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A Snake-Legged Dionysos from Egypt, and Other Divine Snakes

A Snake-Legged Dionysos from Egypt, and Other Divine Snakes
Author(s): Donald M. Bailey
Source: The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 93 (2007), pp. 263-270
Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40345844
Accessed: 02-02-2019 04:49 UTC
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Die in P. Berlin P 8313 vorliegende Textkopie
auch nur Spuren aktueller Textverderbnis; de
vom Ofen auf die Gottin musste sich also in ein
der Textiiberlieferung ereignet haben. Dabei i
als an eine redaktionelle Entscheidung zu denke
(mehr) als solcher verstandene (Destillier-)Kop
Attribut der Gottin umgedeutet wurde.17 An d
rungsformen des im koptischen P. Berlin P 83
die allgemeine Frage der Entstehung und Uber
chen Motiven an. Mir erscheint es naheliegend,
mit griechischen Prototypen zu rechnen haben
spatdemotische magische Texte wahrscheinlich
Tonio Sebastian Richter
A snake-legged Dionysos from Egypt, and other divine snakes
A recent acquisition of the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities of the British Museum is
showing the apotheosis or epiphany of an anguipede Dionysos, accompanied by a child-god.1
The stele and its decoration
A marble stele, said to be from Naukratis, has recently come into the collections of the
Greek and Roman Department of the British Museum (fig. 1 and pl. VIII). It is rectangular,
roughly finished at the rear, shaped in the form of a sunken panel with raised edges on its
three remaining sides, and has a depiction of Dionysos to front, his lower trunk merging into
the massive body and tail of a snake, coiled into a figure-of-eight. The god wears a skimpy
nebris, a fawn-skin, knotted at his right shoulder and wrapped round his left wrist. An equally
lightweight himation is draped over the left shoulder and round the right hip; despite these
two items of clothing, his genitals are exposed. A filled cornucopia is held in his left hand,
resting against his shoulder. The cupped hand of his foreshortened and lowered right arm
holds a small pyramidal bunch of grapes, a rather unusual representation, as grapes normally
dangle from the hand. The god has no beard and his hair is parted in the centre, with long
twisted locks falling onto his shoulders; he may have a floral wreath, but this is uncertain:
the details are not as fine as one would wish. He wears that complex three-fold version of
the atef crown, the hemhem crown (with triple bound reeds in baluster form and sun discs
at the top of each such element, and ostrich feathers or uraei on each side, all supported by
horizontal ram's horns of corkscrew shape).2 This triple crown was worn by several different
17 Wie sich immer deutlicher zeigt, ist das Koptische nie zu einer Wissenschaftssprache gewor
wissenschaftlichen und naturphilosophischen Diskurs der Zeit schrieb man Griechisch, spater
senstransfer via Translation vom Griechischen ins Koptische mag so eher in den praxisorientier
magieunterstiitzter Heilkunde (wie im Fall von P. Berlin P 8313) und praktischer alchemistischer
Fall von P. Berlin P 8316) als in den theoretischen Bereichen der Theurgie und Naturphilosoph
den haben. Den Kernbestand des koptischen Dossiers zur Alchemie bilden iibrigens spate (c.io.
Ubersetzungen aus dem Arabischen.
18 Dieleman, Priests, Tongues, and Rites, ch. 4, vor allem 127-30.
1 British Museum reg. no. GR 2005.9-1 9.1. Marble stele of Dionysos with the lower part of his body in snake
form. Ht. 25.8 cm. Paper label attached: 'Isis-uraeus or Thermuthis and Harpocrates. From diggings at Naucratis
(Egypt)'. Once Gustav Mustaki Collection. Principal donor: the Caryatid Fund. The author is grateful to Peter
Higgs, Catherine Johns, and Sam Moorhead for fruitful discussions and suggestions; and also the JEA referees
for most helpful remarks and references.
