Magical stela or cippus of Horus

Ptolemaic Period

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 134

This stela is known in Egyptian art as a cippus (pl. cippi) or magical stela. The instructions found on some cippi indicate that they were used to heal afflictions caused by snake or scorpion venom. Specifically, Egyptians believed that the water poured over these cippi would be transformed into a curative remedy that the afflicted could then drink or apply to the body.

The central image of the object here depicts the god Horus striding atop two crocodiles with the head of the protective god Bes above him. The figure of Horus is carved in high raised relief, with careful modeling of the body. He is nude, with the exception of his bracelets and neck collar, and maintains a side lock of hair on his right side to indicate his youth. In his hands, he is grasping several strong and dangerous desert animals (scorpions, serpents, lion, oryx) by their tails or horns. This motif shows Horus’ dominance over these powerful animals and the dangers that they may pose. In addition, Horus is flanked by standards in the form of lotus and papyrus columns. This stela’s high quality is evident in its detailed carvings, such as the individual components of the neck collar and the fine crisscross pattern on the scorpions’ exoskeletons.

On the top portion of the reverse side of the stela, there is a winged sun disk with a row of nine deities in sunk relief below it. Similar to the carvings on the front, the reverse also exhibit a strong attention to detail. For instance, small incised lines on the clothing of the deities, provide hints at their folding and draping over the divine bodies. This creates an extra dimensionality to the carvings that enlivens the flattened surface of the sunk reliefs.

This object is inscribed with text on all of its sides (front, sides, reverse, top, and bottom), as is common for Horus cippi. Texts on these stelae are usually comprised of healing spells that include references to the mythological story in which the god Horus was injured and was then healed. By referencing this popular story, an individual bitten by a snake or stung by a scorpion could likewise hope to be healed.

The other selected spells on cippi usually allude to broader themes of healing, rejuvenation, and renewal. On the backside of this stela, for example, a well-known healing spell that describes the rejuvenation of an aged god is partially inscribed.

Magical stela or cippus of Horus, Chlorite schist

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