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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Queen Arsinoë - Daughter of Amun - God's wife of Amun

Daughter of Amun

Continuing down the line of Arsinoë’s hieroglyphic titles, today we shall deal with one that places our queen in direct hereditary line with one of the main Egyptian gods, Amun.

Amun-Ra, Karnak

Overall, thirteen Egyptian relief scenes designate Arsinoë as “Daughter of Amun”. This title is always placed as a prefix to the name “Arsinoë”. As such, it is placed above or in front of Arsinoë’s Birth name cartouche. Harvard Art Museum relief of Arsinoë, however, places “Daughter of Amun” within a second cartouche, thus symbolising a Throne name. All scenes illustrate Arsinoë as a beneficiary, although the lintel scene above the Gate of Nectanebo at Karnak shows her simultaneously as a benefactor standing behind Ptolemy II. “Daughter of Amun” is represented in both stelai and temple scenes, limited to the reigns of Ptolemy II and Ptolemy III. The assumption of the title “daughter” in connection with Amun was a clear political and religious statement, which connected Arsinoë with older Egyptian traditions, and with Alexander the great, who was appointed as the son of Zeus-Amun.

Arsinoë, Daughter of Amun, Gate of Nectanebo, Karnak

Gate of Nectanebo, Karnak: double lintel scene
To my knowledge, the title is never recorded in pictorial temple reliefs prior to Arsinoë. It does, however, occur in other artistic media, describing a few previous queens, such as Hatshepsut and the Divine Adoratrices of the 25th and 26th Dynasties. As such, “Daughter of Amun” occurred in variations such as “Daughter of Amun whom he loves” and “Daughter of Amun who is on his throne”.

Scene from the Chapel of Amenirdis at Medinat Habu showing God's wife Shepenwepet with Amenirdis on the divine side

A combination of Arsinoë’s figural position in the Khonsu Temple scene (Karnak), where she is paired with Khonsu, and the current title directly associates her with the most important (local) deity, Amun. Figurally and textually, the scene places Arsinoë and Khonsu as siblings, fathered by Amun. Through his dynastic kinship with Arsinoë, also communicated by additional epithets in Arsinoë’s designation, the scene expresses also Ptolemy II’s divinity (who is depicted as their benefactor). In terms of an active artistic adjustment, and based on the figural arrangement, Ptolemy II becomes an earthly manifestation of Khonsu.

Khonsu Temple, Karnak

Khonsu Temple, Karnak, facing the Gate of Euergetes
The Khonsu Temple scene, accompanied by two scenes on the Gate of Euergetes and the one on the Gate of Nectanebo, is located within the Temple complex of Karnak, the main cult centre of Amun (-Ra). This official designation, “Daughter of Amun”, places Arsinoë in a most prominent socio-religious position, valid for both a queen and goddess.

Gate of Euergetes

The two scenes that date to the reign of Ptolemy III are located in the proximity of the other scenes that describe Arsinoë with this title. The artist suggestively copied already listed designations of Arsinoë when he created the scenes of the Gate of Euergetes nearby. The larger scene expresses the transit of royal power from one generation to the next, and surrounding scenes describe Ptolemy III and Berenice II as the royal heirs. The theoi Adelphoi (sibling gods = Ptolemy II and Arsinoë) are placed on an opposite side from the ruling pharaoh, but they are described with royal titles appropriate for a living couple. Suggestively, the scene expresses a socio-religious sphere where divine and human meet.

Gate of Euergetes: small frieze depicts the theoi Adelphoi
Mid section of the frieze showing the object of veneration
Right side of the frieze showing Ptolemy III and Berenice II as the last couple
This hypothesis is supported by the pictorial structure of the smaller scene (a miniature frieze placed above the main lintel scene), which shows the theoi Adelphoi standing on the very left side behind a long line of deities, and the theoi Euergetai on the right side in an equal, but mirrored, position. The left section is separated from the right by a large solar disc, to which the scene’s totally 46 figures express their praise. The scene is located on the southern face of the southern gate of Karnak (Gate of Euergetes), opening up in full alignment with the Khonsu Temple. The right royal couple has been identified elsewhere as the theoi Soteres (saviour gods = Ptolemy I and Berenice I), but I dispute such an identification based on surrounding pictorial scenes, all of which depict Ptolemy III (occasionally including Berenice II). The socio-religious situation during Ptolemy III is also to consider, since the first Ptolemaic couple was excluded from the official (Alexandrian) eponymous cult and dynastic ancestral worship until the reign of Ptolemy IV. The overall theme of the Gate of Euergetes visualise the transfer of dynastic power, handed over from Ptolemy II and Arsinoë to Ptolemy III and Berenice II. The right royal couple in the minor lintel scene lacks official cultic titles corresponding with the theoi Adelphoi on the left side. In my opinion, the lack of such divine titles alludes to a period of time when the ruling couple attended official crowning ceremonies, and received access to the dynastic power by their divine ancestors and traditional Egyptian deities in order to become the theoi Euergetai (benefactor gods = Ptolemy III and Berenice II). It is more plausible that Ptolemy III and Berenice II chose to be illustrated in person rather than to be excluded in favour of their deceased grandparents. The Gate of Euergetes, constituting the architectural medium of these two scenes, communicates a message of royal continuation of power, and the significance of the inherited divine bloodline. Based on the general theme of the gate, I interpret the smaller lintel scene as a part of the commemoration of Ptolemy III’s and Berenice II’s official deification. Arsinoë’s title, “Daughter of Amun”, verifies a royal divine connection, enabling the ruling couple to link themselves with Arsinoë as her dynastic divine children.

Ptolemy III commemorating his divine parents, Gate of Euergetes, Karnak
As an object of comparison, a statue base (Oriental Institute of Chicago, inv. no. 10518) provides further information about Arsinoë’s title (cf. LdR IV, 241; Urk II, 73). The front section of the base reads ΑΡΣΙΝΟΗΣ ΦΙΛΑΔΕΛΦΟΥ, whereas an hieroglyphic inscription translates as follows (titles that describe Ptolemy (I and II) are placed within brackets):

“Great Bat, Daughter of Amun, God’s wife, Sister of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, (Lord of the Two Lands, Powerful is the soul of Ra, Beloved of Amun,) Daughter of Amun, Arsinoë. Great splendid One, Beloved of Ra, Wife of the king, (son of Ra, Lord of the Crowns, Ptolemy,) Daughter of Amun, Arsinoë. The respected, Beloved of Ptah, Sister of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, (Lord of the Two Lands, Powerful is the soul of Ra, Beloved of Amun,) Daughter of Amun, Arsinoë. The intelligent, Beloved of Thoth, Daughter of the king, (Lord of the Two Lands, Chosen by Ra, Beloved of Amun, Lord of the Crowns, Ptolemy,) Daughter of Amun, Arsinoë. Beloved of Amun-Ra, the Lord of the Throne of the Two Lands, who is on the top of Karnak (?), (Beloved of) Mut, the great Lady of Asheru, (Beloved of) Khonsu-in Thebes-Neferhotep.”

Arsinoë is described as Amun’s daughter five times, combined with “Beloved of Amun-Ra”.  Her connection with other deities, including Thoth, Ptah, Ra, Mut and Khonsu, places her on an equal status with all gods. Arsinoë is furthermore described as the Great Bat, which associates her with the most ancient cow goddess, who eventually merged with Hathor. This syncretism, between Arsinoë and Hathor (Bat), has traditional values and parallels with a designation translating “God’s wife”.

Block fragment, Karnak, showing Arsinoë's name and epithets, including Daughter of Amun

The religious position of God’s wife

The titles “Beloved of Amun”, “Beloved of the ram” (Mendes stele) and “Beloved of (all) the gods” (Pithom stele, BM 1056, BM 1057) are associated with “Daughter of Amun”. They allude to a Hathoric role, referring to a daughter, sister, wife, and mother of the god. The titles correspond to a religious position traditionally referred to as ‘God’s wife (of Amun)’, stressing cultic responsibilities held by a high priestess. Designations that describe the God’s wife were given to living queens, simultaneously linking her with the pharaoh and god, establishing a dynastic legacy.

“God’s Wife” has its cultural roots in a female cultic role that was initially described as “musician priestess”, dating to the 4th Dynasty. Female priestesses were regarded as earthly manifestations of Hathor. Primarily, the queen held the office as high priestess, which associated her with the main deity of the temple. She was appointed personally by the king. As high priestess, the queen unified with the king in his role as high priest, symbolising the unification of the divine essence of dualism. Any given male god could reach out to a priestess, connecting himself with the human world in order to receive daily offerings and perform his tasks. This unification indirectly symbolised the coming together of the earth and sky.

The queen, as high priestess, used titles such as “Wife”, “Protectress”, and “Mother of the God/Divine mother”, initially being epithets and descriptions of Hathor. Arsinoë is described with these titles both during and after her lifetime. A queen became the God’s earthly wife when she assumed the religious position as high priestess. She was synchronised with Hathor as the eye of Ra, as the mother, daughter, wife and sister of the solar deity. As God’s wife, the queen was also regarded a political representative of royal authority, thereby becoming equally powerful as the king. Priestesses worshipped and aroused the god by the application of instruments, chants and dance. They vibrated the menit collar and rattled the sistra in order to evoke the divine spirit. From the New Kingdom the titles of high priestess increased to also include “God’s Hand”, “God’s wife of Amun”, “Divine Adoratrice”, and “Daughter of Amun”, the latter being one of the most common epithets of Arsinoë. (“God’s Hand” symbolised the hand of Atum, who by masturbation gave birth to Shu and Tefnut. The myth describes the hand as a feminine element, Hathor. The title is associated with the sexual role of Hathor, which in turn played an important role in the life of the queens, in securing true heirs to the throne.)

A title of comparison translates “Mistress of Eternity, Lady of the solar disc (=Aten)”, alternatively “Lady of all that the sun disc encircles” (Blackman 1921, 28f.; van Oppen 2007, 5), or “Mistress of the whole circuit of the solar disc” (Troy 1986, 196). This title describes Arsinoë in the lintel scene on the Gate of Nectanebo. It has previously been documented as a title of only three queens, all from the 25th -26th Dynasties: Amenirdis I, Shepenwepet II and Ankhnesneferibre. These three queens were inducted as “God’s wives”. The correlation between Arsinoë and the god’s wives of the Third Intermediate Period/Late Period has been observed elsewhere, but to my knowledge it has not been investigated properly by modern scholars. Interestingly, in the list of titles compiled by Troy (1986), Arsinoë shares nine (identical) official titles with Ankhnesneferibre and 13 with Amenirdis I, to which can be added various additional titles of a similar nature.

God's wife of Amun in the Chapel of Amenirdis, Medinat Habu

Karnak Temple, where Amenirdis became God's wife of Amun
An older Egyptian text describes the initiation of a God’s wife, directly connecting Arsinoë’s title on the Gate of Nectanebo with such a traditional religious role:

“...went into the house of Amun-Ra-Sonther, the prophets, weaeb-priests, lectors – the temple staff of Amun – following her, the great courtiers in front. She did all that was customary at the induction in the Temple of a God’s Adorer of Amun. The scribe of the God’s book and nine weaeb-priests of this temple helped her fastened the amulets and all the ornaments of a God’s wife, the God’s Adorer of Amun. (She was crowned with the double-plumed diadem and) was appointed Mistress of Eternity, Lady of the solar disc (after which her titular was enunciated.) All the customary were done for her as they were initially done for Tefnut.”

The epithet applied for Arsinoë on the Gate of Nectanebo, which is identical to the underlined text above, identifies her with previous queens known as “God’s wife” and “Adorer of the God/Divine Adoratrice”. This text validates the cause for including the double feather plume in the crown of Arsinoë, and, suggestively, “Mistress of Eternity, Lady of the solar disc” may equally confirm the solar disc as a particular in the crown of Arsinoë. As described, the solar disc was mainly an attribute of Ra, placing a “Lady of the solar disc” in a Hathoric personification of a protectress, associating with the earthly role manifested in the priestess, also including Arsinoë. 

Another association with the religious position as God’s wife is demonstrated in an additional title of Arsinoë in the Mendes stele, which describes her as “High priestess of Banebdjedet”. This title determines Arsinoë as an earthly wife of the local ram god of Mendes, i.e., a God’s wife. Arsinoë’s induction to this role was certainly a strong socio-religious claim. Both king and queen gained a stronger and more respectful socio-religious position as they called on the most important roles of Egyptian culture. With Arsinoë in this position, they were able to jointly rule Egypt since the high priestess was considered a representative of the royal power in case the pharaoh was absent. (Compare the political situation during the 25th Dynasty when Amenirdis I “ruled” Upper Egypt in her role as the God’s wife of Amun, cantered in Karnak, while her brother, Shabaka, ruled Lower Egypt with his centre in Memphis.)

