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Everything Under the Sun



The power of the sun.
Egypt, <i>Eye of Ra</i>, 1297-1185 B.C., faience and semiprecious stones
zoom Egypt, Eye of Ra, 1297-1185 B.C., faience and semiprecious stones

 

The people of ancient Egypt worshiped different gods in different regions. But throughout this hot land, the most important deity was the sun god. His various forms included Ra, Horus, and Amun, among others. People came to believe that their ruler, the pharaoh, was the sun god’s representative on earth.

In Egyptian art, the sun might be shown simply as the right eye (as it is looked upon) of “the one above.” The moon was the left eye, wounded in a fight. Small amulets, or charms, shaped like the eye were often tucked into the wrappings of mummies, so the dead person would be protected by the sun while traveling through the dark underworld—a voyage the sun also took at each day’s end.

Many images of the sun god show him as a man with the head or wings of a falcon. As the god of the midday sun, he might appear simply as a disk with outstretched wings, soaring like a bird. And as god of the morning sun, rising in the east, he might be pictured as a scarab, a beetle known for its habit of pushing balls of dung along the ground. The ancient Egyptians imagined that the sun moved across the sky in the same way.


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1. Sometimes the sun god is shown as a man with the head or wings of a falcon, often wearing the disk of the sun on his head. This image of Horus appears on the mummy case of Lady Teshat.
2. The sun god is often pictured on mummy cases as a winged sun disk spread across the chest, another form of Horus. This example appears on the mummy case of Lady Teshat.
3. Scarab beetles roll balls of dung across the ground. The ancient Egyptians believed the beetle god Khepri rolled the sun across the sky in the same way.

 

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May 2005