Tag Archives: ancient Egypt

Bes

Bes_Nordisk_familjebok

Illustration of Bes from Nordisk_familjebok, 1907

 

One of the more unusual of Egyptian gods, Bes is an unlikely benevolent spirit. Sometimes linked to or confused with similar dwarf gods such as Aha, Bes is a waring deity and was very popular during the New Kingdom, but existed in ancient Egypt since the Old Kingdom.

He is a squat figure sometimes shown with a weapon, tale, or phallus, and a violent grin on his face. He often wears a top hat that looks much like the capital of a doric column. One of the more unusual characteristics of most depictions of Bes is that he is shown in full frontal portrait, while Egyptian deities were typically represented in profile. His demonic appearance, though more mischievous and curmudgeonly really, is sometimes thought to have influenced future depictions of the Christian devil.

Detail of Inferno from The Last Judgement by Fra Angelico, tempera on wood, 105 × 210 cm (41.3 × 82.7 in), circa 1431, Museo Nazionale di San Marco, Florence

Detail of Inferno from The Last Judgement by Fra Angelico, tempera on wood, 105 × 210 cm (41.3 × 82.7 in), circa 1431, Museo Nazionale di San Marco, Florence

Though Bes was a violent, destructive being who slayed all manner of evil beasts, he was known to the masses as a protector, particularly of households and childbirth. He was ferocious enough to have decorated the weapons of warriors, but could also be found adorning the bodies of servant girls in the form of tattoos. Couples might place his image in their private chambers for luck in bearing children.

Stela of the God Bes, limestone and paint, H. 38.7 cm (15 /14 in); w. 17.7 cm (6 15/16 in), Ptolemaic or Roman Period, 4th century B.C.–A.D. 1st century, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Stela of the God Bes, limestone and paint, H. 38.7 cm (15 /14 in); w. 17.7 cm (6 15/16 in), Ptolemaic or Roman Period, 4th century B.C.–A.D. 1st century, Metropolitan Museum of Art

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, terracotta figures like the one above, usually with an erect phallus (this one is missing), may have been placed in chambers where pilgrims came to sleep, so that they might receive “divinely inspired dreams.”

 

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