Sistrum, decorated with cats - ROM2018_16159_1


Sistrum, decorated with cats

Geography: Egypt
Date: c. 664-332 BC
Period: 26th-30th Dynasty, Late Period
19.5 × 4.9 × 3 cm
Object number: 909.80.681
On view
Gallery Location:Galleries of Africa: Egypt

A sistrum is a kind of rattle.  When this was in use, thin metal rods would have crossed the empty space, with roundels of metal that, when shaken, gave off a gentle and pleasing sound.  The sistrum was used, usually but not exclusively, by women in Ancient Egyptian temples.  Many different rhythms could have been shaken out.  The sound was supposed to calm an angry or annoyed deity by reminding him or her of the gentle sound of wind through reeds near a river or lake.  It may have been used much as a tambourine, but without the drum.

The goddess Bastet, who often took the form of a domestic cat, or a cat-headed woman, was fond of this sound and of music.  Her kittens adorn many sistra; one perches on top of this one, and another sits alertly inside.

The missing handle may have been made of wood. A metal head of the goddess Hathor covered the join.  Hathor was goddess of music and festivities as well as love and pleasure.  Her triangular face sports the ears of a cow, the animal whose form she sometimes took.  Since Hathor could also be an angry goddess in need of pacifying, she is most apt as an adornment for a sistrum.

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