Sunday, February 10, 2013

Min the god of fertility


Min is an anthropomorphic god who is the supreme symbol of sexual procreativity in ancient Egypt.  H is also the protector-deity of the mining regions in the desert east of the Nile.
Min is usually shown standing with his legs closely linked and his arm raised from the crook of the elbow. The impression from two-dimensional representations of the god is that the arm is stretching out behind the body: this is the Egyptian artist avoiding any obscuring of the god’s body, and statuary makes it quite clear that the god’s arm is raised on his right side. The royal flagellum or whip rests semi-folded just above the god’s upright fingertips on the raised arm – visually suggesting sexual penetration, although inscriptions (e.g. in Edfu temple) refer to the arm poised to destroy the god’s enemies. Two high plumes rise from a low crown from which hangs a ribbon. The most distinctive feature of Min is his phallus projecting out at a right angle to his body, the symbol par excellence of the fertility god. On rare occasions Min can be depicted with a lion’s head as in a chapel in the temple of KHONSU at Karnak.
A Bronze statuette of Min

The emblem of Min, comprising two horizontal tapering serrated cones emanating from a central disk, appears, prior to his anthropomorphic iconography, on predynastic monuments such as standards on boats painted on Naqada II pottery. Like the name of the god himself – Menu in Egyptian – no explanation for it has met with a consensus of agreement.
Suggestions for the symbol range from a bolt of lightning or a circumcision instrument to a fossil belemnite. This emblem on a standard on a macehead from Hierakonpolis indicates that Min is counted among the allies of King Scorpion just prior to the lasting unification of Upper and Lower Egypt c.3000 BC. Although there is a small element of doubt due to the monument dating from Dynasty V, the Palermo Stone, in mentioning the making of a statue of Min in Dynasty I, provides an image of the god as anthropomorphic and ithyphallic, indicating that this was his form from the beginning of Egypt’s dynastic history.
Sizeable fragments of three limestone colossal statues of Min, discovered at Qift and now in the Ashmolean Museum, could prove the point if they date to this archaic period. It is definitely a ‘primitive’ Min represented by these statues in the cylindrical body and the style of the wide beard. Incisings on the statues of elephants and sawfish are of a genre found on small ivories and cylinder seals of the late Predynastic Era and even support the archaeologically attested contact with civilisations flourishing in southern Iraq and Iran. But some scholars have doubted that the sculptures predate the Old Kingdom.
A king presenting to  Min

Min in the Pyramid Age
The god is likely to be the deity described in the Pyramid spells as ‘he whose arm is raised in the east’. In a princess’s mastaba tomb at Giza (Dynasty V) there is a reference to a feast celebrating the god – the ‘procession of Min’ – so his cult is obviously well established in terms of an organised priesthood. Relating to the god’s temple at Qift are royal decrees from the end of the Old Kingdom exempting certain chapels (e.g. that built in the name of Queen Iput, mother of King Pepi I, Dynasty VI) from taxation.
Min in the Middle Kingdom
Some of the finest representations of the god in Egyptian art date to this era, such as the limestone relief in the Petrie Museum at University College London from Qift showing Senwosret I (Dynasty XII) performing part of his jubilee celebrations before Min. In the private Coffin Texts, the sexual prowess of the god is seen as a desirable quality to possess in the Afterlife, hence the deceased describes himself as the ‘woman-hunting’ Min. Some interesting epithets of Min occur in the hymn of Sobek-Iry (Dynasty XII) in the Louvre Museum. The god ‘high of plumes’ is the ‘lord of awe’ who humbles the proud. He possesses all the valued incense originating from equatorial Africa by his domination of Nubia – compare the Wadi Hammamat inscription of King Mentuhotep IV (Dynasty XI) which calls him ‘ruler of the Iuntiu’, i.e. Nubian bowmen.
The New Kingdom festivals of Min
The pharaoh, in the celebratory rituals surrounding his coronation, participated in a major procession and feast in honour of Min whose powers of fertility and regeneration could be seen as symbolising the vigorous renewal of sovereignty. At Thebes this festival has been carved on the second pylon of the Ramesseum, the mortuary temple of Ramesses II (Dynasty XIX) but a better preserved representation is found in the second court of the temple at Medinet Habu, built by Ramesses III (Dynasty XX).

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