Painted wooden cippus showing Horus standing on crocodiles
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Possibly from Memphis, Egypt
Late Period, after 600 BC
A cure for bites and stings
A cippus was a type of stela that healed and protected against snake bites and scorpion stings. It was thought that water poured over the cippus gained healing properties. This example is surmounted by the head of the household god Bes, who protected the family from malign forces. Cippi typically show the infant Horus standing on crocodiles and holding dangerous animals such as snakes, scorpions and lions in his hands.
According to myth, the infant Harpokrates (Horus the child) was bitten or stung while in hiding with his mother in the marshes of the Delta. The lament of Isis stopped the celestial boat of the sun-god, who was supposed to be protecting the child. Re sent down his messenger Thoth, who cured the child by reciting a long list of spells. He promised that all that he had done for Harpokrates would be done for any human.
The spells first spoken by Thoth were inscribed on stelae to prevent and cure stings and bites, as well as many other complaints. All manner of conditions of unknown origin, such as convulsions, were attributed to poisoning of the blood. These were regarded as an intrusion of the forces of chaos into the ordered world; the spells were an attempt to combat the unknown.
Height: 42.5 cm
Width: 23.3 cm
Depth: 10.5 cm (base)
Dept code: EA 60958
Department of Ancient Egypt & Sudan