Ailurophobia – the irrational fear of cats – is not very common. However, it would have touched an astonishing number of famous people, from Julius Caesar to Napoleon. If all these cases are not verifiable, some are attested by written records, or correspond to moments in history when this phobia was widespread.
In fact, at certain times, ailurophobia is easily explained: from the end of the Middle Ages to the 18th century, for example, there was nothing surprising or rare about it, the whole of Europe being persuaded by the Church that cats were the incarnation of the devil. They were associated with bad omens, the idea of witchcraft and evil in general, and therefore held little reassurance for ordinary mortals, or their rulers.
In the 16th century, widespread ailurophobia
This is in any case the reason why the Queen of England Elizabeth I (1533-1603) hated small felines. She had also been brought up to hate the pope, as the Anglican Church gained independence in 1534. At her coronation in January 1559, a dozen cats were enclosed in a wicker effigy of the pope that was paraded through the streets of London before setting them on fire. The howls of agony of the cats represented the demons that inhabited the Pope’s body.
At the same time in France, the cat had no better press. King Henry III (1551-1589) abhorred them; when he met a tom, he almost fainted. If he found himself alone in a room with one of them, he would have a nervous breakdown. No question therefore that the sovereign risks an unfortunate encounter at the castle: cats were simply banished from the court. Only here, it happened that the king moves, and it then seemed inevitable that he crosses stray cats. To limit the risks and to reassure himself, Henri III ordered his men-at-arms to kill all the small felines being on their way; it is estimated that 30,000 of them died this way during his 15-year reign.
Napoleon, Hitler or Caesar, a part of legend?
Regarding Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), his ailurophobia is far from confirmed, even if it is often mentioned. What we know for certain is that he had no great regard for tomcats, or other pets for that matter. In the Civil Code of the French which he promulgated in 1804, cats, dogs and other animals of the same order are legally defined as furniture. It can be read in Article 528: “Movable by nature are animals and bodies that can be transported from one place to another, either because they move by themselves or because they can only change place by the effect of a force. foreign force. »
Despite this, Napoleon was able to recognize the usefulness of cats, especially during his campaign in Egypt. While his army was tied down by an outbreak of plague in Palestine, the cats that were part of the journey were employed to hunt rats, the main vectors of the disease, in the encampments of the soldiers. The operation was a success. We also often talk about the morbid fear of cats by Alexander the Great, Adolf Hitler or Julius Caesar, but no official text refers to it. Perhaps these are mere legends or exaggerations.
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