Sistrum with double faced Hathor head - 910.85.213_3


Sistrum with double faced Hathor head

Medium:Glazed composition (faience), mould-made with hand-tooling
Geography: Undetermined site, Egypt
Date: c. 645-525 BC
Period: 26th Dynasty, Late Period
9.8 x 6 x 3.5 cm
Object number: 910.85.213
Not on view

This broken artifact is the remains of a faience sistrum, a kind of rattle.  All that remains of this example is the two-headed face of the goddess Hathor, which would have been just above the handle.  On top of Hathor’s heavy wig would have been a rectangular form imitating her shrine.  Inside the shrine can still be seen a royal or divine cobra on each side.  Note that the goddess of beauty and love has cow’s ears, not human

Sistrum is a Greek word that refers to an ancient rattle with a long handle used by priestesses and female musicians, and sometimes by the King, in chanted rituals.  Wooden or bronze sistra were shaken to entertain or appease a deity, usually the goddess Hathor. The sound was produced by metal disks strung on rods fitted through the now missing ‘shine’ on top of the goddess’ wig. The swishing sound was supposed to recreate the susurration of the wind through reeds, a sound that Hathor in her cow form would have loved as she grazed in the marshes. In Ancient Egyptian, the name isonomatopoeicc, sesheshet. Hathor was goddess of music and festivities, love and pleasure.  Her triangular face sports the ears of a cow, the animal whose form she sometimes took. The gentle nature of a cow, its role as foster-mother to humankind, and its love of music, may have suggested the link, as well as its fertility and big, beautiful brown eyes. Since Hathor could also be an angry goddess in need of pacifying, she is most apt as an adornment for a sistrum.  The missing handle may have been made of wood.

This faience sistrum is fairly heavy, and it has been suggested that such instruments were more likely to be funerary gifts to a deceased priestess than actual musical instruments. However, a number of sistra of similar style and nearly identical structure have been found, and the more complete examples are remarkably solid and stable. They may well have been used by elite ladies in the temples.


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