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Monday, May 23, 2016

Egypt Centre, Swansea: Bes the watery deity of betwixt and between
Carolyn Graves-Brown wrote:
Bes the watery deity of betwixt and between Carrying on from last week's post on Bes [1] and masking, I thought I would explore some ideas on the Bes entity, as a deity associated with water. This seems to be related to his association with the marsh land and the myth of The Return of the Distant One [2].  

First the water connection: 
We have in the Egypt Centre a Horus stela, or cippus, AB110. This is it: You can find out more about it generally on our YouTube video or here. It shows the god Horus the Child (Harpocrates) holding snakes and standing on crocodiles. Above him is the mask of Bes. The cippus is associated with water. Some large Horus stelae from temples, for example the stela of Djedher the Saviour, from Athribis, now in Cairo Museum (accession number 46341; Jelinkova-Reymond 1956), have basins to collect water, which it is assumed was used in healing or protection rites. On cippi, Horus the Child is depicted defeating animals of the water such as crocodiles. I return to this point below. Several cippi have spells against dangerous water animals. For example, one of the most well-known cippi, the 30th Dynasty Metternich stela in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (accession number 50.85) includes the story of Horus in Marsh. 

Bes's watery connection is not only cippi related. From the New Kingdom he is associated with the part hippopotamus goddess Taweret (known variously as Opet, Reret, Isis, etc.). The pair are frequently shown together on Divine Birth scenes, on bed legs (see Egypt Centre W2052). Taweret is a goddess of the marshes. On The Metternich Stela, when in the marshes, Horus was said to be under the protection of various deities including ‘The Great Dwarf’. On the same stela, Isis tells her son Horus that a ‘sow and a dwarf’ were his protectors (Borghouts 1978, 70). The sow might be Taweret and the dwarf could be Bes. Hippopotami were known by the Egyptians as ‘water pigs’ (Reret means sow; more on piggishness of Taweret here). Taweret is also associated withthe story of the Return of the Distant One (Darnell 1995, 90–91). One might also add that Bes's sometime pendulous breasts link him with both Taweret and the Nile god, Hapy.

Bes and Taweret Bed legs

But, Bes also has his own marsh connections. He appears on 22nd–25th Dynasty votive beds in marsh scenes (Vesco 2009;Teeter 2010). It has been stated that such votive beds were associated with female rebirth but also with the Inundation and the story of the Return of the Distant One, Hathor and the Plucking the Papyrus ritual (the Plucking of the Papyrus ritual is associated with Hathor. Bes's connection with it might help explain why he appears on sistra (e.g. Egypt Centre W553), apart from his interest in music. The rustling of the papyrus was said to sound like the ancient Egyptian word for a sistrum, seseshet)The Metropolitan Museum of Art has an amulet dating from the 27th–30th Dynasties with a Bes head one side and Isis and Horus in the marshes on the other (Met. Mus. of Art 42.5.19). The associated with the Return of the Distant One may in part explain Bes’ associated with Shu. Not only are both thought of as being between heaven and earth, but Shu is one of the deities sometimes credited with bringing back the Distant Goddess. By the Graeco-Roman Period, Bes is well known to dance at the return of the Distant Goddess (Darnell 1995, 91; Richter 2010, 155–166; Barrett 2011, 274).

Also relating to the Graeco-Roman Period, Török (1995, 63) refers to a depiction of priests wearing ostrich feathers, who are sprinkling water, which he believes may show them imitating Bes. On the same page. Török also refers to refers Graeco Roman terracottas of Bes and Harpocrates with water pots. Barrett (2011, 288–290) also discusses this aspect, including the role of Bes vases of the New Kingdom and later (see Egypt Centre EC257; EC546; W1283; W1702).

W1702 Bes vessel
Perhaps a less significant water connection is the fact that Bes also appears on a Ptolemaic sha-basin from Naukratis (British Museum 1885,1101.22 (number 2). Usually it is Hathor who appears on such objects. There are also Roman Bes figures as fountains, for example Fitzwilliam Museum GR.1.1818 (Willems and Clarysse 1999, 290).

Bes may have gained an association with water because of his leonine features. The lion head image was commonly used as a water spout on Egyptian temples.

So it seems the earlier watery associations of Bes are to do with the marsh scenes and the story of Return of the Distant One. 

