Egyptian Stele with Min and Isis

April 28, 2020

In London, over the past month, we have been blessed with wonderful weather, warmth, sunshine and blue skies.

It is April, celebrated by the poets, a time when gardeners are out on their vegetable patches planting seeds and looking forward to fruitful summer and autumn harvests. However, this spring there have been few showers, which seeds and gardens need and gardeners cry out for.

The small votive stele shown above, which sits pleasingly in the hand, depicts an offerant kneeling before two gods, looking for their help and intercedence. We know from their iconography who they are, but the hieroglyphs also give us their names: Min of Coptos and Isis the Great. Even a cursory glance at the scene reveals that Min is in a state of prominent arousal. Isis, his mother/wife stands behind him, and their amatory presence maybe hints at the reason why this stele was dedicated.

Growing between the couple, looking like small cypress trees, are two tall cos lettuces... Now, nothing in this scene is accidental, everything has a meaning, so why are the gods depicted standing in what might be seen as some kind of kitchen garden? Well lettuces have meaning and are often shown in offering scenes. When cut they secrete a slightly sticky, milky juice, which for the ancient Egyptians had seminal connotations. So here, seen together with the divine couple, and Min's striking physical attribute, these humble salad vegetables amplify our sense that what is being sought is fertility - the lettuces approximating to what, children? A wife? Contentment?
As an extra bit of flotsam from my mind, and just by the by, did you know that the word 'lettuce' derives from the Latin luctuca, 'lac' for milk? So we can see the lettuce as a plant of fertility and nurture. How the ancients press in on us in our modern world!

So, if you can, now is the time to get out and plant your seeds, and if you do, then look to the skies and plead to the gods for some April showers and abundance. Who knows, as well, maybe around Christmastime the hospital Maternity wards will be unusually busy this year.

Egyptian stele with Min and Isis
New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, c.1300 BC
Dimensions 14.9x9.8cm 



Add a comment