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Harpocrates and Other Child Deities in Ancient Egyptian Sculpture

Source: Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, Vol. 14 (1977), pp. 55-58
Published by: American Research Center in Egypt
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40000367
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Harpocratesand Other Child Deities in

Ancient Egyptian Sculpture
EmmaSwan Hall
Harpocrates is the Greek transliteration of Hr-fi-hrd, the Egyptian deity referred to in the
Pyramid Texts as "Horus-the-Childwith his finger in his mouth."1 According to Plutarch, he was
"prematurely delivered and weak in his lower limbs/'2 Not only does he represent "the first rays of
the rising sun/' but in general he is "equal to the sun god: . . .who lightens everything and with
his own power shines through all the world/ '3 He wears a uraeus or a crown or both; he is the king.
Before describing Harpocrates' appearance, it might put him in better perspective to mention
some of the other child deities in ancient Egypt. There is, for example, Khonsu (pl. XXIV: i),
"a moon god, who was early brought into Theban mythology as the son of Amun and Mut."4
Ramesses III built a temple for him at Karnak, west of the Xth Pylon. He is referredto as Khonsthe-Magnanimousand Khons-the-Contriver-in-Thebes.5During the reign of Ramesses II, he was
said to have driven out a spirit which had taken possession of the Princess of Bakhaan, a sister
of the king's Hittite wife.6 He is a healer.7
Then there is Nefertem (pl. XXIV: 2), son of Ptah and Sakhmet of Memphis. He is represented,
often in bronze and occasionally in silver, crouched on a lotus blossom, wearing a lotus crown, or,
as here, the triple atef.8
There are other child deities for other cities in Egypt. Harsomtus,9 or Ihy of Dendera10and
Edfu, was perhaps the son of Horus and Hathor (pl. XXV: 1). He strides in the nude, and, instead
of holding a finger to his lips, he holds his right hand outstretched with a sistrum or Hathor-rattle
in it. According to what little is known of him, he represented the royal foetus.11
Combinations of child deities in different parts of Egypt were important at different times. In
Tutankhamen'stomb at Thebes, apart from the statuette shown here of Ihy, the young king appears
with shaved head on a lotus flower,lla as well as full length, with side-lock, swathed in a cloak and
standing with his feet together, like the god Ptah.lll) These representations of Tutankhamen as a
child deity have perhaps to do with his becoming king at an early age.
In the Old Kingdom innumerable sculptures of important but non-royal personages are accompanied by a wife and child. The nude boy with side-lock and finger to his mouth stands beside
his parents.110He has all the attributes of Harpocratesbut the essential signs of royalty: the uraeus
or the crown.
On the other hand, from Dynasty VI, an alabaster sculpture of Pepy II, whose long reign began
at a young age, shows him sitting on his mother's lap (pl. XXIV: 3). And indeed, in front of the
nemesor wig-cloth, he wears a uraeus. This is a unique representationof the royal mother with her
son, and they are not identified with Isis and Horus, nor in fact are any representationsof these
deities shown together in the Old Kingdom. Other examples exist from the Old and MiddleKingdom
of mothers or nurses with children on their laps, but it is not until the Ptolemaic Period that they
are deified.



A second alabaster statuette of Pepy II (pl. XXV: 2), found in his pyramid at Saqqara,12shows
him, still as a child, sitting in the nude with his knees drawn up and, now missing, a finger to his
mouth. He wears a cap with uraeus over his shaven head.13There is a strong presumption that
in this example he represents Harpocrates.14
In Dynasty XVIII, a young king, often described as Amenhotep III,15 but just as likely to be
Tutankhamen,16squats in the same position on a gold amulet (pl. XXV 14). It is "the pose of the
newly-born sun-god arising from the waters of chaos on a lotus flower."17The image is comparable
to that of Pepy II, except that the King wears the Blue Crown, a necklace of colored beads, and
holds the royal flail and crook in his right hand. His left hand is extended flat on his left knee.
Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) adopts the same pose on faience amulets.18It is almost certain that
this child represents the Aton, the sun disk, whose sole worship the King promoted.
From the reign of Ramesses II (pl. XXV 13), the sculpture of a lifesize child wearing a side-lock,
with the moon on his head, like Khonsu (pl. XXIV :i), crouches at the feet of Horus, the hawk.
The imagery is peculiarly jumbled: Horus, the grown god, is father to Horus (or is it Khonsu?)
the child. In fact, the sculpture of the child with the long side-lock, holding a sw sign, forms a
rebus which spells out R^-ms-swor Ramesses.19
The influence of Harpocrates was felt primarily in Hellenistic Egypt, particularly in Alexandria,
from 332 B.C.to around a.d. 300. Let us look at him again. We know Harpocratesbest as a striding
or standing nude boy with a side-lock of hair, sometimes braided, holding a finger to his lips.
Royalty is indicated by what he wears on his head, either a cap with uraeus (pl. XXVI :1), a Double
Crown (pl. XXVI: 2),20or the triple atef, the hemhem21
(pl. XXIV: 2). Horus may sit on his mother's
arms, or he sits on a throne with Isis behind
lap (pl.
up, holding
him, enfolding him with her wings.22We have also seen him squatting on the ground or on a
Another manifestation, developed in Dynasty XXVI,23 on tablets called Horus cippi, or small
stelae, is known as Horus-on-the-Crocodiles(pl. XXVII: 2). He protects the owner of the cippus
from illness. He usually stands on two crocodiles, holding lions or other wild animals in his hands.
He himself appears in high relief and faces forward. He is now Horus-the-Childwho is, like Khonsu,
a healer. The stela is covered with magical inscriptions.24On the one shown here he is even named
"Horus, the Savior."25
Before continuing with later examples of Horus-the-Child,we should distinguish him from his
adult aspect as the great hawk god Horus. The grown Horus, one of the most worshipped deities of
Dynastic Egypt, is shown either as a hawk (pl. XXV: 3), as a man with a hawk head, or over
doorways in temples and tombs as a pair of protective outstretched wings with the sun disk between
them. The Ptolemaic temple of Edfu in Upper Egypt was dedicated to him. There he was called
the son of Nut and Geb, brother of Osiris, the firstborn of Geb, "Horus, the elder/'26 It must have
been the adult deity, not the child, who found and put together the dispersed pieces of his father
(called here his brother) Osiris' body. It must have been he, too, who was in constant combat with
his brother Seth. As Horus-the-Child,when attended, appears only in the company of his mother,
he might almost have been of virgin birth, in fact he almost was.27He is not described, either, as
having a brother. In sculpture at least he represents a divergent tradition.
The cults of Harpocrates, "which found meagre favour in Ptolemaic times, expanded considerably in the Imperial period, involving fusions with the ram of Mendes, the ithyphallic Min, the
crocodile-god Sebek, and with Hercules."28
Judging from the fine bronze statuettes of Harpocrates attributed to the Ptolemaic Period,
he was favored by "the very rich."29One of the best of these examples is in The Cleveland Museum
(pl. XXVII: 1). He holds a cornucopia,as if he were a god of plenty, dispensinglargesse. Mr.Cooney



has said, in his comprehensive article on 'The Dutiful Son," that the popularity of Harpocrates
spread abroad. Another bronze boy, dating to the second century B.C., wears a cap with
uraeus (pl. XXVI: i). The statuette, which bears Phoenician and Egyptian inscriptions around
the base, showing that it was made for a foreigner, was found in "Phoenicia" (Lebanon). Two
more examples have been found in Afghanistan. One is a bronze,30the other is made from a kind
of gray black steatite, "frequently used for small sculpture in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt,"31
but not very often for statuettes of Harpocrates. This unique example (pl. XXVIII:4), holding
a cornucopia, stands in a modified S-position, with the weight on one leg. The head is flat on top,
with a hole in the center, to hold a metal crown. As for the modeling of the head, the unfamiliar
facial structure, the stringy, almost unrecognisable side-lock, together with the curious striations
curving around the left shoulder to suggest drapery, the statuette might almost have been made,
not from a model but from a verbal description. An example from Taxila, Pakistan is well known.32
The bronze' statuette shows Harpocrates fully clad in a long gown slipping off one shoulder,with
a flowing side-lock, and a tiny Double Crown. If Alexandria was the source of origin for these
small stray figures, which seems likely enough for the bronzes, they traveled a long way.
Terra cottas of Harpocrates, formed in molds and presumably used as votive offerings, were
plentiful in Alexandria during the Roman Period. By comparisonwith the elegant bronze examples,
they seem extremely crude.They are also more varied in design. We can see that by now Harpocrates
may well have become "the favorite god of the home and of the lower classes."33Since Harpocrates
is so often shown riding on an animal: a goose (pl. XXVIII: 2), a horse (pl. XXVIII: 1), or simply
sitting down, like a fat baby (pl. XXVIII: 3), the emphasis has shifted from the striding boy to
the child, "weak in his lower limbs."
Two marble statues of Harpocrates suggest by their size that they were made for public places.
One was found at Hadrian's villa near Rome, the other at Ras es-Soda outside of Alexandria.
Both show the same figure with a finger to his lips. But by this time his origins have been so far
forgotten that he is called "the god of silence."34The rose is associated with him "and thus became a symbol of secrecy and silence. . . . "35The oversize Roman example stands about six feet
tall (pl. XXIX :i-2). The diminutive Double Crown is shown in cross-section, like an onion cut
in half. What was once a side-lock, as also in the Cleveland bronze, is now a topknot tied with
a ribbon. He holds a small cornucopia. His position barely hints at the S-curve, derived from Greek
sculpture, of the Cleveland and Brooklyn examples, and his huge feet are not those of a child but
of a man.
The Alexandria statue does not look royal (pl. XXIX: 3, 4), but that is because part of the top
of the head and the crown are missing.36Standing with a cloth draped over one arm, he looks
exhausted. He has no side-lock and no uraeus. Nothing but the nudity and the finger to his lips
identify him as the beloved child. He might be just a weary youth saying "Ssh!"
We have described child deities, differentiated more by place of worship than by special characteristics. We have mentioned types of child sculpture in ancient Egypt and distinguished between
Horus in his earlier and more truly Egyptian aspect as a man and in his later more popular aspects
as a boy. We have concentrated chiefly on Hellenistic representationsof Harpocrates. By studying
him in various forms, we have seen him as an object of worship, a fertility symbol, a curer of
ills. In this brief sketch, at the period when Harpocrates was most highlyj regarded, we find a
once great civilisation in decline, renewing itself through the worship of an image growing ever
younger and more human. If "the wholly beautiful child"37does not represent a retreat into the
past, may he not give the expectation of a future? "In my end is my beginning."
New York, N.Y.



1 Pyramid Texts, 663-64.

2 J. Gwyn Griffiths, Plutarch'sde Iside et Osiride
(Cardiff,Wales, 1970), 147.
3 A. M. El-Khachab, "Some Gem-Amulets Depicting HarpocratesSeated on a Lotus Flower," JEA 57
(i97i)> 133.
4 H. te Velde, "Some Remarks on the Structure
of Egyptian Divine Triads,"JEA 57 (1971), 80-86.
5 S. Sauneron, "Khons," Dictionary of Egyptian
Civilization (New York, 1958), 143; G. Posener,
"Khonsu," Annuaire du Collegede France 65 (1965),
342-43; 66 (1966), 339-42> 67 (1967), 345-49; 68
(1968), 401-07; 69 (1969), 375-79; 7 (I97)>391-96.
6 T. G. H. James, Myths and Legendsof Ancient
Egypt (London, 1969), i36ff.
7 J. Vandier, La religionigyptienne,2nd ed. (Paris,
1949), 223.
8 S. Morenzand J. Schubert,Der Gottauf derBlume
(Ascona, 1954), 64-68.
9 A. H. Gardiner,"A Bronze Statuette of the God
Somtow," Miscellanea Gregoriana (Vatican, 1941),
10F. Daumas, Les Mammisis de Dendara (Cairo,
1959), passim) cf. te Velde, op. cit.y83.
lla Toutenkhamenet son temps(Paris, 1967),no. 37,
p. 172.
llb C. Desroches-Noblecourt, Tutankhamen(London, 1963), frontispiece.
nc E.g. W. Wolf, Die Kunst Agyptens (Stuttgart,
J957)>ngs- I3> i512G. Jequier, Le monumentfuniraire de Pepi II, 3
(Cairo,1940), pl. 49.
13J. Vandier, Manuel d'archdologie
igyptienne, III
XIII (1976),
(Paris, 1958),
64, n. 17.
14W. S. Smith, A History of Egyptian Sculpture
and Painting in the Old Kingdom(Boston, 1949), 84.
15Desroches-Noblecourt,op. cit., 23, pl. Ill-a.
16I. E. S. Edwards, The Treasuresof Tutankhamun
(New York, 1972), fig. 46; idem, Treasuresof Tutankhamun (New York, 1976), 152, pl. 16.
17C. Aldred, Akhenaten(London,1968), 161.
18W. C. Hayes, The Scepter of Egypt, II (Cambridge, Mass., 1959), 290-91.
19P. Montet, "Les statues de Ramses II a Tanis,"
Milanges Maspero, I = MIFAO 66, 2 (1935-38),

