Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt
Page: 130Quite in consonance with this is the fact that while in some parts of Egypt the crocodile was held sacred, in[Pg 290] other districts it was killed; indeed, the hunting of it was a popular sport with the nobles of the Old Kingdom. By some the crocodile was looked upon as a protector of Egypt, Diodorus stating that "but for them Arabian and African robbers would swim across the Nile and pillage the country in all directions."
Herodotus also states these conflicting views regarding the crocodile, together with many of the fabulous stories of its wisdom and habits. He tells how at Thebes and Lake Moeris they were held sacred, and how when tame the people bedecked them with jewels, placing bracelets on their fore-paws, while they were fed on the most delicate foods. After death the body was embalmed with many rites and buried in the subterranean Labyrinth, a place held so sacred that Herodotus was not allowed to enter it.
The centre of this worship was Krokodilopolis, in the Fayûm, and Strabo, who visited Egypt during the reign of the Emperor Augustus, gives the following account in which he tells that the sacred crocodile "was kept apart by himself in a lake; it is tame and gentle to the priests. It is fed with bread, flesh, and wine, which strangers who come to see it always present. Our host, a distinguished person, who was our guide about the city, accompanied us to the lake, and brought from the supper table a small cake, dressed meat, and a small vessel containing honey and milk. The animal was lying on the edge of the lake. The priests went up to it; some of them opened its mouth, another put the cake into it, then the meat, and afterward poured down the honey and milk. The animal then leaped into the lake and crossed to the other side. When another stranger arrived with his offering, the priests took it and, going round to[Pg 291] the other side, caught the animal and repeated the process in the same manner as before."
This cult lasted far into the Roman period. Sebek also had his oracle, and foretold the demise of King Ptolemæus by refusing to listen to him or obey the attendant priests.
In religious art Sebek is often represented as a crocodile-headed man wearing the solar disk with a uræus, or, again, with a pair of horns and the plumes of Amen.
The lion could hardly fail to be the centre of a cult, and there is ample proof that this animal was, from early dynastic times, worshipped for his great strength and courage. He was identified with the solar deities, with the sun-god Horus or Ra. The Delta was the home of the Egyptian lion, and the chief centre of the cult was the city of Leontopolis, in the Northern Delta, where, according to Ælian, the sacred lions were fed upon slaughtered animals, and sometimes a live calf was put in the den that they might have the pleasure of killing it. Whilst the feeding was proceeding the priests chanted and sang. But the same writer also states that lions were kept in the temple at Heliopolis, as well as at many other places throughout Egypt.