2 For a plethora of hemhem crowns, worn by pharaohs and gods, see E. Vassilika, Ptolemaic Philae (OLA 34;
Leuven, 1989), 90, 301-4. Most have discs (solar and lunar?) at top and/or bottom of the three baluster-like
elements of the crown. The horns are those of the long extinct sheep Ovis longipes palaeoaegypticus: B. Watterson,
Gods of Ancient Egypt (Stroud, 1996), 189. The apparent greater use of the hemhem crown in Ptolemaic and
Roman times may be actual and not necessarily an accident of survival.
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gods, including (a few drawn from many) a Twent
a lotus,3 Late Period and Ptolemaic bronze figure
Edfu,5 the multi-headed Meroitic god Apedamak f
Fig. 1 . Marble stele with a snake-legged Dionyso
(photograph: Dudley Hubbard, British Museum).
3 P. A Clayton, Chronicle of the Pharaohs: The Reign-by -Reig
Egypt (London, 1994), 189; M. Lurker, An Illustrated Dictionary
don, 1995), 66.
4 G. Roeder, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, VI: Agyptische Bro
berg, Art of the Ancient World, XVIII (New York, 2007), 79
5 A. Dodson and D. Hilton, The Complete Roval Families of Ancient Eevtot (London. 2004). 280.
6 R. H. Wilkinson, The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt (London, 2003), 177.
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and rulers, for example Ptolemy VIII Euergetes
or princess,8 and the emperor Tiberius at Philae.9 A
on the golden throne of Tutankhamun.10 The pri
was Osiris, but also, amongst others, the deities K
many a king.11
Standing full-faced on a ledge depicted in the top
possibly Harpokrates, naked, with a cornucopia again
by this god; he stands in the pose of a personage cro
object, not a crown, in his raised right hand: it may
the object is a torch, the child-god may be Iakcho
known to be celebrated at various Bacchic centres
torch, at Demeter and Kore's sanctuary at Eleusi
father and he appears to have two mothers, Dem
The slab is, unfortunately, broken away at the bottom, but shows part of an eagle in an
apotheosis-like position, only the head and the spread tips of the primary flight feathers
surviving, supporting the snake body on each side, and raising Dionysos to new heights. A
newcomer to the Greek pantheon, Dionysos was a stranger god, the child of Semele and Zeus
and, moreover, the son of a mortal, but eventually he was accepted in Olympos; in Egypt the
Greeks equated him with the agricultural god Osiris, who also travelled the wtirld encouraging the propagation of plants.
Greek snake-legged beings
We have in this Dionysos, then, an unusual addition to the Greek repertoire of snake-bodied/
legged beings, many of whom were primitive supernormal entities like some of the sons of
the earth-goddess Ge. Typhon is an example, as also are the Giants, who eventually had to be
overcome by the Gods and buried under volcanoes, with Dionysos pursuing an active part,
though not himself anguipede at the time. The Gigantomachy, a victory over barbarism, as on
the Great Altar of Zeus at Pergamon and the frieze of the Hekateion at Lagina, was a major
7 Wilkinson, Complete Gods, 202. A late Ptolemaic representation of Dionysos wearing the hemhem crown,
with royal connotations, adorns a sealing found at Nea Paphos: H. Kyrieleis, 'Agyptische Bildelemente auf Siegel-
abdriicken aus Nea Paphos (Zypern)', Stadel-Jahrbuch 19 (2004), in (fig. 10).
8 A glass intaglio sealstone in the British Museum, copying nicolo, a microcrystalline quartz, has been recognised
as Cleopatra VII: H. B. Walters, Catalogue of the Engraved Gems and Cameos, Greek, Etruscan and Roman, in the
British Museum (London, 1926), no. 3085; S.-A. Ashton, 'Identifying the Egyptian-style Ptolemaic Queens',
in S. Walker and P. Higgs (eds), Cleopatra of Egypt: From History to Myth (London, 2001), 156 (no. 153); R. S
Bagnall and D. W. Rathbone (eds), Egypt from Alexander to the Copts: An Archaeological and Historical Guide
(London, 2004), fig. 1.1.3. H. Maehler, 'Ptolemaic Queens with a Triple Uraeus', CdE 27 (2003), 303 sees in this
gem a female head wearing the hemhem crown, rather than Cleopatra with a triple uraeus.
