Egyptian Myth and Legend
The Rise of Amon
The Theban Rulers--Need for Centralized Government--Temple Building--The first Amon King--Various Forms of Amon--The Oracle--Mentu the War God--Mut, Queen of the Gods--The Egyptian Cupid--Story of the Possessed Princess--God casts out an Evil Spirit--A Prince's Dream--The God of Spring--Amenemhet's Achievements--Feudal Lords held in Check--The Kingdom United--A Palace Conspiracy--Selection of Senusert--The first Personality in History.
ANTEF, the feudal lord of the valley of Thebes, was the next Pharaoh of Egypt. With him begins the Eleventh Dynasty, which covers a period of over a century and a half. His power was confined chiefly to the south, but he exercised considerable influence over the whole land by gaining possession of sacred Abydos. The custodians of the "holy sepulchre" were assured of the allegiance of the great mass of the people at this period of transition and unrest.
The new royal line included several King Antefs and King Mentuhoteps, but little is known regarding the majority of them. Antef I, who was descended from a superintendent of the frontier, had probably royal blood in his veins, and a remote claim to the throne. He reigned for fifty years, and appears to have consolidated the power of his house. Mentuhotep II, the fifth king, was able to impose his will upon the various feudal lords, and secured their allegiance partly, no doubt, by force of arms, but mainly, it would appear, because the prosperity
of the country depended upon the establishment of a strong central government, which would secure the distribution of water for agricultural purposes. Famine may have accomplished what the sword was unable to do. Besides, the road to sacred Abydos had to be kept open. The political influence of the Osirian cult must therefore have been pronounced for a considerable time.
Under Mentuhotep II the country was so well settled that a military expedition was dispatched to quell the Nubian warriors. Commerce had revived, and the arts and industries had begun to flourish again. Temples were built under this and the two succeeding monarchs of the line. The last Mentuhotep was able to organize a quarrying expedition of ten thousand men.
Meantime the power of the ruling house was being securely established throughout the land. The Pharaoh's vizier was Amenemhet, and he made vigorous attacks upon the feudal lords who pursued a policy of aggression against their neighbours. Some were deposed, and their places were filled by loyal supporters of the Pharaoh. After a long struggle between the petty "kings" of the nomes and the royal house, Amenemhet I founded the Twelfth Dynasty, under which Egypt became once again a powerful and united kingdom. He was probably a grandson of the vizier of the same name.
A new god--the chief god of Thebes--has now risen into prominence. His name is Amon, or Amen. The earliest reference to him appears in the Pyramid of the famous King Unas of the Fifth Dynasty, where he and his consort are included among the primeval gods associated with Nu--"the fathers and mothers" who were in "the deep" at the beginning. We cannot, however, attach much importance to the theorizing of the priests of Unas's time, for they were busily engaged in absorbing
every religious myth in the land. Amon is evidently a strictly local god, who passed through so many stages of development that it is impossible to grasp the original tribal conception, which may, perhaps, have been crude and vague enough. His name is believed to signify "The Hidden One"--he concealed his "soul" and his "name", like the giant who hid his soul in an egg. [*1] Sokar of Memphis was also a "hidden" god, and was associated with the land of the dead. Amon may have been likewise a deity of Hades, for he links with Osiris as a lunar deity (Chapter XXII). In fact, as Amon Ra he displaced Osiris for a time as judge of the dead.
Amon is represented in various forms: (1) As an ape; [*2] (2) as a lion resting with head erect, like the primitive earth lion Aker; (3) as a frog-headed man accompanied by Ament, his serpent-headed female counterpart; (4) as a serpent-headed man, while his consort is cat-headed; [*3] (5) as a man god with the royal sceptre in one hand and the symbol of life (ankh) in the other; (6) as a ram-headed man.
In the Twelfth Dynasty a small temple was erected to Amon in the northern part of the city which was called Apet, after the mother goddess of that name who ultimately was fused with Hathor. "Thebes" is believed to have been derived from her name, the female article "T", being placed before "Ape"; Tap or Tape was pronounced Thebai by the Greeks, who had a town of that name. [*4] The sacred name of the city was Nu or Nu-Amon. "Art thou better than populous No?" cried
the Hebrew prophet, denouncing Nineveh; "Ethiopia and Egypt were her strength and it was infinite."
