In Ancient Egypt deities are often depicted as a combination of a human body and an animal head. Less frequently a human head was attached to the body of an animal, in this case a cobra. The cobra itself can be identified with different goddesses such as Wadjet, Hathor, Meretseger, Renenutet, Bastet, or Sakhmet. The human head of this amulet, however, has cow’s ears and can be identified as representing Hathor, who is often represented as a cow goddess. The naos-shaped sound box of a sistrum, a cultic musical instrument that is likewise associated with Hathor, was placed on top of her head and leaves no doubt that she is depicted here. The cobra is shown rearing on a low base; its weight is placed on the first, bottom coil of the body and on the tip of the tail, which is slightly protruding over the back of the base. The body is only coiled twice, so that the cobra rears up high. In the centre of the wide hood is a vertical column of ventral plates. To the lower part of each side are three diagonal ventral scales, while a criss-cross pattern marks the upper part of the hood. Above it is Hathor’s head with a long, tripartite wig bound with ribbons. The ears are very narrow at the junction to the face and then widen, which is typical for cow’s ears. The representation of the sistrum’s sound box on her head has the shape of a small shrine framed by an inward curving volutes. Between the back of the head and the top coil of the snake’s body is a pierced loop for suspension. The goddess Hathor was generally associated with love, music, and fertility. The particular form of this amulet though alludes to her dangerous and protective role in the myth of the destruction of mankind. In this story the humans revolted against the gods. As a reaction the sun god sent out one of his eyes in the form of a cobra to destroy mankind; the eye is identified with Hathor. This dangerous aspect of the goddess was used only against enemies or other forces that threatened world order. The manifestation of Hathor as an uraeus can be seen as an image of divine protection. The amulet was probably meant to put its wearer under the protection of the goddess and her appearance as a cobra was probably thought to be particularly effective to ward of dangers.
Formerly Gréau Collection. Purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan before 1903. Donated to the Museum, 1917.