As the Metropolitan Museum of Art declares, there are “Many Worlds, One Met.” This is a story from one of those worlds…
Textile Honoring the Goddess Hathor
A weaver in ancient Egypt was performing a sacred duty and a stately duty but as a slave to the system. Most weaving was completed under the guidance of the royal harem. The ladies would manage and instruct weavers and only take up work themselves if it was too delicate for other laborers, implying that the work they took up would be for the royal household or perhaps for merchants traveling abroad with finer Egyptian items. But as weaving was such a necessary trade those who took it up professionally sometimes had to endure working under harsh circumstances. One account relates on how a weaver would bribe the guard over them to open the door and let in sunlight. Also, even those outside of the weavers could come and work with them if they wanted a day off from their other duties. I’d mentioned that weaving was also a religious duty, ergo the weaving houses would often be located next to temples. It makes sense hen you see items like the one pictured which were obviously used for religious purposes.
This particular piece mentions the goddess Hathor and says she is represented here by the golden calf with a disc between her horns. Some may recognize the horn-disc combo and relate it to the goddess Isis, however Hathor predates her by about 2000 years though was eventually absorbed by the newer goddess. As such, Isis would take on many aspects of Hathor. Hathor during her time was seen as the female counterpart to Horus, the god of kings, making her the goddess of queens. She was much more that that however, her other main roles were as a goddess to the arts: music, dancing and singing, and as a protector of children and pregnant women, thus explaining why she is shown with the child Pharaoh in this textile.
One myth of Hathor that struck me, though it has no relation to this textile, is known as…
"The Distant Goddess"
Hathor became angry with Ra and wandered away from Egypt. Great sadness falls over the land and Ra, lost without his Eye [Hathor], decides to fetch her back. However, Hathor has now become a deadly wild cat who destroys all that approaches her, and so no man or god will volunteer to go get her. Thoth eventually agrees to lure her back and, dressed in disguise, manages to coax the angry goddess to return to Egypt by telling her stories. Back in her homeland, she bathes in the Nile and once again settles into her normally gentle demeanor, but not before the waters turn red from the effort of cooling her rage. In some versions of this story it is Tefnut, not Hathor, who wanders away from Egypt, and Shu, not Thoth, who brings her back.
-“Hathor” by Stephanie Cass
For those from a Judeo-Christian background this story has some striking similarities to the book of Exodus.
It is also interesting to note that this Textile was found in the same area, Deir-el-Bahri, as the items from the tomb of Meket-Re. The items from the expedition of that tomb were split between the Metropolitan and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The museum in Cairo took with their share a wooden model version of what a weaving workshop would look like.
I hope you have enjoyed this dip into one of the “Many Worlds” and hope you’ll visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art very soon. Stop by and say hi! -Preston, Visitor Services
Hall, Rosalind. Egyptian Textiles. Shire, 2008. Book.
"Hathor." Encyclopedia Mythica from Encyclopedia Mythica Online.
[Accessed August 25, 2014].