Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt
Page: 59Amen was represented in numerous forms: in the shape of a man seated on a throne, with the head of a frog and the body of a man, with a serpent's head, as an ape and as a lion. But the most general form in which he was drawn was that of a bearded man wearing on his head two long and very straight plumes, which are coloured alternately red and green or red and blue. He is clothed in a linen tunic, wears bracelets, and necklet, and from the back of his dress there hangs an animal's tail, which denotes that he was a god originating in early times. In a later form he has the head of a hawk when fused with Ra. The great centre of his worship and of his rise to power was the city of Thebes, where in the Twelfth Dynasty a temple was built in his honour. At that period he was a mere local god, but when the princes of Thebes came into power and grasped the sovereignty of Egypt the reputation of Amen rose with theirs, and he became a prominent god in Upper Egypt. His priesthood, seizing upon the new political conditions, cleverly succeeded in identifying him with Ra and his subsidiary forms, all of whose attributes they[Pg 139] ascribed to Amen; but they further stated that although their deity included in himself all their characteristics, he was much greater and loftier than they. As we have already observed, the god of the capital of Egypt for the time being was the national deity, and when this lot fell to the fortune of Amen his priesthood took full advantage of it. Never was a god so exploited and, if the term may be employed, advertised as was Amen. When evil days fell upon Egypt and the Hyksos overran the country, Amen, thanks to his priestly protagonists, weathered the storm and, because of internecine strife, had become the god par excellence of the Egyptians. When the country recovered from its troubles and matters began to right themselves once more, the military successes of the kings of the Eighteenth Dynasty redounded greatly to the power and glory of Amen, and the spoil of conquered Palestine and Syria loaded his temples. There was of course great dissatisfaction on the part of the worshippers of Ra at such a condition of affairs. Osiris, as the popular god, could not well be displaced, as he had too large a hold on the imagination of the people, and his cult and character were of too peculiar a nature to admit of usurpation by another deity. His cult had been slowly evolved, probably through many centuries, and the circumstances of his worship were unique. But the cult of Ra was challenged by that of a deity who not only presented like attributes, but whose worship was on the whole more spiritual and of a higher trend than that of the great sun-god. We do not know what theological battles were waged over the question of the supremacy of the two gods, but we do know that priestly skill was, as in other cases, more than equal to the occasion. A fusion of the gods took place. It would be rash to assert that this amalgamation[Pg 140] was a planned affair between the two warring cults, and it is more probable that their devotees quietly acquiesced in a gradual process of fusion. The Theban priests would come to recognize that it was impossible to destroy altogether the worship of Ra, so they would as politic men bow to the inevitable and accept his amalgamation with their own deity.
Many hymns of Amen-Ra, especially that occurring in the papyrus of Hu-nefer, show the completeness of this fusion and the rapidity with which Amen had risen to power. In about a century from being a mere local god he had gained the title of 'king of the gods' of Egypt. His priesthood had become by far the most powerful and wealthy in the land, and even rivalled royalty itself. Their political power can only be described as enormous. They made war and peace, and when the Ramessid Dynasty came to an end the high-priest of Amen-Ra was raised to the royal power, instituting the Twenty-first Dynasty, known as the 'dynasty of priest-kings.' But if they were strong in theology, they were certainly not so in military genius. They could not enforce the payment of tribute which their predecessors had wrung from the surrounding countries, and their poverty increased rapidly. The shrines of the god languished for want of attendants, and even the higher ranks of the priesthood itself suffered a good deal of hardship. Robber bands infested the vicinity of the temples, and the royal tombs were looted. But if their power waned, their pretensions certainly did not, and even in the face of Libyan aggression in the Delta they continued to vaunt the glory of the god whom they served. Examining the texts and hymns which[Pg 141] tell us what we know of Amen-Ra, we find that in them he is considered as the general source of life, animate and inanimate, and is identified with the creator of the universe, the 'unknown god.' All the attributes of the entire Egyptian pantheon were lavished upon him, with the exception of those of Osiris, of whom the priests of Amen-Ra appear to have taken no notice. But they could not displace the great god of the dead, although they might ignore him. In one of his forms certainly, that of Khensu the Moon-god, Amen bears a slight likeness to Osiris, but we cannot say that in this form he usurps the rôle of the god of the underworld in any respect. Amen-Ra even occupied the shrines of many other gods throughout the Nile valley, absorbing their attributes and entirely taking their place. One of his most popular forms was that of a goose, and the animal was sacred to him in many parts of Egypt, as was the ram. Small figures of him made in the Ptolemaic form have the bearded face of a man, the body of a beetle, the wings of a hawk, human legs with the toes and claws of a lion. All this, of course, only symbolizes the many-sided character of him who was regarded as the greatest of all gods, and typified the manner in which attributes of every description resided in him. The entire