ancient egypt: history and culture
Ancient Egyptian deities: Horus the Child
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Horus the Child

    Until the 26th dynasty Horus the Child, Hr.w-pA-xrd,[1] is only rarely mentioned, but from then on his name appears more and more frequently; and he is often referred to in the context of the myth of Isis and Osiris. In an inscription at Dendur dating to the reign of Augustus Horus the Child is referred to as lord of the burial place of Osiris, the abaton:
Horus the Child, son of Isis, son of Osiris, lord of the Abaton and of Philae.
Inscription at Dendur [2]
    If as Hor-pa-khered his role as a child who has to be nurtured and protected, was stressed, as Harsiese, Hr.w-zA-As.t [3] his status as son of Isis endowed him with rights, which he had to defend against Seth.[4]
.... who (i.e. Isis) created the heir, who suckles the child in the solitude, without the place where he is, becoming known, who introduces him into the hall of Geb, when his arm is strong.
Osiris hymn, New Kingdom[11]
As Harendotis, Hr.w-nD-jt=f[5] he was the protector of his father, or the support of his mother as Horus, Pillar of his Mother, Hr.w-jwn-mw.t=f . [6] The idea of Horus as protector or avenger is ancient and can be found in the Pyramid Texts:
[Horus has come, purified, so that he may protect] his [father] Osiris
PT 701A, Pyramid of Pepi I[10]


    During the Graeco-Roman period a number of gods were child deities referred to as Harpocrates, the graecized form of Egyptian Hor-pa-Khered. They were generally youthful forms of the god Horus, son of Isis and Osiris, but also occasionally sons of other divine parents such as Montu and Raettawy at Medamud, of Banebdjedet and Hatmehit at Mendes, or of Amen as in Late Period bronze statuettes where he is sitting on a throne wearing the two-plumed headdress of Amen.[7] Harpocrates was assimilated with Amen as Horamen and Harpocramen.[8]


Harpocrates,son of Amen     Horus the Child was a thoroughly benign god, protective and generous towards humanity. He is at times represented holding a cornucopia, in his role as solar deity he is wearing the Double Crown. He is shown as a child or a juvenile wearing a sidelock, sometimes in the traditional pose of children holding a finger to his mouth, or grasping a pet hoopoe. He may be standing, crouching or sitting like Nefertem on a lotus flower. On cippi he is represented in his protective role standing on crocodiles, strangling snakes and the like with his hands. But the image which was to become the longest lasting of all was that of the Horus child being suckled by his mother Isis, an image adopted as Maria lactans by Christianity, which in the fourth and fifth centuries eradicated the memories of the ancient gods and replaced the old mythologies with its own tales.


    The Ptolemaic cult of Harpocrates, as it is known from Alexandria, Memphis, Hermopolis Magna and many other cities, may have had its origins in the rites performed in the birth-houses, where the union of the parent deities, the birth of the child god and his raising by the mother were celebrated.[9] But the god was also venerated privately, with images placed in cult niches inside the homes, a practice which became ever more widespread in Roman times.[12]
[1] MdC transliteration Hr.w-pA-xrd, Wb vol. 3, 123.6
[2] After a transliteration on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Leuven Online Index of Ptolemaic and Roman Hieroglyphic Texts, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven => Dendour => mur extérieur nord => 1e reg => 3e scène: Hnk bb => Harpocrate
[3] MdC transliteration Hr.w-zA-As.t, lit. Horus son of Isis, Wb vol. 3, 123.8
[4] cf. The Contendings of Horus and Seth
[5] MdC transliteration Hr.w-nD-jt=f, lit. Horus protector of his father, Wb vol. 3, 123.7
[6] MdC transliteration Hr.w-jwn-mw.t=f
[7] Pascal Ballet, "Remarques sur Harpocrate 'amonien'. A propos d'une terre cuite tardive provenant d'Alexandrie" in BIFAO 82, 1982, p.76
[8] Ballet 1982, p.82
[9] Lászlo Török, Hellenistic and Roman terracottas from EgyptL'Erma di Breitschneider 1995, p.107
[10] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Pyramidentexte => Pyramide Pepis I. => Sargkammer => Südwand => östl. Fläche => PT 701A
[11] Sandra Sandri, Ha-pa-chered (Harpokrates): die Genese eines ägyptischen Götterkindes, Peeters Publishers, 2006, p.10
[12] Sandri 2006, p.93

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