικνέονται παρὰ τοὺς ἔρσενας· φιλότεκνον γὰρ τὸ θηρίον. πυρκαϊῆς δὲ γενομένης θεῖα πρήγματα καταλαμβάνει τοὺς αἰελούρους· οἱ μὲν γὰρ Αἰγύπτιοι διαστάντες φυλακὰς ἔχουσι τῶν αἰελούρων, ἀμελήσαντες σβεννύναι τὸ καιόμενον, οἱ δὲ αἰέλουροι διαδύνοντες καὶ ὑπερθρώσκοντες τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἐσάλλονται ἐς τὸ πῦρ. ταῦτα δὲ γινόμενα πένθεα μεγάλα τοὺς Αἰγυπτίους καταλαμβάνει. ἐν ὁτέοισι δ’ ἂν οἰκίοισι αἰέλουρος ἀποθάνῃ ἀπὸ τοῦ αὐτομάτου, οἱ ἐνοικέοντες πάντες ξυρῶνται τὰς ὀφρύας μούνας, παρ’ ὁτέοισι δ’ ἂν κύων, πᾶν τὸ σῶμα καὶ τὴν κεφαλήν. ἀπάγονται δὲ οἱ αἰέλουροι ἀποφανόντες ἐς ἱρὰς στέγας, ἔνθα θάπτονται ταριχευθέντες, ἐν Βουβάστιπόλι· τὰς δὲ κύνας ἐν τῇ ἑωυτῶν ἕκαστοι πόλι θάπτουσι ἐν ἱρῇσι θήκῃσι. ὣς δὲ αὕτως τῇσι κυσὶ οἱ ἰχνευταὶ θάπτονται. τὰς δὲ μυγαλᾶς καὶ τοὺς ἴρηκας ἀπάγουσι ἐς Βουτοῦν πόλιν, τὰς δὲ ἴβις ἐς Ἑρμέω πόλιν. τὰς δὲ ἄρκτους ἐούσας σπανίας καὶ τοὺς λύκους οὐ πολλῷ τεῳ ἐόντας ἀλωπέκων μέζονας αὐτοῦ θάπτουσι τῇ ἂν εὑρεθέωσι κείμενοι.
(Herodotus, Hist. 2.66-67)

Although there are plenty of domestic animals in Egypt, there would be many more if it were not for what happens to the cats. When female cats give birth, they stop having intercourse with the males. However much the toms want to mate with them, they are unable to do so. The toms have therefore come up with a clever solution. They sneak in and steal the kittens away from their mothers, and then kill them (but not for food). The females, deprived of their young, long to have some more, because the feline species is very fond of its young, and so they go to the males. If a house catches fire, what happens to the cats is quite extraordinary. The Egyptians do not bother to try to put the fire out, but position themselves at intervals around the house and look out for the cats. The cats slip between them, however, and even jump over them, and dash into the fire. This plunges the Egyptians into deep grief. In households where a cat dies a natural death, all the people living there shave off their eyebrows—nothing more. In households where a dog dies, they shave their whole bodies, head and all. After their death, the cats are taken to sacred chambers in the city of Bubastis where they are mummified and buried. Dogs are buried by each householder in his own community in sanctified tombs, and mongooses receive the same form of burial as well. Shrews and hawks are taken to the city of Buto, and ibises to Hermepolis. Bears (which are rare) and wolves (which are not much larger than foxes) are buried wherever they are found lying. (tr. Robin Waterfield)

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