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Old 12-21-2008, 02:30 PM
homegrowncone homegrowncone is offline
Join Date: Nov 2008
Posts: 5
Why are cats said to have nine lives?

A quick spurt of curiousity had me searching the web for a definitive answer on this one but I came up with a hodgepodge of ideas and no really credible source

Because a Belgian used to toss them off of towers for kicks

Legend has it that Baldwin III, Count of Ypres, threw some cats from a tower in AD962. The Belgian town still marks the event with an annual cat festival. A procession celebrates cat history and cats are thrown from the 70-metre Cloth Hall tower. But there is no need to write to your MEP, only toy cats are used these days. Live cats were used until 1817, when the keeper of the town recorded that, "in spite of the height of the fall, the animal ran off quickly so that it might never be caught again in a similar ceremony."

Because the number nine is magical and so are cats

The number nine was a lucky, mystical, or magic number because it is the Trinity of Trinities (3 x 3). As cats seem able to escape injury time and time again, this lucky number seemed suited to the cat. While in most countries the cat is said to have nine lives, in Arab and Turkish proverbs poor puss has a mere seven lucky lives and in Russia, is said to-survive nine deaths.

Because Shakespeare said so
TYBALT: What wouldst thou have with me?

MERCUTIO: Good king of cats, nothing but one of your
nine lives; that I mean to make bold withal, and as you
shall use me hereafter, dry-beat the rest of the
eight. Will you pluck your sword out of his pilcher
by the ears? make haste, lest mine be about your
ears ere it be out. [80]

So which one is it? Anyone have other theories I'm missing? My favourite attempt to explain thus far has been this old American proverb

"A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays." - English/American proverb <no date is listed>
Old 12-21-2008, 02:38 PM
Cat Jones Cat Jones is offline
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Semi-Welsh in Paris
Posts: 1,153
A lot of the continental Europeans aren't as generous - their cats only get 7 !

I'd say observation of cats surviving falls and using their reflexes to get out of the way of trouble when a mere human would have been seriously injured + a catchy number.
Old 12-21-2008, 03:01 PM
RealityChuck RealityChuck is offline
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Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: Schenectady, NY, USA
Posts: 40,995
Well, according to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (generally a dependable reference source for such things):

Originally Posted by Brewer's
A cat is more tenacious of life than many animals, so it is careful and hardy and after a fall generally lands on its feet without injury. (Bolding mine)
That seems a likely origin. People saw cats fall and land on their feet, giving rise to the idea they had more than one life. The "nine" probably has to do with the numerology.

Shakespeare probably heard the phrase and used it

I'd find the "Belgian" explanation not completely preposterous if there was some explaination as to why the people of Ypres were speaking English, a cite for the phrase in French (or whatever the local language was) and and explanaition how the phrase got from Ypres to England.
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Last edited by RealityChuck; 12-21-2008 at 03:01 PM.
Old 12-21-2008, 03:48 PM
Toxylon Toxylon is offline
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 1,156
In addition to surviving falls like no other common creature, cats are generally tough for a small animal. People who shoot them (not me!) report that a coarse-shot shotgun at close range is needed to dispatch them - lesser firepower leaves them crawling to a hard-to-reach spot before they die.
Old 12-21-2008, 04:58 PM
InterestedObserver InterestedObserver is offline
Join Date: Oct 2008
Posts: 1,101
I just always assumed it was because they were generally wily and capable of escaping from situations which would terminate many other critters (big falls, predators).

They are skilled at hunting, so can provide for themselves better than some other domesticated animals.

And they do have a way of wandering off and staying gone for long periods then coming back again, often during severe weather conditions.

Interesting speculations on the origins of the myth.


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