Friday, September 15, 2017

My Cat from the Tomb of Nebamun

This fragment from a New Kingdom Hunting scene in the British Museum today comes from the Theban tomb of the tomb of a nobleman named Nebamun.  To attest to a good life, the basic trilogy of subjects, going back to the beginning of Egyptian funerary painting in the Old Kingdom, include the Banquet, the Hunt (and/or his means of living, such as agriculture or shipping), the Portraits (with or without Deities).  In the magisterial Tomb of Nebamun, a perfect cat, as good as life, accompanies the hunter.   For I have been adopted by a perfect Egyptian cat; the Algonquin Hotel's new Hamlet is similar and beautiful but not quite so Egyptian.
It is easy to overlook the cat, and even the butterfly, so I did it justice by making a special trip to the museum.  For the cat is important, being nearly a millennium earlier than all those elegant Saitic cats.  And the domestic cat is surely originally Egyptian—we just take for granted that small cats can be pets.  And not funerary, either.  My new cat, who adopted me, about six months ago (I know not from whom he had been abandoned, but he was already neatly neutered), shares all the features and character of Nebamun's.

The question is, how do cats, usually without our deliberate breeding, produce truly ancestral types through time and space?  All the pedigrees, with fancy names, beginning with "Siamese" such as Abyssinian (which may not have stripes) or Bengal (with strong spots) or Bombay (solid black, pedigree granted in 1950s) or Burmese (puma-brown and lovely), have been created by cat-fanciers.
Since it took me more than a week to find my British Museum detail, I started by looking for defined types.  It's not like dogs, which are working animals, and all the pages of cats on line seem to be, if not cute kittens whose traits are not yet well defined,  apart from long-haired (which basically seem to be "Persians") either sturdy and round-faced (British) or narrow-faced with very long tails, long toes with clearly defined joints, muscular-haunched and very short-haired.  
That is, they all can (and do) mate with one another, so they are all domestic cats, tout court.
It seems to me that they are all descendants of either forest-floor or barn cats or tree dwellers. American short-hairs seem to me to be as perfectly hybridized as can be.  My old cat, RIP aet 18, more or less, like most of the cats in our neighborhood, was a typical American short-hair: he had lots of white on his face and underside and the white was fluff: my friends who are allergic to cat fur got runny-eyes if they sat where he had been, and cats that had no white but whose undercoat was fluff ("bunny fur"), were regular American tom tabbies, and allergenic, too.  My new cat, a wonderful creature, may of course have been purchased from a breeder, but the Algonquin Hotel's new cat is a true NYC alley cat; he even came with a torn ear.  He may not be, however, a true climber.  My climber, though with all the personality traits of breeds given "Asian" names, is named Percy.
The little book (such as you are tempted to buy as stocking stuffers at the book shop's check-out) called "The Little Black Cat Book", which a dear friend sent me years ago, is my source for the "Bombay" breed, pedigreed only in the 1950s.  I remembered how such black breeds are known to occur.  Once, some time in my adolescence, my mother took me with her to a household of fanciers of Siamese, whether some of her second cousins or customers who had done a Stanley Home Products party.  In either case, they controlled very carefully the breeding of their cats: I was fascinated by how they lived (compare the TV program about breeders and exhibitors of pet ferrets); my own cats had been chosen at the SPCA.  Anyway, they had a gloriously beautiful accidental cat: a large neuter male solid black with emerald eyes.  He was the offspring of two seal-point Siamese, and he was very fond of humans.  He was the loveliest cat I ever saw, and they told me I could adopt him.  But I had no place of my own, and I knew I couldn't take care of him.  But, nota bene, I never forgot that cat.  That "Bombay" cat, I am sure, was the result of such an accidental hybrid.  Yet, I am no expert on breeding, of course.
Anyway, whether ginger or tiger or black (or perhaps including Russian Blues), cats with body configuration like Nebamun's 18th dynasty cat, with long bones, and paws meant for climbing, and no white bunny fur undercoat but pure short-hair coats, like my Percy, very nice and sleek, also have panther/puma personalities and the ancestral propensity to climb and small high voices and affection for their humans, BUT they are not lap cats, gentle and clean though they are.  In fact, Percy is the most assiduous washer of all the cats I've had.  He is also very alert and intelligent, responsive to verbal commands without much teaching.  And, of course, he loves cat toys.  He's not fussy about food, however, eating any kibble of decent quality, and I've never seen him stalking the blue jays or cuckoos, and he's plain afraid of opossums.  So I'll Publish this now, adding a photo later.

photos taken this July.  His eyes are the color of Dijon mustard.