How did the ancient Egyptians depict gods in their art?
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The ancient Egyptians depicted their gods in a variety of forms, including with regard to individual gods. Most of the time, these images took the form of human bodies with the heads of animals, usually with some sort of accoutrements. Sometimes, two or more images were merged to depict a god, and sometimes they appeared as a hybrid of multiple life forms.
Given its arid, desert geography and its relationship to the Nile River, which provides a thin, fertile strip of land along its banks, it is no surprise that the most important of the Egyptian gods was Ra, the sun god. Ra is usually depicted as a hawk, sometimes with a human body and the head of a hawk, and usually with the sun above his head. Anubis, god of the dead, is usually depicted as a dog with the head of a jackal, while the lunar god, Aah, is actually depicted in human form, with the moon perched on his head. Apis, god of strength and fertility, is depicted with a human body and a bull’s head, and the god of wisdom, Thoth, has the head of an ibis, a bird of the Nile. Similarly, goddesses are depicted in multiple variations, usually combining multiple life forms. Bast, the goddess of health and joy, is a cat’s head on a woman’s body; Isis, goddess of motherhood, mother and love, is depicted as a woman, including her head, and is sometimes nursing a baby; Ma’at, goddess of truth and immortality, is also depicted as a human woman, but occasionally with wing-like feathers protruding from her arms.
The ancient Egyptians depicted the gods with non-human forms, albeit usually limited to the heads, because of the inappropriateness of depicting a god as a human. Pharaohs were depicted in completely human form because they enjoyed a different status from the gods and were, obviously, visible to their subjects. They were, though, considered gods on earth. Full god status would have to await death.
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