9 J. G. Milne, A History of Egypt under Roman Rule (3rd rev. edn, London, 1924), 15 (fig. 15). The crown has
youthful solar associations: J. Yoyotte and P. Chuvin, 'Le Zeus Casios de Peluse a Tivoli: Une hypothese', BIFAO
88 (1988), 165-80. Three pharaohs in granite, Egyptianising, and probably of Hadrianic date, wearing the hemhem
crown, were found in 1779 in the Villa di Cassio at Tivoli (ibid., pl. xv). Even a deceased human (albeit perhaps
identified with Osiris-Dionysos) can wear this crown: A. K. Bowman, Egypt after the Pharaohs 332 bc-ad 642:
From Alexander to the Arab Conquest (2nd edn; London, 1996), 120 (fig. 72: Isidoros from Terenuthis).
10 H. Carter and A. C. Mace, The Tomb of Tut Ankh. Amen (London, 1923), I, pis ii, lxii-lxiv, and countless
other publications.
11 For the atef crown in many manifestations, worn by gods and kings, see Vassilika, Ptolemaic Philaey 88-90
and 295-9. Khnum and Heryshef with this crown are shown respectively in Wilkinson, Complete Godsy 194 and
W. M. F. Petrie, Ehnasya, igo4 (MEEF 26; London, 1905), frontispiece. For a king wearing the atef Crown, see,
for example, Amenhotep III in Luxor: L. Bell, 'The New Kingdom "Divine" Temple: The Example of Luxor',
and also Rameses III at Medinet Habu: G. Haeny, 'New Kingdom "Mortuary Temples" and "Mansions of
Millions of Years'", both in B. E. Shafer (ed.), Temples of Ancient Egypt (London, 1998), 108 (fig. 39) and 141
(fig. 48) respectively.
12 E. Simon, 'Iakchos', in Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, V (Zurich, 1990), 612-14 (hereafter
LIMC); Dionysos with Iakchos on a red-figured vase: C. Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks (London, 1976),
pl. xvi.a.
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subject in Greek art.13 The Giants on sixth-centu
a fully 'human' configuration, but from the four
Roman art with two snake-like legs, each term
totally different from the single snake-bodied or
-Agathos Daimon and Isis-Thermuthis. In the
beneficial and protective and this was certainly m
Some snake-like and snake-bodied Egyptian deities
Snake-bodied deities, thus, were not unknown
Apophis, were normally useful to humanity in
Good Spirit of Alexandria, was totally benefice
but bearded and wearing a double-crown, and o
ear of wheat.16 He sometimes has the head of Sar
potent snake-bodied deity is Renenutet (Isis-Th
A snake-bodied Isis figure accompanying Agat
the oversight of good fortune for the city of
Uraeus, is one of its Agathoi Daimones and alm
of Isis: Bakhoum has a useful discussion of the
together or singly on Roman coins.18 Many of
but some have a 'human' head. Sarapis-Agatho
appears to be a version of the benign Asklepian S
and regenerative; and Isis-Agathe Tyche, fully
Cobra or Uraeus (Naja haje). Two bronze groups,
antiquity, have both gods crowned severally wi
entwined in a knot that is almost the amuletic
has female breasts, shown also on several repre
those mentioned in footnote 21. The male head
to be that of Dionysos rather than Sarapis, and
companion for Isis in that he was equated in Eg
There are, however, representations, particularly
13 E. Schmidt, The Great Altar of Pergamon (Leipzig, 1
Pergamonaltar (Mainz, 2004); F. Queyrel, L'Autel de Perg
A. Schober, Der Fries des Hekateions von Lagina (Bader b
14 F. Vine and M. B. Moore, 'Gigantes', in LIMC IV (Zur
however, on an East Greek 'situla' of about the late seven
snake below; found at Daphnai: W. M.F. Petrie, Ten Yea
S. Weber, 'East Greek "Situlae" from Egypt', in A. Villing
in Egypt. Studies on East Greek Pottery and Exchange in t
8). A little later Typhon is shown with two snake legs on a
lungen Inv. no. 596.
