August 9, 2013

Temple of Hathor at Dendera Facts Part 1/2

Graeco-Roman Temples in Upper Egypt 

Temple of Hathor at Dendera
Dendera (Greek Tentyra) is situated on the western bank of the Nile south of Abydos, where the river makes a great curve to the east. Hathor, the sacred cow, was the popular deity.

Graeco-Roman Temples in Upper Egypt
Evidence of actual temple building at Dendera dates to the Middle Kingdom, and some restoration was carried out in the New Kingdom, when Thutmose III revived the greatly popular ancient ‘Voyage of Hathor’. Complete reconstruction, however, was started under the later Ptolemies and was finished some 185 years later under the Roman emperor Tiberius, with the names of other first- century AD emperors appearing on the entrance gateway. It is, therefore, of pure Graeco-Roman style.

The Ptolemies claimed that they were constructing the temple on the site of an ancient monument built by the pharaohs of the Old Kingdom. In fact, in one of the crypts, the name of the 6th Dynasty Pharaoh Pepi I (r. 2300 BC) appears. At that time the noblemen of Elephantine were ‘Keepers of the Southern Gate’, and they recorded collaboration with the local citizens of Dendera, praising them highly.

Graeco-Roman Temples in Upper Egypt
In dedicating a temple to Hathor, the Ptolemies were honouring one of Egypt’s best loved deities. Hathor was sometimes depicted as a cow, sometimes as a female figure with the head of a cow, and later with a woman’s head and the ears of a cow. She was a widely popular goddess, and although Dendera was her cult centre, she was well known far afield. In Luxor she was known as ‘Lady of the West’ and in mortuary scenes is depicted emerging from a mountain range flanking the western desert to welcome the deceased to the underworld. In Memphis her name was ‘The Lady of the South Sycamore’; in Punt she was ‘Mistress of Punt’; in Sinai ‘Mistress of Mefket’; and in Phoenicia she was known as the ‘Lady of Bybios’. She was associated with pleasure, motherhood and beauty, often being shown giving suck to a ruling pharaoh or licking his hands (page 75).

As a mother-goddess, Hathor was identified with the Sky- goddess Nut. She was, therefore, also regarded as acosmic deity. In order to fulfill her dual role of sacred cow and heavenly mother, she was graphically depicted in the tomb of Seti I at Thebes standing over the earth, with her four legs representing the four pillars of the universe; she supports the sun-disc on her back and the heavenly bodies on her belly. Hathor was the goddess whose functions and attributes were most often assimilated by other goddesses. She was, in a sense, a national goddess. Her symbol was the sistrum, a rattle, which was probably an ancient musical instrument believed to drive away evil spirits.
The traditions of Hathor of Dendera were closely linked with those of Horus of Edfu (page 171). They were two deities of equal standing; husband and wife. At each site the triad consisted of Hathor, Horus and their son (who bore a different name at cach site). At Dendera, however, Hathor was the chief deity, while at Edfu it was Horus. Their son, who was often depicted as a naked child playing with the sistrum, became known as the ‘sistrum player’.

Graeco-Roman Temples in Upper Egypt
Twice a year, on the occasion of the birthday of each deity, the festival of the ‘Good Union’ was celebrated. This was when the barge bearing the sacred statue of Hathor would be taken out of its shrine at Dendera, placed on a Nile vessel and carried upstream; meanwhile that of Horus would set off downstream, each in a splendid river procession. Where the boats came together, they would be encircled by a rope cast by other vessels, in a gesture of unity. Then, together, the river crafts would make their way to the appropriate temple to celebrate the reunion of husband and wife amidst joy, song and prayer.

The second great festival at Dendera was on ‘New Year’s Day’, when the image of Hathor, which had gradually lost strength in the darkened sanctuary throughout the year, would be taken to the top of the temple to view all her possessions and be reimbued with power from the rising sun.

In the Ptolemaic period Hathor was identified with Aphrodite and began to enjoy immense popularity as ‘Mistress of music, dance and joy’. Some of the dignity of Hathor as mother-goddess, sacred to the Egyptians, was lost when her temple became the ‘home of intoxication and place of enjoyment’. Among the Roman emperors depicted in the temple are Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero.

The Temple of Hathor comprises a Great Hypostyle Hall (i), a second Hypostyle Hall (2), two ante-chambers (3) and (4), leading to a Sanctuary (5), which is enclosed on three sides and surrounded by chambers, some of which may have served as living quarters for priests, others as storerooms for the ritual implements for services.

The entrance to the temple has an impressive fafade, on each side of which are three Hathor-columns joined by screen walls. These also form one side of the Great Hypostyle Hall. At the centre of the huge concave cornice is the proclamation that the temple was built by the Emperor Tiberius under his prefect Aulus Avillius Flaccus.
The Great Hypostyle Hall (1) has eighteen Hathor columns once painted in brilliant colours; they supported a roof that is divided into seven sections, each of which is decorated with astronomical scenes. These are similar to those which adorn most Graeco-Roman temples, but nowhere are they so well preserved as on the ceiling of the Hypostyle Hall at Dendera.

In the first section (to the extreme right) is the elongated figure of Nut, the sky-goddess; her body arches over the heavens, and her legs and arms represent the four pillars of the universe. The long line of figures includes six signs of the Egyptian zodiac: the lion, the serpent, the balances, the scorpion, the archer and the goat. There are eighteen ships in the second line in which are the controllers of eighteen sections of ten days; these are the divisions of the half-year. The second section has a winged figure representing the wind at each end; here the astronomical figures relate to the twelve hours of night. The controllers are grouped into threes to represent the space of a lunar month. The third section concerns the moon, represented as the sacred eye; the fourteen days of the waning moon, followed by fourteen days of the waxing moon, ascending the steps to heaven to approach Osiris, who is seated in a boat with Isis and Nephthys.

Graeco-Roman Temples in Upper Egypt
The middle section of the roof has alternate vultures and discs with wings. The fifth section has three rows of figures; among them are twelve boats representing the hours of the day, each bearing the sun disc, and beside each is the deity to which that special hour was sacred. The sixth section once again has the winged figure of the wind at each end and astronomical figures between them. The seventh section, like the first, shows the elongated figure of Nut, the Sky- goddess, spanning the heavens and, at the northern end, the sun's ra\s shining on the shrine of Hathor. Among the line of figures represented here are the other six signs of the Egyptian zodiac: the crab, the twins, the bull, the ram, the fishes and the water carrier, and eighteen ships, each bearing decani, or controllers of a ten-degree segment of the zodiacal hemisphere, of which there were thirty-six in all.

On the screen walls on the inside of the entrance are reliefs that relate to the ceremonial of ‘going forth’. The pharaoh is shown leaving his palace at (a) to visit the temple. He is led by the small figure of a priest who burns incense. In the procession are five tribal Standards representing ancient cities: the jackal wolf-god of Thinis (Abydos); the ibis head of Thoth the moon-god of Hermopolis; the hawk of Edfu, the emblem of an ancient goddess of Thebes, and the symbol of the sistrum of Dendera. Horus and Thoth sprinkle the pharaoh with the symbol of Life, and the goddesses of Nekheb and Buto (ancient capitals of Upper and Lower Egypt) bestow their blessings on him.

At (b) the pharaoh is depicted being presented to Hathor by Montu of Thebes and Atum of Heliopolis. He marks out the limits of the temple and drives boundary posts into the ground. The scenes on the right-hand wall (c) show him worshipping the triad at Dendera: Hathor, Horus and their son, here known as Ihy.

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