Goddess Isis suckling Harpocrates

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A representation of the goddess Isis suckling her son, Horus. Over her tripartite wig the goddess wears her characteristic crown with a solar disk between two cow horns. The god Harpocrates, or as a child, Horus, is sitting on her lap and is held by the goddess with her left hand. This element is missing and so is the torso and head of the child. The square hole in the stump of the arm indicates that the hand was probably carved separately. The right hand of the goddess is pressing her left breast to indicate that she is breastfeeding the child. The scene shows the mother, or queen mother, to perfection while she is protecting and suckling her child. This depiction is one of the most popular of Isis.

The goddess Isis, according to myth, is the daughter of Geb and Nut, and sister of Osiris, to whom she was also considered to be wed. As a deity she was referred to as: “Great mother goddess”, “Great Sorceress”, “Queen of the Gods”, “Fecundating Force of Nature” and “Goddess of Maternity and Birth”.

Osiris reigned in Ancient Egypt in peace, harmony and with wisdom. The Nile fertilized the earth and the crops were abundant. One day, Osiris set off to discover other civilizations and left his kingdom under the control of his wife, Isis. Set, his jealous brother, felt humiliated as he thought that he should rule rather than Isis. When Osiris returned, he was murdered by his brother. The goddess Isis, with the aid of other divinities like Nephthys and Anubis, sought out and found the cut-up pieces of her husband and put them together through special rites. After physical union with the god she conceived a child. The posthumous son of Osiris was to be the Horus-child, Harpocrates, who later, would wreak revenge on Set for his father´s murder.

As one of the main deities, Isis was worshipped in all periods in the history of Egypt, and it was in the final epoch that the largest temple was built to her on the island of Philae. The Greco-Roman world adopted her characteristics and associated them with Aphrodite and Venus. Another of her principal characteristics, that of being “Mother of God”, would also be relevant in the cults influencing Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity.

Harpocrates, the Horus-child, is a native of Heliopolis as the son of Isis and Osiris. He was worshipped in many sanctuaries, like those of Edfu, Thebes, Coptos, Mendes, etc., in which he was venerated in other forms adopted from Horus. Harpocrates is the living symbol of the rising sun at the beginning of spring. He was born after the death of his father, Osiris. He is represented then as a defenceless child whom his mother, the goddess Isis, had to hide in the swamps of the Nile Delta, to protect him from the evil Set, his father’s brother. But in the same way that the weak newly risen sun becomes a powerful sun as it rises higher, the god-child became the powerful Horus, the avenger of his father’s death, fighting against Set. His mother, Isis, in this way changed him into the great Horus who reigned over men and gods.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

- Egyptian Art. Walters Art Gallery. Baltimore. 2009.
- Fastueuse Égypte. Musée Calvet. Ouvrage publié sous la direction d’Odile Cavalier. Avignon (25/06/2011 au 14/11/2011). 2011.
- WILKINSON H. R. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. London. 2003.

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