Bes

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For other uses, see BES (disambiguation).
Bes
Fortune, fertility, the arts and dwarfs
IAM 3317T - Statue of Bes.jpg
Bes statue from Amanthus (Cyprus) in the Istanbul Archaeological Museums
Major cult center New Kingdom
Symbol Ostrich feather

Bes (/bɛs/; also spelled as Bisu) is an Ancient Egyptian deity worshipped as a protector of households, and in particular, of mothers and children and childbirth. Bes later came to be regarded as the defender of everything good and the enemy of all that is bad. While past studies identified Bes as a Middle Kingdom import from Nubia, more recent research indicates that he was present in Egypt since the start of Old Kingdom. Mentions of Bes can be traced to pre-dynastic Nile Valley cultures; however his cult did not become widespread until the beginning of the New Kingdom.

Bes relief at the Dendera Temple, Egypt
Bes statue from Egypt in the Musée du Louvre, Paris

Iconography[edit]

Modern scholars such as James Romano claim that in its earliest inceptions, Bes was a representation of a lion rearing up on its hind legs.[1] After the Third Intermediate Period, Bes is often seen as just the head or the face, often worn as amulets.

Dawn Prince-Hughes lists Bes as fitting with other archetypal long-haired Bigfoot-like ape-man figures from ancient Northern Africa, "a squat, bandy-legged figure depicted with fur about his body, a prominent brow, and short, pug nose." [2]

Worship[edit]

Images of the deity were kept in homes and he was depicted quite differently from the other gods. Normally Egyptian gods were shown in profile, but instead Bes appeared in portrait, ithyphallic, and sometimes in a soldier's tunic, so as to appear ready to launch an attack on any approaching evil. He scared away demons from houses, so his statue was put up as a protector.

Bes was a household protector, throughout ancient Egyptian history becoming responsible for such varied tasks as killing snakes, fighting off evil spirits, watching after children, and aiding (by fighting off evil spirits) women in labour (and thus present with Taweret at births).

Since he drove off evil, Bes also came to symbolize the good things in life - music, dance, and sexual pleasure. Later, in the Ptolemaic period of Egyptian history, chambers were constructed, painted with images of Bes and his wife Beset, thought by Egyptologists to have been for the purpose of curing fertility problems or general healing rituals.

Many instances of Bes masks and costumes from the New Kingdom and later have been uncovered. These show considerable wear, thought to be too great for occasional use at festivals, and are therefore thought to have been used by professional performers, or given out for rent.

In the New Kingdom, tattoos of Bes could be found on the thighs of dancers, musicians and servant girls.

Like many Egyptian gods, the worship of Bes was exported overseas, and he, in particular, proved popular with the Phoenicians and the ancient Cypriots.

The cult of Saint Bessus in northern Italy may represent the Christianization of the cult associated with Bes; St. Bessus was also invoked for fertility, and Bessus and Bes are both associated with an ostrich feather in their iconography.[3]

The Balearic island of Ibiza derives its actual name from this God, brought along with the first Phoenician settlers 654 BC. These settlers, amazed at the lack of any sort of venomous creatures on the island thought it to be the island of Bes (<איבשם> ʔybšm *ʔibošim). Later Romans called it Ebusus.

The strange winged creature to the right, standing in front of the serpent in this scene represents several destructive forces, good and bad, inherent in various Egyptian gods. These powers were not normally represented in specific shapes; hence, the unusual being here, like the winged figure in the large stone relief also in this case, is not a single god but a representation of several abstractions. The god Bes was one of the deities associated with this composite being; as a guardian of women and children, he acquired the role of protector of the birth of kings and of the sun, which sprang forth anew each morning from the underworld, where it had been threatened by snakes during the night. The images of the child and the snake on the papyrus reflect these concepts.[4]

Popular culture[edit]

  • In the fictional literary universe of the Secure Contain Protect (SCP) Foundation website there is an entity known as "SCP-208" that is supposed to be Bes.
  • Bes is an important character in the books of the saga The Kane Chronicles, by Rick Riordan.
  • Bes was featured in the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons.[5]

Bibliography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, Wilkinson pub. Thames & Hudson, pg.103 ISBN 0-500-05120-8
  2. ^ Dawn Prince-Hughes, The Archetype of the Ape-man: The Phenomenological Archaeology of a Relic Homind Ancestor, pg. 98
  3. ^ Arduino, Fabio (30 Nov 2006). "San Besso". Santi e Beati. Retrieved December 30, 2008. 
  4. ^ "Papyrus". Retrieved 8 July 2014. 
  5. ^ Moore, Roger (October 1980). "The Day of the Dwarf". Dragon (42). TSR. p. 54-57. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Dasen, Veronique (2013). Dwarfs in Ancient Egypt and Greece. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-199-68086-8