Zodiac Dendera | Zodiac signs in ancient Egypt

Zodiac Dendera | Zodiac signs in ancient Egypt

Zodiac Dendera

The zodiac Dendera is a planisphere, a map representing the starry sky in plane projection, with the 12 constellations of the zodiacal band, the constellations forming the 36 decans and the small planets. These decans are first-rate groups of stars in the night sky. They are used in the Egyptian calendar, which is based on the lunar cycles of about thirty days and the annual recurrence of the heliacal rise of the star Sothis (Sirius).

This representation of a circular zodiac is unique in ancient Egypt. Two other rectangular zodiacs adorn the ceiling of the temple’s pronaos.

The celestial vault is represented by a disc supported by four pillars of the sky in the form of women, between which are interposed genii with the head of a falcon. On the first circumference, thirty six geniuses symbolize the 360 ​​days of the Egyptian year.

On an inner circle, there are constellations, which include the signs of the zodiac whose representation is close to their designation such as Aries, Taurus, Scorpio, or Capricorn. For others, the iconography is more Egyptian: Aquarius is represented as the god of the flood Hâpy, holding two vases from which water gushes.

The Dendera zodiac is an ancient bas-relief temple ceiling carved with mysterious symbols of stars and planets. During Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign (1798-1801), French scientists discovered the zodiac in the ceiling of a small chapel atop a temple outside the town of Dendera, near Thebes. Made of sandstone and weighing many tons, the zodiac excited immense wonder and admiration, for it seemed to open a window onto a civilization of almost immeasurable antiquity.

The Dendera Zodiac: A Glimpse into Ancient Astronomy

The Dendera Zodiac, carved onto the ceiling of the temple’s outer hypostyle hall, provides a unique insight into the astronomical knowledge and beliefs of the ancient Egyptians. This impressive celestial map, roughly 2,000 years old, portrays the twelve zodiac signs along with various constellations and deities associated with Egyptian mythology.

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Representations of the Zodiac Dendera

This representation of the zodiac in a circular shape is unique in Ancient Egyptian art.

The Louvre museum presents the zodiac to visitors on an explanatory panel:

The five known planets at the time are indicated (in brown): Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn.

The twelve zodiacal constellations (in dark green) are on a spiral starting from Cancer followed – in the opposite direction of the astrological periods – by Gemini, Taurus, Aries, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, Sagittarius, Scorpio, Libra, Virgo and finally Leo. Champollion-Figeac (cf. infra), on the other hand, starts the spiral with Leo (follow the eleven other signs in the order of astrological periods) and final Cancer is above Leo.

Eleven other constellations (in light green) are identified:

Eagle, Bouvier, Cassiopeia, Horse (Small), Cygne-Lyre, Dragon, Loup, Orion, Ourse (Large), Ourse (Small), Serpent.

The star Sirius (also in light green) is shown.
The two eclipses are explained: that of the Moon (52 before our era), that of the Sun (51 before our era).

Interpreting the Zodiac: Astronomical Significance and Symbolism

Scholars and researchers have delved into decoding the symbolism and astronomical significance of the Dendera Zodiac. It features the twelve zodiac signs known in Western astrology, aligned with specific constellations, showcasing a blend of Egyptian mythological figures and Hellenistic influences. The depiction includes familiar figures like Leo, Taurus, and Scorpio, each represented by a unique blend of mythological and astronomical elements.

Cultural and Historical Significance

The Dendera Zodiac not only serves as an astronomical record but also reflects the religious and cultural beliefs of ancient Egypt. It highlights the importance of celestial bodies, mythology, and the cosmic order within the Egyptian religious framework.

Legacy and Modern Perspectives

The Dendera Zodiac continues to captivate modern audiences, inspiring debates and discussions about its origins, purpose, and accuracy in depicting astronomical knowledge. While some view it as a celestial map illustrating early astronomical wisdom, others interpret it as a symbolic representation of the cosmic order and the divine.

Conclusion: Bridging Ancient Wisdom with Modern Curiosity

The Dendera Zodiac stands as an enduring artifact, symbolizing the intersection of ancient astronomy, mythology, and cultural beliefs. Its enigmatic allure continues to stimulate curiosity and fascination, inviting us to explore the celestial and mystical world envisioned by the ancient Egyptians.

The Dendera Zodiac remains a remarkable testament to the enduring legacy of ancient civilizations’ understanding of the cosmos and their desire to depict it artistically and symbolically.

Sources: PinterPandaiRosicrucian Egyptian Museum, Victorian Web, Linda Hall Library

Photo credit: Author: Alice-astro / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Photo description: Dendera zodiac with original colors (reconstructed) – courtesy of Alexandre N.Isis.

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