The Ancient World : Egypt : Ptolemaic Period
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Cippus or Horus-on-the-Crocodiles stele; youthful god Horus (as Horus the Savior) wearing only sidelock, skull cap with uraeus, broad collar and wristlets, standing on twin crocodiles, arms extending outward and downward, grasping two serpents, scorpion, and oryx in right hand, lion (head turned back growling at god), scorpions, and pair of snakes in left; face of god Bes above Horus; entire composition flanked by papyrus plant topped with Horus of Behdet shown as falcon wearing feathered headdress with sundisk and by lotus plant with twin upright ostrich plumes; background filled with incised texts and images of miscellaneous apotropaic demi-gods(virtually all anonymous); back of stele (not shown in photo) covered with lines of inscriptions.
Cippi or Horus-on-the-Crocodiles stelae are a specialized variety of ancient Egyptian amulet varying in size from only several inches to over two-and-a-half feet (2As.006). Their inscriptions indicate that they were intended to afford magical protection against the venom of scorpions and snakes as well as from attacks by crocodiles, lions, and all other predaceous creatures.
Most cippi date from the Twenty-sixth Dynasty to the Ptolemaic Period, although Jacquet-Gordon (in BMA) mentions the existence of two stelae of Dynasty Nineteen. Budge felt that cippi were "placed in houses [or] gardens, sometimes buried in the ground." But recent investigations have demonstrated a close association between these talismans and ritual ablutions. Seele (in JNES) feels that cippi were at least partially submerged in water which, because of the potency inherent in the stelaes' inscriptions, became charged with restorative power and could either be drunk or applied directly to a victim's wound. "That this faith was extensive may be safely concluded by the large number of cippi which have survived to our time in the museums of the world." [--Seele.] Scott (in MBAB) notes that the recitation of these spells accomplished by the application of magic waters might have had a beneficial psychological effect on the sufferer, perhaps easing his discomfort or occasionally curing him completely.
Since these cippi display a wide range or lapidary proficiency, Jacquet-Gordon concludes that the pictoral representations were secondary to the magical texts covering them. Clearly each magic spell and myth was read aloud, possibly while the sufferer was partaking of the magic waters. Seele writes,"...the speaker identifies himself with various divinities including Osiris floating down the Nile [see below], Khnum, and above all, with Horus the child. Actually, longer texts, such as the Metternich inscriptions [2As.006], indicate that the speaker [perhaps a physician], or a person for whom the benefits of the amulet were intended, desires himself to be identified with all the gods depicted in the 'vignettes' carved on its surface. Just as these divine beings have suffered from the stings of scorpions, the bites of serpents, and similar injuries inflicted by creatures of Nature, and just as they have been healed by the magical power and intervention of other gods, so also will the humble victim of similar injuries certainly recover, provided that he makes proper use of the amulet."
The religious basis for these beliefs was a number of ancient myths whose origins probably extend back to the predynastic era. Each myth involves one episode in the mythic cycle of the divine family comprised of Osiris, his wife Isis, their son Horus, and Osiris' brother and murderer Set. The most frequently encountered text on the cippi relates the tale of Horus' death and resurrection while he and his mother were hiding from Set in the Delta marshes near the town of Chemmis. While Isis was away from their refuge, a scorpion discovered the sleeping infant and fatally stung him. When she found Horus' corspe, Isis appealed to the sun god Re to restore the life of the innocent god-child. Re heard her beseeching cries, stopped his solar barque in the course of its journey across the sky, and ordered Thoth, the god of wisdom, to effect a cure, declaring that "It will be dark, and the light will be driven away until Horus is cured for his mother Isis, and every sufferer likewise." [--Scott.] Invoking the magical powers of the gods to revive and restore Horus, Thoth successfully brought the infant Horus back to life, bestowing upon him the power to crush all noxious creatures beneath his feet. (For a more complete version of this myth, see 2As.006.)
The restoration of Horus by Thoth and Re became the prototype for the cure of all mortals stung or bitten by poisonous creatures, and the child god was invoked to relieve the sufferer as he himself had been cured. Thus the god appears on all cippi as Horus the Savior, grasping the subjugated beasts while standing upon a pair of pacified crocodiles. The text on a similar cippus appeals directly to Horus the Savior: "May you repulse for me every lion upon the desert, every crocodile in the river, all reptiles which bite in their holes. Make them for me [as harmless] as the pebbles of the desert, as the sherds of pots of jars in the street. Extract from me the coursing venom which is in every limb of every person, [every] falcon, [every] cat, and [every] monkey who has been poisoned. ...Bring into action your prestige on my behalf by means of your magic; increase [your....] on my behalf by menas of your divine power, in order to cause him who is suffocating to live, that praise may be given to you by the people, that Maat [truth] may be adored in your form, and that the god may be called upon in your likeness. Behold, one calls upon you in this day, 'I am Horus-the-Savior.'" [--Jacquet-Gordon.]
Another text, frequently appearing on these stelae, provided protection against crocodiles personified by the wicked god Nekaher ('terrible of visage'). Again this spell had a prototype in mythological tradition. According to one version of the murder of Osiris, Set threw the lifeless body of the brother into the Nile believing it would be rapidly devoured by the rapacious denizins of the riverine marshes, the dreaded crocodiles, thereby concealing his crime. But Osiris' corpse was magically protected from the creatures' jaws, and eventually it washed up on shore where it was magically restored to life by Isis.
This apotropaic spell, however, is not addressed to the protagonist of the myth. Instead, the owner of the stele identifies himself as Osiris and invokes mysterious god obliquely called the 'aged one, who has become a youth again in this time.' Jacquet-Gordon translates this text: "Cause Thoth to come to me at my call, that he may repell Nekaher for me. It is Osiris who is upon the water, the eye of Horus being with him and the great scarab spread above him." He then threatens the crocodiles, "Do not raise your heads, O you who are in the waters, in order that Osiris may pass above you. Behold! He is at Djedet. His hand is against you. Your mouths are gagged; your gullets are stopped up. Retreat enemy! ....Your mouths are sealed by Re himself, your gullets are stopped up by Sekhmet, your extermination is to be carried out by Thoth while your eyes are blinded by Heka [the god of magic], these [four] great gods who protect Osiris, they who protect the living falcon in the house of Re."
Scott observes that while "the word magic is usually employed to describe these stelae, it must be remembered that the ancients made no such distinction as we do between magic (commanding divine help) and religion (praying for such help)." For a discussion of the reasons for the proliferation of magical cults and objects in the Third Intermediate and Later Periods, see 2As.003. For other cippi, see 2As.006 and 2Av.010.
Cippus (schist; ht. 20.3 cm.).
Style or School
Ptolemaic (332-32 B.C.). [--Museum.]
Material or Technique
Provenience unknown.
Repository or Site
New York: Mus., Metropolitan Museum of Art; No. 20.2.23.
Image Sources
Museum. [DN 20]
BMA, 7 (1965-6), pp.53-64.
BNES, VI (1947), pp.43-52.
MBAB, IX (1951), pp.201-17.
Budge, E.A.W., Gods (1904), Vol. II, p.274.