15 Wilkinson, Complete Gods, 220-8.
16 R. S. Poole, Catalogue of the Coins of Alexandria and th
coins of second-century emperors and their wives show
Catalogo completo della collezione Dattari, numi augg. Al
Tinh, 'Isis-Thermouthis', in LIMC V (Zurich, 1990), 788 (
17 Poole, Coins of Alexandria, pl. xiv (no. 745); S. Bakh
(Paris, 1999), 223, 228 (nos 15-16), 231 (no. 35), 233 (no.
xxx-xxxi; Savio, Collezione Dattari, 89 (Hadrian), 145 (An
Verus); F. Dunand, Agathodaimon', in LIMC I (Zurich, 1
Louvre: Catalogue des terres cuites greco-romaines d'Egypt
18 Bakhoum, Dieux egyptiens, 137-54.
19 S.-A. Ashton, Roman Egyptomania: A Special Exhibition
ber 2004 - 8 May 2005 (Cambridge, 2004), 96-7; E. Warme
268 (no. 146). A worryingly similar bronze from Cyzicus
C. Pellegris, in E. A. Arslan (ed.), hide, il mito, il mister
figures suggest modern manufacture, rather than product
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cobra's body which may be Isis-Thermuthis rathe
Alexandrian Good Spirit.20 Again, there are ve
head in a shrine which also contains Demeter's
muthis and not one of the Agathoi Daimones o
may be from the Fayum.
Another version of the Alexandrian Agathoi Dai
new stele appears on a sandstone relief in the
Fig. 2. Sandstone stele with a snake-bodied Dion
(photograph: British Museum).
20 F. Dunand, Religion populaire en Egypte romaine: L
Leiden, 1979), pl. xxi (no. 31); British Museum, Departme
excavated at Oxyrhynchus. Also from this city is a lime
Agathoi Daimones: Tran Tarn Tinh, in LIMC V, 789 (no
hydreios on this Leiden relief has hinted at a possibility t
of "Coptic" Sculpture and a Relief in the Brooklyn Mus
21 Just a few are noted here: Dunand, Religion populai
Terrakotten aus Agypten: Die Sammlungen Sieglin und Sch
Tubingen, 1994), pl. xci (no. 873); British Museum, Depa
24378: E. A. W. Budge, The Mummy: A Handbook of Egy
l92-S)y pl- xxviii; British Museum, Department of Greek
Isis-Agathe Tyche on the Leiden relief mentioned in foo
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of the British Museum, EA 1539 (fig. 2).22 Here aga
of Good Fortune has a head of Dionysos on the sna
snake (not obviously a cobra) with the head of Isis,
a polos/kalathos/ntodius, fronted by the threefold h
wheat ears, solar disc, cow's horns, and feathers, b
bearded and has a very Greek hairstyle, and is similar
as the Dionysos Sardanapollos,23 but having, in plac
shoulders of the Greek statue, formal twisted locks t
It may be useful (or at least of interest) to introd
from the central interior of bowls. Both are close
Canopus, the second at Kom es-Shugafa; both are in
They very likely show Sarapis, bearded and wearin
two snake legs emerging from beneath the garment;
and a radiate nimbus in his upraised right hand. Th
on Alexandrian coins of Antoninus Pius that celebr
This form of Sarapis is difficult to identify and he i
that is fully a snake and also that which has a snak
legs, as noted above, are more a Hellenistic Greek feat
examples found on Egyptian versions of anguipede
Egyptian manufacture (I know them only from bad
a fully draped representation of Sarapis with a single
Whether the Alexandrian Isis, Agathe Tyche, wh
Daimon (both snake-bodied), was regarded in Ant
a moot point: even her worshippers may have been
of a discussion of Isis-Thermuthis in the Lexicon
regards the two goddesses as aspects of the same
of snake-bodied/legged beings shown on objects i
Agathe Tyche, a Good Spirit of Alexandria, more s
like consort, is very different from Isis-Thermuthis.
