Fish Amulet

11008259-2005_015_002_Epa_ARC.tif

Title

Fish Amulet

Keywords

amulet

Date

1980-1760 BC

Context

Middle Kingdom
Egypt
Egyptian

Medium/Dimensions

Amethyst, gold
5/8 x 1 1/8 in. (1.6 x 2.9 cm)

Object Number

2005.015.002

Description

The fish represented is Syndodntis schall, a type of Nile catfish that swims upside down at the surface of the water to catch insects which have fallen in. The Egyptians saw this behavior and must have assumed the fish was breathing, so it became an amulet against drowning. These amulets were highly prized and intricately crafted. This one is minutely detailed in the rendering of the scales on the amethyst body. It would probably originally have had gold fins set into holes at the top and bottom and eyes of garnet. Fish amulets such as this one are first attested in the Old Kingdom and were worn either around young women's necks or in their braided hair to protect the wearer against drowning. Fish amulets reached the height of their popularity in the Middle Kingdom and were made of a variety of precious stones and metals. The carving on this amethyst example is particularly fine, indicating that it may have been a royal commission.

A story involving a fish pendant is preserved on the Middle Kingdom Papyrus Westcar and emphasizes the use of such a pendant in the daily lives of those who were close to water or might have reason to fear drowning. In it, the Fourth Dynasty King Khafre is being entertained by his sons with stories of miraculous happenings in the past. His son Baufre tells him of a story from the life of Khafre's father, King Snefru. King Snefru walked through his palace feeling agitated, he sought peace but could not relax and so he went to his chief lector priest Djadjaemankh for advice. The priest tells the king to gather a number of beautiful young women to row his boat on the lake and that the sight of them will relax him. The king did as the priest suggested and was enjoying his boating party when suddenly the rowing stopped. Snefru asked the women why they had stopped, and the leader of the women said she had been stroking her hair when a pendant made of fresh turquoise fell from her braid into the water. The king offered to replace it for her but she insisted that she preferred her own. The king, disappointed that his boating may be cut short called the lector priest for further advice. Djadjaemankh came to the lake where he stacked the water from half of the lake on top of the other half through magic and retrieved the pendant from the lake floor. Snefru is overjoyed to witness such a spectacular event and spent the rest of the day in a celebratory feast after awarding the priest with many gifts.

Credit Line

Gift of Mohamed Farid Khamis and Oriental Weavers

Exhibits/Publications

From Pharaohs to Emperors: New Egyptian and Classical Antiquities at Emory, Michael C. Carlos Museum, January 14 - April 2, 2006|
MCCM Permanent Collection Reinstallation, 2006 - Present
Piasa Paris, Archeologie (September 28, 2004), 109, number 545.|
Peter Lacovara and Jasper Gaunt, "From Pharaohs to Emperors: Egyptian, Near Eastern & Classical Antiquities at Emory," Minerva 17 (January/February 2006): 9-16.|
Emory Report 62 (September 21, 2009).

Rights

© Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Bruce M. White, 2010.
This image is provided by the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University, who retains all rights in it. This image is made available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined by United States law. For all other uses, please contact the Michael C. Carlos Museum Office of Collections Services at +1(404) 727-4282 or mccm.collections.services@emory.edu. Users must cite the author and source of the image as they would material from any printed work, but not in any way that implies endorsement of the user or the user's use of the image. Users may not remove any copyright, trademark, or other proprietary notices, including without limitation attribution information, credits, and copyright notices that have been placed on or near the image by the Museum. The Museum assumes no responsibility for royalties or fees claimed by the artist or third parties. The User agrees to indemnify and hold harmless Emory University, its Michael C. Carlos Museum, its agents, employees, faculty members, students and trustees from and against any and all claims, losses, actions, damages, expenses, and all other liabilities, including but not limited to attorney’s fees, directly or indirectly arising out of or resulting from its use of photographic images for which permission is granted hereunder.

On View

Yes

Citation

“Fish Amulet,” Michael C. Carlos Museum Collections Online, accessed September 25, 2018, http://carlos.digitalscholarship.emory.edu/items/show/7796.

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