Amon, the ram god, was the most famous oracle in Egypt. Other oracles included the Apis bull; Sebek, the crocodile; Uazit, the serpent goddess of Buto; and Bes, the grotesque god who comes into prominence later. Revelations were made by oracles in dreams, and when Thutmose IV slept in the shadow of the Sphinx it expressed its desire to him that the sand should be cleared from about its body. Worshippers in a state of religious ecstasy were also given power to prophesy.
The oracle of Amon achieved great renown. The god was consulted by warriors, who were duly promised victory and great spoils. Wrongdoers were identified by the god, and he was even consulted regarding the affairs of State. Ultimately his priests achieved great influence owing to their reputation as foretellers of future events, who made known the will of the god. A good deal of trickery was evidently indulged in, for we gather that the god signified his assent to an expressed wish by nodding his head, or selected a suitable leader of men by extending his arm.
Amon was fused with several deities as his various animal forms indicate. The ram's head comes, of course, from Min, and it is possible that the frog's head was from Hekt. His cult also appropriated the war god Mentu, who is depicted as a bull. Mentu, however, continued to have a separate existence, owing to his fusion with Horus. He appears in human form wearing a bull's tall with the head of a hawk, which is surmounted by a sun disk between Amon's double plumes; he is also depicted as a hawk-headed sphinx. As a bull-headed man he carries bow and arrows, a club, and a knife.
In his Horus form Mentu stands on the prow of
the sun bark on the nightly journey through Duat, and slays the demons with his lance. He was appropriated, of course, by the priests of Heliopolis, and became the "soul of Ra" and "Bull of Heaven". A temple was erected to him near Karnak, and in late times he overshadowed Amon as Mentu-ra.
Amon was linked with the great sun god in the Eleventh Dynasty, and as Amon-ra he ultimately rose to the supreme position of national god, while his cult became the most powerful in Egypt. In this form he will be dealt with in a later chapter.
Amon's wife was Mut, whose name signifies "the mother", and she may be identical with Apet. She was "queen of the gods" and "lady of the sky". Like Nut, Isis, Neith, and others, she was the "Great Mother" who gave birth to all that exists. She is represented as a vulture and also as a lioness. The vulture is Nekhebet, "the mother", and the lioness, like the cat, symbolizes maternity. Mut wears the double crown of Egypt, which indicates that she absorbed all the "Great Mother" goddesses in the land. Her name, in fact, is linked with Isis, with the female Tum, with Hathor, the Buto serpent, &c. In the Book of the Dead she is associated with a pair of dwarfs who have each the face of a hawk and the face of a man. It was to Mut that Amenhotep III, the father of Akenaton, erected the magnificent temple at Karnak with its great avenue of ram-headed sphinxes. Queen Tiy's lake in its vicinity was associated with the worship of this "Great Mother".
The moon god Khonsu was at Thebes regarded as the son of Amon and Mut. At Hermopolis and Edfu he was linked with Thoth. In the Unas hymn he is sent forth by Orion to drive in and slaughter the souls of gods and men--a myth which explains why
stars vanish before the moon. His name means "the traveller".
As a lunar deity Khonsu caused the crops to spring up and ripen. He was also the Egyptian Cupid, who touched the hearts of lads and girls with love. The Oracle of Khonsu was consulted by those who prayed for offspring. Agriculturists lauded the deity for increasing their flocks and herds.
This popular god also gave "the air of life" to the newly born, arid was thus a wind god like Her-shef and Khnumu. As ward of the atmosphere he exercised control over the evil spirits which caused the various diseases and took possession of human beings, rendering them epileptic or insane. Patients were cured by Khonsu, "giver of oracles", whose fame extended beyond the bounds of Egypt.
An interesting papyrus of the Ramessid period relates the story of a wonderful cure effected by Khonsu. It happened that the Pharaoh, "the Horus, he who resembles Tum, the son of the sun, the mighty with scimitars, the smiter of the nine-bow barbarians", &c., was collecting the annual tribute from the subject kings of Syria. The Prince of Bakhten, [*1] who brought many gifts, "placed in front of these his eldest daughter". She was very beautiful, arid the Pharaoh immediately fell in love with her, arid she became his "royal wife".
