November 15, 2012

Revision of the Mythological Tradition in Ancient Egypt

Revision of the Mythological Tradition
The fabric of ancient Egyptian mythological tradition, which survived in embellished or mutilated form for thousands of years, was woven and rewoven, time and again, to justify new conditions, or explain political trends; it was sometimes even entangled to promote a cause. As the country underwent changes in social and political structure there were accompanying changes in the myths which, though radical, did not render earlier traditions obsolete. The battles between Horus and Set, the tribal ensigns, for example, not only reflected opposites fertile Delta against barren Upper Egypt, and good and evil in the context of the nature cult but equally portrayed the political friction in the early Egyptian dynastic period, also expressed in mythological terms as battles between Horus and Set. This is why there are so many contradictions and so-called ‘discrepancies’ in Egyptian mythology, which have unfortunately earned Egypt the reputation of having a ‘myth-making’ mentality.

The importance of a local deity naturally increased in relation to the size and population of a settlement. When Memphis became the royal burial ground and factories sprang up for the manufacture of funerary equipment, Ptah, a minor local deity, evolved into a patron deity of the arts. The High Priest, who was also the chief artist, promoted his deity as the inspiration behind the metal-worker, carpenter, jeweller and sculptor. However, in the areas surrounding Memphis, two other deities were revered: Sekhmet Goddess the lion-goddess and Nefertum a lotus-god. As Memphis expanded it drew these into its orbit. The problem of having three deities in a single area was easily resolved by explaining Ptah as the chief deity, Sekhmet Goddess as his consort and Nefertum as his son. United they formed the Memphite Triad. Ptah also absorbed Sokar (an ancient god of the Saqqara necropolis from which the latter name is derived) and became known as Ptah-Sokar.

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