Don asked why cats are
said to have nine lives. When you consider that some cultures think that cats
have only seven lives, it does seem rather arbitrary.
It’s a superstition
based on the observation that cats seem to have a knack for escaping death
because of their speed and agility. One of the earliest quotes linking cats and
nine lives appeared in 1584, though it contains an unexpected reversal:
“For witches haue gone often in
that likenes, And therof hath come the prouerb as trew as common, that a Cat
hath nine liues, that is to fay, a witch may take on her a Cats body nine
times.” [Gulielmus Baldwin, Beware
the Cat, 1584, London]
The number nine has been
regarded as special across the centuries and across cultures. In Egyptian
theology, in order for a soul to enter the afterlife, it had to pass the
scrutiny of nine gods. The Greeks venerated the Nine Muses, nine goddesses who
ruled over the arts and sciences. Christian epistles speak of the nine gifts of
the Spirit (1Corinthians 12:8-10) and the nine fruits of the Spirit (Galatians
Numerically, nine is the
last single-digit number. Many people thus associate it with completion,
perfection, and power. In itself, the number three represents perfect symmetry,
so the fact that nine is three times three gives it extra significance. In the
illustration above, notice that the nine-pointed star is formed by
superimposing three different triangles.
One really weird
observation that many mathematicians have made is that if you multiply ANY number
by nine, then add the resulting numbers together, they always add up to nine.
9 x 15 =
135; 1 + 3 + 5 = 9.
[Try some more on your own.]
As an English major, I
have no idea what is operating behind the scenes here. And, come to think of
it, none of this explains why some people think that cats have nine lives.
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