Some time afterwards the Prince of Bakhten appeared at Uas (Thebes) with an envoy. He brought presents to his daughter, and, having prostrated himself before the "Son of the Sun", announced:
"I have travelled hither to plead with Your Majesty for the sake of Bent-rash, the younger sister of your royal wife; she is stricken with a grievous malady which
causes her limbs to twitch violently. I entreat Your Majesty to send a learned magician to see her, so that he may give her aid in her sore distress."
Pharaoh said: "Let a great magician who is learned in the mysteries be brought before me."
As he desired, so was it done. A scribe of the House of Life appeared before him, and His Majesty said: "It is my will that you should travel to Bakhten to see the younger daughter of the royal wife."
The magician travelled with the envoy, and when he arrived at his journey's end he saw the Princess Bentrash, whom he found to be possessed of a hostile demon of great power. But he was unable to draw it forth.
Then the Prince of Bakhten appeared at Uas a second time, and addressing the Pharaoh said: "O King, my lord, let a god be sent to cure my daughter's malady!"
His Majesty was compassionate, and he went to the temple of Khonsu and said to the god: "Once again I have come on account of the little daughter of the Prince of Bakhten. Let your image be sent to cure her."
Khonsu, "giver of oracles" and "expeller of evil spirits", nodded his head, assenting to the prayer of the king, and caused his fourfold divine nature to be imparted to the image.
So it happened that the statue of Khonsu was placed in an ark, which was carried on poles by twelve priests while two chanted prayers. When it was borne from the temple, Pharaoh offered up burning incense, and five boats set forth with the ark arid the priests, accompanied by soldiers, a chariot, and two horses.
The Prince of Bakhten came forth from his city to meet the god, accompanied by many soldiers, and prostrated himself.
"So you have indeed come," he cried. "You are not hostile to us; the goodwill of the Pharaoh has caused you to come hither."
Khonsu was then carried into the presence of the Princess Bent-rash, who was immediately cured of her malady. The evil demon was cast out, and it stood before the god and said: "Peace be with you, O mighty god. The land of Bakhten is your possession, and its people are your slaves. I am your slave also. As you desire, I will return again to the place whence I came. But first let the Prince of Bakhten hold a great feast that I may partake thereof."
Khonsu then instructed a priest, saying: "Command the Prince of Bakhten to offer up a great sacrifice to the evil spirit whom I have expelled from his daughter."
Great dread fell upon the prince and the army and all the people when the sacrifice was offered up to the demon by the soldiers. Then amidst great rejoicings that spirit of evil took its departure and went to the place whence it came, according to the desire of Khonsu, "the giver of oracles".
Then the Prince of Bakhten was joyful of heart, and he desired that Khonsu should remain in the land. As it happened, he kept the image of the god for over three years.
One day the prince lay asleep upon his couch, and a vision came to him in a dream. He saw the god rising high in the air like a hawk of gold and taking flight towards the land of Egypt. He awoke suddenly, trembling with great fear, and he said: "Surely the god is angry with us. Let him be placed in the ark and carried back to Uas."
The prince caused many rich presents to be laid in the temple of the god when his image was returned.
One of Khonsu's popular names was "The Beautiful One at Rest". He was depicted, like the Celtic love god Angus, "the ever-young", as a handsome youth. The upper part of a particularly striking statue of this comely deity was found in the ruins of his temple at Karnak.
As a nature god Khonsu was a hawk-headed man, crowned with a crescent moon and the solar disk; he was a sun god in spring. Like Thoth, he was also an architect, "a deviser of plans", and a "measurer", for he measured the months. Both the lunar deities are evidently of great antiquity. The mother-goddess-and-son conception is associated with the early belief in the female origin of the world and of life. The "Great Mother" was self-begotten as the "Great Father" was self-begotten, and the strange Egyptian idea that a god became "husband of his mother" arose from the fusion of the conflicting ideas regarding creation.
Amenemhet I, the first great ruler who promoted the worship of Amon, was also assiduous in doing honour to the other influential deities. From Tanis in the Delta, southward into the heart of Nubia, he has left traces of his religious fervour, which had, of course, a diplomatic motive. He erected a red granite altar to Osiris at sacred Abydos, a temple to Ptah at Memphis; he honoured the goddess Bast with monuments at Bubastis, and duly adored Amon, of course, at Thebes. His Ka statues were distributed throughout the land, for he was the "son of Ra", and had therefore to be worshipped as the god"--the human incarnation of the solar deity.
