Thursday, May 6, 2021

Demon God Protector of Egypt at the NY Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 20 - October 31, 2021

 Say the words ‘Egyptian gods’ and it is usually the sun god Ra, Anubis god of the dead or the goddess Isis that spring to mind. These gods were closely associated with the Pharaoh and the upper echelons of Egyptian society. But in ancient Egypt, it was the demon gods that were inextricably linked to the everyday life of Egyptians. The most important of these was Bes, who provided protection against all manner of ills and ailments in ancient Egypt.

“The exhibition isn’t just a story about the popular, multifaceted deity Bes, whom very few people today know. Bes provides a unique insight into how the people in general lived, and into the thought and faith of ancient Egypt”, says the Egyptologist and exhibition curator Tine Bagh. “Throughout history, humankind has sought safety and security. In today’s Denmark we have a welfare system to look after us. In ancient Egypt they had Bes.”

Bes is easily recognisable. He has short, stumpy legs, his tongue pokes out of his mouth, his beard resembles a lion’s mane and he has a feathered ornament on his head. Bes was part of people’s lives at all levels of ancient Egyptian society - a feature in the homes of both pharaohs and slaves. He protected people against diseases, took care of children and pregnant women, warded off snake bites and had the power to scare away enemies.

The exhibition invites visitors into Bes’s universe, where magic and the belief in gods and demons were a natural part of life. The exhibition takes us into Egyptian homes, where Bes played an indispensable role in everyday life. He appeared on beds, cosmetic containers, mirrors, so-called ‘Bes jars’ and magic wands.

Read more about it:

Please note that you must present a corona passport with proof of a negative COVID-19 test (antigen or PCR), taken no more than 72 hours prior to your arrival. Alternatively, visitors can also present proof that they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or that they recovered from a bout of corona within the past 180 days. Face masks or visors must be worn in the museum.

Images: I couldn't find any images of exhibit objects on the museum website yet so here is a selection of objects featuring images of Bes I and others have taken in other venues:

Egyptian relief depicting Bes and Beset, 664-332 BCE, at the Louvre Museum in Paris, courtesy of the museum.

Stela of the God Bes, 4th century BCE - 1st century CE at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, courtesy of the museum.

Bes Furniture Detail Egyptian Blue Ptolemaic Period Egypt that I photographed at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California.

Mirror Support in the form of Bes Egypt Late Period-Ptolemiac Period Faience that I photographed at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

Horsehair fly whisk with gold lion handle, chariot yoke saddles with god Bes, and chariot check rowell King Tutankhamun 18th dynasty New Kingdom Egypt 1332-1323 BCE that I photographed at the Discovery of King Tut exhibit at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Oregon.

Reproduction of a protective sculpture of the god Bes on one of King Tut's six chariots 18th dynasty New Kingdom Egypt that I photographed at the Discovery of King Tut exhibit at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Oregon.

Bell in the form of Bes, 332-30 BCE, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, courtesy of the museum.

Relief of the god Bes next to the Roman north gate of the temple complex of Dendera, Egypt, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Olaf Tausch.

Bronze relief of Bes, 2nd century BCE at the Louvre Museum in Paris, courtesy of the museum.

Bronze statue of Bes, 664-610 BCE at the Louvre Museum courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Aoineko (with glare on the right side and base of the artifact removed)

Fresco from the Temple of Isis in Pompeii depicting the Egyptian god Bes, protector of women and children, North wall of Sacrarium, Naples National Archaeological Museum courtesy of Carole Raddato.

Monday, May 3, 2021

The aspis and rise of the Argives

The ancient city of Argos was inhabited as far back as 7,000 years ago.   Argos experienced its greatest period of expansion and power, though, under the energetic 7th century BCE ruler, King Pheidon.  Pheidon was said to have been a descendant of Heracles through Temenus. Pheidon seized the throne from the reigning aristocracy with the support of the lower classes.  He was a vigorous and energetic ruler and greatly increased the power of Argos.

Under Pheidon, Argos regained sway over the cities of the Argolid and challenged Sparta’s dominance of the Peloponnese. Spartan dominance is thought to have been interrupted following the Battle of Hyssiae in 669-668 BCE, in which Argive troops defeated the Spartans in a hoplite battle. The Argive army was already equipped at the time with a deeply dished wooden shield called the aspis which is thought to have given the Argives an advantage over the Spartans.  The revolutionary part of the shield was, in fact, the grip. Known as an Argive grip, it placed the handle at the edge of the shield and was supported by a leather fastening for the forearm at the center. This allowed hoplites more mobility with the shield, as well as the ability to capitalize on their offensive capabilities and better support the phalanx. The convex shape of the shield allowed it to be supported comfortably on the shoulder and made it possible for warriors to use it as a flotation device for crossing rivers and to be used for hauling the bodies of the dead from the battlefield.

Image: Statuette of a Warrior thought to be an Argive, Greek, 470-460 BCE, Bronze, now in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum.  A standing male figure. Both feet are missing. He raises his right hand to his right shoulder and rests the left hand against his chest. He wears a short tunic underneath a cloak pinned over the right shoulder and slanting underneath the left arm. Straps cross over his shoulders at the chest and between the shoulders at the back. He is bearded and wears a cap or helmet. The eye sockets are empty and were perhpas once inlaid. The hair is cut away at the back of the head leaving a rectangular depression and the right hand is pierced for an attachment.


Sunday, May 2, 2021

Hermeticism and the debate between Myth and Science

Two seated philosophers, labeled Ptolemy and Hermes, engage in a spirited discussion on this fragmentary plate. A woman stands behind each man, gesturing and partaking in the exchange. The woman on the left is identified as Skepsis. Above the two seated men, an unidentified enthroned man is partially preserved. The scene on this plate has been interpreted as an allegory of the debate between Myth and Science: Ptolemy, the founder of the Alexandrian school of scientific thought, debating Hermes Trismegistos, a deity supporting the side of myth. - J. Paul Getty Museum

Hermes Trismegistus, "Hermes the Thrice-Greatest" or Mercurius ter Maximus in Latin, is a legendary Hellenistic figure that originated as a syncretic combination of the Greek god of interpretive communication, Hermes, and the Egyptian god of wisdom, Thoth. He is the purported author of the Hermetica, a widely diverse series of ancient and medieval texts that lay the basis of various philosophical systems known as Hermeticism. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance the Hermetica enjoyed great prestige and were popular among alchemists. Hermes was also strongly associated with astrology, by scholars including the influential Islamic astrologer Abu Ma'shar (787–886). The "hermetic tradition" consequently refers to alchemy, magic, astrology, and related subjects. The texts are usually divided into two categories: the philosophical and the technical hermetica. The former deals mainly with philosophy, and the latter with practical magic, potions, and alchemy, including the procedure to create the famed Philosopher's Stone that was capable of turning base metals into gold and theoretically could be used to achieve immortality.

Image: Silver plate possibly depicting the debate between Myth and Science, Byzantine from the eastern Mediterranean, 500-600 CE, now in the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum.