Sopdet (“skilled woman”, also known as Sothis) represented Sirius, the Dog Star. Sirius was the most important star to ancient Egyptian astronomers because it signalled the approach of the inundation and the beginning of a new year. New year was celebrated with a festival known as “The Coming of Sopdet”.
In fact, the “Sothic Rising” only coincided with the solar year once every 1460 years. The Roman emperor Antoninus Pius had a commemorative coin made to mark their coincidence in AD 139. The Sothic Cycle (the periods between the rising of the star) have been used by archaeologists trying to construct a chronology of Ancient Egypt.
Sopdet was the wife of Sahu (“the hidden one”), the constellation Orion, and the mother of Sopdu (“skilled man”), a falcon god who represented the planet Venus. This triad echoed the trio of Osiris, Isis, and Horus, but the connections were not always simple. Sopdet became increasingly associated with Isis, who asserts that she is Sopdet (in “the lamentations of Isis and Nephthys” c 400 B.C) and will follow Osiris, the manifestation of Sahu. However, as well as being considered to be the spouse of Orion (Osiris), she is described by the pyramid texts as the daughter of Osiris.
Although Sopdet started out as an agricultural deity, closely associated with the Nile, by the Middle Kingdom she was also considered to be a mother goddess. This probably related to her growing connection with the goddess Isis. This connection was further strengthened by Sopdet’s role in assisting the pharaoh to find his way to the imperishable stars. It may be no coincidence that Sirius disappeared for seventy days every year, and mummification took seventy days.
In the First Dynasty ivory tablets Sopdet was depicted as a reclining cow with a unidentified plant-like emblem (possibly representing “year”) between her horns. However, she was most often depicted as a woman wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt topped by a star or a headdress with two plumes. Less often, she is portrayed as a large dog, and by the Roman period the hybrid goddess Isis-Sopdet was depicted as a woman riding side-saddle on a large dog.
Sopdet was occasionally shown as a male deity. During the Middle Kingdom the male Sopdet was associated with Horus as one of the gods who held up the four corners of the earth and held Nut (the sky) in place. During the Greek period she was linked to Anubis as Sopdet-Anubis, possibly because of her canine associations.
- Budge, E Wallis (1904) The Gods of the Egyptians
- Pinch, Geraldine (2002) Handbook Egyptian Mythology
- Redford Donald B (2002) Ancient Gods Speak
- Watterson, Barbara (1996) Gods of Ancient Egypt
- Wilkinson, Richard H. (2003) The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt
Copyright J Hill 2016