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'The Great Neith, creator of the world' at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens

The goddess Neith, “creator of the world”, was brought out of the storerooms of the National Archaeological Museum, Athens, to be presented to its visitors and to tell her unknown story. Exhibited is a group of bronze votive statuettes of the early, powerful Egyptian deity Neith, which retained a dominant position in the land of the Nile from the 4th millennium BC until the 4th c. AD.

'The Great Neith, creator of the world' at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens
The “Great Neith, creator of the world”. Bronze votive statuettes of the 25th (712-670 BC) 
and 26th Dynasty (664-525 BC) [Credit: National Archaeological Museum]
In the bronze votive figurines of the first millennium BC, that were commissioned by prosperous  dedicators, the anthropomorphic goddess is often depicted standing, dressed in  a  long  chiton  and  embellished with jewellery, wearing the Pharaonic red crown of Lower Egypt. The sceptre and emblem that the deity would have held are not preserved.

Her hieroglyphic symbol takes the form of two bows tied together or a shield with two arrows crossed over it. The pronunciation of her name has become known to us through Plato (Timaeus, 21 Ε).

A mightly and primordial deity with a diversity of roles, the great Neith, the unique and mysterious, the elder of the gods, creator of the world, retained her predominance in the life of the Egyptians from the fourth millennium BC until the Ptolemaic-Roman period (up to the 4th cent. AD).

Originally, she was a formidable goddess, closely linked with weapons, hunting and war: the Mistress of the bow, the Master of the arrows. However, she was also connected with political authority, the Pharaoh and likewise with the women of the royal family too. Later on, as a tutetary deity, she was associated with as much the daily life as the afterlife. Furthermore, myths narrate that Neith invented birth and the craft of weaving.

'The Great Neith, creator of the world' at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens
The “Great Neith, creator of the world” [Credit: National Archaeological Museum]
Her cult, as supreme goddess reached its apogee during the 26th, Saite, Dynasty (664-525 BC), when the city of Sais in the Nile Delta, - the birthplace of the goddess as well as of the Pharaohs of the time, - became the capital of entire Egypt. Herodotus informs us that the city possessed the renowned sanctuary of Neith, in the precinct of which the Pharaohs were  buried, and that in the  nocturnal festivals of the goddess, lamps and torches were lit up throughout Egypt in her honour (Herodotus Histories, 2,62, 169-170, 175). The ancient Greeks identified Neith with the goddess Athena, acknowledging thus her primeval power.

The “Great Neith, creator of the world” emerged in the Hall of the Altar (No 34) on Monday, March 27, in the framework of the museum’s successful action “The Unseen Museum”, which presents selected antiquities from the world of the storerooms. Neith will be exhibited until Sunday, May 22, 2017.

On four days (April 7, 23 and 28, and May 7), at 1.00 p.m. archaeologists of the museum will welcome visitors in the exhibition hall and talk with them about the “unique and mysterious Neith, the eldest of the gods”, and about the various aspects of religious cult in the land of the Nile.

Admission to these presentations is on a first come, first served basis for ticket-holders, after they sign up at the Museum entry desk. Tel.: 213 214 891.

Source: National Archaeological Museum [March 28, 2017]

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