There are two main forms of this goddess in the
has a 'human' body, which is normally clothed, and, e
by a snake's body and tail, often in a figure-of-e
'human' head, some examples of which are noted
in the Fayum, with a principal temple (Middle Ki
Madi (Narmuthis), which, as part of a triad, she
(Souchos-Sobek) and also Horus. She also had a less
22 P. Higgs, 'Sandstone Stele with Snake-bodied Figures of
Cleopatra of Egypt, 124-5: EA 1539. Ht. 41.0 cm.
23 A. H. Smith, A Catalogue of Sculpture in the Department o
III (London, 1904), 42 (no. 1606); Higgs, in Walker and Higgs
24 Relief bowls: V. Tran Tarn Tinh, Serapis debout: Corpus des
que (EPRO 94; Leiden, 1983), 158-9 (with further references),
of Alexandria, pl. xxvi (no. 1004); Savio, Collezione Dattari, pl.
lxxxvi; Clayton, Chronicle of the Pharaohs, 12-13.
25 Savio, Collezione Dattari, 79 (no. 7605).
26 Tran Tarn Tinh, in LIMC V, 788-9: F. Dunand, 'Les repr
quelques bas-reliefs du Musee d'Alexandrie', BIFAO 67 (1969
27 Terracotta figures of Isis-Thermuthis with a largely 'hum
collections, for example, Dunand, Religion populaire, pis xvii-x
385-92) (the Antinoopolis provenience for several of these is
Museum, Bildwerke der Sammlung Kaufmann, I: Griechisch-rom
28 Narmuthis: P. Davoli, Uarcheologia urbana nel Fayyum di et
Naples, 1998), 223-52; Bagnall and Rathbone (eds), Egypt from
Uarcheologia urbana, 188-90; C. Gallazzi and G. Hadji-Minaglou
de la chapelle dlsis-Thermouthis (FIFAO 42; Cairo, 2000); Bag
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have had another temple at Terenuthis in the Delta.2
version (Ermuthis) of the Egyptian grain-goddess
The temple and the cult at Narmuthis is well disc
of the splendid representations of the goddess a
term Italian excavations of the site.30 Renenutet wa
ultimately of the Egyptian family; she was a deit
of an individual's life, but mainly looked after crops
had some connection with Demeter (and was often
and was also regarded, as were other deities, as re
The Dionysos on our stele, with its massive sin
although not in gender, to the many representation
27, and this is perhaps indicative of the syncretic
Aspects of Dionysos in Egypt
Dionysos was particularly honoured and represent
Ptolemy II Philadelphos, concerning his Indian th
as was Herakles, as an ancestor of their dynasty:
in a portrait wearing the incipient bull-horns of the
required initiants into the Mysteries of Dionyso
as such.33 The marble stele described here is ano
Apart from the lavish though understated Egyptian
snake's body, based upon that of Isis-Thermuthis
the Dionysos depicted on the stele is otherwise v
Dionysos with the hemhem crown is, however, n
illustrated in fig. 2. But there the snake deity h
regarded as a form of the Alexandrian Agathos D
The new relief is said to come from the Greek cit
is no reason to doubt this. Probably of Roman d
it shows the god in the process of apotheosis, rais
one of his epiphanies, his sudden, often unheral
humankind.35 He is accompanied by a child god,
29 J. Baines and J. Malek, Atlas of Ancient Egypt (Oxford, 1
30 E. Bresciani, 'La Iside di Medinet Madi', in Arslan, hide,
of Renenutet by C. Beinlich-Seeber may be found in LA V
Exemple d'un biculturalisme', in J.-B. Caron, M. Fortin, a
offerts a Maurice Lebel (Quebec, 1980), 363-70.
