Armchair Adventures: The Cats of the Acropolis

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By Evelyn Kelly, PhD 

Since my childhood, I have loved the Greek classics. I declared I would someday climb the Acropolis, spend time at the Parthenon, and romp over the top of the hill among the ruins. 

The opportunity came in 1993. My first international trip was in a bus that traversed 13 countries, beginning in London and ending in Athens. Now, riding through cities and villages is exciting, but soon we realized that staying in a different place every night was quite tiring. After three weeks, we were glad that Athens would be our last stop before home. 

It was a scorching afternoon in August when the bus dropped us off at the foot of the Acropolis. It was a steep climb. Oh! A cat crossed our path, then another, and another… all kinds and colors. I remembered the children’s story, “Millions of Cats” and the refrainCats here, cats there, cats and kittens everywhere.” Our thoughts: Please get us away from this hot place and these cats and back to Florida. 

My memory of the Acropolis focused on two things: the oppressive heat and the many cats. 

Twenty years later, I returned to Greece. I started in Athens, and the Acropolis was my first visit. It was also August, but I climbed the steep hill in the morning. The cats were still there, seemingly millions of them. But my attitude was different. As we marched through the Propylaea gate, I was thrilled to see the Parthenon, the small Temple of Athena Nike, and the museum with its multitude of artifacts. I talked to the cats as they wove freely in and out. 

When I joined the group, we asked the guide about the cats. He told us that Greeks love their cats. Efforts to control them have failed because many citizens think it is cruel to neuter them and impede their freedom. Cats roam freely all over Greece with the largest population on the Greek island of Santorini. 

I was fortunate to go to Greece and the Acropolis twice to study the classics. As for the cats, they clearly belong there, and will probably still be there as long as Greece itself.