501, pl. II; B. Letellier, "Groupe colossal du dieu

Houroun et de Ramses II," Ramses le Grand (Paris,
1976), 5-10, 6 plates.
20A. Dobrovitz, "Harpocrates,Problemeder agyptischen Plastik," Jubilee Volumein Honor of Edward
Mahler (Budapest, 1937), 72-122.
21E. Laskowska-Kusztal,"Deux aspects du culte
du Dieu-Enfant dans l'Egypte ptolemaique et romaine," Etudes et Travaux, VIII (Warsaw, 1975),
22Tram Tarn Tinh, I sis Lactans (Leiden, 1973),
23F. Chabas, "Horus sur les crocodiles," Bibliothbqueigyptologique(Paris, 1905), 9-22.
24H. Jacquet-Gordon,"Two Stelae of Horus-onthe-Crocodiles," Brooklyn Museum Annual, VII
(1965-66), 53-64.
25N. E. Scott, "The MetternichStela," Metropolitan
MuseumBulletin, IX, 8 (April, 1951), 53-64.
26H. S. K. Bakry, "A Stela of Horus Standing
on Crocodilesfrom the Middle Delta," Rivista degli
studi orientali,42 (Rome, 1967), 17.
27Griffiths, op. cit., 147; H. Frankfort, Kingship
and the Gods (Chicagoand London, 1948), 40.
28Griffiths,op. cit., 43-44.
29J. D. Cooney, "Harpocrates,the Dutiful Son,"
Bulletin of the ClevelandMuseumof Art 59, 10 (Dec,
1972), 284-90.
30B. Rowland, AncientArt fromAfghanistan(New
York, 1966), fig. 10.
31K. Parlasca, "An Harpocrates Statuette from
Afghanistan,"Miscellanea Willbouriana2 (Brooklyn,
32J. Marshall, A Guide to Taxila (Cambridge,
i960), 76, pl. V.
33S. A. B. Mercer,Horus, the Royal God of Egypt
(Chicago,1942), 130.
34B. Rowland, op. cit., 34.
35R. Folkord, Jr. Plant Lore, Legends and Lyrics
(London, 1884), 518. For this reference, I wrishto
thank Mr. Frank J. Anderson (New York Botanical
Garden),a specialist in the pre-Linnaeanliterature.
36A. Adriani, Repertorio d'arte dell'Egitto grecoromano,II (Palermo, 1961), 39.
37G. A. D. Tait, "The Egyptian Relief Chalice,"
JEA 49 (1963), 134-35-




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2. CrouchingPepy II. Alabaster.

Cairo JE 50616. Ht. 16 cm.
Brooklyn MuseumPhotograph.

3. CrouchingRamesses II
below Horus. Black granite.
Cairo JE 64735.
Brooklyn MuseumPhotograph.

i. Striding Ihy, with

sistrum. Wood, tarred
and gilded. CairoT.996.
Ht. 62 cm.
(Toutenkhamonet son
temps[Paris, 1967], 173)

4. CrouchingTutankhamen.Gold.
Cairo.Ht. 5 cm. (Edwards,
Treasuresof Tutankhamun
[New York, 1972], fig. 46). L-732-19.




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i. Standing Harpocrates.Bronze.
Cleveland 72.6. Ht. 27 cm. Courtesyof
The ClevelandMuseumof Art: Purchase
from the J. H. Wade Fund.

jarce xiv

2. Horus-on-the-Crocodiles.
The MetropolitanMuseumof Art; Purchase,
Fletcher Fund, 1950.


i. Harpocratesriding a horse.
Terra cotta (Breccia,Mon. de VEgypte
Greco-Romaine,I [1926], pl. 35,3).

3. Harpocratesreclining. Terra cotta.

(Breccia,Mon. de VEgypte
I [1926], pl. 35,8).


2. Harpocratesriding a goose.
Terra cotta. (Breccia,Mon. de VEgypte
Greco-RomaineI [1926] pl. 35,2).

4. Standing Harpocrates.
Steatite. Brooklyn 71.41.
Courtesyof the Brooklyn


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