Lions and Crocodiles and (Kitty) Cats, Oh My! Animals and Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt


George checking out a book on Impressionism before taking it into the bathroom at a bookstore. (Note the kitty cat.)

“Do not laugh at a cat,” Dr. Patricia Podzorski, Curator of Egyptian Art at the University of Memphis advised me through email late Tuesday; this immediately brought to mind an incident earlier in the week, with my cat Thomas so embarrassed–dashing out of the room, when his ambitious relocation fail was met by my fits of laughter.

The advice came by way of “The Instruction of Ankhsheshonq,” a text consisting of pragmatic and humorous maxims on a variety of topics tentatively dating to the Ptolemaic period: think bathroom reading without all the indoor plumbing. Dr. Podzorski went on to offer other suggestions for translation she thought better suited to a cat’s temperament: do not “sport with,” “torment,” or “annoy.” But my Thomas had sent a clear message: it was the laughter he did not approve of. Cats have a “sense of persona–and become visibly embarrassed when reality punctures their dignity,” writes Camille Paglia in her epic Sexual Personae. (Maybe this is why cats and the internet go so well together, we can laugh about their punctured reality without embarrassing them in real life.)

The cat was domesticated by man over 4000 years ago in ancient Egypt, and its mummified body has been found all over the area. The complex and unique relationship between animals and the ancient Egyptians doesn’t end there. Dr. Podzorski will shed light on this topic and guide a tour of the Brooks’ foster mummies this Saturday, December 6, at 2 pm.


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