The Egyptian god Anubis (a modern rendition inspired by New Kingdom tomb paintings)
|Name in hieroglyphs|
|Major cult center||Lycopolis, Cynopolis|
|Symbol||the fetish, the flail|
|Parents||Nepthys and Set or Osiris (Middle and New kingdom), or Ra only (Old kingdom).|
Anubis (//; Ancient Greek: Ἄνουβις, Egyptian: jnpw, Coptic: ⲁⲛⲟⲩⲡ Anoup) is the Greek name of a god associated with mummification and the afterlife in ancient Egyptian religion, usually depicted as a canine or a man with a canine head. Archeologists have identified Anubis's sacred animal as an Egyptian canid, the African golden wolf.[note 1]
Like many ancient Egyptian deities, Anubis assumed different roles in various contexts. Depicted as a protector of graves as early as the First Dynasty (c. 3100 – c. 2890 BC), Anubis was also an embalmer. By the Middle Kingdom (c. 2055 – 1650 BC) he was replaced by Osiris in his role as lord of the underworld. One of his prominent roles was as a god who ushered souls into the afterlife. He attended the weighing scale during the "Weighing of the Heart," in which it was determined whether a soul would be allowed to enter the realm of the dead. Despite being one of the most ancient and "one of the most frequently depicted and mentioned gods" in the Egyptian pantheon, Anubis played almost no role in Egyptian myths.
Anubis was depicted in black, a color that symbolized regeneration, life, the soil of the Nile River, and the discoloration of the corpse after embalming. Anubis is associated with Wepwawet (also called Upuaut), another Egyptian god portrayed with a dog's head or in canine form, but with grey or white fur. Historians assume that the two figures were eventually combined. Anubis' female counterpart is Anput. His daughter is the serpent goddess Kebechet.
Anubis' name jnpw was possibly pronounced [a.ˈna.pʰa], based on Coptic Anoup and the Akkadian transcription 𒀀𒈾𒉺<a-na-pa> in the name <ri-a-na-pa> "Reanapa" that appears in Amarna letter EA 315. However, this transcription may also be interpreted as rˁ-nfr, a name similar to that of Prince Ranefer of the Fourth Dynasty.
In Egypt's Early Dynastic period (c. 3100 – c. 2686 BC), Anubis was portrayed in full animal form, with a "jackal" head and body. A "jackal" god, probably Anubis, is depicted in stone inscriptions from the reigns of Hor-Aha, Djer, and other pharaohs of the First Dynasty. Since Predynastic Egypt, when the dead were buried in shallow graves, "jackals" had been strongly associated with cemeteries because they were scavengers which uncovered human bodies and ate their flesh. In the spirit of "fighting like with like," a "jackal" was chosen to protect the dead, because "a common problem (and cause of concern) must have been the digging up of bodies, shortly after burial, by jackals and other wild dogs which lived on the margins of the cultivation."
In the Old Kingdom, Anubis was the most important god of the dead. He was replaced in that role by Osiris during the Middle Kingdom (2000–1700 BC). In the Roman era, which started in 30 BC, tomb paintings depict him holding the hand of deceased persons to guide them to Osiris.
The parentage of Anubis varied between myths, times and sources. In early mythology, he was portrayed as a son of Ra. In the Coffin Texts, which were written in the First Intermediate Period (c. 2181–2055 BC), Anubis is the son of either the cow goddess Hesat or the cat-headed Bastet. Another tradition depicted him as the son of Ra and Nephthys. The Greek Plutarch (c. 40–120 AD) stated that Anubis was the illegitimate son of Nephthys and Osiris, but that he was adopted by Osiris's wife Isis:
For when Isis found out that Osiris loved her sister and had relations with her in mistaking her sister for herself, and when she saw a proof of it in the form of a garland of clover that he had left to Nephthys - she was looking for a baby, because Nephthys abandoned it at once after it had been born for fear of Seth; and when Isis found the baby helped by the dogs which with great difficulties lead her there, she raised him and he became her guard and ally by the name of Anubis.
