The 'God with the Upraised-Arm' in Near Eastern Mythology: An Astronomical Archetype?
By Greg Taylor of The Daily Grail
Figure 4 : Temple of Edfu - front pylons (Source: Fairman 1974)
At the Temple of Edfu there is an abundance of imagery concerning the contendings of Horus and Seth. On approaching the temple one is immediately met by huge images on the pylons of the king in 'smiting pose' in the presence of Horus (Figure 4). Inside the temple is found the dramatic text 'The Triumph of Horus' with associated scenes.
Dated to approximately 110 BCE, its antecedents would appear to be in feasts and texts from the earliest dynasties (Fairman 1974, p. 34). The drama concerns the harpooning of Seth by Horus (10 times, a symbolic detail which perhaps shares a common origin with the 10 decapitated bodies on the Narmer Palette), after which Horus is crowned the King of Upper and Lower Egypt. Fairman (1974, p. 32) points out that this was not just the re-enactment of myth, but also a means by which the success of the king was ensured each year. Again, Horus is depicted with his arm raised (Figure 5), this time harpooning Seth (represented by a hippopotamus).
Figure 5 : Triumph of Horus - Horus harpooning Seth (Source: Fairman 1974, p 109)
Figure 6 : Min (Source: Gray 1969)
That this pose is not simply incidental is confirmed by the naming of Horus in the text as 'Him-with-the-upraised-arm' (Fairman 1974, pp. 106, 117). This was originally the epithet of Min, the god of rain and fertility, for obvious reasons (see Figure 6): he is pictured with an upraised arm holding what is thought to be a thunderbolt. Horus and Min became increasingly identified as one and the same during the Middle Kingdom, although Min was already associated with the Pharaoh at least as early as the 4th Dynasty. On the verso of the Stela of Sobek-iry is found the Hymn to Min, which includes the verse 'I worship Min, I extol arm-raising Horus' (Lichtheim 1973, p. 204). The overall impression is that the upraised arm of Min-Horus was considered to be a characteristic pose of vital importance.
Another crucial point to emerge from the 'Triumph of Horus' is that Horus was the 'Great God, Lord of the Sky' (Fairman 1974, p. 90), a quote which is followed by the passage 'we grant strength to thine arm'. There are numerous other references implying that Horus is to be looked for in the sky; for example 'the gods of the sky are in terror of Horus' (Fairman 1974, p. 102). Significantly, Min in pre-Dynastic times was a sky-god called the 'Chief of Heaven' (Arnold 1999). This raises the question of whether the archetypal image has its origin in the sky. A look at the astronomical ceilings of Senmut and Seti I confirms this. On Senmut's ceiling (Figure 7) there is an almost identical depiction of Horus as at Edfu, with the arm upraised in the act of harpooning Seth (this time represented as the constellation Meskhetiu). There is also an unidentified individual in the same pose amongst the group of constellations at the lower part of the image, this time harpooning a crocodile (another incarnation of Seth). He appears almost identically on the Seti I ceiling (Figure 8). Thus the 'God with the Upraised Arm' can be considered a constellation recognisable by the ancient Egyptians. The obvious question therefore, is which one?
Figure 7 : Senmut ceiling (Source: Parker 1974)
Figure 8 : Seti I ceiling (Source: Parker 1974)