Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt
Page: 72There is no doubt that in this myth the beer represents the annual rise of the Nile, and if further evidence be required than that contained in the story, it lies in the fact that the Intoxication festivals of Hathor fall in the month of Thoth, the first month of the inundation.
The vengeance of Ra is doubtless the plagues and starvation which accompany the dry season immediately preceding the rise of the river. The eye of Ra—that is, Hathor—must be either the sun or the moon; but Ra himself is the sun-god, therefore Hathor is most probably the moon. It must be borne in mind, of course, that the Egyptians believed the moon wilfully to prevent the inundation, and thus were likely to regard her as the source of disasters arising from the drought. It is evident, too, that the eye of Ra wrought havoc among men during the night—"Day dawned, after this goddess had been slaughtering men as she went upstream."
This deity was especially connected with the great river whence Egypt drew her sustenance, and as such was a god of very considerable importance in the Egyptian pantheon. In time he became identified with Osiris. The name Hapi still baffles translation, and is probably of pre-dynastic origin. Perhaps the first mention of this deity is in the Text of Unas, where the Nile god is exhorted to fructify grain for the requirements of the dead monarch. In the same texts Hapi is alluded to as a destructive force, symbolizing, of course, the inundations so frequently caused by the River Nile.
In appearance Hapi possesses both male and female characteristics, the latter indicating his powers of nourishment. As god of the North Nile he is crowned with papyrus plants, and as god of the southern part of[Pg 170] the river with lotus plants. These two forms of Hapi resulted from the geographical division of the country into Upper and Lower Egypt, and they are sometimes combined in a single figure, when the god is shown holding in his hands both plants. On the thrones of certain of the Pharaohs we often find the lotus and papyrus conjoined with the emblem of union, to signify the sovereignty of the monarch over both regions.
The very position of Hapi made it certain that he would become successful as a deity. The entire country looked to the Nile as the source of all wealth and provender, so that the deity which presided over it rapidly rose in public estimation. Thus Hapi quickly became identified with the greater and more outstanding figures in early Egyptian mythology. He thus became a partner with the great original gods who had created the world, and finally came to be regarded as the maker and moulder of everything within the universe. We find him credited with the attributes of Nu, the primeval water-mass, and this in effect made him a father of Ra, who had emerged from that element. Hapi, indeed, stood in more immediate relationship to the Egyptians than almost any other god in their pantheon. Without the sun Egypt would have been plunged into darkness, but without the Nile every living creature within its borders would assuredly have perished.