George Hart sees this story as an "attempt to incorporate the independent deity Anubis into the Osirian pantheon." An Egyptian papyrus from the Roman period (30–380 AD) simply called Anubis the "son of Isis."
In the Ptolemaic period (350–30 BC), when Egypt became a Hellenistic kingdom ruled by Greek pharaohs, Anubis was merged with the Greek god Hermes, becoming Hermanubis. The two gods were considered similar because they both guided souls to the afterlife. The center of this cult was in uten-ha/Sa-ka/ Cynopolis, a place whose Greek name means "city of dogs." In Book XI of The Golden Ass by Apuleius, there is evidence that the worship of this god was continued in Rome through at least the 2nd century. Indeed, Hermanubis also appears in the alchemical and hermetical literature of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Although the Greeks and Romans typically scorned Egypt's animal-headed gods as bizarre and primitive (Anubis was mockingly called "Barker" by the Greeks), Anubis was sometimes associated with Sirius in the heavens and Cerberus and Hades in the underworld. In his dialogues, Plato often has Socrates utter oaths "by the dog" (kai me ton kuna), "by the dog of Egypt", and "by the dog, the god of the Egyptians", both for emphasis and to appeal to Anubis as an arbiter of truth in the underworld.
Protector of tombs
In contrast to real wolves, Anubis was a protector of graves and cemeteries. Several epithets attached to his name in Egyptian texts and inscriptions referred to that role. Khenty-imentiu, which means "foremost of the westerners" and later became the name of a different wolf god, alluded to his protecting function because the dead were usually buried on the west bank of the Nile. He took other names in connection with his funerary role, such as tpy-ḏw.f "He who is upon his mountain" (i.e. keeping guard over tombs from above) and nb-t3-ḏsr "Lord of the sacred land", which designates him as a god of the desert necropolis.
The Jumilhac papyrus recounts another tale where Anubis protected the body of Osiris from Set. Set attempted to attack the body of Osiris by transforming himself into a leopard. Anubis stopped and subdued Set, however, and he branded Set's skin with a hot iron rod. Anubis then flayed Set and wore his skin as a warning against evil-doers who would desecrate the tombs of the dead. Priests who attended to the dead wore leopard skin in order to commemorate Anubis' victory over Set. The legend of Anubis branding the hide of Set in leopard form was used to explain how the leopard got its spots.
Most ancient tombs had prayers to Anubis carved on them.
As jmy-wt "He who is in the place of embalming", Anubis was associated with mummification. He was also called ḫnty zḥ-nṯr "He who presides over the god's booth", in which "booth" could refer either to the place where embalming was carried out or the pharaoh's burial chamber.
In the Osiris myth, Anubis helped Isis to embalm Osiris. Indeed, when the Osiris myth emerged, it was said that after Osiris had been killed by Set, Osiris's organs were given to Anubis as a gift. With this connection, Anubis became the patron god of embalmers; during the rites of mummification, illustrations from the Book of the Dead often show a wolf-mask-wearing priest supporting the upright mummy.
Guide of Souls
By the late pharaonic era (664–332 BC), Anubis was often depicted as guiding individuals across the threshold from the world of the living to the afterlife. Though a similar role was sometimes performed by the cow-headed Hathor, Anubis was more commonly chosen to fulfill that function. Greek writers from the Roman period of Egyptian history designated that role as that of "psychopomp", a Greek term meaning "guide of souls" that they used to refer to their own god Hermes, who also played that role in Greek religion. Funerary art from that period represents Anubis guiding either men or women dressed in Greek clothes into the presence of Osiris, who by then had long replaced Anubis as ruler of the underworld.
Weighing of the heart
One of the roles of Anubis was as the "Guardian of the Scales." The critical scene depicting the weighing of the heart, in the Book of the Dead, shows Anubis performing a measurement that determined whether the person was worthy of entering the realm of the dead (the underworld, known as Duat). By weighing the heart of a deceased person against Ma'at (or "truth"), who was often represented as an ostrich feather, Anubis dictated the fate of souls. Souls heavier than a feather would be devoured by Ammit, and souls lighter than a feather would ascend to a heavenly existence.
