The Sirius Project

The Sirius Project
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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hathor of Dendera - the eye of Ra

When analysing the crown of Arsinoë I included in the study also a crown worn by Hathor of Dendera based on a very similar pictorial structure. As a part of the general study of Hathor’s roles when wearing the crown, I presented a brief summary of her titles describing her in these temple scenes. I would like to share with you a brief introduction to Hathor of Dendera and her title “Eye of Ra”. Most of the text below is lifted from “The crown of Arsinoë II. The creation and development of an imagery of authority”.



As is generally known, Hathor’s hieroglyphic sign translates “the domain (house, temple, mansion etc.) of Horus”. Her name is traditionally interpreted as relating to her original role as Horus’ mother, but I would like to also include her protective aspect as Horus’ wife and companion, guarding the legacy and continuation of the divine dynastic lineage. With her roots as a primeval goddess, Hathor was regarded as a fertility goddess who was able to procreate with or without a male counterpart. She usurped and developed the initial cultic roles of Bat, principally relating to feminine power and strength. As a goddess of fertility, she was venerated is association with the inundation of the Nile, and therefore also with Sothis (Sirius star), regulating the annual flooding. Due to her fertility role, pregnant women turned to Hathor for support and protection. Men and women could equally ask for her blessing to be able to conceive a child.




The second most frequent epithet in the studied material is “Lady of Dendera”. The title identifies the main/original cult centre of Hathor. This goddess was venerated in temples all over Egypt, chiefly representing individual aspects of Hathor (alongside her more general and national roles). Thebes, for example, represented Hathor of the West (Western Mountain), i.e., a Hathoric role relating to mortuary ceremonies and cultic rebirth. Another Hathoric aspect was revered on the West Bank of Thebes, where temple reliefs illustrate Hathor as a cow, and signifying her role as the mother of the pharaoh. Her maternal protecting role was also worshipped in one of the earliest Hathor Temples, located in Gebelein. Similar to Gebelein, the Temple of Serabit el-Khadim in Sinai was built up around a “cave of Hathor”, though it venerated the goddess as the “Turquoise One”. As a final example of comparison, the Ptolemaic Temple of Hathor in Deir el-Medina focused on the goddess as the “Golden One”.



The Temple of Dendera emphasised Hathor’s family-orientated aspects as the wife of Horus and as the mother of Ihy (and Harsomtus). As demonstrated below, Hathor’s associations with Ra were always present in iconography and textual records. The indisputable denotation between Hathor and Dendera is documented in the present material also in the Hathoric title “Dendera the Great”, signifying Hathor as a personification of her own temple. The material refers to Dendera as the goddess’ cult centre. When wearing the traditional Hathoric crown, the hieroglyphic titles stress the seven souls (Ka) of Hathor with different geographic origins (notice again that this refers exclusively to the studied material and not Hathor figures in general). Based on the material, Dendera was indisputably considered as Hathor’s home when she wore the later Hathoric crown.



As a consort of Ra, Hathor was believed to personify the entire Ennead, including the title “Mistress of all the Gods”. Throughout the ancient dynasties, Hathor was associated with many gods, and was, similarly, assimilated with a vast number of goddesses. Her many religious aspects made her more adjustable than any other goddess; roles that throughout denoted her family-orientated character as a mother, wife and daughter. In this context, and as the first family-related designation, Hathor was described as “Eye of Ra”.



Hathor was foremost a female companion of Ra and was as such regarded as a solar goddess. Egyptian mythology divides the day into three phases, incorporating dawn, noon and evening. The phases are labelled according to the position of the solar disc and its correspondence to the Egyptian belief system of immortality and eternal rejuvenation. Thus, a “newborn” morning sun is described as the scarab-shaped deity Khepri, or in later times as the youngster Harsomtus/Harpocrates. The midday sun was referred to as the eternally ruling divine king Ra. As the final phase of the sun before setting, the Egyptians referred to the disc as Atum, a ram headed old man. Hathor’s family-oriented roles are generally related to the solar disc, but few modern scholars actually associate her three characteristic aspects with the three phases of the sun. She is frequently acknowledged as a mother of the morning sun, regardless if the sunrise is described as Khepri or Harsomtus/Harpocrates. Furthermore, as his wife, she accompanies Ra on his triumphs throughout the day, while she becomes a daughter of the older father figure Atum in the evening.

