(Shezmu) Shesmu is closely associated with the presses used in the production of wine and oils; hence he is often simply referred to in Egyptological literature as ‘the Wine-Press God’. His function in Egyptian theology involves, first, the use of such presses in the production of perfumes and unguents used in the cults of all the Gods, and second, the symbolism of the press, which was drawn upon in afterlife literature to express the processing, so to speak, of the dead who cannot achieve resurrection. Thirdly, Shesmu is the divine butcher, with the attendant ambivalence of being a supplier of food as well as a mutilator of living flesh. The extremes of Shesmu’s nature are expressed by a difference in iconography: as ointment-maker, in which role Shesmu is known as “lord of the laboratory” (nb iswy), he is depicted as lion-headed, while as butcher he is depicted anthropomorphically.

In PT utterance 273-4, the “lords” who are slain by Khonsu are cut up and cooked by Shesmu so that the deceased king may assimilate their “magic” and their “spirits”. In PT utterance 334 the deceased king compares a crossing he makes to that of “Shesmu who is in his oil-press bark,” perhaps to convey the idea that he is crushing any resistance in his path. In PT utterance 581, Shesmu is described as bearing grape-juice to the deceased king, identified with Osiris. In a scene of the grape harvest from the Saqqara mastaba of Ptahhotep a group of youths are throwing darts during a harvest game or ritual, the scene labelled “Shooting for Shesmu” (Ciccarello 44 and n. 5). In CT spell 34, among the sights which the Goddess “the beautiful West,” Amentet, the personification of the land of the setting sun and hence of the dead, offers to show the deceased, “for the young God [Horus] is like you,” is “Shesmu with his knives in his shape of Slaughterer.” In CT spell 205, one of the ways in which the deceased signals his resurrection is cackling as a goose of Shesmu, or cackling as a goose like Shesmu. Similarly, CT spell 253, “To become the scribe of Atum,” invokes Shesmu in some avian form: “O Shesmu in your nest, I will act on behalf of my lord…”. Shesmu features regularly in CT spells 473-480, spells for avoiding the “nets” and “fish-traps” in the netherworld, in which he is performing exactly the same role as in PT 273-4 against the anonymous “lords”, only in the spells from the Coffin Texts, the viewpoint from which his activities are being described is reversed. In these spells, escaping from the netherworld fishermen is a matter of being able to identify them, their ship and their equipment; thus in spell 473, e.g., Shesmu is present with his knife and cauldron, gutting and cooking the “fish”, i.e., captured souls. Interestingly, his cauldron is referred to as a ‘woman’: “[You shall not catch me in your nets] because I know the name of the woman in which he [Shesmu] cooks it [the 'fish' or soul]; it is the cauldron in the hand of Shesmu.” In CT spell 571, for building and supplying a “mansion among the waters,” Shesmu is involved in the distribution of offerings, presumably from out of the produce of the mansion, to the Gods and to the “patricians,” i.e., the other righteous dead, and similarly in CT spell 720, the deceased is to receive his/her rightful portion from the slaughterhouse operated by Shesmu, meat continuing to be supplied in the afterlife just as on earth. In CT spell 1028, Shesmu, just as in the passages from the Pyramid Texts, slaughters for the deceased certain high-status persons, here “the elders of the sky,” the spell being titled, intriguingly, “To show the path to acclaim.” CT spell 944 contains the formula “My heart is Shesmu.” In BD spell 17 Shesmu is described as the “mutilator” on behalf of Osiris. BD spell 153 contains a version of the ‘fish-net’ spells from the Coffin Texts, with references to Shesmu’s participation, but differs from the Coffin Texts version in not only allowing the deceased to escape being caught by the ‘fishermen’, but indeed to become one of them. In BD spell 170, Shesmu provides for the deceased “the best of fowl”. The constant shifting of Shesmu’s role from executioner to provisioner indicates that the netherworld operates, like this world, as a closed metabolism, in which one eating implies some other being eaten.

In the New Kingdom Shesmu is increasingly either ointment-maker or butcher and no longer associated with wine. On the east staircase at Dendera, Shesmu is depicted both as lion-headed, carrying jars of ointment and called “Shesmu, lord of the laboratory,” and also as human-headed, carrying cuts of meat, labelled “Shesmu, lord of the slaughterhouse of Horus, chief of the slaughterblock, who hacks up the oryx, wild of countenance, who overthrows enemies, who slays all the beasts of the desert, mighty in his arm, who strikes down the rebel, who propitiates the heart of Hathor with what she likes,” (Ciccarello 51; Mariette, Denderah IV, Pls. V, VII, XIV, XVI). Shesmu “who overthrows his enemies” is also one of the guardian deities invoked in the “Book of the Protection of the Body” from the temple of Horus at Edfu (Chassinat, Temple d’Edfou VI, 301), as well as the guardian of the twelfth hour of the night at Edfu, Dendera and Philae.

Ciccarello, Mark. 1976. “Shesmu the Letopolite.” Pp. 43-54 in Mark Ciccarello, et al., eds., Studies in Honor of George R. Hughes. Chicago: The Oriental Institute.

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