Statuette of Meretseger

Although this snake goddess is not named in an inscription, her human face and the two finger-shaped feathers on her crown identify her as Meretseger (She Who Loves Silence), a patroness of fertility and the harvest. Like this statue, most images of Meretseger are modest in quality and were placed in small chapels or shrines to be visited by local farmers. Sandstone and pigment.

Sculpted in the round, the figure is fairly rectangular– there being no smooth transitions from side to front view, or at least totally so. From the side we see the coiled body on the snake; two coils being indicated on each side, forced up into loops. From the front the human face (much rubbed down) is shown wearing a tripartite wig capped by a crown composed of a ka sign embracing a solar disc, a vertical line above the disc divides the apex of the roughly triangular crown.

Statuette of the Goddess Meretseger
Statuette of Meretseger

The area behind the crown and when viewed from the side, above the coils is left uncarved, save for a smoothing down which has left the piece of untouched stone. The figure sits on a rectangular plinth. Traces of red paint exist on the front of the cobra body and on the rim of the crown as well as the solar discs.

Meretseger, she who loves silence

The snake goddess Meretseger was revered and feared by the people of Thebes who built the Valley of the Kings. Her name means “she who loves silence,” and she guarded the tombs in the Theban necropolis. Workers also referred to her as “Peak of the West,” a nod to the pyramid-shaped mountaintop (known today as Al Qurn) above the Valley of the Kings, where she dwelled.

Sometimes called Dehenet-Imentet “the peak of the West” after the name of her home, her most usual name was Meretseger “She who loves silence”. This second epithet is perfect for a goddess who lived in that lonely and desolate region inhabited only by the dead and, temporarily, by those workers who built the tombs there.

The goddess’s appearance varies across different works of art, but snakes feature heavily in her iconography; often she is shown as a coiled cobra with a woman’s head. The workers of Thebes believed that the goddess punished criminals and oath breakers with blindness and venomous snakebites.

The significance of the snake in Ancient Egypt is very ambivalent. It inspires both fear and admiration. The royal cobra, in particular, protects the wearer against enemies. In the Books of the Underworld, uraei serve as the guardians of doors and gates.

As a local deity, Meretseger guarded the Valley of the Kings, where monarchs were entombed, and the village of craftsmen who worked there. Though a dangerous animal, her purpose was to protect the workers in the valley, and also sometimes to punish wrongdoers.

New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, 1550-1292 BC. Now in the Brooklyn Museum. 37.1749E