EYE OF RA, THE HATHORIC DAUGHTER ROLE





The eyes of Ra were considered to stress the twofold nature of universal antitheses, symbolising the sun and moon, joy and rage, attraction and fear, creation and destruction etc. Both eyes personified Hathoric aspects, and they are, most frequently, recognised as the celestial Wadjet. The eye of Ra is, primarily, associated with the Hathoric daughter role and her protection of the divine and human king. The eye of Ra was, according to one myth, sent out to light up in the primeval darkness and there find the two lost children of Atum (-Ra) – Shu and Tefnut. When she successfully returned, she found in her place another eye, designated the “Glorious One”. Grieving her father’s betrayal, she created the first humans with her tears before her father had the chance of correcting his mistake. To make her happy again, Atum (-Ra) transformed her into a fearsome uraeus, and placed her in his forehead for eternal protection. As the eye of Ra, Hathor also represented a fearsome side, considered to personify the sometimes deadly heat of the sun. She is described as a temperamental lioness or wild cat running off to the desert after a fight with her father. As such, she received the name Sekhmet and her periodical absence was associated with solar eclipses. During the Ptolemaic period, this Hathoric aspect was connected with the Sirius star and the annual inundation of the Nile. As the eye of Ra, Hathor retained the fearsome side as the uraeus placed in the forehead to protect against enemies not only Ra, but also the pharaoh and the queen.





Additional titles in the material associate with the frequent designation “Eye of Ra”, described in the designations “Daughter of Ra”, “Ma’at”, or “Ma’at the great daughter of Ra”. Ma’at was the goddess who symbolised and personified the Egyptian concepts of universal order, truth, harmony, justice, etc. (though there are no modern English words adequately corresponding with its original notion). Pictorially, Ma’at is identified with her single atef feather, positioned either on her head, and/or held in her hand. More importantly (here), Ma’at was considered to be the daughter of Ra, and as such representing a particular Hathoric role. As a personification of a cultural concept and being an emphasised Hathoric figure, it is not surprising that Ma’at did not receive any greater individual architectural importance. Instead, Ma’at was mainly worshipped in association with other gods and goddesses, of course including Hathor.

Except for her more frequent designations (“Hathor the great, Lady of Dendera, Eye of Ra, Lady of the Sky, Mistress of all the Gods...”), a scene in Dendera describes Hathor with the daughter title “Ma’at the great daughter of Ra”. This association/assimilation between Hathor and Ma’at is also stressed in the personal register of Horus, and through the offering figure of Ma’at, which is presented by the emperor (Claudius).



The material also includes the title “Raat” (Raetawy, Rait), referring to the female Ra/sun, again associating Hathor with Ra. The designation “Raat” functioned purely as a response to the conventional Egyptian dualism, listing male and female pairs with corresponding notions and hieroglyphic titles. The material similarly documents the title “Mehnyt” symbolising a form of Hathor when she transformed from the eye to the risen cobra (uraeus) and is placed in the forehead of her father Ra. Twelve scenes in the material includes “Mehnyt”, all of which are located within the Temple of Dendera.

Another title of comparison is “The Golden One”, describing a few Hathoric figures in the material. In her role as the golden one, Hathor takes place in her own crown as the solar disc. This is certainly another Hathoric paradox, as her horns in the crown symbolise her protection of Aten – the sun disc and personification of Ra. The symbolism explains her role as a protectress of all precious metals, foremost gold.

The title “Eye of Ra” is documented in a vast majority of the studied scenes, and is, together with other daughter-titles, one of the most important Hathoric aspects in the material. The role is associated with the protection of Ra as well as the defence of the kingdom and the living pharaoh. This role is stressed in all Hathoric crowns since they incorporate the cow horns that protect the solar disc, also including the traditional Hathoric crown and the traditional female crown.

6 comments:

  1. Wonderful article. I have always been so confused as to the role of Hathor. Claimed as consort to Ra, Horus and even Thoth. Thank you for the post.

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  2. Thank you for your very kind comment! It is true, most Egyptian deities are involved in a series of myths, taking different forms in different places and times, sometimes in complete opposition with each other.

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  3. Wonderful information! Have you considered that Hathor, as in relationship to Ra (the Sun), could also be seen as Venus. Her differing aspects as the different natures. For instance, The Golden one as the Luciferian aspect - and the Turqoise one as the Hesperus? This article has certainly gotten me thinking! Thanks! Ramona

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  4. Even the notion of the Eyes of Ra and the companion can be seen in that light as well, as Venus is never more than (I think) 47 degrees away from the Sun...

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  5. It seems great to me...just have to read it ;-)

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