The CBd
Bonner, SMA, 147.

represent Sarapis; but as nothing of the god's body is left except a hand resting on the topmost coil of the snake, it could just as well be Harpocrates. King has published a type of similar character, in which the head of the snake is poised above the man's head, as in the Borgia amulet, and the coils are much looser.43 The resemblance of this last to the serpent-wrapped mummies scratched on Wünsch's curse tablets is not to be forgotten;44 but those are almost certainly intended to represent an enemy as dead, and thus by imitative magic to bring about his destruction.

A stone in my collection has one feature in common with the Louvre fragment. It represents a youthful person whose whole body, except the head, neck, ankles, and feet, is enveloped in coils like those of a snake, though neither head nor tail of a snake is to be seen (D. 224). From these coils several curving lines extend to the ground. I am not convinced that the stone is ancient; it bears a suspicious resemblance to a better-preserved specimen shown by Chiflet, which is also likely to stir some doubts in the minds of experts. Following Athanasius Kircher, Chiflet called the figure Canopus, connecting it with a fanciful story told by Rufinus (Hist. Eccl. 11, 26), the relevant part of which is briefly as follows. When Persian worshipers of fire asserted the superiority of that element over all the gods of Egypt, a priest of Canopus took a perforated vessel of the kind used to filter water, stopped the pores with wax, and set it on a fire, which was soon quenched by the water issuing from the holes as the wax melted. Thus Canopus was proved mightier than the sacred fire of the Persians; and thereafter it was customary to represent him with a body shaped like a water jar and with a short neck and very small feet.

The design of the gems in question does not represent a true “Canopic” jar; the form and purpose of those vessels are too well known to detain us. If the stones were genuine, one might conjecture that the lines descending from the partly concealed figure were not jets of water, but bandages belonging to the wrappings of a mummy, from which the human figure emerges as the bands are removed. I find, however, that my suspicion of this type is shared by B. H. Stricker,45 who had occasion to consider it in an article discussing a cult figure shaped like a Canopic jar. He thinks that the gems may actually have been meant to represent the scene described by Rufinus. In that case, and probably in any event, all the “Canopus” gems shown by Kircher, Chiflet, Capello, and Montfaucon are to be regarded as early modern forgeries.46

43 King, Gnostics, Pl. F 3.

44 See p. 114. above and Preisendanz, Akephalos, pp. 39–41.

45 Oudheidkundige Mededeelingen uit het Rijksmuseum van Oudheden te Leiden, N. S., 24 (1943), 10.

46 Kircher, Prodromus Coptus, p. 227; Oedipus Aegyptiacus, I, 209, 211; III, plate between pp. 434 and 435; 449; Chiflet, Pl. 25, 103, and p. 134; Capello, Prodromus Iconicus, No. 212; Montfaucon, II, Pl. 160, 12.

Last modified: 2012-10-29 16:43:10