Usually regarded as a Nubian God or a product of Egyptian and Nubian syncretism (but see Lanciers’ argument for a purely Egyptian origin), 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 rendered in Egyptian as Iry-ḥms-nfr, ‘the good companion’. This interpretation derives from the most significant myth with which Arensnuphis is associated, that of the so-called ‘Distant’ or ‘Wandering 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 one or two male deities, particularly Shu or Onuris and Thoth, undergoing a transformation through this journey in which she is rendered beneficent and is greeted at her arrival with joyous festivities. Arensnuphis features in the Shu/Onuris role, 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 thereabouts. Arensnuphis is also depicted sometimes as a desert hunter, bearing a lasso and water-skin, or with a spear and a slain oryx, or sometimes subduing a crocodile. Iry-ḥms-nfr appears also as an epithet of Khnum, or else in a fusion of Khnum and Arensnuphis (Lanciers, pp. 207-8).

In the Abaton on the island of Biggeh, where one of the ‘tombs’ of Osiris (the resting place of his leg) was located, an orgiastic cult centering on Tefnut as the Wandering Goddess was celebrated, perhaps involving Arensnuphis, frequently characterized as a protector of Osiris at the Abaton. (Lanciers (p. 212) notes that the temple of Arensnuphis at Philae was oriented toward the island of Biggeh, either toward the tomb of Osiris or a sanctuary of Tefnut on the island.) 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. Dedwen, a God particularly identified for Egyptians with Nubia, is also treated at times as a manifestation of Arensnuphis (Inconnu-Bocquillon, pp. 98f).

In a spell from the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM XII. 182-89) whose goal is to obtain favor, ‘Arsenophre’‚ perhaps 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.” If Arensnuphis is indeed designated here, this spell evokes his role in the myth of the ‘Wandering Goddess’ in persuading the Goddess to return 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.
Lanciers, Eddy. 2016. “The Cult of Arensnuphis in Thebes in the Graeco-Roman Period.” Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur 45: 187-216.
Török, László. 1997. The Kingdom of Kush. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

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