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Horus Stela

Place of production Egypt
Date 2nd century B.C.
Object type religious or cult object
Medium, technique Limestone

26 x 15 x 11 cm

Inventory number 96.1-E
Collection Egyptian Art
On view Museum of Fine Arts, Basement Floor, Ancient Egypt, Daily life

The entire surface of this stela is covered with depictions and inscriptions. The dominant figure in the upper part is a large mask, referring to the god Bes, whose frightful appearance kept away noxious creatures that cause diseases and harm. In the middle register a naked baby-like Horus child is standing on two crocodiles turned towards each other. In each hand he holds two snakes and a scorpion, to which lions and antelopes grabbed by their tails are joined. The crocodiles are standing on two huge serpents. The inscriptions contain magic texts: ‘Hail Horus, descending (from) Osiris, son of the divine Isis! I spoke in your name, I charmed with your charms…’, the ‘charms’ being a reference to the noxious animals: ‘let your mouths be filled in and your throats shrunk …’
According to a legend, when he was a child, Horus was bitten by a scorpion, which made him suffer terribly. At his mother’s supplication, Thot, the god of wisdom and medicine, saved the little boy. The cured child became a ‘saviour’ himself. His power of healing was mediated by the so-called Horus stelae. These stelae were extremely popular in Egypt and hundreds of them have survived from the 1st millennium BC. Pictures and magical formulae were believed to ensure protection for their users against dangerous animals (scorpions, snakes, crocodiles, lions, etc.) that populated the inhabited areas and the desert lands flanking the Nile Valley. Their bites and stings caused intense suffering to people and were often lethal. The recipe for healing was quite simple: water was poured over the whole surface of the stela. The water soaked in the magical power of the depictions and the texts, so it was enough to drink the water that came off the stela and collected in a dish. Small stelae were simply placed in a vessel filled with water.

Text: © Máté Petrik

This record is subject to revision due to ongoing research.

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