The Goddess Hathor and the women of ancient Egypt

Basson, Danielle (2012-03)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2012.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: In studying ancient Egypt researchers have a great advantage, in that there is a multitude of recorded material to draw from. Unfortunately for anyone interested in studying ancient Egyptian women, the recorded material was most often recorded by, commissioned by, and concerned with, men; royal or high-ranking men to be precise (Robins, 1993: 11-12). Thus, we must look into non-textual artefacts and offerings which may have a symbolic meaning. Though, the textual sources should not be neglected, since these may hold clues to the position and perception of women in society: perceptions held by men. This thesis has drawn largely on art and artefacts to investigate the relationship between women in ancient Egypt and the goddess Hathor. Women are traditionally the mothers, caretakers and homemakers of society. But they are not only that. Women are also individuals, capable of individual thought, feelings, anxieties, hopes and dreams; and like their male counterparts, women also experience religion. But, as was clearly displayed in the thesis, Egyptian women not only experienced religion, they lived religion. In the ancient Egyptian context there was no escaping religion. It must also be understood that the ancient Egyptians thought that the man was the seat of creation and that semen was the essence of creation (according to the cosmogony of Heliopolis, cf. Cooney, 2008: 2). A failure to conceive would be placed directly upon the shoulders of the woman, and could be grounds enough for divorce (Robins, 1993: 63). Women in ancient societies served the main function of child-rearing. This may seem backward, but it was an essential function, without which society would cease to function. When a woman failed to conceive, she in essence failed her function as a woman; many women (and men) in this situation turned to religion. This is where this thesis topic comes into play, since Hathor was a goddess of sexuality and fertility, but also had aspects of safeguarding and caretaking. Women were naturally drawn to her and she developed a large cult following, with cult centres scattered throughout Egypt. Not only were many of her followers female, but her priests were also female (Gillam, 1995: 211-212). Hathor might have been the most relatable of the goddesses because of her dual-nature; she is a caretaker and sexual being, but she can also become fierce and even bloodthirsty. Devotion to Hathor was widespread, with cult centres at Deir el-Bahari, Faras, Mirgissa, Serabit el-Khadim, Timna, Gebel Zeit and elsewhere, each with its own large deposit of votive offerings (Pinch, 1993). Hathor is also referenced in letters between females in a family, as one daughter writes to her mother: “May Hathor gladden you for my sake” (Wente, 1990: 63). It is because of this that this thesis investigated to what an extent ancient Egyptian women had a relationship with her.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: In die ondersoek van ou Egipte, het navorsers `n groot voordeel, deurdat daar `n groot verskeidenheid bronne beskikbaar is om mee te werk. Ongelukkig, vir enigeen wat daarin geïnteresseerd is om die antieke Egiptiese vrou na te vors, is die meerderheid van die bronne deur mans opgeteken, of in opdrag van hulle, en het ook betrekking op mans; koninklike of hooggeplaaste mans, om meer spesifiek te wees (Robins, 1993: 11-12). Daarom, moet ons ook ongeskrewe artefakte en offerandes bestudeer, wat moontlik simboliese betekenisse kan inhou. Dit beteken egter nie dat ons wel geskrewe bronne moet ignoreer nie, aangesien dit tog leidrade oor die posisie van vroue in die samelewing en hoe hulle deur mans beskou is, kan verskaf. Hierdie tesis het grootliks gebruik maak van kuns en artefakte om die verhouding tussen die vroue van antieke Egipte en die godin Hathor na te vors. Volgens tradisie, is vrouens die moeders, oppassers en tuisteskeppers van `n gemeenskap, maar hulle is nie net dit nie. Vroue is ook individue, in staat tot hul eie gedagtes, gevoelens, vrese, hoop en drome; en nes hul manlike eweknieë, kan vroue ook geloof ervaar. Maar, soos duidelik in die tesis uiteengesit is, het Egiptiese vroue nie net geloof ervaar nie, maar geloof geleef. In die antieke Egiptiese konteks was geloof onontkombaar. Die leser moet ook verstaan dat die antieke Egiptenare geglo het dat die man die skeppingsbron was and dat semen die kern van die skepping was (volgens die Heliopolis Kosmogonie, vgl. Cooney, 2008: 2). Indien „n egpaar probleme ondervind het om swanger te raak, het die blaam direk op die vrou se skouers gerus en was ook `n aanvaarde rede vir egskeiding (Robins, 1993: 63). Vroue in antieke gemeenskappe het hoofsaaklik gedien om kinders groot te maak. Dit mag dalk “agterlik” voorkom, maar dit was `n essensiële rol, waarsonder die gemeenskap nie sou kon funksioneer nie. Indien `n vrou nie kon swanger word nie, het sy in essensie in haar doel as `n vrou misluk; daarom het baie vroue (en mans) in hierdie situasie hulle na godsdiens gekeer. Dit is hier waar hierdie tesis aansluit, aangesien Hathor `n godin van seksualiteit en vrugbaarheid was, maar ook aspekte van beskerming en versorging gehad het. Vroue was natuurlik tot haar aangetrokke, `n groot gevolg het om haar kultus versamel en kultus-sentrums het deur Egipte versprei. Nie net was haar navolgers vroulik nie, maar ook haar priesters was vroulik (Gillam, 1995: 211-212). Hathor was moontlik die godin waarmee die mense die maklikste kon identifiseer, omdat sy `n tweeledige natuur gehad het; sy was `n versorger en `n seksuele wese, maar sy kon ook kwaai en bloeddorstig raak. Die aanbidding van Hathor was wydverspreid, met kultus-sentrums by Deir el-Bahari, Faras, Mirgissa, Serabit el-Khadim, Timna, Gebel Zeit en elders, elk met sy eie groot versameling artefakte (Pinch, 1993). Hathor word ook benoem in briewe tussen vroulike familielede, soos een dogter aan haar moeder skryf: “Mag Hathor jou bly maak vir my onthalwe” (Wente, 1990: 63). Dit is hoekom hierdie tesis nagevors het tot wat `n mate daar `n verhouding tussen antieke Egiptiese vroue en Hathor bestaan het.

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