Thursday, 16 April 2015

Hatshepsut, drunkenness, sexuality and faience balls

I've just come across Betsy Bryan's uploaded paper here (Bryan 2014). I had heard about her work, but shame on me, I never read her paper. And it is worth a read.

Anyway, within it (on page 110), I saw a faience ball which looks remarkably similar to three faience balls which we have in the Egypt Centre. To the right is a picture of ours and click here for more information on them.

Betsy interestingly suggests that faience balls like this might have been associated with the ritual of 'striking the balls' which is illustrated on the Deir el-Bahri Hathor Chapel of Hatshepsut and is associated with the Festival of Drunkenness. Here is a picture of it, on the right, from Naville's 1901 publication. The balls represent the eyes of the enemies of the sun-god, these could represent the aggressive or vengeful aspects of the Eye of Re himself. In certain ancient Egyptian myths the Eye of Re is sent out by the sun-god to destroy human kind. The god changes his mind and the Eye needs to be destroyed or placated. The first written example of this myth, The Return of the Distant One occurs on one of the four golden shrines of Tutankhamun where it is called The Destruction of Mankind. Once Hathor is placated she revives her father through her sexuality.

While the balls can of course not be proven to be associated with such rites they do seem to have had some votive purpose and were associated with Hathor (references from the Egypt Centre web site link here)


As well as the myth of The Return of the Distant One, alcohol and music played important parts in the festivals of drunkenness, as well as young women taking on the guise of Hathor. I have wondered if these young women are the adolescent but unmarried daughters of the tomb owner (nfrwt) and whether one of the items we have in the Centre relates to this, our Amarna lute player ring bezel, pictured here on the left (Graves-Brown 2014). More information on this item can be found here. This would mean that objects such as this were ritual rather than purely sensual.

One might ask why the nfrt, the adolescent, unmarried daughter was considered particularly powerful. There is evidence that women were considered to have a dual nature, mirroring the goddess Hathor, and that female sexuality was considered dangerous and in need of taming. For a bit more on this see a previous blog and Kasia Szpakowska's comments on it.  Xekalaki (2007: 48–49) discusses the taming of the daughter through sexual activity and motherhood. This idea is given support from a passage from the Instructions of Ani urging a man to take a wife and teach her to be a ‘human’, thus implying that women were only considered fully adult once they had married (Toivari-Viitala 2001: 52–53). Adolescence is a liminal time, and cross-culturally, the liminal is considered perilous.

This might explain the presence of semi-clothed young women in tombs, they were mirroring the revivication role of Hathor. Indeed, a similar idea is suggested for New Kingdom royal daughters by O'Connor (2010). The daughter appears to revive the father through inebriation and music, and in The Return of the Distant One Hathor is appeased through music and drunkenness and in her turn revives her father through sexuality. The festivals depicted on tomb walls seem most likely to have been amalgamations of several festivals in which the deceased would wish to partake, (Harrington 2010/14), though the Hathorian daughterhood and revivication through her sexuality could be vital.





So thank you to Betsy for food for thought, and as usual some speculation.




Bryan, B.M. 2014. Hatshepsut and Cultic Revelries in the New Kingdom, In eds. Galán, J.M., Bryan, B.M. and Dorman, P.F. Creativity and Innovation in the Reign of Hatshepsut. Occasional Papers of the Theban Worshop. 2010. Chicago, 93–125.

Graves-Brown, C.A. 2014. A Gazelle, A Lute Player and Bes. Three Ring Bezels from Amarna.In ed. Dodson, A., Johnston, J.J. and Monkhouse, W. A Good Scribe and an Exceedingly Wise Man. Studies in Honour of W.J. Tait. London: Golden House, 113–126.

Harrington, N. 2010; 2014/in press 18th Dynasty banquet scenes: ideals and realities, In C. Draycott (ed.), Dining and death: interdisciplinary perspectives on the "funerary banquet" in art, burial and belief, Leuven, Paris. A copy of the unpublished paper can be downloaded from: https://usyd.academia.edu/NicolaHarrington/Papers (accessed Dec 2013).

Naville, É, 1901. The Temple of Deir el Bahri Part IV. The Shrine of Hathor and the Southern Hall of Offerings. London: Egypt Exploration Society. Pl. 100.



O’Connor, D. 2010. The King’s Palace at Malkata and the Purpose of the Royal Harem,  In eds. Z. Hawass, Z. and J. H. Wegner, Millions of Jubilees. Studies in Honor of David P. Silverman, Vol 2. Cairo, 55–80.


Toivari–Viitala, J. 2001. Women at Deir el–Medina. A Study of the Status and Roles of the Female Inhabitants in the Workmen's Community During the Ramesside Period, Leiden.


Xekalaki, G. (2007) Symbolism in the Representation of Royal Children in the New Kingdom. PhD, University of Liverpool.

1 comment:

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