I’m a cat, mother of life
Nowhere is the cat revered as in Egypt. The complex metaphorical sense that world mythology endowed the image of this beautiful intelligent animal, the Egyptians reduced to positive, pleasing to the human consciousness concepts – such as good, home, fun, love, motherhood, fertility, defensive forces.
In ancient Egypt, there was a very significant cult of the goddess – the cat Bastet (Bast), which was also considered the personification of the sun and moonlight. Goddess depicted as a maiden with a cat’s head or in the form of a lioness. Bastet was considered the daughter of Osiris and Isis. Prayers were dedicated to her: “She can bestow life and strength, all the health and joy of the heart,” or “I am a cat, mother of life.” In her honor, the cats were worshiped, they were mummified, a mouse was laid beside, so that the cats had something to have fun and eat in the afterlife.
The cult of the cat appeared in the most ancient period of Egyptian history (the second dynasty) and lasted until the 1st century BC. The religious center of worship was the city of Bubastis, where, according to the testimony of the Greek historian Herodotus, was the most beautiful temple of Egypt, dedicated to Bastet. In the main sanctuary there was a huge statue of a goddess. During the annual spring festivities, the statue was taken out of the temple and solemnly carried on a boat along the banks of the Nile. They also bred these sacred animals, and it was there that a large number of mummies of cats remained.
Sacred cats were fed milk with bread, for which they were specially bred in tanks with fish that did not have scales. The one who encroached on the life of cats was punished severely. The cat was protected by law and who dared to raise his hand to her, threatened with the death penalty. After death, cats were buried in a ritual that resembles a human burial: the owners of the cat and their relatives shaved their eyebrows as a sign of mourning, and the body of the cat embalmed. The finished mummy was sewn into a linen shroud or encased in a sarcophagus and placed in one of the countless necropolises specifically designed for cats and built along the banks of the Nile. At the end of the last century, several tens of thousands of cat mummies were found near the village of Beni-Gasan in Lower Egypt. The worship of a cat in Egypt was so great that in 525 g. BC, as legend has it, it led to terrible consequences. Persian king Cambyses decided to capture the valley of the Nile. The Persians did not know how to storm the fortified cities and were forced to stop at the walls of the city of Pelusia. Kambizu had a brilliant idea: on his orders, every soldier strengthened a live cat on his chest so that it was clearly visible. The army moved forward, protected by human shields. The Egyptians were afraid to injure or kill the sacred animals and surrendered. Cambyses conquered Egypt and founded the 27th dynasty. (Bernard Brier. Wild cats. M .: Dialog, 1995)
The art of Egypt has always been famous for the image of animals. The animalistic plastic art of Egypt reached great development during the Saissian period (663 – 525 BC).
In 7 BC there was an unification of Egypt under the rule of the pharaohs who founded the 26th dynasty. The capital of an independent state was the city of Sais. For the culture of this era was characterized by an appeal to the traditions of the Old Kingdom, the desire to idealize the distant past. Saiss masters, borrowing the ancient artistic canons, created a peculiar style, cold and refined; achieved high technical excellence. In the museums of our country among the various genres and types of Egyptian art is presented and animalistic sculpture. Bronze statuettes of cats from the Saissian period are exhibited at the Hermitage, the State Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Arts of the Oriental People and others. This sculpture, brought to Russia in 1850, was found in the pyramids of Saqqara in Lower Egypt, near Memphis.
Bronze figurines of cats are distinguished by the finest surface modeling. Soft contours emphasize the plasticity of the body, elegant silhouette. The naturalness and grace of the beast were skillfully conveyed .. The figures, as a rule, were ticked off richly. The statuettes from the Hermitage have necklaces around their necks, scarabs on the crown and eyes encrusted with gold.
Made with love, these figurines are exquisite and at the same time they are discreetly detached, even strict. As if reminding everyone that Bastet is the gracious hypostasis of the terrible lion-headed goddess Sokhmet, daughter of the sun god Ra, supporting Maat – universal harmony – and punishing those who violate it.
Perhaps this is the living embodiment of the ancient goddess?