Have you ever heard someone say that cats have nine lives? What’s up with that? Is it true? If so, who keeps count?

To the relief of dogs everywhere, we can say without a doubt that cats have but one life to live. The “nine lives” story is just a popular myth that has been around for hundreds of years.

Myths are old stories (sometimes called “legends”) that typically feature a person, animal, hero or event. Although they have no basis in fact, they usually try to explain some idea or natural phenomenon.

So where did the myth about cats having nine lives come from? No one knows for sure. We do know, though, that it’s been around for a long time.

William Shakespeare refers to the nine lives myth in his play Romeo and Juliet. There is also an ancient proverb that claims, “A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays and for the last three he stays.”

Some people believe the nine lives myth is related to cats’ ability to always land on their feet. Cats are also known for their dexterity and agility.

Over time, people witnessed cats survive in situations that surely would have severely injured other animals. Some people likely began to believe that cats must have multiple lives.

In ancient Egypt, cats were sacred animals that were worshipped as gods. Ancient Egyptians believed that cats were divine creatures with psychic or supernatural powers. The idea that they could have multiple lives fit right in with their view of cats.

But why nine lives? No one knows the answer to that one either. There are many possibilities.

For example, the ancient Egyptian sun god, Atum-Ra, was believed to take the form of a cat on visits to the underworld. Legend has it that Atum-Ra gave birth to eight other gods and thus represented nine lives in one.

Others believe the number may have come from China, where the number nine is considered lucky. The number nine — sometimes called “the trinity of trinities” — is also believed to be mystical in many religions and regions around the world.

The myth that cats have multiple lives exists in many cultures around the world. It’s not always nine lives, though. Some Spanish-speaking regions believe cats have seven lives, while Turkish and Arabic legends claim cats have six lives.

 

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  1. Dear Wonderopolis,

    I think this article is so cool because my aunt has two cats and I think they are so cute! Also, I have been wondering if a cat has nine lives ever since I was three and heard the phrase for the first time! I am so glad I found this article to answer my question. I will for sure come to this website the next time I wonder something. My question is, does Spain believe that a cat has nine lives, or do they believe that cats have another amount of lives? Thank you for your time to read my comment and I hope that you reply back!
    Sincerely,
    Madster101

    • Thanks so much for this awesome comment, Madster101! We’re really happy to hear that you found the answer to something you have been WONDERing about since you were young by visiting this Wonder of the Day®! When we first WONDERed about cats having nine lives, we found out that some Spanish-speaking regions believe cats have SEVEN lives, not NINE. We’re sure not all Spanish-speaking regions believe this, but some do! We hope that answers your question! :-)

  2. I found Wonder #264 intriguing. I have past knowledge of Ra, but I never new about his 9 entities. Nor did I have information of the Turkish or Arabic legends. For those reasons (and more), I thank Wonderopolis for this wonder.

    • We sure appreciate your comment, Jake! It makes us super happy when we hear that our Wonder Friends learn new things when they visit Wonderopolis! :-)

    • We’re super sorry to hear about your cat, KE$A fan. We know it’s sad when a pet you love and care for passes away. Sometimes, when we’re feeling sad about something, it helps a lot to talk to a grown-up (like a teacher or parent) about it. When we talk about things that are bothering us or making us upset, sharing those feelings can help us feel better. Thank you for visiting Wonderopolis today and for sharing about your cat.

    • We bet your three cats think living with you and your family is pretty awesome, Mrissa! We’re super glad you stopped by this Wonder and learned some cool new information today! :-)

    • We’re super sorry for your loss, Yo Yo. We know it’s hard when a beloved pet passes away. Thanks so much for sharing your comment with us today.

  3. Dear Wonderopolis

    No, cats do not have 9 lives, it’s just a saying that cats know how to defend themselves really well. Once again, cats do not have 9 lives. It’s just a saying cats can defend themselves 9 times.

  4. Hi,

    I actually always kept thinking why people say they have 9 lives, but now I know, I thought this wonder was awesome.
    I never really knew there was a god called Atum-Ra either.
    I heard that some legends come true, like the mexican flag has a snake in an eagles mouth on a cactus, that picture is a legend and it came true.
    Thank you for making me wonder!!

    Team Clark 19 :)

    • We really like how you WONDER, Team Clark 19! Thanks for checking out another past Wonder of the Day®! We learned a lot by exploring this Wonder, so we’re happy to hear that you did, too! :-)

  5. Hi Wonderopolis,
    I was reading this wonder because it caught my attention. I thought that the saying “cats have nine lives” was just something someone said one day and people thought it was funny. I didn’t know it was a popular legend! It’s interesting that there is a proverb about cats that says “A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays and for the last three he stays.” I also didn’t know that in ancient Egypt, cats were sacred animals and were worshiped like gods. Why were cats sacred in ancient Egypt?
    Thanks Wonderopolis :-)

    • Thanks for sharing all the AWESOME things you learned by exploring this Wonder about cats, Team McNeil 2! Ancient Egyptians held many animals in high regard. We think they might have thought cats were so awesome because cats controlled mice and other pests and also killed venomous snakes. We will both have to WONDER more about cats in ancient Egypt! :-)

  6. Hello Wonderopolis!
    I really loved this topic as I do with all of your topics! In the information box I learned some new vocabulary words like, dexterity and phenomenon. I also learned that myths typically feature an animal, hero, or event. I did not know that in ancient Egypt cats were like gods. I wonder who created the myth of “Cats have nine lives?” Thanks for reading my comment bye for now!

