Motherhood in Pharaonic Egypt

Authored by: Erika Feucht

Women in Antiquity

Print publication date:  August  2016
Online publication date:  August  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138808362
eBook ISBN: 9781315621425
Adobe ISBN: 9781317219910


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The ancient Egyptian was well aware that both parents were needed to create a child and that childlessness may be attributed to either parent. 2 According to PT 447 §828, the goddess Nut will revive the deceased, giving him his head, reassembling his bones, joining his members and bringing his heart into his body. Later in CT I, 56 the deceased got his heart (jb) from his worldly mother and in BD 30B the deceased calls to “my heart of my mother” at his judgement day not to speak against him. 3 According to later texts, the child was created in its father’s heart; the semen then went to the testicles from whence it reached the mother’s womb. In the temple of Hibis from the Persian Period, we read that the semen was poured into the bones, an idea which often returns in Ptolemaic texts. 4 Thus the child developed in the semen while the mother’s womb served as a receptacle. 5 The mythological precedent for this understanding derives from the birth of Horus: With the seed of Osiris in her womb, Isis moulded the shape of her son in the egg (CT II, 210–217). Thus in the Hellenistic period Diodorus Siculus (I, 80, 3ff.) writes that no child, even though he was born of a slave mother, was regarded as a bastard in Egypt, because the father was the creator of the child while the woman only nourished it. Nevertheless, other texts provided an alternate conceptual paradigm whereby the mother also took part in the creation (not merely moulding) of the child. 6 pJumilhac XII, 24 from the third century bc, for example, states that the child’s flesh and skin were formed from the mother’s milk and the bones from the semen of the father, an idea which was taken over by Greek authors and probably acquired from African tribes. 7

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