The snake Apep is defeated by the god Atum.
|God of darkness and chaos|
|Parents||Neith and Nun|
|Siblings||Sobek and Ra|
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In Egyptian mythology, Apep (also spelled Apepi, and Aapep, or Apophis in Greek) was an evil god, the deification of darkness and chaos (isfet in Egyptian), and thus opponent of light and Ma'at (order/truth), whose existence was believed from the Middle Kingdom onwards. His name is reconstructed by Egyptologists as *ʕAʔpāpī because of written ʕ3pp(y), surviving into later Coptic as Aphōph.
Apep formed part of the more complex cosmic system resulting from the identification of Ra as Atum, i.e. the creation of Atum-Ra, and the subsequent merging of the Ogdoad and Ennead systems. Consequently, since Atum-Ra, who was later referred to simply as Ra, was the solar deity, bringer of light, and thus the upholder of Ma'at, Apep was viewed as the greatest enemy of Ra, and thus was given the title Enemy of Ra.
As the personification of all that was evil, Apep was seen as a giant serpent, crocodile, or occasionally as a dragon in later years, leading to such titles as Serpent from the Nile and Evil Lizard. Some elaborations even said that he stretched sixteen yards in length and had a head made of flint. It is to be noted that already on a Naqada I (ca. 4000 BCE) C-ware bowl (now in Cairo) a snake was painted on the inside rim combined with other desert and aquatic animals as a possible enemy of a (solar?) deity who is invisibly hunting in a big rowing vessel. Also, comparable hostile snakes as enemies of the sun god existed under other names (in the Pyramid Texts and Coffin Texts) already before the name Apep occurred. The etymology of his name ('3pp) is perhaps to be sought in some west-semitic language where a word root 'pp meaning 'to slither' existed. A verb root '3pp does at any rate not exist elsewhere in Ancient Egyptian. (It is not to be confused with the verb 'pi/'pp: 'to fly across the sky, to travel') Apep's name much later came to be falsely connected etymologically in Egyptian with a different root meaning (he who was) spat out; the Romans referred to Apep by this translation of his name.
After the end of the Middle Kingdom, the foreign Hyksos, then rulers over Egypt, chose Set as their favorite deity, since he had been protector of Ra, and was associated with Lower Egypt, where their power base was. Consequently, because the foreign overlords were hated by nationalistic groups, Set became gradually demonised, and started being thought of as an evil god. Indeed, because of the extreme level of nationalism and xenophobia, Set eventually became thought of as the god of evil, and gradually took on all the characteristics of Apep. Consequently, Apep's identity was eventually entirely subsumed by that of Set.
Battles with Ra
Tales of Apep's battles against Ra were elaborated during the New Kingdom. Since nearly everyone can see that the sun is not attacked by a giant snake during the day, every day, storytellers said that Apep must lie just below the horizon. This appropriately made him a part of the underworld. In some stories Apep waited for Ra in a western mountain called Bakhu, where the sun set, and in others Apep lurked just before dawn, in the Tenth region of the Night. The wide range of Apep's possible location gained him the title World Encircler. It was thought that his terrifying roar would cause the underworld to rumble. Myths sometimes say that Apep was trapped there, because he had been the previous chief god and suffered a coup d'etat by Ra, or because he was evil and had been imprisoned.
In his battles, Apep was thought to use a magical gaze to hypnotize Ra and his entourage, attempting to devour them whilst choking the river on which they travelled through the underworld with his coils. Sometimes Apep had assistance from other demons, named Sek and Mot. Ra was assisted by a number of defenders who travelled with him, the most powerful being Set, who sat at the helm.
In a bid to explain certain natural phenomena it was said that occasionally Apep got the upper hand. The damage to order caused thunderstorms and earthquakes. Indeed: it was even thought that sometimes Apep actually managed to swallow Ra during the day, causing a solar eclipse, but since Ra's defenders quickly cut him free of Apep, the eclipse always ended within a few minutes. On the occasions when Apep was said to have been killed, he was able to return each night (since he lived in the world of the dead already). In Atenism it is Aten who kills the monster since Aten is the only god in the belief system.
However, in other myths, it was the cat goddess Bastet, daughter of Ra, who slayed Apep in her cat form one night, hunting him down with her all seeing eye.
Apep was not so much worshipped, as worshipped against. His defeat each night, in favour of Ra, was thought to be ensured by the prayers of the Egyptian priests and worshipers at temples. The Egyptians practiced a number of rituals and superstitions that were thought to ward off Apep, and aid Ra to continue his journey across the sky.
In an annual rite, called the Banishing of Apep, priests would build an effigy of Apep that was thought to contain all of the evil and darkness in Egypt, and burn it to protect everyone from Apep's influence for another year, in a similar manner to modern rituals such as Zozobra.
The Egyptian priests even had a detailed guide to fighting Apep, referred to as The Books of Overthrowing Apep (or the Book of Apophis, in Greek). The chapters described a gradual process of dismemberment and disposal, and include:
- Spitting Upon Apep
- Defiling Apep with the Left Foot
- Taking a Lance to Smite Apep
- Fettering Apep
- Taking a Knife to Smite Apep
- Laying Fire Upon Apep
In addition to stories about Apep's defeats, this guide had instructions for making wax models, or small drawings, of the serpent, which would be spat on, mutilated and burnt, whilst reciting spells that would aid Ra. Fearing that even the image of Apep could give power to the demon, any rendering would always include another deity to subdue the monster, and/or knives already stabbed into him.
As Apep was thought to live in the underworld, he was sometimes thought of as an Eater-up of Souls. Thus the dead also needed protection, so they were sometimes buried with spells that could destroy Apep. The Book of the Dead does not frequently describe occasions when Ra defeated the chaos snake explicitly called Apep. Only BD Spells 7 and 39 can be explained as such.
- C.Wolterman, in Jaarbericht van Ex Oriente Lux, Leiden Nr.37 (2002).
- H. Te Velde, Seth, God of Confusion (Leiden, 1977), 105-7.
- J. Assmann, Egyptian Solar Religion in the New Kingdom, transl. by A. Alcock (London, 1995), 49-57.
- P.Kousoulis, Magic and Religion as Performative Theological Unity: the Apotropaic Ritual of Overthrowing Apophis, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Liverpool (Liverpool, 1999), chapters 3-5.
- J.F.Borghouts, Book of the Dead : From Shouting to Structure (Studien zum Altaegyptischen Totenbuch 10, Wiesbaden, 2007).
- Media related to Apep on Wikimedia Commons
- Apep, Water Snake-Demon of Chaos, Enemy of Ra...
- Ancient Egypt: The Mythology - Apep
|This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Apep. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.|