Rats are among the “most reviled animals in existence”, says James Greig in Dazed. They carry “vanishingly few positive connotations”: when someone snitches, they are a “rat”; when stifled by work, we’re caught in the “rat race”. In books like George Orwell’s 1984 and Albert Camus’s The Plague, they’re torture instruments and harbingers of disease: sly, untrustworthy and grotesque. But it’s high time the rodents had a “critical reappraisal”. Set aside your prejudice, and rats are “actually pretty cute” – certainly “no more loathsome” than squirrels or hamsters – and, despite being associated with squalor, “surprisingly clean”.
In Ancient Rome, rats were associated with good fortune, while Ancient Egyptians “upheld them as a symbol of wisdom”. The creatures still have divine connotations in many cultures today: the Hindu god Ganesha, for example, is often accompanied by a rat. And in many ways, they are our “mirror species”. Locked in a “symbiotic relationship” with us humans, they profit from our wars, rapacious consumption and wasteful habits far more than other creatures, which have instead dwindled and disappeared. They’re one of only a handful of species that have “thrived under human domination” – perhaps our only “worthy opponent” in the animal kingdom.