If anyone ever did a word search of four decades’ worth of these columns, it is not likely that cat would ever show up. I am neither pro-cat—I sneeze when one comes near—nor con-cat—I don’t want to lose any cat-loving readers. I am just neglectful of felines. But a recent review in the Times Literary Supplement (January 14) of Donald Engels’s Classical Cats: The Rise and Fall of the Sacred Cat impels me to overcome my neglect of the creatures.
Reviewer Peter Green, like Engels an aelurophile (cat lover), wonders why the author, an economic historian, would take up the subject. Here’s why: Cats have been humanity’s bulwark against rodents, the main carriers of typhus and the bubonic plague as well as devourers and spoilers of needed food. A scholar investigating the logistics of Alexander the Great’s army came up with these useful statistics: