Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art
In Egyptian art, one symbol could represent both a trait and its opposite. The hippopotamus could represent great danger and chaos or, alternatively, fertility and protection in childbirth. The statuette of a male hippopotamus could represent the god Seth, who embodied danger, chaos, and disorder in the world. Yet the rare limestone statuette of hippopotami mating perhaps served as a symbol that preserved the fertility of the earth. And a necklace consisting of images of the female hippopotamus goddess Taweret could protect a woman in labor.
Dynasty 26, or later
Late Period to Ptolemaic Period
5 1/2 x 3 3/4 x 11 1/2 in. (14 x 9.5 x 29.2 cm) (show scale)
Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund
Compact limestone (?) sculpture of two crocodiles enclosed in one body (?). Heads worked on great detail, body undecorated. Meaning unknown. Possible representation of the goddess Tanent.
Condition: Good; one side of body has extensive black stains. Other side of body is considerably weathered, apparently by vegetal growth during burial. Minor chips on various parts of head. Very fine workmanship.
This item is not on view
Mating Hippopotami, 664-30 B.C.E. Limestone, 5 1/2 x 3 3/4 x 11 1/2 in. (14 x 9.5 x 29.2 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.262. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum (Gavin Ashworth,er), 36.262_Gavin_Ashworth_photograph.jpg)
overall, 36.262_Gavin_Ashworth_photograph.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph (Gavin Ashworth, photographer), 2012
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Are these hippos copulating? Is copulation an Egyptian word?
They are! Fertility, birth, and rebirth were very important concepts in ancient Egypt. Hippos are extremely protective of their young, so their are often associated with fertility and childbirth.
Great question: "copulation" does sound Egyptian doesn't it? I believe the root of the word is actually Latin.
Looking at that sculpture the first time, I was surprised to see the bumps on the hippo's snout. This is a detail that only people very familiar with the animal would have thought to include!
Wow wow wow! They must have really known the animals.
Yes! And respected them greatly! The hippo was one of the most dangerous animals in Egypt. They were wise to be watchful of them!