The return of the Distant one in the New Kingdom and later, celebrates the annual flooding of the Nile and parallels it to the dangerous aggressive Sekhmet becoming the peaceful, gentle Hathor. Bes dances to welcome Hathor's return. The festival is a time of transition. It is also associated with adolescent daughters in private tombs of the New Kingdom (Graves-Brown 2015). In the previous post we saw how Bes and masking were possibly linked, and how this deity appeared to be a deity of transition. One might see the Return of the Distant One as a similar transitional festival with aggressive Sekhemet becoming the gentle Hathor, and some emphasis on female adolescence, a time of change.  

Further Reading and References

Barrett, C. E. 2011. Egyptianizing Figurines from Delos. A Study in Hellenistic Religion. Brill.

Berlandini, J. 2002. “Un monument magique du ,Quatrième prophète d’Amon’ Nakhtemout”, In La magie en Égypte: À la recherché d’une définition; Actes du colloque organisé par le musée du Louvre les 29 et 30 septembre 2000, edited by Y. Koenig, pp. 85148. Paris: Musée du Louvre.

Bourghouts, J.F. 1978. Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts. Leiden.

Counts, D.B. and Toumazou, M.K. 2006. “New Light on the Iconography of Bes in Archaic Cyprus”, In Common Ground: Archaeology, Art, Science, and Humanities - Proceedings of the XVI International Congress of Classical Archaeology, edited by A. Donohue and C. Mattusch. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 565–569.

Darnell, J.C. 1995. Hathor Returns to Medamûd. Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur, 22, 47–94.

Graves-Brown, C. 2015. Hathor, Nefer and Daughterhood in New Kingdom Private Tombs. In Navratilova, H. and Landgráfová, R. (eds.) Prague, 15–33.

Jelínková-Reymond, E. (1956), Les Inscriptions de la statue guérisseuse de Djed-Her-Le-Sauveur (Bibliothèque d’Étude 23; Cairo: Impr. de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale).

Lefebvre, G, 1931. La statue <<guérisseuse>> du Musée du Louvre, BIFAO, 30, 89–96.

Malaise, M. 1990. “Bes et les croyances solaires”, in Israelit-Groll, S. (ed.), Studies in Egyptology Presented to Miriam Lichtheim, Jerusalem, 680–729.

Nunn, J.F. 2002. Ancient Egyptian Medicine, London, 107–110.

Quibell, M.J.E. 1908. Catalogue Général des Antiquités Égyptiennes du Musée du Caire No. 50001-51191. Tomb of Yuaa and Thuia, Cairo.

Richter, B.A. 2010. On the Heels of the Wandering Goddess. The Myth and Festival at the Temples of Wadi el-Hallel and Dendera. In Dolińska, M. and Beinlich, H. (eds.) Ägyptologische Tempeltagung, Interconnections Between Temples, Warsaw 25th–26thSeptember 2008, Weisbaden: Harrassowitz-Verlag, 155–186.

Ritner, R.K.1989. "Horus on the Crocodiles: a Juncture of Religion and Magic in Late Dynastic Egypt", in Allen, J.P. (ed.), Religion and Philosophy in Ancient Egypt, New Haven, 103­–116.

Ritner, R.K. 1993. The Mechanics if Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice, Chicago.

Seele, K.C. 1947. Horus on the Crocodiles, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 6, 43–52.

Sternberg-el-Hotabi, H. 1987. Die Götterdarstellungen der Metternichsele, Göttinger Miszellen, 97, 25–70.

Sternberg-el-Hotabi, H. 1994. Der Untergang der Hieroglyphenschrift, Chronique d’Egypte 69, 218–248.

Sternberg-el-Hotabi, H. 1999. Untersuchungen zur Überlieferungsgeschichte der Horusstelen: ein Beitrag zur Religiongeschichte Ägyptens im 1. Jahrtausand v. Chr.Wiesbaden.

Teeter, E. 2010. Baked Clay Figurines and Votive Beds from Medinet Habu. Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

Török, L. 1995. Hellenistic and Roman Terracottas from Egypt. Rome.

Vesco,  P. Del. 2009. A Votive bed fragment in the Egyptian Museum of Florence (Italy). EVO XXXII, 31–37.

Willems, H. and Clarysse, W. (eds.) 1999. Keizers aan de Nijl. Exhibition Tongeren. Leuven: Peeters.

[1] Bes is not one deity, but a group of deities, here I have defined him as a dwarf deity with leonine head.
[2]The Story of the Return of the Distant One, is first written down in the New Kingdom but was probably earlier. It relates how the daughter of the sun god went on the rampage in Nubia, killing humankind. She is brought back to Egypt by a male god, variously Thoth, or Shu, or others and becomes peaceful and pacified. Her return is marked by celebration including drunkenness. See Richter (2010, 155) for references.

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