Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Fall 2013

Document Type

Thesis

Department

Art & Art History

First Advisor

Elspeth Dusinberre

Abstract

“The Lioness and the Kittycat: Egypt’s Great Feline Goddesses, Sekhmet and Bastet,” grows out of my abiding interest in Egypt and the powerful goddesses of antiquity. Originally fascinated by the connection between goddesses and lionesses in multiple cultures of the ancient Near East, I began investigating Sekhmet in detail. The duality of her nature — ferocious, protective — as described by many scholars intrigued me, particularly as it seemed to be less present in the more peaceable Bastet. This thesis draws on the visual and textual records of the New Kingdom and the Third Intermediate Period in Egypt, the times of the goddesses’ greatest popularity, to investigate the nature of Sekhmet and Bastet in detail. In contrast to previous scholarship, I demonstrate that Sekhmet was fundamentally powerful and bloodthirsty, that the so-called benevolent side of her nature should be understood as simply another ramification of her dangerous violence. Bastet, by contrast, emerges in this work as a joyful, protective, nurturing figure. Although some legends ascribe to her the killing of the evil serpent, Apophis, the vast majority of evidence points to a fully benign — even purring — being. These very different aspects of feline nature manifest in the two goddesses may well stem from the times of their respective significance: the New Kingdom, when Sekhmet reigned supreme, was a period of relative strength and stability in Egypt, while Bastet’s main period of importance came at a time when Egypt was in great turmoil. This is an entirely new recognition in Egyptology.

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