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Scene from a Magical Papyrus

Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art

On View: 19th Dynasty to Roman Period, Martha A. and Robert S. Rubin Gallery, 3rd Floor

The standing winged creature seen here is known as the nineheaded Bes figure, a divine protector of the birth of the king and of the sun. This form of Bes was closely associated with the evening and the night part of the solar cycle. He thus also played an important role as guardian of sleeping women and children, particularly against the dangers of the night, represented here by the noxious creatures contained in the oval upon which he stands. The firebrands that surround him represent destructive forces directed at anyone who approaches.

MEDIUM Papyrus, ink
  • Possible Place Made: Elephantine, Egypt
  • DATES 664-525 B.C.E.
    PERIOD Late Period, Saite Period
    DIMENSIONS Overall: 4 15/16 × 92 11/16 in. (12.5 × 235.5 cm) a: Glass: 7 1/2 x 26 3/8 in. (19 x 67 cm) a: Object: 4 7/8 x 23 1/4 in. (12.4 x 59 cm) b: Frame: 7 1/16 x 32 1/2 in. (18 x 82.5 cm) b: Object: 4 1/2 x 30 3/16 in. (11.5 x 76.7 cm) c: Frame: 8 7/8 x 34 1/16 in. (22.6 x 86.5 cm) c: Object: 29 15/16 x 4 7/8 in. (76.1 x 12.4 cm) d: Glass: 8 1/16
    ACCESSION NUMBER 47.218.156a-d
    CREDIT LINE Bequest of Theodora Wilbour from the collection of her father, Charles Edwin Wilbour
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Papyrus inscribed in Hieratic, red and black, with magical text. Two vignettes of Atum as serpent deity standing before composite deity. 5 extant columns of text: column 1 is fragmentary at the bottom and has 6 lines of text; column 2 has 9 lines of text; column 3 has eight lines of text; column 4 has 9 lines of text; column 5 has 8 lines of text. Illustrated magical texts with spells against snakes and scorpions that was apparently made for the protection of the women and children at night. In addition, there are two vignettes, the first found between cols. 2 and 3, the second at the end of the papyrus, just after col.5.
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