Horus, Hor, Har or Heru means “He who is above”. As such, Horus (Heru) represents the realized divine principle and Thoth god of writing, magic, wisdom, and the moon. And when such deities pour holy water over one’s (King’s) head, it must be a special present for purging the soul!
This tiny and precious statue shows how vital was such a divine act. And here, we read another brilliant article, by Marie Grillot, about this magnificent find. 💖🙏
This statuary group of calcite (Egyptian alabaster) displays a beautiful balance and a neat composition. It brings together the gods Horus and Thoth, standing and in profile on either side of an elegant arch under which the Pharaoh Amenhotep II sits.
Horus, on the left, is represented in his hawk-headed form, that is to say, with a falcon’s head on a man’s body, while on the right, Thoth, responds to him in his ibis-head form, a man with the head of an ‘ibis.
They are simply dressed in a pleated loincloth, the shendyt, and their hair is what Georges Daressy calls the “striped hood”. They are each on a rectangular pedestal, adorned with a frieze composed of the three signs ankh-djed-ouas which rest on the basket-neb, a composition which can be translated as “all life-stability-strength”.
The arch they “frame” has a gently rounded top adorned with a winged disc. Their arms are raised, and they hold in both hands a purification ewer-nemset. “Purification rites required metal dishes depicted on the reliefs, and several examples have come down to us”, specifies Laetitia Martzolff in “The practice of the ritual in the Egyptian temple.”
The purifying water they pour thus flows over the uprights of the arch. It is “materialized”, symbolized by finely engraved ankh signs, which follow each other without interruption…
Amenhotep II, standing centre stage, is in the conventional walking attitude, left leg forward. His arms are stretched along the body, and his hands have the fingers pointing downwards. His face, with full cheeks strong chin, is full of seriousness. He wears a nemes headdress with a frontal uraeus and a curved false beard. His body, with perfect proportions, is dressed in a short loincloth with a very elaborate front. What emerges from this royal and divine representation is a very solemn aspect that befits this ceremony, which is both ritual and official.
This small monument (about twenty centimetres) is exhibited at the NMEC, in Fustat, in the window dedicated to the theme of “purification”. The cartel presents it thus: “Purification by water: On his arrival from the other world, the sun god purifies himself in the eastern horizon before shining in the sky, where the four gods “Horus”, the Lord of North, “Seth”, the Lord of the South, “Dewen-Anwy” the Lord of the East, and “Thoth”, the Lord of the West, pour upon him the water of life and power from the four corners of the universe. This rare statue represents King Amenhotep II, assimilated to the sun god in his brilliance at the moment of his purification on the horizon”.
Purification by water, called “libation” or “lustration”, is very often illustrated on the temples’ walls to affirm the king’s divine aspect; it is rarer to see it represented like this in the round.
In “Ritual waters in Pharaonic Egypt”, Marie-Ange Bonhême provides these details: “When the king arrived at the temple, in front of the door of the pylon, water from a gold ewer was poured over the sovereign by priests taking the role of Horus and Thoth representing the gods who personified the four cardinal points (BARGUET 1965, 313; GARDINER 1950) It is a question of washing the king of all defilement but also of conferring “life and prosperity” on him, that is to say, to regenerate it thanks to what could be the water of the Noun or the flood which is endowed with these qualities. Indeed, the water of lustration is often called ankh-quas, “life and prosperity”, when these signs replace the broken lines evoking the water coming out of the ewers; it is then designated metonymically by the expression recording its benefits… Libation water, like lustration water, both represented by the expression which qualifies the benefits that water brings and is often related to flooding and the consequent fertility of the country. Indeed, an abundant Nile is a source of satiety and, as such, is the object of worship practices expressing the adoration we have for it, even of a cult of the flood”.
This artefact comes from the tomb of Amenhotep II (KV 35), discovered on March 9, 1898, by Victor Loret. The funerary material he delivered was very important: accessories, clothing, food, jewellery, models, sculptures, statues, written documents, boats, etc. The floor of the funeral chamber “disappeared under a thick layer of broken objects, Funerary statuettes in wood and alabaster, pottery, vases, garlands,… More than “two thousand pieces were removed from the monument, some were shattered into a thousand fragments; of many of them only tiny bits remained”.
This is the case of this object which was found in a fragmentary state… and of which, we clearly notice today, the lighter parts which have either been the subject of a restoration or been added.
Two fragments have been referenced in the Journal of Entries of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, JE 32411 and JE 32523: they are presented under the references CG 24157 and CG 24157bis in the “General Catalog of Egyptian Antiquities of the Cairo Museum – Excavations of the Valley of the Kings (1898-1899)” by Georges Daressy under the title “Fragments of a group representing the purification of the king”. He brings up several interesting details… He describes, in particular, the statue of Horus, specifying that, on the file, he relies on, “we still see some signs of an inscription which has been scratched, and in which the name may have appeared of Maatkare”.
As for the arch, it indicates that “the uprights are hollowed out” and that one of the sides “is made of inserts brought back and glued: it seems that we had intended to bring the water to the vase, but the communication between this conduit and the vase has not been established, and the central hole of the vase is blocked by pieces of alabaster showing that we were content to simulate the trickle of water in stone”. From the statue of Thoth it would appear that only “two legs were found”. The reference CG 24157bis concerns only a “Bent left arm with the hand holding a stick”: rather than a stick, it was perhaps a tiny part of the amount of the arch…
The restorers, who knew how to find and interpret the spirit in which this representation was made more than 3200 years ago, have undoubtedly done a magnificent job that should not be overlooked…
The cartel of the NMEC (National Museum of Egyptian Civilization) in Fustat
Georges Daressy, General Catalog of Egyptian Antiquities of the Cairo Museum No. 24001-24990 – Excavations of the Valley of the Kings (1898-1899), Fasc. 1, 1902 (p. 163) https://ia801301.us.archive.org/16/items/DaressyValleeRois1902/Daressy_Vallée_Rois_1902.pdf
Gaston Maspero, Visitor’s Guide to the Cairo Museum, 1902, French Institute (Cairo) https://archive.org/details/guidemuseecaire00masp/page/n6/mode/2up
Gaston Maspero, Ruins and Landscapes of Egypt, 1910
Isabelle Franco, Dictionary of Egyptian Mythology, Pygmalion 1999
Laetitia Martzolff, The practice of ritual in the Egyptian temple, Archimedes Archeology and Ancient History N°1. File Archeology of the ritual. Fall 2014 – p. 21 to 3 https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-01585343/document
Marie-Ange Bonhême, Ritual waters in Pharaonic Egypt, Archaeo-Nile Year 1995 5 pp. 129-139 https://www.persee.fr/doc/arnil_1161-0492_1995_num_5_1_1189