(Hat-Mehit) Hatmehyt was the principal Goddess of the city of Djedet, a city in the Delta known to the Greeks as Mendes, and lends her name also to the nome, or district, in which it was located (the sixteenth nome of Lower Egypt). Her name means ‘Foremost among fish’ or ‘She who is foremost of the inundation’, and she is depicted as a woman with a fish emblem over her head or sometimes as a fish. The fish is typically identified as the schilbe (or ‘schilby’), but may also be the Nile carp, the tilapia, or even the dolphin (argued particularly by Meeks 1973), and perhaps there is no need for these identifications to be exclusive. The significance of the dolphin, which was known to venture occasionally some distance up the Nile, would lie in its position as the premier hunter of fish. Hence the Greeks referred to the dolphin as “king of the fish and ruler of the sea” (Meeks 215 and n. 10). An Egyptian calendar refers to the 28th day of the fourth month of the season of Akhet as a day on which “not to eat the eaters-of-fish in Mendes.” Pliny the Elder speaks of dolphins in the Nile as killing crocodiles with their sharp dorsal fins (Natural History 8, 91), and Seneca (Quaest. Nat. 4, 2, 13) speaks of dolphins and crocodiles fighting in the Canopic mouth of the Nile. Such reports may reflect Egyptian ideas about the dolphin. Hatmehyt is sometimes depicted in the solar boat, where her role may have been to dominate the ‘fish’ dwelling in the celestial ‘sea’. A wide-ranging symbolic value is attached to fish and fishermen in Egyptian thought, as can be seen by symbolic images of fishing in tombs and references in the afterlife literature to fishermen and fish-nets which threaten the deceased, implying an identification between fish and mortal souls as such and a concern that one be fisher rather than fish. In this regard it is worth noting that the word mehyt, ‘fish’, can also mean ‘drowned’, and is a term used of Osiris when he is cast into the Nile. The Nile carp, for its part, is otherwise important in Egyptian religion as the fish who consumed the detached phallus of Osiris, requiring Isis to craft a magical substitute phallus for the reconstituted Osiris in order to conceive Horus. There may be a reference to this myth in the Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys, where Nephthys addresses Osiris, asking him to “come to Djedet, O lusty bull … O lover of women, come to Hatmehyt,” (Lichtheim vol. 3, 119). Hatmehyt here is the district, not the Goddess, but the sexual terms in which the appeal is posed allude to the myth, in which Hatmehyt’s role seems to be to receive the phallus of Osiris on a ‘physical’ plane while Isis receives it on a ‘metaphysical’ one. Hatmehyt’s consort is Banebdjedet.
Lichtheim, Miriam. 1975-80. Ancient Egyptian Literature. 3 vols. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Meeks, Dimitri. 1973. “Le Nom du Dauphin et le Poisson de Mendès.” Revue d’Égyptologie 25: 209-216.
Redford, Donald B. 2010. City of the Ram-Man: The Story of Ancient Mendes. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.