Cats, they say, have nine lives. My cat columns, I say, will have only two. My first (April 5) was a pioneering, tentative but catastrophically flawed venture into the aelurophilic world. It spawned a cataract of letters. Fax and e-mail contributed yet more catcalls.
The catalyst for this flow was my comment on Peter Green’s review of Donald Engels’s Classical Cats: The Rise and Fall of the Sacred Cat (Routledge). Engels dealt with the benign and malign roles cats have played in religion. Here is where I got into trouble: I wrote, “Green quotes Lactantius: ‘Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum,’” which I paraphrased to the effect that all religion has a potential for working evil. Green noted the unforeseen potential for cataclysmic evil on the part of Christians who killed cats as a part of antipagan ventures. They thus let rats thrive, and rats bring plagues. The result was the Black Death, which killed as many as 20,000,000 Europeans.