• From Isis-kite to Nekhbet-vulture and Horus-falcon: Changes in the identification of the bird above Osiris’s phallus in temple ‘conception of Horus’ scenes

    Author(s):
    Lloyd Graham (see profile)
    Date:
    2020
    Group(s):
    Egyptology
    Subject(s):
    Egyptology, Egyptian art, Ptolemaic Egypt, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Egyptian
    Item Type:
    Article
    Tag(s):
    Osiris, conception of Horus, ba-bird, Osiris Mysteries, Khoiak
    Permanent URL:
    http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/36jb-dw97
    Abstract:
    ‘Conception of Horus’ scenes in Egyptian temples date at least from Ramesside to Greco-Roman times. This article seeks to establish whether any changes to their composition or interpretation occurred over this long time-span. The main differences noted centre upon the identity of the bird above Osiris’s phallus, as follows. In the iconic ‘conception of Horus’ scene in the Ptah-Sokar chapel of the temple of Seti I at Abydos, the central bird – with whom the deceased yet ithyphallic Osiris copulates – is clearly labelled as Isis, and is therefore best understood as a kite. This type of scene is reprised three times in the Osirian roof-chapels at the Temple of Hathor at Dendera, built some 1300 years later. In the first scene at Dendera, the three birds above Osiris (which include two representing Isis and Horus) are collectively referred to as falcons, which does not preclude the central bird again representing Isis. However, in the second scene, the bird above Osiris’s phallus is identified as a vulture, and seemingly represents the goddess Nekhbet. In the third scene, the cognate bird is identified as ‘the Falcon of Gold’ – an epithet of Horus. Compositionally, this third scene is a good match for what remains of the ‘conception of Horus’ scene in the Osiris suite of Seti’s temple at Abydos, raising the possibility that the bird in this much earlier scene might also represent Horus rather than Isis. In contexts such as this, it is possible that the Horus-falcon was seen as the ba-bird of Osiris. In sum, the bird in ‘conception of Horus’ scenes may initially have been identified primarily with Isis, but it seems that it was equally compatible with interpretation as Nekhbet or Horus. Over time, these alternate identities became explicit in what survives of the artistic record.
    Notes:
    CC BY 2.0 UK licence
    Metadata:
    Published as:
    Online publication    
    Status:
    Published
    Last Updated:
    4 months ago
    License:
    Attribution
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