A Nubian God or else a product of Egyptian and Nubian syncretism, Arensnuphis is almost always depicted anthropomorphically, wearing a crown of plumes, but is depicted at least once (in the Osiris shrine at Philae) in the form of a lion. The name ‘Arensnuphis’ is interpreted as deriving from Iry-hemes-nefer, ‘the good companion’. This interpretation derives from the most significant myth with which Arensnuphis is associated, the myth of the so-called ‘Distant Goddess’, in which a wrathful Goddess depicted as a lioness, most typically Tefnut, is brought from a place in the south, broadly Nubia, to Egypt – in effect, to wherever in a locality these ceremonies were observed – escorted by two male deities, undergoing a transformation through this journey in which she is rendered beneficent. Arensnuphis features, along with Thoth of Pnubs [Thoth of the noubs tree (the zizyphus or jujube)], as the escort of this Goddess in the version of the myth as it is found at Philae and further south. Arensnuphis is also depicted sometimes as a desert hunter, bearing a lasso and water-skin, or with a spear and a slain oryx. Arensnuphis may also be depicted subduing a crocodile.
In the vicinity of Abaton, where one of the ‘tombs’ of Osiris was located, an orgiastic cult centering on Tefnut was celebrated, possibly involving Arensnuphis and celebrating the pacification of the Goddess. This cult was censured at Elephantine in the 2nd century BCE for “profaning the sacred rites of Osiris at his tomb in Abaton,” an event which has been linked to the defacing of a relief of Arensnuphis at the temple of Dendur. In the relief, Arensnuphis is featured with Isis and her son Harpocrates, but his name has been erased and replaced with that of Osiris. Arensnuphis seems to have been incorporated into the milieu of Isis and Osiris as a protector and substitute son. Arensnuphis is also a representative of Nubia for Egyptians, bearing the epithet ‘Beautiful Medjay’, a term which refers to a Nubian people who became clients of the Egyptian state, serving as policemen in the desert regions.
In a spell from the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM XII. 182-89) whose goal is to obtain favor, ‘Arsenophre’ (Arensnuphis) is invoked as “the means to obtain favor for the universe and for the inhabited world. Heaven has become a dancing place for you … Let my outspokenness not leave me. But let every tongue and language listen to me.” This spell evokes the role of Arensnuphis in the myth of the ‘Distant Goddess’ as the one who persuades the Goddess to come with him to Egypt.
Betz, H. D. 1992. The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation. 2d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [PGM, PDM]
Griffiths, J. G. 1980. The Origins of Osiris and his Cult. Leiden: E. J. Brill.
Inconnu-Bocquillon, Danielle. 2001. Le Mythe de la Déesse Lointaine à Philae. Cairo: Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale.
Török, László. 1997. The Kingdom of Kush. Leiden: E. J. Brill.