Frogs in Ancient Egpyt… Have you ever given it much thought?

Now bear with me on this one. Sometimes the inspiration for blog topics comes out of something I have seen in the past few weeks or it is something I have always wanted to know a little more about. Still, this time it is a completely random pull from me simply scrolling around collections for something else and finding the cutest looking amulet of a frog. So, that is how I landed on frogs as my topic for this week. The frog amulet in question is made from carnelian dating to the Old Kingdom from Qau el-Kabir and is now in the Manchester Museums collection (Figure 1).   

Figure 1: Frog amulet (carnelian) Old Kingdom from Qau el-Kabir Manchester Museum – Acc. no. 7122https://egyptmanchester.wordpress.com/2012/11/25/frogs-in-ancient-egypt/

Frogs in the Ancient Egyptian Language

The ancient Egyptians referred to the frog using a few different words but the most common is the word kerer, which is onomatopoeic as it is relating to the sound made by the frog this onomatopoeic trend is seen in a variety of words across ancient Egyptian language. The frog for the ancient Egyptian became synonymous with life and fertility, with the frog’s lifecycle holding coming to represent fertility, creation, and regeneration[1]. Fore example the image of a tadpole is the hieroglyph used to represent 100,00 and is commonly found alongside the shen ring of a notched staff representing years and so wishing for the king a region of 100,00 years[2] (Figure 2).

Figure 2: I8 on Gardiner Sign List showing the tadpole hieroglyph and its meanings. Gardiner, A. (1927) Egyptian Grammar Being An Introduction To The Study of Hieroglyphs, Oxford: Griffith Institute Page 427 Sign I8

The Frog Creation and Rebirth  

Figure 3: A frog as part of the fishing and flowing scene Tomb of The mastaba tomb of Kagemni also known as Memi. https://www.osirisnet.net/mastabas/kagemni/e_kagemni_02.htm  

During the first century AD Pliny, the Elder wrote of how the Egyptians believed that frogs were an example of spontaneous generation, self-created out of the mud of the Nile[3]. This connection in no doubt emerged due to the number of baby frogs that must have appeared from the mud each year when the waters of the inundation receded as if appearing from nowhere spontaneously[4]. Frogs are also sometimes rendered in fishing and fowling scenes in tombs. These scenes represent a small microcosm of life, chaos, and rebirth. The core elements of these scenes are the showing of the tomb owner fishing or fowling on a boat in the swamp surrounded by plant life and the water teaming with life such as species of fish, hippopotami, crocodiles and sometimes frogs[5](Figure 3).  The deities most associated with the frog is the goddess Heqat who was thought to be the consort of the creator god Khnum who was believed to have created humanity on his potters when and so she is also connected to the final stages of labour[6](Figure 4 ). Furthermore, one of Heqat’s titles including ‘Mistress of Joy’ was among the followers of Hapy, God of the inundation, when he brought in new life to Egypt each year[7].

Figure 4: Khunm crafting humanity on his potters’ wheel assisted by the frog-headed goddess Heqat. https://ancientegyptonline.co.uk/heqet/

The froggy connection to creation is seen elsewhere in Egyptian creation myths. The gods Heh, Kek, Nun and Amun, four of the eight members of the ogdoad, associated with the Hermoipolitaion creation myth are represented as having frog heads[8]. The Ogdoad of Hermopolis was a group of eight primaeval deities whose chief cult centre was Khenmw, later called Hermoipolis Magna. This group of deities represented the qualities of the primaeval matter such as darkness, moistness, and the lack of boundaries or visible powers[9]. Frog amulets, like the one that inspired me this week, were worn to imbue their owner with fertility and, in a funerary context the idea of rebirth and regeneration (Figures 1 and 5).

Figure 5: Gold finger ring topped with a frog. https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/Y_EA2923

Back to Heqat. Heqat was associated with childbirth and fertility. Specifically, Heqat was seen as assisting in fashioning the child in the womb and presided over the final stages of labour and the child entering the world. Her early connection to birth is written in the Wesctar Papyrus (Middle Kingdom) in which the Heqat is described as being the one who ‘hastened the birth ‘ of the three kings who would inaugurate the 5th Dynasty[10](Figure 6). In this tale the sun god Ra sends a group of Deities to help a woman called Ruddedet with childbirth; these deities included Isis, Nephthys, Meskhenet Heqat and Khunm- the goddesses disguised as dancing girls and Khnum a servant[11].  Furthermore, again from the Middle Kingdom, the title ‘servant of Heqat’ is thought by some to have been applied to midwives. In a funerary context, Heqat was hoped by Egyptians to act as their divine midwife after they died and their successful rebirth[12].

Figure 6: Part of a magical ivory wand, with incised figures of animals, including a baboon, jackal and a frog wielding knives protectively. EA38192 https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/Y_EA38192

I hope you have enjoyed this little exploration of frogs in ancient Egypt what small critter could be next?

References


[1] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press. Page 119

[2] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press. Page 119 and Gardiner, A. (1927) Egyptian Grammar Being An Introduction To The Study of Hieroglyphs, Oxford: Griffith Institute Page 427 Sign I8

[3] Andrews, C., 1998. Amulets of ancient Egypt. Austin: University of Texas Press. Page 63

[4] Andrews, C., 1998. Amulets of ancient Egypt. Austin: University of Texas Press. Page 63

[5] Quirion, A., 2020. ‘The fishing and fowling scene in the tomb of Ibi: a means of expression for a provincial ruler‘ in Prague Egyptological Studies (PES), XXV, eds Mgr. Marie Peterková Hlouchová, p.Page 132.

[6] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press. Page 119

[7] Pinch, G., 2004. Egyptian mythology A guide to the Gods and Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. Oxford [etc.]: Oxford University Press Page 140

[8] Pinch, G., 2004. Egyptian mythology A guide to the Gods and Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. Oxford [etc.]: Oxford University Press Page 176

[9] Pinch, G., 2004. Egyptian mythology A guide to the Gods and Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. Oxford [etc.]: Oxford University Press Page 175

[10] Wilkinson, R., 2007. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson Page 229

[11] Pinch, G., 2004. Egyptian mythology A guide to the Gods and Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. Oxford [etc.]: Oxford University Press Page 140

[12] Pinch, G., 2004. Egyptian mythology A guide to the Gods and Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. Oxford [etc.]: Oxford University Press Page 140

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