Arnaud Quertinmont, Musée royal de Mariemont

Anubis as a Demon?

The gates of the Underworld are watched over by what we call “demons”. These guardians, who can prove to be aggressive or protective, are often armed with knives. In general, they are only known for this specific purpose and it is relatively rare to find them in a function outside the realm of the dead – though some exceptions can be noted in the Oracular Amuletic Decrees. If it is recognised that demons have limited power and can’t act as a deity, can the reverse be acknowledged? Can a God act as a demon?

Anubis, due to his role as tomb keeper, is the first deity to be represented in the mastabas of the Old Kingdom, whilst the other gods are left out. Indeed, it is not uncommon to find a representation of this god’s name at the entrance to the chapel, on the jamb of the central door. It then presents a canid image -surpassing other hieroglyphics in size- that plays both the role of determinative in the inscription and incarnation of the divine entity.

It is most likely this particular function of guardian, keeper of the tomb and of the deceased’s body, which explains the particular iconography of Anubis that can be found in Nakhtamun’s tomb (TT 335). Over the door of room B are two representations of the god easily identifiable by Anubis’ traditional epithets. Located beneath a canopy, he is featured in both figurations as a demon with a human body and canine head, in a seated position and armed with a knife. They seem to watch over Osiris’ name. Could this iconography be an emphasis on the role of guardian of the Underworld and of Osiris’ body? Can this be sufficient as to explain this god’s particular form?

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