Archaeological remains in the ancient city of Mendes

Overview of Mendes during Prof. Redford's excavations
The Mendes stele describes Arsinoë as “She who belongs to the Lord. Traditionally, “Lord” has been interpreted as referring to Ptolemy II. However, I identify “Lord” with Banebdjedet, as the Lord of Mendes, based on Arsinoë’s additional titles and the theme of the scene, throughout associating Arsinoë with the ram god. The sentence “She who belongs to the Lord” is placed in the first section of the main text. This initial part describes the marriage of Ptolemy and Arsinoë, and their time together while Arsinoë was alive. I interpret this title as referring to Arsinoë as a queen alive. Thus, the designation “She who belongs to the Lord” places Arsinoë as God’s wife already during her lifetime. Arsinoë’s role as high priestess, an earthly manifestation of Hathor, is further emphasised in her lower hieroglyphic register, as she states “I protect you in (= wearing) your crown...”. I do not regard this statement to address King Ptolemy II, but as a direct promise to Banebdjedet. With these words, Arsinoë usurped the Hathoric role as protecting her father, brother, son and husband, all manifested in Banebdjedet.

Block fragment at Mendes showing the local ram-god Banebdjedet
Arsinoë is furthermore described as “Beloved of the ram”, comparable to the titles mentioned above. This title strengthens the bonds between the god and his human protectress and wife. It has been concluded elsewhere that when a royal figure is described as beloved of a god, he or she becomes a form of that deity. Such a syncretism relates with Arsinoë’s title in the small (copy) Mendes stele, which describes her with a royal title, a personal name, and the name of Banebdjedet. I interpret her full assumption of his designation as assimilating them as a divine couple with similar characteristics as documented between Hathor and Ra/Horus/Amun. 

Arsinoë’s Hathoric role as God’s wife is underlined also by additional titles listed in the relief scenes, such as “Sweet of love” (Mendes and Pithom stelai, a scene on the Gate of Philadelphos in Philae), “Lady of sweet love” (inner sanctuary Philae), “Lady of loveliness” (Pithom stele), ”Great of sweetness” (Trier stele), “Beautiful in appearance” (Mendes stele), “She who fills the palace with her beauty” (Mendes stele) (compare the title of Arsinoë in the Alexandrian triad, Graeco-Roman Museum, Alexandria, inv. no. 11261: “An appearance more beautiful than the sun and the moon”). All these titles are informatively valuable since they place Arsinoë in a traditional mythological position, which emphasises the relationship between a king and his wife, comparable to Horus and Hathor. The listed titles have a rather erotic nature, since sweetness, beauty, love and fragrance symbolise the female scent. These titles connect Arsinoë with the Holy Wedding, in which the god impregnates the God’s wife to bring forth the next pharaoh. Female scent, the queen’s sweetness, and the priestess’ beauty are all connected with a religious position that was associated with Hathor as the divine eye, the eye of Ra.

Each designation listed above establishes a righteous and respectable position for Arsinoë within a conventional Egyptian society. The divine lineage indicated by the titles strengthened the social positions of any given queen employing them. The role of Arsinoë as a God’s wife (of Amun) can be summarised by the words of Sander-Hansen (1940, 21): “...die Grundlage denn auch vorhanden, da “die Gotteshand”, d.i. Hathor, allgemein als Gemahlin wie als Tochter des Allherrn angesehen wird.”

Note: Troy (1986, 196) translates the word Hnw.t as “lady” (here translated as “mistress”) and nb as “all”, which in this study is translated as “lady” due to its placement within the sentence. Troy (among others) further translates Snw as “encircles”, while I interpret it as Sn “eternity”. The sign Sn can be translated “eternity” or “protection”, and is depicted sometimes held in the claws of a falcon/vulture stretching out its wings protecting the pharaoh. Also, it is depicted in connection with the “reckoning of time-symbolism”. The sign Snw has the circular form of a cartouche, and can be translated “everything that the sun encircles”. Since the Snw-sign in itself can be translated as “everything that the sun encircles” I do not believe that there would be a need to add the nb-sign in the present sentence, especially not when written directly in front of itn – Aton, or the solar disc. Thereby there are two female epithets in the full sentence, “Mistress of Eternity” (or Eternal Mistress) and “Lady of the solar disc”. The general symbolism, however, remain similar.

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