Earlier this month as a part of my honeymoon, I had the immense pleasure of visiting the wonderful treasure trove that is the Vatican Museums. Of course, I was heading straight for the Egyptian antiquities in the Museo Gregoriano Egizio (although I visited and thoroughly enjoyed many of the other amazing exhibits as well), and I was not disappointed as I stepped into the galleries.
The very first piece to catch my eye was an old friend of mine, the naophorous statue of the Late Period official, Udjahorresnet, a figure you will be familiar with if you have read my earlier posts about the Persian king, Cambyses, and the Apis bull. Having studied photographs of this statue and its inscriptions many times, I didn’t expect to be so captivated by it when seeing it in person. At 27.5 inches high, it really is the most beautiful little thing that I have seen in a long time but perhaps I am biased as it has always been a personal favourite of mine.
This type of statue were quite common in the Late Period (below) and would have been set up in a temple – this one in particular would have resided in the temple of the goddess Neith at Sais in the Western Nile Delta. The term ‘naophorous’ refers to the naos or statue held by the private individual depicted. One interpretation is that this type of statue and the protective manner in which the individual holds the image of the deity could be a means of ensuring that the individual receives reciprocal protection from the deity. Part of the inscription on Udjahorresnet’s statue supports this interpretation:
‘O Osiris, lord of eternity! The chief physician, Udjahorresnet has placed his arms about you as protection’.
MMA 1982.318 Naophorous block statue of a governor of Sais, Psamtik[seneb] (Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art).
The statue of Udjahorresnet is a particularly wonderful example of this type of statue because it is inscribed with a lengthy biographical text, the only one if its kind to be attested to the Late Period. It reveals much about the attitude of the Persian kings Cambyses and Darius I towards the native Egyptian religion. The inscription reveals the way in which both kings respected the native religion – Cambyses cleansed the temple of Neith of squatters and made offerings to the goddess and, similarly, Darius I restored the House of Life.
Statue of the goddess Neith (Source: Wikipedia).
The inscription reveals how Udjahorresnet helped the Persian kings to successfully rule over Egypt, not only as foreign kings, but also as pharaohs, advising them and even helping to compose their pharaonic titulary, ensuring that they would be accepted by the Egyptian people as king.
Not only is the statue staggeringly beautiful, but it is hugely fascinating in terms of what it reveals about this period of Egypt’s history and that is why it will always be one of my favourite pieces.
If you would like to read more about Udjahorresnet and the Persian kings, please take a look at my previous post on the subject, Dispelling the myth – Herodotus, Cambyses, and Egyptian religion #1