The objects that I have called plant stalks or flowers, in a pot on the altar, were differently interpreted by Mr. Seyrig, who published a stone of this kind some years ago.2
He thought they were nails, which in fact those on his stone do resemble; and pointing to the well-known use of nails in defixiones
, he thought that their purpose might be to bind the ibis, with its magical qualities, to the service of the person wearing the gem. That interpretation, however, cannot be maintained, because other stones of this pattern show these plants more clearly.3
They sometimes have two or even three horizontal projections, which are evidently meant to suggest leaves or buds; in fact, there is a notable resemblance to the Egyptian signs IMG and IMG, which represent clumps of papyrus, the second with two buds bent down.4
It may be only a curious coincidence that on a Kassite cylinder seal in the Newell collection an altar is shown upon which there are three stalks or rods, each topped by an eight-pointed star; although they might be taken for rude representations of flowers, the use of stars on other Oriental cylinder seals is against such an interpretation.5
Stones bearing this design are usually dark gray-green steatite, black jasper, or dark-brown limonite, and they are either heart-shaped or oval. The heart-shaped specimens always have a suspension loop made from the stone itself, usually perforated in a direction perpendicular to the plane of the stone, but occasionally parallel to the surface. This loop appears in one stone of oval outline, but as a rule the oval stones were hung by a loop attached to the setting.6
One detail of the principal design remains to be mentioned. Several specimens show, at the left and the right of the design, a short reversed curve, which may be meant for a worm or a small snake, because the ibis was known to destroy many such creatures. A poorly cut star, often merely a sketchy four-pointed cross, is sometimes seen in the field, less often a crescent. The reverse of these stones is sometimes plain, but more commonly it bears an inscription, usually πέσσε πέσσε πέσσε, “digest,” less commonly εὐπέπτει, “good digestion!”, in one case πεπ three times.7
Thus far we have considered the essential parts of the ibis and altar design; but elements of outside origin are added on several specimens. Some have the inscription Ιαω in the exergue, and others have still another addition, a symbol consisting of a horizontal line crossed by two reversed curves, much resembling the familiar symbol of Chnoubis, which, however, has three curves, not two.8
2 Henri Seyrig, “Invidiae Medici,” Berytus, 1, 2 (fig. 2). Delatte also had described these plants as nails or swords (Musée Belge, 18 Spier, Gems on CBd-816, 67).
3 See the remarks of A. Merlin, Rev. arch., 19 (1924), 419.
4 Gardiner, Sign-list, M 15, 16.
5 H. H. von der Osten, Ancient Oriental Seals in the Collection of Edward T. Newell, No. 272; see Pl. 20 and p. 43; for stars on such seals cf. p. 112.
6 For these variations cf. Petrie, Amulets, Pl. 21, 135 p–r.
7 Le Blant, 750 Inscriptions, 234.
8 This type is discussed in § 2 below.