31 M. Fjeldhagen, Graeco-Roman Terracottas from Egypt :
have the same pose, but one is clothed, the other, unusually,
and a small snake-legged bronze figure in the Petrie Museu
himation, and a polos on her head; a large torch is held against
32 Procession of Ptolemy II Philadelphos: G. Holbl, A Histo
don, 2001), 39-40; P. Goukowski, 'The Pomp of the Ptolemie
Third Century bc: The Knowledge of the World in a Single Cit
of Ptolemy III Euergetes I: Holbl, Ptolemaic Empire , 96-7.
33 BGU VI 121 1 ; E. R. Bevan, A History of Hellenistic Eg
reprint Chicago, 1968), 234; R. Seaford, Dionysos (Abingdon,
patra: History and Society under the Ptolemies, tr. D. Lorto
tioned here has Naukratis as marking the place where the D
reach Alexandria to register).
34 Apotheoses with a supporting eagle do not seem to be s
coins of the second century ad have eagles bearing various god
dria, pis i (nos 397, 1015), xiv (nos 742-3, 749), xviii (no. 1 134)
56), xvi (no. 66), xx (no. 97), xxii (no. 1 14); Savio, Collezione D
35 The epiphanies of Dionysos are discussed in Seaford, Dio
Dionysos see Eisenberg, Art of the Ancient World XVIII, 25
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way. The possibility of a shrine to Dionysos at Na
of the stele, but the god was a wanderer, continually
making his home rather, where necessary, in theatr
of this slab. It seems, however, that neither a tem
located at Naukratis, either archaeologically or in
difficult to imagine a Greek city without a theatre,
years of sebakhin-led destruction).
Donald M. Bailey
The text of Khakheperreseneb: an addendum
Addendum to R. B. Parkinson, 'The Text of Khakheperreseneb'. New Readings of British Museum EA 5645, and
an Unpublished Ostracon', JEA 83 (1997), 55-68.
In 'The Text of Khakheperreseneb: New Readings of British Museum EA 5645, and an
Unpublished Ostracon', JEA 83 (1997), 55-68, R. B. Parkinson published an ostracon in
Cairo from a photograph and transcription in A. H. Gardiner's papers in the Griffith Institute.
At that time it was not possible to confirm its location in any more detail, but thanks to R. J.
Demaree, it can now be identified as Cairo JdE 50249 (= Special Register 1233 1). In the
Journal d'Entree, the provenance is tentatively given as 'Dahshur (?)'.
R. B. Parkinson and R. J. Demaree
of grapes and a thyrsos, flanked by satyrs and accompanied by Pan. The god's facial features are close to those on
the stele discussed here.
36 Seaford, Dionysos, 43. A Dionyseion is known from Oxyrhynchus, P. Oxy VI 908, 8: B. P. Grenfell and A. S.
Hunt, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, VI (nos 845-1000) (EES GRM 9; London, 1908), 255-6; J. Whitehorne, 'The
Pagan Cults of Roman Oxyrhynchus', in W. Haase (ed.), Aufstieg und Niedergang der romischen Welt: Geschichte
und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der neueren Forschung, II 18/5 (Berlin, 1995), 3066; P. J. Parsons, City of the Sharpnosed Fish: Greek Lives in Roman Egypt (London, 2007), 49. See ibid., 156 for the fifth-century poem Dionysiaka
by Nonnos of Panopolis, which, with much snake imagery, describes the Indian expedition of the god.
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