Pendant with the god Thoth

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A faience plaque with intensely coloured enamelling. The piece would be the central part of a collar made up with beading of the same material, most certainly in a variety of colours. The reverse side is flat while the front of the piece depicts Thoth with the head of an ibis in relief and holding a was sceptre.

When the waters of the Nile rose, the Threskiornis aethiopicus, a bird which has now disappeared from Egypt, migrated in colonies from Ethiopia to the marshlands of the delta. This ibis is distinguishable for its graceful and flexible neck which it keeps extended in flight, for its long curved beak and for its general white plumage contrasting with the black of its neck, tail and head. This is the reason for the use of two different materials: in most cases the body is made from marble or wood decorated with white pigment.

The ibis is able to distinguish between clean and dirty waters, a fact which was proof in the eyes of the Egyptians, of the immense wisdom of this creature. They honoured it to the point of turning it into one of the reincarnations of the god Thoth. This is the Greek name of the god and by which he is popularly known. The Ancient Egyptians called him Djehuty. He was considered to be the god of knowledge and had authority over all other gods. He was also the inventor of writing, patron of scribes, of the arts and sciences. As god of writing, he was the inventor of all words and speech. He is also associated with the baboon and for this reason he is seen in both forms in artistic representations, both in reliefs and in sculptures.

The spectacular black and white plumage of the ibis led some classical authors, such as Plutarch or Aelian, to explain the assimilation by the Egyptians of the bird with the moon, through a parallel with the waxing and waning phases of this heavenly body. To be precise, Thoth was the god who watched over the lunar cycle, the controller and protector of time, and for this reason he was on occasions identified with the moon itself. He was also the inventor of the calendar. He calculated the years, kept the royal annals and recorded the years of the reign of the monarchs on the fruit of the persea, the sacred tree of Heliopolis.

It was the behaviour of this long-legged bird that backed up the theology relating to the god Thoth. Among other features, its mode of walking through the vegetation of the marshes gave rise to cult of the god “Thoth who is on his thicket”. The powerful and sharp beak led him to be associated with the stylus, the emblematic writing tool used by scribes, but also with the struggle against the serpent Apep.

Displaying their excellent naturalist skills as artists, the Egyptians were able to capture and express in this bronze statuette the long legs and graceful silhouette of this bird, which, although it is seen here upright and motionless, in most effigies is seen with the left leg forward as if in motion taking long, careful steps on the marshy riverside.

In his funerary aspect, the god can be seen in the room of the “weighing of the souls” in the balance (Psychostasia). Here, in front of Osiris, the heart of the deceased person was judged. Thoth was the one charged with the task of noting down Osiris’s verdict.

He was also considered to be the architect who knew the design and trajectory of all things, the lord of inventors and knowledge. He was also related to music as the inventor of the lyre.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

- BLEIBERG, E. Soulful Creatures. Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn. 2013.
- CASTEL, E. Gran Diccionario de Mitología Egipcia. Aldebarán. Madrid. 2001.
- GUICHARD, H. et al. Animales y Faraones. El Reino Animal en el Antiguo Egipto. Exhibition catalogue. Obra Social La Caixa. Barcelona. 2015.
- WILKINSON, R.H. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. London. 2003.

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