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Jerry Meeks

With the squat, stocky body of a bandy-legged dwarf, he faces outwards, arms akimbo. His grotesque head has a leering, lewd expression, as his thick tongue lolls towards his chin, while the strands of his beard end in flickering spirals. A tail dangles suggestively between his legs. This, I learned, was the ancient Egyptian deity Bes – who was beloved for centuries not only in Egypt but also across the Mediterranean, and ultimately helped to shape the appearance of the Christian Devil.

Although he never had a state-sanctioned cult, Bes was tremendously popular in ancient Egypt. He was worshipped in ordinary homes, where he was associated with many of the good things in life: sex, drinking, music, and merriment. He also had an important protective function, and was often invoked during childbirth (hence his appearance in the divine birth house at Dendera). In other words, although to modern eyes he may appear frightening, he was actually decent. Friend to beer-swilling carousers and expectant mothers alike, he warded off noxious spirits like a gargoyle on a medieval church.

To the ancient Egyptians, Bes was a friendly, protective god. Yet the Christians cast him as alien and disturbing in order to demonstrate the triumph of the new faith over older customs. So next time you find yourself considering an artistic representation of the Devil – such as Giotto’s bearded, pot-bellied monster munching on sinners in the Arena Chapel in Padua – spare a thought for his art-historical forefather, Bes. If nothing else, Bes teaches us that appearances can be deceptive

By wmb3331

Isaiah Israel is a graduate of the University of Hawaii Pacific with a bachelors in Psychology and a deep love for history in which he believes that when you know the past you can understand the present and predict the future course of man and mankind and is the author of the best selling ebook The White Man's Burden Of Lies and Deceit.

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