Amenemhet was an active military ruler. Not only did he smite the Syrians and the Nubians, but also punished the rebellious feudal lords who did not bend to his will. New and far-reaching changes were introduced
into the system of local, as well as central government. The powers of nome governors were restricted. When one was forcibly deposed an official took his place, and the appointment of town rulers and headmen of villages became once again vested in the Crown. This policy was followed by Amenemhet's successors, until ultimately the feudal system, which for centuries had been a constant menace to the stability of the throne, was finally extinguished. The priestly allies of the provincial nobles were won to the Crown by formal recognition and generous gifts, and all the chief gods, with the exception of Ptah, were included in the "family" of Amon-ra.
Amenemhet gathered about him the most capable men in the kingdom. Once again it was possible for humble officials to rise to the highest rank. The industries of the country were fostered, and agriculture received special attention, so that harvests became plentiful again and there was abundance of food in Egypt.
When the king was growing old he selected his son Senusert to succeed him. Apparently the choice was not pleasing to some of the influential members of the royal house. In the "Instruction of Amenemhet", a metrical version of which is given at the end of the next chapter, we learn that a harem conspiracy was organized to promote the claims of a rival to the throne. A band of conspirators gained access to the palace through a tunnel which had been constructed secretly, and burst upon the old monarch as he lay resting after he had partaken of his evening meal. He "showed fight", although unarmed, and in the parley which ensued was evidently successful. It appears. to have been accepted that the succession of Senusert was inevitable.
How the conspirators were dealt with we have no
means of knowing. It is possible that the majority of them were pardoned. So long as Amenemhet remained alive they were safe; but they must have feared the vengeance of Senusert, who was a vigorous and warlike prince, and eminently worthy to succeed his father. The papyrus story of "The Flight of Senuhet" is evidently no mere folktale, but a genuine fragment of history. It is possible that Senuhet was one of the sons of Amenemhet; at any rate he appears to have been compromised in the abortive palace conspiracy. When the old king died at Memphis, where he appears to have resided oftenest, a messenger was hurriedly dispatched to Senusert, who was engaged leading an army against the troublesome Libyans. None of the other princes was informed, and Senuhet, who overheard the messenger informing the new king of his father's death, immediately fled towards Syria. He found that other Egyptians had taken refuge there.
After many years had elapsed his whereabouts were revealed to King Senusert, who was evidently convinced of his innocence. Senuhet was invited to return to Egypt, and was welcomed at the palace by his royal kinsman.
The narrative is of homely and graceful character, and affords us more intimate knowledge of the life of the period than can be obtained from tomb inscriptions and royal monuments. Senuhet is one of the earliest personalities in history. We catch but fleeting glimpses of the man Amenemhet in his half-cynical "Instruction" with its vague references to a palace revolt. In the simple and direct narrative of the fugitive prince, however, we are confronted by a human being whose emotions we share, and with whom we are able to enter into close sympathy. The latter part of the story has
some of the happiest touches. Our old friend rejoices because he is privileged once again to sleep in a comfortable bed after lying for long years in the desert sand; he throws away his foul rustic clothing and attires himself in perfumed linen, and feels young when his beard is shaved off and his baldness is covered by a wig. He is provided with a mansion which is decorated anew, but what pleases him most is the presence of the children who come to visit him. He was fond of children. . . . Our interest abides with a man who was buried. as he desired to be, after long years of wandering, in the land of his birth, some forty centuries ago!
^197:1 Osiris Sokar "dost hide his essence in the great shrine of Amon".--The Burden of Isis, p. 54.
^197:2 Osiris Sokar is addressed: "Hail, thou who growest like unto the ape of Tehuti" (Thoth). The Thoth-ape appears to be a dawn god.
^197:3 Seb is depicted with a serpent's head. The cat goddess is Bast, who links with other Great Mothers.
^197:4 Budge's Gods of the Egyptians.
^200:1 identified with the King of the Hittites who became the ally of Ramesis II.