Updated: Aug 12, 2020

About two miles southeast of the town of Dendera,

Egypt, is the Dendera Temple complex, which features

one of the best-preserved temples in all of Egypt. Covering about 430,000 square feet, or nearly 10 acres, it

has become a major tourist attraction. The main temple in the complex is the Hathor Temple, dedicated to

the goddess Hathor, whom the Egyptians regarded as

the mother-goddess of the world and the patron of,

among other things, the sky, the sun, music, dance,

and the arts. The dates of construction provided in

the texts inscribed on the temple range from 54 B.C.E.

to 64 C.E.; it was built on the site of an earlier temple

from the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2140–1640 B.C.E.).

Hathor’s name means “house of Horus,” referring to the night sky and therefore the god of the sky,

Horus, who was the son of Osiris. As a mother-goddess, Hathor had been considered in earlier centuries as symbolic of the Milky Way, which the ancient

Egyptians believed was the milk that fl owed from a

celestial cow. Thus, as far back as 2700 B.C.E., Egyptians worshipped her as a cow deity. She was also

known by the name Mehturt (also spelled Mehurt,

Mehet-uret, and Mehet-Weret), a name that means

“great fl ood,” again in reference to the Milky Way.

However, because the Egyptians saw the Milky Way

as a waterway on which the gods could travel, they

came to associate it with the Nile River. Hathor, then,

was believed to be responsible for the yearly fl ooding

of the Nile. In this way, she also became associated

with motherhood, for the breaking of the amniotic

sac as a signal that a woman is about to give birth

was thought of as analogous to the fl ooding of the

Nile, with the “birth” of the crops that would grow

after it receded.

Archaeologists discovered a hymn to Hathor

when they refurbished the Dendera Temple complex.

This hymn, inscribed on the Hathor Temple, makes

clear her connection with Egyptian agriculture. Hathor is said to “cause the fl ood fl owing downriver in

its season.” To farmers, Hathor caused “the watered

earth to close over the seed when its right time has

come,” making men to “work it in joy.”

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