Geb was the Egyptian god of the Earth and a member of the Ennead of Heliopolis. The name was pronounced as such from the Greek period onward, (formerly erroneously read as Seb (cf. E.A.Wallis Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians. Studies in Egyptian Mythology (London, 1904; republ.Dover Publications, New York, 1969) or as Keb. The original Egyptian was "Gebeb"/"Kebeb", meaning probably: 'weak one', perhaps:'lame one'. It was spelled with either initial -g- (all periods), or with -k-point (gj). The latter initial root consonant occurs once in the Middle Kingdom Coffin Texts, more often in 21st Dynasty mythological papyri as well as in a text from the Ptolemaic tomb of Petosiris at Tuna el-Gebel or was written with initial hard -k-, as e.g. in a 30th Dynasty papyrus text in the Brooklyn Museum dealing with descriptions of and remedies against snakes and their bites.
Role and development
The oldest representation in a fragmentary relief of the god, was as an anthropomorphic bearded being accompanied by his name, and dating from king Djoser's reign, 3rd Dynasty, and was found in Heliopolis. In later times he could also be depicted as a ram, a bull or a crocodile (the latter in a vignet of the Book of the Dead-papyrus of the lady Heryweben in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, depicted in G.Posener e.a., Dictionnaire de la civilisation égyptienne = Lexikon der ägyptischen Kultur (Wiesbaden, 1960),lemma 'Crocodile'/'Krokodil'). Frequently described mythologically as 'father' of snakes (one of the names for snake was s3-t3 'son of the earth' and in a Coffin Texts-spell Geb was described as 'father' of the primeval snake Nehebkau, while his mother was in that case the goddess Neith) and therefore depicted sometimes (partly) as such. In mythology Geb also often occurs as a primeval divine king of Egypt from whom his 'son' Osiris and his grandson Horus inherited the land after many contendings with the disruptive god Set, brother and killer of Osiris. Geb could also be regarded as personified fertile earth and barren desert, the latter containing the dead or setting them free from their tombs, metaphorically described as 'Geb opening his jaws', or imprisoning those there not worthy to go to the fertile North-Eastern heavenly Field of Reeds. In the latter case, one of his otherworldly attributes was an ominous jackal-headed stave (called wsr.t) rising from the ground to which enemies could be bound and punished.
In the Heliopolitan Ennead (a group of nine gods created in the beginning by the one god Atum), Geb is the husband of Nut, the sky or visible daytime and nightly firmament, the son of the earlier primordial elements Tefnut ('orphaness', later also conceived of as moisture [e.g.: 'tef']) and Shu ('emptiness' or perhaps 'raiser'[namely of the firmament as air), and the 'father' to the four lesser gods of the system - Osiris, Seth, Isis and Nephthys. In this context, Geb was believed to have originally been engaged in eternal sex with Nut, and had to be separated from her by Shu, god of the air. Consequently, in mythological depictions, Geb was shown as a 'man' reclining, sometimes with his phallus still pointed towards the sky goddess Nut.
As time progressed, the deity became more associated with the habitable land of Egypt and also as one of its early godly rulers. As a chthonic deity he (like Osiris and Min) became naturally associated with the underworld and with vegetation - barley being said to grow upon his ribs- and was depicted with plants and other green patches on his body.
His association with vegetation, and sometimes with the underworld, and also with royalty brought Geb the occasional interpretation that he was the husband of Renenutet, primarily a minor goddess of the harvest and also mythological caretaker (the meaning of her name is 'nursing snake')of the young king in the shape of a cobra, who herself could also be regarded as the mother of Nehebkau, a primeval snake god associated with the underworld, who, however, was on the same occasions said to be his son by her. He is also equated by classical authors as the Greek Titan Cronus.
- Meskell, Lynn Archaeologies of social life: age, sex, class et cetera in ancient Egypt Wiley Blackwell (20 Oct 1999) ISBN: 978-0631212997 p.103
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