Portrayal in art
Anubis was one of the most frequently represented deities in ancient Egyptian art. He is depicted on royal tombs from the First Dynasty; however, he had an already developed cult following prior to his since it is believed he was added to the walls for protection of the dead. The god is typically treating a king's corpse, providing sovereign to mummification rituals and funerals, or standing with fellow gods at the Weighing of the Heart of the Soul in the Hall of Two Truths. One of his most popular representations is of him, with the body of a man and the head of a jackal with pointed ears, standing or kneeling, holding a gold scale while a heart of the soul is being weighed against Ma'at's white truth feather.
In the early dynastic period, he was depicted in animal form, as a black canine. Anubis's distinctive black color did not represent the animal, rather it had several symbolic meanings. It represented "the discolouration of the corpse after its treatment with natron and the smearing of the wrappings with a resinous substance during mummification." Being the color of the fertile silt of the River Nile, to Egyptians, black also symbolized fertility and the possibility of rebirth in the afterlife. In the Middle Kingdom, Anubis was often portrayed as a man with the head of a jackal. An extremely rare depiction of him in fully human form was found in the tomb of Ramesses II in Abydos.
In funerary contexts, Anubis is shown either attending to a deceased person's mummy or sitting atop a tomb protecting it. New Kingdom tomb-seals also depict Anubis sitting atop the nine bows that symbolize his domination over the enemies of Egypt.
(Roemer- und Pelizaeus-Museum Hildesheim)
Coffin Fragment with Image of Anubis,1550-712 BC, Brooklyn Museum
Although he does not play a considerable role in many myths, his popularity was immense, and he survived into following periods through association with the gods of other lands. The Greeks associated him Hermes, the god who guided the dead to the afterlife. Anubis gave people the guarantee and peace of mind that their body would be respected at death, their soul would be protected in the afterlife, and that their soul would be judged fairly. The priests of Anubis were typically males who wore wood masks with the god's likeness when performing rituals. His cult center was at Cynopolis in Upper Egypt but shrines to him were built everywhere and he was universally revered in every part of the land.
In popular culture
In popular and media culture, Anubis is often falsely portrayed as the sinister god of the dead. He gained popularity during the 20th and 21st centuries through books, video games, and movies where artists would give him evil powers and a dangerous army. Despite his nefarious reputation, his image is still the most recognizable of the Egyptian gods and replicas of his statues and paintings remain popular.
- Anubis Shrine
- African golden wolf
- Egyptian mythology in popular culture
- Other Egyptian deities with canine features: Khentyimentiu, Sed, Wepwawet
- The African Golden Wolf was formerly classified as the same species as the Golden Jackal, but was reclassified as its own species.
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- The canine referred to as the Egyptian jackal in older texts was recently biologically reclassified as a separate canid species more closely related to grey wolves and coyotes than golden jackals. Furthermore ancient Greek texts about Anubis constantly refer to the deity as having a dog's head, not jackal or wolf, and there is still uncertainty as to what canid represents Anubis. Therefore the Name and History section uses the names the original sources used but in quotation marks.
- Leprohon 1990, p. 164, citing Fischer 1968, p. 84 and Lapp 1986, pp. 8–9.
- Conder 1894, p. 85.
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- Wilkinson 1999, p. 262 ("fighting like with like" and "by jackals and other wild dogs").
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- Hart 1986, p. 25.
- Hart 1986, p. 26.
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- Riggs 2005, p. 166.
- Hoerber 1963, p. 269 (for Cerberus and Hades).
- E.g., Gorgias, 482b (Blackwood, Crossett & Long 1962, p. 318), or The Republic, 399e, 567e, 592a (Hoerber 1963, p. 268).
- Hart 1986, p. 23.
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- Riggs 2005, pp. 127 and 166.
- Riggs 2005, pp. 127–28 and 166–67.
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