Nathan (vovat) wrote,

The Apes of Thoth

It's been a while since we've looked at the ancient Egyptian pantheon, so today we turn to one of its principal deities, Djehuty. Well, that's how some modern scholars spell his name, anyway. No one now knows the proper pronunciation of the hieroglyphics, and while "Djehuty" may well be more accurate, it's by the Greek spelling "Thoth" that the god is commonly known. Thoth was the scribe and mediator of the gods, the inventor of writing and language, and the judge of the dead. He was also identified with the moon. Depictions of Thoth typically show him with the head of an ibis, although he apparently takes the form of a baboon for his underworld functions. I can't say I've heard of baboons being considered a symbol of wisdom in any other culture, but as one of very few primates known in ancient Egypt, it might well have had intelligence closest to that of humans. Mind you, I've always felt that measuring animal intelligence by human standards was quite biased, but I suppose it's a bias that's difficult to avoid when being a human writing for other humans. And by human standards, baboons have really ugly butts. (WARNING: Don't click that link unless you're prepared to see a picture of a monkey's behind.)

Anyway, some myths credit Thoth with creating himself through the power of knowledge, which seems like quite a feat. He's also associated with the lengthening of the 360-day lunar year to the 365-day solar one, explained by saying that he gambled with the moon god Khonsu for an extra five days. I believe his role as judge of the dead is one of the better known Egyptian myths, involving his weighing the heart of the deceased against the ostrich feather worn by his wife Ma'at. I don't see how anyone could win at that, except maybe if the feather were that of one of the Stymphalian birds killed by Hercules, but I'm sure it wasn't meant to be taken literally. Still, it raises some questions. If a heart is weighed down by guilt over bad deeds, then what about a psychopath who did all kinds of bad things but felt no remorse? And what about how the Grinch's heart had to grow three sizes before he started feeling guilty? I guess they must have had these things worked out somehow, but maybe not. Reanimated mummies are always pretty angry when they appear in campy horror movies, so maybe they're reeling with the unfairness of the justice system.

For information on the Greeks' association of Thoth with their own god Hermes, you can read about Hermes Trismegistus in this post. Or you can do a Google search for information like I did in order to write that in the first place, but can you really blame me for promoting my own writing? Thoth is also sometimes associated with the Biblical patriarch Enoch, who came to be known as the inventor of writing and the solar calendar. But could he turn into a baboon? I didn't think so!
Tags: bible, mythology

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