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Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt

Page: 125

Qetesh in her native Syria seems to have been worshipped as a nature-goddess with rites that tended to the licentious. In Egypt she came to be identified with one of the forms of Hathor, the goddess of love and beauty, also as a moon-goddess. By some authorities she is considered to have been another form and aspect of Ashtoreth. In Egyptian art she is represented as standing upon a lion, her figure entirely nude; in her right hand she holds lotus blossoms and a mirror, while in her left are two serpents. At a later period she is still depicted in the same attitude, but on her head she wears the headdress of Hathor. On inscriptions of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Dynasties she is called "lady of heaven, mistress of all the gods, eye of Ra, who has none like unto her." She was prayed to for gifts of life and health, and that after extreme old age her devotees might have a good burial in the west of Thebes, proving that her worship existed in the capital of the country. She sometimes appears with Amsu and the god Reshpu, with whom she seems to be associated as one of a trinity.

[Pg 280]

Reshpu is another Syrian god whose cult became known in Egypt, the chief centre of his worship being at Het-Reshp, in the Delta. In Syria he was regarded as a god of war, and in Egyptian monuments and temples he is depicted in the form of a warrior with shield and spear in his left hand and a club in his right. Above his forehead projects a gazelle, which would seem to be an ancient symbol of the god denoting his sovereignty over the desert. His titles as given in the Egyptian texts, where he is described as "the great god, the lord of eternity, the prince of everlastingness, the lord of twofold strength among the company of gods," are largely borrowed from the native deities. Reshpu corresponds to the god known to the Phœnicians and worshipped both in Cyprus and Carthage, and is considered by some authorities to be a god of the burning and destructive power of fire, also of the lightning.

Semitic and African Influence

Besides supplying the Egyptians with specific deities, Semitic thought influenced their religious ideas regarding the mythology and nature of their own gods. Certain inanimate objects—especially stones, and in some cases trees—under this influence came to be looked upon as incorporations of deity, as that of the sun-god in Heliopolis, while a sign representing the archaic form of the symbol Kh is the usual determinative of the name Set. It is a circumstance of some significance that the Asiatic deities in representation, as regards physical appearance and symbolism, are depicted according to the Egyptian religious convention; but with gods of African origin it is far otherwise. They are figured as hideous, frightful, distorted, and enormously fat creatures, resembling the negro human[Pg 281] fetish which may be found to-day among African tribes. Bes is the most important of the African deities, and though he underwent many changes as time went on, which would seem to point to other origins, his original conception is decidedly African, and "his cult in Egypt is coeval with dynastic civilizations." His representations point to a savage origin. He is depicted as a deformed dwarf with large stomach, bowed legs, and a huge, bearded face. From his thick lips hangs a protruding tongue; his nose is flat, while his eyebrows are very shaggy. He wears a tiara of feathers[1] on his head, and round his body a panther-skin, the tail of which hangs down and usually touches the ground behind him. Another distinction is that he is generally drawn in full face, the Egyptian deities being usually presented in profile. Though many names were given to him later, Bes was his usual appellation, which, according to Wiedemann, is derived from besa, a word designating one of the great felidæ, the


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