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Work Statue of a priest of Bastet covered in magical formulae

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Religious and funerary beliefs

Statue of a priest of Bastet covered in magical formulae

© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Georges Poncet

Egyptian Antiquities
Religious and funerary beliefs

Author(s):
Etienne Marc

This statue, dedicated by a family of priests of Bastet, was placed in a public space. It represents a man holding a stele of "Horus on the Crocodiles." According to ancient Egyptian belief, poisonous bites could be healed by drinking water that had been poured over the magical inscriptions on the statue and stele.

A stele in a statue

From the 7th century BC onward, statues of figures holding steles of the "Horus on the Crocodiles" type were produced in large numbers. They were sculpted from hard, dark stone, and covered in magical texts and representations of protective deities, finely engraved over the entire surface except for the hands, feet, and face. The statue in the Louvre is typical of Late Period statuary, notably with its gentle smile and full-cheeked face. This statue is the only one of its kind to give precise instructions regarding its use: water poured over the magical texts engraved on the statue would be impregnated with its healing powers, and should then be drunk. The figures of the priests of Bastet who dedicated this statue are engraved just above the stele; the character holding the stele can be considered their representative. The statue could be placed in a chapel (covered with the same magical texts) on the temple forecourt, and was therefore accessible to the public for the benefit of all.

Healing poisonous bites

Poisonous animals such as snakes and scorpions are among the most common dangers of everyday life in Egypt; their bites and stings can be fatal (especially to children). The text on this statue refers to a specific mythological episode. When Horus was a little boy, his mother Isis hid him in the swamps of the Nile Delta, to protect him from the murderer of her husband Osiris. One day Horus was stung by a scorpion, and Isis found him lifeless; the lamentations of the powerless, grief-stricken mother stopped the sun god Ra in his course. Ra sent the god Thoth, the creator of hieroglyphs, to recite formulae that would drive out the poison and save the child. These very formulae were made available to the public by means of this statue: water that flowed over the magical inscriptions would assimilate their power to heal poisonous bites.

Horus - god, king, and child

In New Kingdom talismans, the king, guarantor of world order, was considered an efficient protector against poisonous animals (link Horemheb ring, n747). During the reign of Amenophis IV, the young "savior god" Shed was represented, wearing the sidelock of youth and the royal uraeus. He could control snakes and scorpions, and hunted desert animals with his bow and arrow. He was later assimilated to the god Horus as a child, or to Harpocrates (son of Isis and heir of Osiris), in the iconography of the "Horus on the Crocodiles" steles, so-called because of the scene portrayed on their front: the god Horus as a child, standing on crocodiles, and grasping poisonous creatures in his hands.

Bibliography

- ZIEGLER C., BOVOT J.-L., Art et archéologie : L’Egypte ancienne,  Ecole du Louvre / Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux / Documentation française, Paris,  2001, p. 278-279, fig. 171.

- ETIENNE M., Heka – Magie et envoûtement dans l’Egypte ancienne,  Catalogue d’exposition, Louvre/Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, 2000, p. 26, 31-32, 65-67, notice n° 207.

- ANDREU G., RIGAULT P., TRAUNECKER C., L’Abébédaire de l’Egypte ancienne, Paris, 1999, p. 64.

- LECLANT J., L’Egypte du crépuscule,  tome III., Editions L’Univers des Formes, Paris, 1980, p. 159, fig. 141.

Technical description

  • Statue of a priest of Bastet covered in magical formulae

    4th century BC

  • Graywacke, sculpture in the round, bas-relief

    H. 67.70 cm

  • Purchased at the sale of the Tyszkiewicz collection, 1898

    E 10777

  • Egyptian Antiquities

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