Shagi / Steps the Journal of the SASH


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Underworld dwarfs in Egypt: Between history and myth

. V. Alexandrova
Russian State University for the Humanities (Russia, Moscow)

DOI: 10.22394/2412-9410-2019-5-2-175-187

Keywords: Pyramid Texts, Ancient Egyptian mythology, comparative mythology, mythological motifs, pygmies, dwarfs

Abstract: The autobiography of Harkhuf enjoyed much attention in egyptological studies of the geography and history of Egypt and its neighbours at the end of the 3rd millenium BC. The most useful in this regard are his first three journeys, while details of the fourth expedition, which resulted in bringing a dwarf or a pygmy to the court of Pepy II, mostly fall out of focus in these studies. The fourth expedition is widely known outside Egyptology however, where it usually affords a context for Homers Simile of the Cranes and Pygmies. Nevertheless, apart from this sphere of classical studies, it has hardly been seen in the context of comparative mythology.
In this study the author returns to the hundred-year old issue of the close resemblance between particular expressions in Pepy IIs letter to Harkhuf and the Pyramid Text Spell 517. A pygmy or dwarf is referred to as a dancer of a gods dance, diverting the heart of the god. The formulaic manner of this description seems to indicate a presistent cultural stereotype. Another token of such mythological background can be seen in the provenance of a pygmy from the Land of Horizon dwellers. These and certain other traces of mythologically formed perception and interpretation of real historical events in Egyptian sources allow the author to consider Harkhufs biography as the earliest record of the mythological motif Underworld dwarfs (I20). The whole issue is also a contribution to the problem of the fuzzy border between historical and mythological in ancient monuments.

To cite this article: Alexandrova, E. V. (2019). Underworld dwarfs in Egypt: Between history and myth. Shagi/Steps, 5(2), 175187. (In Russian). DOI: 10.22394/2412-9410-2019-5-2-175-187