Cats in Greek Mythology

Written by misty barton
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Cats in Greek Mythology
Cats are common symbols in Roman, Greek and Eygptian myths. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Cats were worshipped in Egyptian culture, but that is certainly not the only culture in which they were influential. Cats, especially great cats, are frequently seen as important figures in Greek mythology. They were often the object of transformation in cases where the gods elected to transform a mortal to do their bidding or to punish a human for his crimes.


The name Sphinx means "The Strangler." The Sphinx was a monster, sent by one of the gods to punish the city of Thebes for a crime committed there. It is female with a distinctly feline shape and has a lion's body, eagle's wings, a serpent's tail and the head and breast of a human. It sat at the gates into Thebes and asked young men riddles. According to legend, Oedipus got a riddle correct, and the Sphinx killed herself for shame.

Atalanta and Hippomenes

According to Greek myth, Atalanta and Hippomenes were turned into lions. Atalanta was a great beauty but was too proud to seek love. She challenged her suitors to a race, promising that she would marry the one who could defeat her, but those who lost would die. Hippomenes knew loss was inevitable, so he sought help from Aphrodite, who wanted to punish Atalanta for her pride. After the race, Hippomenes and Atalanta went to the temple of Zeus to have sex. Zeus was furious and turned them into lions because he believed lions could not mate without killing one another.


Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry, is closely associated with leopards. Some accounts of his youth claim he was raised by leopards in the absence of his father, Zeus. He wore a garment made from the skin of the leopard. Images of Dionysus show him both riding leopards and riding in a chariot pulled by a pair of leopards.


According to myth, Galinthias was turned into a cat by the gods, though which god is responsible for her transformation varies in different versions of the myth. In one version, it is Hera who turns her into a cat. Hecate, a goddess who used cats to conjure ghosts, then took pity on her. She made Galinthias a priestess in her temples and had her raid tombs. It is from this transformation that the association between cats and black magic began.

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