Hapi (Hep, Hap, Hapy) was probably a predynastic name for the Nile, and the name was later changed to the Nile or iterw, simply meaning “the river”. Thus the Nile God became “the river” or iterw while Hapi then became the god of the annual flooding of the Nile in ancient Egyptian religion. The name “Nile” comes from the Greek corruption “Neilos” of the Egyptian “nwy” which means water. He was mentioned in the Pyramid Texts (“who comest forth from Hep”) where he was to send the river into the underworld from certain caverns located at the first cataract. The annual flood deposited rich silt (fertile soil) on the rivers banks, allowing the Egyptians to grow crops or flooded too much and washed away their mudbrick homes. Hapi was the mighty one in his cavern, whose true name was unknown. He was “lord of the fishes and birds of the marshes” who “greens the two banks”. He was the “maker of barley and wheat”, the “master of the river bringing vegetation”. Like the Greek and Roman Gods that followed, he had a good personae as the God of plenty but also had a dark side as an unpredictable destructive God, hopefully influenced by the pharoah who was himself a living god. He was also considered a “friend of Geb” the Egyptian God of the earth, and the “Lord of Neper”, the God of grain.
The Nile in Ancient Egypt
Hail to thee, O Nile! Who manifests thyself over this land, and comes to give life to Egypt! Mysterious is thy issuing forth from the darkness, on this day whereon it is celebrated! Watering the orchards created by Re, to cause all the cattle to live, you give the earth to drink, inexhaustible one! Path that descends from the sky, loving the bread of Seb and the first-fruits of Nepera, You cause the workshops of Ptah to prosper! Hymn to the Nile
Without the Nile and without the desert formed from the 6th to 4th millennia BCE, there would certainly not have been the Egypt we know. At various times the extent of upper Egypt went into Nubia but generally the upper boundary was the first cataract of the Nile, above Aswan near Philae. Aswan is the ancient city of Swenett, which in antiquity was the frontier town of Ancient Egypt facing the south. The stone quarries of ancient Egypt were located here and were celebrated for their stone, especially for the granite called Syenite. The source of the Nile, manifested originally as the god Hapi, was thought to live/flow from a cave on Bigeh Island near Philae in the first cataract, the entrance protected by a sacred serpent. The course of the Nile in ancient Egypt was thought to have wandered through the land of the dead, through the heavens in the Milky Way and finally flowed out into Egypt from the cave on Bigeh island. The rushing water of the rapids and lack of geographical knowledge beyond that point would have confirmed the then reasonable assumption that the Nile was rushing out of a cave on Bigeh island. As an aside, I had never considered the proposition that the Milky Way was a river flowing through the sky, but I find the symbolism compelling and strangely beautiful.
Hapi at the Luxor Temple
Hapi is typically depicted as an intersex person with a large belly and pendulous breasts, wearing a loincloth, ceremonial false beard, and colored blue. Since the Nile flooding provided fertile soil in an area that was otherwise desert, Hapi as the patron of the flood, symbolized fertility. He had large female breasts because he was said to bring a rich and nourishing harvest. According to Donald A. MacKenzie (1922), the “whitish muddy Nile may have been identified with milk”. Thus, these white, muddy waters that flowed from the breasts of Hapi were probably linked to nurturing and suckling, and thus also to fertility. Due to his fertile nature he was sometimes considered the “father of the gods”, and was considered to be a caring father who helped to maintain the balance of the cosmos, the world or universe regarded as an orderly, harmonious system. Hapi was also both god of Upper and Lower Egypt, this duality was shown by having twin Hapi deities, one wearing the papyrus of the north (Lower Egypt) as a headdress, the other wearing the south's (Upper Egypt) water lily (lotus) as a headdress. The Upper Egyptian Hapi was called “Hap-Meht” while the Lower Egyptian Hapi was known as “Hap-Reset”. I found this stone carved depiction of Hapi at the Luxor Temple on the sides of the sitting Ramesses II Colassi. The top picture is in pristine condition and is probably the inspiration for the drawing from Wikipedia shown at the beginning of this post. The second one is pretty beat up but shows essentially the same theme. The hieroglyphs at the top are related to Rameses II and will be the subject of a separate post.
