August 6, 2013

Aswan and The Gods of the Inundation

The Gods of the Inundation
To the ancient Egyptians a tradition survived from their remote past, that the cataract region was the edge of the world. It was said that here the life-giving waters (the annual inundation) rose from the primaeval ocean Nun to render the land fertile. Welcoming the chocolate-brown flood was Hapi the Nile-god. He was believed to live in a grotto at Bigeh Island, and his role was a dual one: receiving the waters with oustretched arms and directing its flow into the eternal ocean (the Mediterranean) in the north. I lapi was depicted as a simple fisherman or oarsman with a narrow belt and the bulbous breasts of plenty. On his head were aquatic plants: the papyrus svmbolised his role as giver of water to Lower Egypt and the lotus to Upper Egypt. Hapi came to represent the provinces of Egypt in temple reliefs, offering the fruits of the land to the great god to whom a temple was dedicated.

Gods of the Inundation

Having received the ‘first water’, Hapi left it to two guardian goddesses of the cataracts to control and direct the flood. Anukis, on the island of Sehel and portrayed with a lofty head-dress of feathers, clasped the river banks and compressed the swirling waters, directing it towards Aswan. Satis, on the island of Elephantine, let fly the current with the force of an arrow; she is usually depicted carrying a bow and arrows. Khnum, the ram-headed god, was the great god of the whole of the cataract region, and hence of the inundation. In the company of his wife Satis and daughter Anukis, Khnum received manifold offerings at his sanctuary on Elephantine. Famines due to low flood were attributed to his anger at insufficient offerings. In fact, Khnum later became the focus of an elaborate tradition in which he was not only a god of the inundation but also a god of creation, having fashioned man on a potter’s wheel from the clay of the river.

Gods of the Inundation
Elephantine was inhabited from very early times. A tribe bearing an elephant emblem settled there in pre-history and erected the first shrine to Khnum. On their heavily fortified island home, where they commanded a good view of the surrounding landscape, they were safe from surprise raids. Opposite the northern end of the island lay Aswan, the trading centre on the mainland. Thus, while peace had not yet been made with the Nubian tribes on the border and a state of uncertainty prevailed, products were exchanged.

Gods of the Inundation

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