Hathor: Ancient Egypt's Goddess of Music
Understanding Hathor, the ancient Egyptian goddess of music, is understanding how one of human kinds most fascinating civilization's thought of music's relationship to life. Understanding Hathor can help us judge what aspects of life we associate music with.
The Egyptian civilization of the very long Egyptian antiquities is one of the most thrilling in human history. To this day, fascinates millions if not billions and Egyptian pyramids are visited by large numbers of tourists whereas neighboring Sudan's Meroe pyramids are not as well known. What's mind boggling about the civilization of the Egyptian antiquities is many of its practices and concepts it found their way into both European (Athens), are the heart of carnival culture, and also into West African civilization and thus into American life. Examples of this are many. Barack Obama's father was a Luo, belonged to the Luo ethnic group in East Kenya, an ethnic group who are direct descendants of the ancient Egyptians, and so the President of the United States today is direct descendant of ancient Egyptians.
Music played a central role in the life of ancient Egyptians and the goddess, or the idealization, of music was Hathor. She was one of the ancient Egypt's most popular goddesses. According to brittanica.com, the Greeks equated Hathor with Aprhodite. She was also a goddess of fertility, of women, of mirth, of fertility, of beauty, and of love. The Oxford Dictionary of Ancient Egypt adds happiness to the list. She was also a goddess associated with mining and in particular with Turquoise. She was represented as a woman with cow horns or as a cow, obviously to signify giving life. She was considered to be the daughter of Re, the sun, and her cult centre was in Dandarah, of which ruins exist today. She was celebrated side by side with Horus, the god of both power and healing symbolized as a falcon.
The following epitaph is a translation of an song used to praise Hathor. It is from the book Hathor and Thoth: Two Key Figures of the Ancient Egyptian Religion by Claas Jouco Bleeker, a Dutch historian of Egyptian religion.
We laud thee with delightful songs
For though art the mistress of jubilation
The mistress of music, the queen of harp playing,
The lady of dance,
The mistress of chorus dance, the queen of wreath-weaving
How do our own conceptions of music compare to Hathor traits? We each conceive of music in different ways but all or most seem to agree on some of its uses. We agree that it dances us and that it makes us happy. Mirth, or amusement, s certainly a reason why we listen to music.
Some societies do equate music with fertility and do celebrate music when celebrating power of healing (Hathor is celebrated alongside Horus.) Not all do however and there is a lot of sobriety silence in contemporary life. Very little music is composed to celebrate fertility in some areas in the world though in other areas the practice is prevalent. Do we equate music with beauty? We do, but the art elites seem to equate it more with paintings. Beauty seems to be fixed or affixed to as opposed to in movement. However, most people would equate a beautiful time with participating in beautiful dance to a beautiful song.
There is a certain sobriety that comes with gems and with the contemplation of a cow that is unlike celebrating Hathor. A cow today would mean prosperity through work and very little of us globally sing work songs wen compared to how we sang them one or two centuries ago.
Its hard not to agree with the ancient Egyptian's definition of music through their god or shall we say theology of music. Music is certainly the grand way to celebrate and seems to be agreed upon by all of our senses as communing with beauty, life, mirth and happiness. May it continue to be the case, and may we compose and perform a few more fertility songs and work songs