By Deb Zulawski
Blogger, artist, photographer, global traveler, and soon-to-be expat currently living in the Pacific Northwest
It has been a long time since I first learned of Greek mythology in elementary school, opening my mind to ancient beliefs about the origins of the world, the gods, giants, mythical creatures, and the battles for power. All of that in a land boasting the bluest of blue seas dotted by islands with ragged cliffs, on the other side of the globe from where I lived, in a land called Greece.
I dreamed of visiting Greece ever since childhood. I hoped that stepping foot in that land one day would bring those myths to life. Over time, those dreams of exploring a land that were home to mythological gods and giants were pushed to the back burner, in order to explore other places around the globe, such as India, rich in culture, spiritual traditions, exotic foods and aromatic spices. The dense, damp Amazon rain forest filled with peoples untouched and their stories of spirits of the jungle in their land and then the highlands in South America where Machu Pichu, a city of stone sitting atop a mountain jungle and shrouded in clouds, both stole my attention from Greece. The palaces of royalty across Europe holding secrets to the past behind their stone walls and motes, as well as the circles of Stonehenge replete with mystery that has been solved repeatedly, but not really, instead providing only cues to an ancient civilization all got in my way. So many mysteries of the world called to me and sidetracked me from visiting Greece and what I imagined that Greek mythology held for me when I would finally arrive.
This year I finally made it to Greece. To Greece!!! Oopa! The land of Zeus, Aphrodite and Adonis, mythical creatures like the Centaurs, stories of the origins of world and of ritual practices of the ancients. What an amazing country surrounded by the bluest of seas, islands edged with craggy cliffs, rich cultural dance and music, and gastronomical delights. And with all the historic and cultural richness that Greece has to offer I have decided my first blog post about Greece will focus on cats. Yep. You read that right. Cats. Greek cats. Those furry felines with whispy whiskers and flittering tails.
Upon arriving to Greece I noticed cats everywhere we turned. There were solid black cats with golden eyes. Tabby’s posing for tourist photos without a thought or worry, having posed a thousand or more times before. A striped cat with its’ little ones hanging out at a small outdoor café on a side alley in a port town on the island of Syros, hoping for a bit of food to drop, preferably fish or crustacean. One sat on the steps of the church, another on a ledge high above all the hustle and bustle of daily life offering great viewing advantage, and still another hiding under a dumpster, probably a great place to catch vermin. About half way down the ‘600 steps’ on Santorini Island, from the caldera cliff town of Fira to the dock far below, lay a black cat in the shade of a tree, looking for a few behind the ear scratches or to give a nuzzle or two to tourists climbing or descending the stairs. Almost anywhere shade was cast, offering respite from the heat of the day, you could find a cat.
Cats. Everywhere cats.
I knew there must be a connection between Greece and cats, maybe in their legends or mythology. Were they included in the ancient stories of the land, like Cleopatra in Egypt with her cats or in Roman times where cats were a part of life and art? I started to do a bit of research in order to find the link of cats to Grecian history, expecting to find great stories.
I didn’t find much. Cats were not revered as they were in ancient Egypt and during Roman times. In Egypt when the household cat died, all the people living in the house shaved off their eyebrows and the grieving was only over when their eyebrows grew back. I don’t even know what to say to that. But that was in Egypt, not Greece.
Anyway, in Greece large cats were on occasion included in stone carving reliefs on ancient buildings, but I found little mention of cats, you know, the little ones. I did read that ferrets and weasels, rather than cats, were brought to Greece to manage the rat and mouse population in ancient times. Ultimately, cats were brought to the country and assisted in the vermin control, just because that is what cats do. OK, so not such a great legend or mythical connection, but certainly an important service provided by all the cats on the islands. Cats were brought into the homes and kept as household pets.
Also, as an aside, Aristophanes, an ancient Greek playwright used cats for comic effect and is claimed to have coined the phrase, ‘The cat did it!’ So that is the light side of cats. Here’s the darker side.
Cats were not as revered in Greece as they were in Egypt in the ancient world and this may have been because in Greece, they were connected to the ‘dark side’ due to its mythological connection to the goddess of death, darkness and witches. According to Greek mythology, it is said that Zeus is responsible for that less that desirable connection. Zeus got, Galanthis, the maid to his mother, Alcmene, pregnant and she ultimately gave birth to Hercules. Well, Zeus’ wife, Hera, was not happy with his antics and tried to kill both Galanthis and Hercules. Unsuccessful in her murder attempt, Hera became enraged and turned Galanthis into a cat and sent her to the underworld to act as priestess to Hecate, the goddess of death and queen of witches.
Putting aside the limited connection to mythology that I hoped for, I found all the furry felines throughout Greece seemed pretty healthy, friendly, with an occasional skittish one, and very willing to accept scratches behind the ear and gratefully accept any delicious morsel dropped ‘accidentally’ to the ground. I really don’t know if they belong to the locals and head home after a day out exploring and offering photo ops to tourists or if they are members of the larger community. It did appear that the locals took care of the cats though. I watched as a nun came out of the Catholic Church in Fira on Santorini to provide a large bowl overflowing with food, with a side of water, for several local cats who seemed to know where the bounty was. They were all hanging around on the cobblestone walkway, lounging on the steps by the gate and still another high above on a ledge purveying the activity below.
And with that I introduce you to just a few of the multitude of cats that I saw lounging about in the shade and wandering through the cities and towns, ancient ruins, and back alleys of an amazing country and culture filled with great legends and myths ... and well ... an awful lot of cats.
And without further ado, I present you with the cats of Greece...
one from Turkey, and a couple of dogs
And a couple of dogs in Mykonos, Greece waiting for the humans to come home.
And last but not least... the PHOTOBOMB CAT of Crete!
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