Ancient Literature

Today’s Reading from the Ancient World

It’s been a long time since I did one of these and wanted to share a reading that I happened upon while reading something else. It comes from Diodoros Siculus, who was a Greek historian from Sicily (ca. 80–20 BCE). The following entry is from his Library of History and concerns the Egyptians’ love of certain animals, in this case, cats.

And whoever intentionally kills one of these animals is put to death, unless it be a cat or an ibis that he kills; but if he kills one of these, whether intentionally or unintentionally, he is certainly put to death, for the common people gather in crowds and deal with the perpetrator most cruelly, sometimes doing this without waiting for a trial. And because of their fear of such a punishment any who have caught sight of one of these animals lying dead withdraw to a great distance and shout with lamentations and protestations that they found the animal already dead. So deeply implanted also in the hearts of the common people is their superstitious regard for these animals and so unalterable are the emotions cherished by every man regarding the honour due to them that once, at the time when Ptolemy their king had not as yet been given by the Romans the appellation of “friend” and the people were exercising all zeal in courting the favour of the embassy from Italy which was then visiting Egypt and, in their fear, were intent upon giving no cause for complaint or war, when one of the Romans killed a cat and the multitude rushed in a crowd to his house, neither the officials sent by the king to beg the man off nor the fear of Rome which all the people felt were enough to save the man from punishment, even though his act had been an accident. And this incident we relate, not from hearsay, but we saw it with our own eyes on the occasion of the visit we made to Egypt.

Translation from C. H. Oldfather, Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, Volume 1: Books 1–2.34, LCL 279 (Cambridge, MA: 1933), 285–87.

I’ve grown pretty attached to our two felines, but this was extreme veneration!

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