ancient egypt: history and culture
Ancient Egyptian bestiary: Civets Ichneumons mongoose
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Civet-     Civets (Viverra civetta) are small carnivores remotely related to both weasels and cats. Like cats they have retractable claws. They are good climbers and swimmers and live on a diet of frogs, small reptiles, birds and their eggs and rodents. Living in the Delta civets were tamed and used for hunting birds in the marshes.


Ichneumon     The ichneumon or Egyptian mongoose (aD, xAtrw, Lat. Herpestes ichneumon) belongs to the family of the Herpestidae whose members have claws that are not retractable. It was cherished by the Egyptians for its ability to kill cobras and was often kept as a pet. With a body length of up to sixty centimetres and a weight of up to four kilos it is somewhat larger than the Indian mongoose and can be found as far north as Spain and Portugal and as far east as Israel.

Ichneumon, bronze
Source: Petrie Museum website, UC8192

    It was revered at Heliopolis as Re-Atem for its victory over the snake Apophis and at Letopolis as a form of the local Horus. As Re it was depicted with a sun disk on its head, at times with a uraeus, becoming a creature of the snake goddess Wadjet. The ichneumon was also a manifestation of Mafdet.
    As an amulet it was thought to give protection. From the Late Period onwards many mongoose figurines were cast in bronze, but it is often difficult to distinguish them from representations of shrews.[1]
    Diodorus Siculus, who dabbled in natural history occasionally, gave a somewhat strange account of the relationship between the ichneumon and the crocodile, how it destroyed the reptile's eggs and limited in such a way the reptile population, thus making the Nile accessible to humans. He also claimed, professing that one could hardly believe it, that the mongoose, after wallowing in mud, entered the sleeping crocodile's open mouth and escaped from its belly after gnawing a hole through its innards, killing it on the spot.[2]
[1] Ian Shaw, Paul Nicholson, The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, British Museum Press 1995, p.139
[2] Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica, chapt. 87

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