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.”