Ancient Egypt 138 Letters

Your thoughts on issues raised by the magazine.

Dear Editor,

I was most interested to see the good god Min get a bit of a runout in Ancient Egypt magazine (AE 136).

I always thought it was a bit of a chicken-and-egg question as to whether Min became associated with the Eastern Desert because expeditions left from his centre at Gebtu/Kuft, or whether he was the god of the Eastern Desert and prayers were offered to him at Gebtu before setting off. I suspect the latter, because Min must always have been a reassuring representation of fertility and confidence in the silent and unnerving places of the sterile desert.

Everyone refers to Min’s erection, some mention his box of lettuce (surely the antithesis of aridity), but few get to grips with his flail. The purpose of this is obscure, but it is worth making the observation that Min does not grip this as he would if he were about to smite something. Instead, his forearm is raised high with his hand presented flat to the viewer, and the flail draped over the fingers. This appears to have evaded a convincing explanation.

I was slightly disappointed that the subject of the Min logogram was not addressed in the article. Essentially this is the white/pupil/white parts of the Wadjet eye symbol (Gardiner D11, 12, and 14) presented on a stand. These can have the values ½, ¼, and ¹/16 respectively, but it seems more likely in this instance that they represent a watchful (and protective?) eye. It would be interesting if any of this obscure Min symbolism could be explained.

Dylan Bickerstaffe

The god Min receives offerings from Ramesses II at Karnak. Note the position of the god’s hand in relation to the flail. Image: Dylan Bickerstaffe
Min of Gebtu, depicted on the Stela of Artaxerxes at Wadi Hammamat. The logogram (the parts of an eye above a stand) is inscribed behind the god and marked with a red box. Image: Dylan Bickerstaffe

Dear Dylan,

Given the suggestion that worship of Min probably began with Medjau desert nomads, it seems likely that Min started out as a god of the desert area, and was then transferred to the Nile valley as these people migrated there.

Since the flail is not strictly held by Min in depictions, but rather balanced over his raised hand, it may just be present as a symbol. Indeed, the flail was not much used as a weapon in Egypt, but was often associated with Osiris, god of vegetation, and then was ‘a primitive agricultural version made of several ropes, cords or leather strips, each cord being strung with perforated pebbles, beads or hollow bones’ (Norris, 2015). An agricultural flail would also be an appropriate symbol for Min as a god of fertility.

The origins of the ideogram denoting the name of Min remain unexplained. Norris (2015) suggested that it may have been borrowed from, or confused with, a sign belonging to an earlier local god at Coptos.

Sean Rigby

Further reading
P Norris (2015) ‘The Lettuce Connection: a re-examination of the association of the Egyptian god Min with the lettuce plant from the Predynastic to the Ptolemaic Period’, PhD thesis, University of Manchester (open access).

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