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xEurasia Odyssey

Ptolemaic Temples on the Nile - Day 5

EGYPT | Monday, 19 December 2016 | Views [337]

 Day 5 Ptolemaic Temples on the Nile

The first stop on the cruise is to the temple at Edfu, which is supposed to be the

best preserved temple in Egypt as it was protected by many meters of sand. The  Ptolemaic era temple is dedicated to Horus. One of the first differences in style that one sees on entering area the numerous gods etched into the pylon entrance.  The Egyptians dedicated their temples to one god, and that was the god that was primarily represented. The Greeks, on the other hand, wanted to make sure that none of the other gods were offended, they remembered the Trojan War all too well, so to hedge their bets, they placed images of the leading gods in the region on the outside of the temple. The next striking difference is in the pillars; there are 32 pillars surrounding the courtyard, they are all similar except for the second one on each side of the main entrance. Inside the temple there is a relief that looks like six men carrying a solar bark, but when one looks closer there are five outlines around each of the men, equaling thirty carriers, or the thirty equal pillars. The two others represent the overseer and the high priest. The reason they are in the second position is due to the fact that when a temple is destroyed it is usually by the entrance, so to protect the temple, i.e., the overseer and high priest, they are in the second position. The reasoning behind the imagery is a wonderful synthesis of the two systems of thought.   A clear difference in their thought processes, however, relates to how images are to be viewed. The Egyptian panels have images that tell complete stories within themselves. Time is eternally present. The image is constant and timeless. For the Greeks, on the other hand, time is movement; it progresses and the panels now start to capture individual frames of a story. It is similar to the difference between still photography and movies. One of the stories portrayed on a series of 14 panels is the tale of how Horus finds Seth hiding in a hippopotamus. Seth had cut Osiris, his brother and Horus’ father, into 14 pieces. He dispersed the pieces across the land and Horus was out for revenge. The panels show Horus asking Amun for permission to kill Seth, but the god saying that Seth can’t be killed as the world needs both good and evil to survive, but that the one who helped evil, the hippo, could be and then the subsequent search and act of revenge.  The story is clearly part of Egyptian mythology and was a way for the Greeks to ingratiate themselves with the local people. The Egyptians weren’t too keen on the new rulers, however, so the Greeks tried to demonstrate that they ruled by Egyptian divine mandate as the previous rulers had. A series of panels showing Alexander the Great kneeling to receive the crown from various gods line the inside of the temple. Alexander was apparently well loved of gods everywhere as he had done the same thing in Persia with Ahura Mazda, Anahita and Mithra. 

Edfu also had something I had not seen before, a Nileometer. The level of the Nile was used to estimate how much the people would pay in taxes. The higher the river, the more the people were taxed.  It was a fairly ingenious system.  The temple is about 2 km from the boat launch and a horse  & buggy ride takes one there and back. The buggy drivers shout, laugh, push each other around and whack their poor skinny nags in races to get to the boat or temple first.  It is a sight to behold.

 Kom Ombo was the next stop on the cruise. It is unusual in that it is a dual temple to Sobek and Horus the elder. Sobek is the crocodile god and exterminator of the enemies of Osiris; the Falcon god Haroeris, or Horus the Elder, is a solar warrior god, represented by the winged disk protecting all from harm.  The winged disk with cobra is placed above the entrance of the temple. The location originally had temples from Amenophis I and Thutmosis III, but the main builder of what currently exists was Ptolemy III. As even he, as well as other humans, makes mistakes, Maat, the goddess of universal justice and order, had to make sure that each of the side by side temples was exactly the same size; there is a glyph with her at the exact middle on the back of the temple.

The temple complex lies adjacent to the Nile, which makes for a spectacular setting.  It is called the Gold Mountain as there are gold mines around 200 km to the south and this was the place where the gold came to be distributed and gold offerings made.  There are six storage rooms for gold and silver at the back of the temple and outside the walls others from more normal offerings of food, incense, votive figures etc. Sobek was known as the destroyer of Osiris’ enemies, and as such worthy of worship. The various buildings lay testimony to various Greek and Roman rulers, including an image of Domitian offering sacrifice to the goddess Hathor in her chapel, while the chapel of Sobek has scenes with Caracalla. In order to ‘prove his birthright as king/pharaoh Ptolemy III built a Birth House on a side of the main courtyard. Birthing houses were constructed in the temples during the Ptolemaic period to ‘prove’ that the Greek rulers were really aligned with the ancient Egyptian gods and that they were born in accordance with ancient lineage rituals.

 This temple complex has a few interesting features even though it was mostly destroyed by Mohammad Ali, the early 19th C ruler of the combined Egypt and Sudan, and used as a stone quarry to build a sugar factory. First off, as it is dedicated to the crocodile god, Sobek, there is a museum filled with crocodile mummies. The Louvre has a few, but here there are many for those who are interested in dead reptiles. Supposedly, at one time peaceful crocodiles lived on an island in the middle of the river, but things changed and now, not surprisingly, they will snatch anything in sight.  The temple was built in the hopes that the main crocodile would find favor in the offerings.  To save those from the jaws of death, though, this is also the place where there are the first portrayals of medicinal tools.  There is a glyph with scissors, tweezers, knives, hooks for teeth extraction etc. One of the stories told here is that after Emperor Trajan broke a bone in his upper thigh and no one could fix it, he came here and was healed by the physician high priest. A relief of his kneeling to the god of the temple is placed by the glyph with the tools. Another story has a different interpretation than I had previously encountered for an ankh, which traditionally is associated with eternal life; here it is the key to the Nile’s waters, which in turn gives life.  Only the deities were depicted with an ankh, and it was by receiving a blessing via an ankh that the pharaoh could rule. Some of the panels were intended as warnings, including a very detailed one outside the temple that shows what happens to those who go against the Pharaoh’s wishes, they have an arm eaten off by lions. The message is clear, do as you’re told or else! If the ruler is a tyrant, the gods are not and I was amazed to find numerous images of Hathor, the cow mother goddess, throughout the complex; she was everywhere and in a variety of different forms.  I had expected to find Isis, but found Hathor instead. Tomorrow it should be different as I will be visiting Philae, Isis’ main temple.


Tags: egyptian temples, nile cruise


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