The Role Of Birds In Ancient Khemet

  • Anpu Htp
  • 07-10-2022 20:11:12


Avian elements in the divine

iconography of ancient Egypt

The proliferative variety of animal imagery

within ancient Egyptian religion continues to

remain a source of astonishment and bewil-

derment to many viewers (Pearce 2007, pp. 242–64).

Crowned beasts, human bodies with animal heads,

and fantastic deities depicted with the commingled

limbs of numerous creatures — what Virgil called

“monstrous shapes of every species and Anubis the

barker” — are commonly found in the Egyptian artis-

tic repertoire (Smelik and Hemelrijk 1984, p. 1854).

What, however, did such representations mean? For

some Greco-Roman authors seeing and hearing of 

Egyptian practices, animal veneration was a source

of ridicule, hypocritically invoked as Greeks and

Romans had their own forms of animal worship, some

of which were imported from Egypt.

1 Others, such as

Plutarch, Diodorus, and Horapollo, while often not

approving of the practice, had at least a partial un-

derstanding of the complex symbolic web woven by

Egyptian philosophers. Despite the potential confu-

sion a glance at an Egyptian religious work of art can

cause, the visual metaphors employed actually have

an internal consistency and logic. If it were not the

case, what power would the images have either to

influence people or explain their ideologies.

A primary impediment to understanding a figure

such as the bimorphic Horus, shown with a human

body and a falcon’s head, is adopting a literal inter-

pretation of the scene (fig. 2.1). The iconography of 

divine beings was a human invention, an intellectual

construct developed to provide a means to express,

discuss, manipulate, and understand the various

physical forces within the cosmos inhabited by the

people of ancient Egypt. It should be remembered

that the ancient Egyptians still had intimate contact

with and reliance upon the natural forces of their en-

vironment. Such forces had an assortment of traits

that could be used metaphorically to embody abstract

concepts or provide iconic vessels for the physical

manifestation of cosmic and social characteristics.

Features of flora and fauna derived from the natural

world were chosen in order to communicate concepts

such as ferocity, protection, or motherhood. In this

view, literal readings must be abandoned. Like any ar-

tistic expression, “these are communicative devices,

metaphors, in a system of formal art that aims not

at realist reproduction but at the essence of being”

(Quirke 2008, p. 74).

Diodorus Siculus, a historian from first-century


Sicily, had already grasped the basic metaphorical

concept. Concerning the symbolism of the falcon, he


Now the falcon signifies to them everything which

happens swiftly, hence this animal is practically

the swiftest of winged creatures. And the concept

portrayed is then transferred, by the appropriate

metaphorical transfer, to all swift things and to

everything to which swiftness is appropriate, very

much as if they had been named.


It is this metaphorical transfer which underpins

the “imagistic” system of ancient Egypt.


Horus, a god whose name literally means “the one who is far away."

Read the rest HERE

0 Responses

Leave a reply