That sinking feline
Not all people think cats are cuddly bundles of fur. For some, they are beasts that strike fear into their very soul. Justine Hankins investigates cat-phobia
What do Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Mussolini and Hitler have in common? One or two things spring to mind, obviously, but tyranny and a thirst for world domination are not what concern us here. All are reputed to have suffered from ailurophobia - the fear of cats. That's not to say that they didn't much care for cats or held felines to be inferior to, say, dogs or horses; allegedly, they were palm-sweatingly, spine-tinglingly, stomach-churningly terror-struck by pussycats.
I say allegedly because the vast library of cat love doesn't tend to trouble itself with footnotes. I have no idea if anyone really knows (or cares) how Hitler or Mussolini felt about cats, or where the story about Alexander falling into a swoon at the sight of a cat originates, but ailurophiles seem irresistibly drawn to the idea that cat aversion is an indication of a brutish, insensitive temperament. "Artists like cats; soldiers like dogs," as Desmond Morris once said.