Figure, votive phallus - 907.18.916_1


Figure, votive phallus

Medium:Carved acacia wood, traces of pigment
Geography: Excavated at Djeser-Akhet, Deir el-Bahri, Egypt
Date: c. 1186-1069 BC
Period: 20th Dynasty, Ramesside Period, New Kingdom
27.9 x 7.4 cm
Object number: 907.18.916
Not on view

This heavy, roughly carved wooden phallus, along with more than forty others, was found in the speos of the Hathor shrine of Djeser-Akhet, the temple built by Nebhepetre Montuhotep at Deir el Bahri.  This one is very different from the others, having been aparently cut from a branch which contained a knot that may have reminded the carver of a scrotum. 

 The phalloi had been placed around the statue of Hathor in cow form prior to the shrine being sealed toward the end of the Twentieth Dynasty. They do not seem to have been placed in any order; C.T. Currelly, who found them, wrote to Hornblower that "they had simply been dropped around. There was practically no dust in the place, except where it came down from the front. I could trace no order whatever in the laying out of these objects."

This phallus shows traces of paint, but no sign as to how or if it could have been attached to anything.  Naville, the excavator, found two crude wooden statuettes at Deir el Bahri.  According to Geraldine Pinch, "Both of these have a roughly carved head, a virtually rectangular body, small holes for attachment of arms, and a much larger hole at the bottom of the body, probably for the insertion of an erect penis." (Pinch, Votive Offerings to Hathor, p.237). It's possible that the phallos was simply inserted, without a tenon.  Herodotus mentions small statues, with movable male members, being carried in processions in later times (Herodotus II.48). ).  A Hellenistic plaster image, 25.7 cm tall, of Horus-the-Child excavated by Geoffrey Martin at Sakkara (Cairo JdeE 92019), was provided with a detachable wooden phallus. The phalloi from the Hathor shrine may have been removed from other uses, even from older wooden statues, for the final ritual, which did not include or require complete cult statues. Some, like this one, may have been made specifically for this one ceremony.

The meaning of the ritual deposition of these objects at Deir el Bahri is unknown. It's tempting to speculate that, as the shrine was being sealed up and the nearby village of Deir el Medina was being abandoned in the face of political and economic disturbances, that the phalloi were plaintive offerings given to the goddess in hope that their village and its shrine would someday experience a renewal of energy, fertility, and joy.

Object History: Excavated by the Egypt Exploration Society (Naville and Hall), 1905-1907
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