Hippopotamus with papyrus pattern
Handcrafted miniature replica. The ancient Egyptians had a double relationship with hippos. Although the animals were endowed with positive qualities, they were also feared as dangerous. Hippos are indeed unpredictable and powerful animals, which - when threatened - become extremely aggressive.
A hippopotamus can overtake a human over a short distance. Ancient Egyptians have been attacked by hippos, but evidence that humans have survived can be found in an ancient Egyptian prescription for wounds caused by the bites of a hippo. Hippopotami are herbivores and usually graze at night when they can decimate a farmer's field with their enormous appetite. This was already a topic in ancient Egypt; an inscription on a papyrus refers to such a devastating harvest: "The worm took half and the hippopotamus ate the rest".
Unfortunately extinct in Egypt today, the hippopotamus population suffered greatly in ancient times as human expansion restricted their habitat and began to hunt them. A decline in their numbers continued throughout history until the last wild hippos were observed in Egypt at the beginning of the 19th century.
But the ancient Egyptians also recognized hippos as positive creatures. Hippos lived in the Nile, the source of life, and so they too were associated with life. They often immerse in water for several minutes to breathe, then sink again; this behavior of disappearance and reappearance was associated with regeneration and rebirth. Sometimes only the back of a hippopotamus is visible, reminiscent of a land surrounded by water, an image that the Egyptians may have associated with the primeval hill and the beginning of creation. In an Egyptian creation myth there is the primeval water from which the primeval hill emerges and on which the sun rises for the first time.
- Place of discovery: Meir Tomb of Senbi, Egypt
- ca. 1900 B.C.
- Original in Metropolitan Museum New York, USA
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