    • WOW! You sure learned a LOT by exploring this Wonder, McNeil #16! Thanks for being such a GREAT Wonder Friend! :-)

    • We think they can be pretty great, too, Anastasia! Thanks so much for stopping by this Wonder and letting us know you like cats! :-)

    • That’s AWESOME, Kelli! We’re glad you and your classmate, Anastasia, explored this Wonder and shared your SUPER comments with us…THANKS! :-)

  7. I loved this wonder because I really like cats! I always wondered if the nine lives thing was real. Thanks to you, now I know! Will you make some more wonders about cats? I can’t wait to read the next wonder about cats!

  8. I loved this wonder! I love cats, I even have about 8 cats. Cats are like my family. I read the book Dewey and I cried at the end because he died. :(
    I love wonderopolis!

    • Happy Friday, Maddie! Thanks so much for sharing with us about your cats! They are super lucky to have you to take care of them! We also liked that you love Wonderopolis…that makes us SUPER happy to hear! :-)

    • We think that’s SUPER cool, Devan! Thanks for sharing more about your love of reading (and of cats!)! We’re glad you found this Wonder and hope you learned some cool new facts today! :-)

    • Thanks for sharing that you love cats and enjoy reading that cool series of books, too, Ivypaw! We’re happy you stopped by Wonderopolis today! :-)

    • That’s a WONDERful question, Cool101! Wonderopolis was created by some super AWESOME folks who wanted to give Wonder Friends of all ages from all over the world a FUN place to learn new things! There is a new, different, exciting Wonder of the Day® to explore each and every day! We’re glad you visited this Wonder about cats and left us this comment to let us know you were here! :-)

    • We agree with you, Rosie! Kittens are SUPER cute! Thank you for visiting Wonderopolis and sharing your comment with us today! :-)

  9. That’s so interesting. I’m pretty sure that it is just an old wives tale, because no creature can live more than 1 life that wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the animals!!!!

    • What a SUPER connection you made, Katie! The legend of cats living nine lives is exactly that– a tale based on many different traditions. We LOVE your curiosity and WONDERing! :)

    • We are super sorry you did not enjoy our Wonder, Jamie. We appreciate your comment and hope you will Wonder with us again! :)

  10. And I have 3 cats! Salem, Jay Jay, and Flip Flop. Salem was found and Jay Jay and Flip Flop where given to us by some friends!

    • We’re glad this Wonder was right up your alley, Libby! Your cats sound pretty awesome– they must love their home and family! :)

  11. Cats are so cute even though we weren’t allowed to have one but I admire them though I have a 5 year old toy poodle who seems to be scared of cats. :P

    • We are glad that you’re an animal lover, Anne Anne! Your poodle sounds like a bunch of fun, even if cats may scare your pup! :)

    • WOHOO, we like your style, Tyler J! Thanks for sharing your comment about your love for cats! You’re a great Friend who loves animals! :)

  12. It’s kind of wierd, why would someone make that up? It’s not even true! Cats can live as long as they want! My mom’s cat was 14 years old when she died of cancer!! Fourteen!!

    • Hey there, Kittyperson! We Wonder if you read about the legend of cats living 9 lives? We enjoyed learning about it, but now we know it’s not true! :)

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Momo! We are glad to hear that this Wonder made you smile– how cool that you love cats! We have a LOT of cat lovers here at Wonderopolis, too! Have a meow-riffic day! :)

    • Thanks for the WONDERful suggestion for future Wonders, Amith! We’re so excited to find out what you’re interested in WONDERing about! :)

  13. I have been wondering for a long time if cats actually did have 9 lives. This has taught me a lot. Thanks for the wonder!!

    • HOORAY, we’re thrilled to hear that you learned something new with us, Natalie! We Wonder if you have a cat, or any pets at your house? :)

  14. HEY! That is so weird. We used to have a cat named Dewey and he looked the same as the cat in the video! P.S I LOVE cats and I LOVE Wonderoplis!

    • Thanks for sharing your cat-riffic comment, Emma! What a cool connection to your old cat Dewey! We are so lucky to have awesome Wonder Friends like you! :)

  15. So nobody knows where the myth that cats have nine lives started? But did you ever think that they might have nine lives? They said curiosity killed the cat, but it does not always kill them.

  16. Hi Wonderopolis!
    We enjoyed the video and text about how different countries believe in different legends about the myth of cats having more than one life. Are there other legends about other animals with good agility that have more then one life?

    Team Clark #5 & #17

  17. What a thorough, wonderful article! It has me wondering why cats are also called felines. Wouldn’t canines be more appropriate? Even fenines would be better. Hmm…wonder if we could get that changed? Hahaha, j/k of course. Everyone have a great day!

  18. It is weird that cats were like a god to Egyptians and how much they loved them. Why do you think cats have nine lives?

    • Ancient Egyptians’ beliefs about cats might seem odd today, Genevieve V., but at that time, it was a normal part of their culture. Can you think of cultures today where animals are really loved? :)

    • It sure does seem like it, Danielle K! Cats sometimes get themselves out of sticky situations, like out of a tall tree, but they actually only have one life. Thanks for commenting! :)

    • That’s true, Alexis! Cats can get out of some sticky situations!! Thank you for sharing your great comment with us! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Do cats really have nine lives?
  • What is a myth?
  • Who was Atum-Ra?

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For example, how do you think Epimetheus, Prometheus’ brother, would tell the story of how Prometheus gave fire to men?

 

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