The Sema Hieroglyph
The Sema hieroglyph symbol is an abstract rendering of the lungs attached to the windpipe. This depiction of internal organs may seem unusual for an ancient civilization but the Egyptians were experts in anatomy since they removed the internal organs prior to mummification. As a hieroglyph this symbol can represent the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt when combined with symbols of both upper and lower Egypt. As such, the shape of this sign frequently appears in Egyptian art in scenes of the king uniting the two lands of Upper and Lower Egypt. As an amulet, the sema hieroglyph ensured a unified corpse, integral to one’s survival in the afterlife. In Egyptian hieroglyphs, the hieroglyph is used for the phonetic value of sma, (a triliteral) with meanings of to join together, to unite with.
The Sema Tawy
The Sema Tabi, Sema Tawy or Tabvy was an elegant symbol of the unification of upper and lower Egypt and formed a sort of tree with branches and flowers made of papyrus (lower Egypt) and lotus (upper Egypt). This particular drawing by Valnor on Deviant Art is both beautiful and erudite since it not only accurately depicts the Sema Tawy but also includes the circular city hieroglyph (Gardiner's o39). We can immediately identify this element in our stone carving and we see the God Hapi has been added to provide additional impact of the unity of upper and lower Egypt. To place this work of art in ancient Thebes (modern day Luxor) is very appropriate since Thebes was the midpoint of ancient Egypt, in a sense the dividing line between upper and lower Egypt. Thus it was the perfect location to “tie the knot” between upper and lower Egypt, and might be the origin of this phrase.
Hapi often was pictured carrying offerings of food or pouring water from an amphora, but also, very rarely, was depicted as a hippopotamus. During the nineteenth dynasty Hapi is often depicted as a pair of figures, each holding and tying together the long stem of two plants representing Upper and Lower Egypt, symbolically binding the two halves of the country around a hieroglyph meaning “union” as we have shown in this post. With the discovery of faience (a precursor to making glass), statues of blue hippopotamus made their appearance as grave goods and grace the collections of many museums. Since the hippopotamus is quite dangerous in real life, much like Hapi, they broke the legs off to protect the dead in their rebirth. I would argue, without much written proof, that these blue figurines represent Hapi in an animal form, including his color and temperament (both good and bad). Hapi would be a perfect companion for the dead, with his knowledge of the underworld, he could guide the departed into the afterlife.
XIII O inundation of the NILE, offerings are made unto thee, oxen are immolated to thee, great festivals are instituted for thee. Birds are sacrificed to thee, gazelles are taken for thee in the mountain, pure flames are prepared for thee. Sacrifice is made to every god as it is made to the NILE. The NILE has made its retreats in Southern EGYPT, its name is not known beyond the TUAU. The god manifests not his forms, he baffles all conception. Hymn to the Nile
There are no known temples of Hapi, but his statues and reliefs are found in the temples of other deities. He was worshipped throughout the land of Egypt, but especially at Swentet (Aswan) and Gebel El-Silisila, 65 km north of Aswan. The Elephantine Triad consisting of Khnum, Satet and Anuket were worshipped at Elephantine, an island in the River Nile at Aswan bordering northern Nubia. As Hapi was believed to bring the silt to the banks of the Nile he was also worshipped at Elephantine. His priests had a nilometer on Elephantine Island where they would monitor the levels of the Nile. During the inundation flood, the Egyptians would throw offerings, amulets and other sacrifices into the Nile at certain places, sacred to Hapi. Hapi was thought to come with the inundation (the “Arrival of Hapi”) with a retinue of crocodile gods and frog goddesses, and sacrifices were given in the hopes that the flood would not be too high, nor too low. During inundation or flooding, statues of Hapi were carried about through the tow.
I hope you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment.
Sacred Texts: http://www.sacred-texts.com/index.htm
Sacred Texts Egypt: http://www.sacred-texts.com/egy/index.htm
Tour Egypt: http://m.touregypt.net/featurestories/hapi.htm
Welcome Images: http://wellcomeimages.org/
Hymn to the Nile: https://arcjohn.wordpress.com/89-2/
Hapi NYPL Hapy, God of the Nile, from Monuments de l'Egypte et de la Nubie, d'àprès les dessins exécutés sur les lieux sous la direction de Champollion-le-jeune. (Paris : Didot, 1844-1889) Guizot, M. , Publisher. Thiers, M. , Publisher. Champollion, Jean François (1790-1832), Author.
Afrostyle Gardiner's Signs: http://www.afrostyly.com/gardiner/
One Way Ticket to Africa: http://onewaytickettoafrica.blogspot.com/2009/07/up-nile-and-back-down.html
Egyptian Symbols and Colors: http://www.carlos.emory.edu/PDF/Classroom%20TUTorial_Colors.pdf