1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bubastis

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740851911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 4 — BubastisFrancis Llewellyn Griffith

BUBASTIS, the Graecized name of the Egyptian goddess Ubasti, meaning “she of [the city] Bast” (B;s-t), a city better known by its later name, P-ubasti, “place of Ubasti”; thus the goddess derived her name Ubasti from her city (Bast), and in turn the city derived its name P-ubasti from that of the goddess; the Greeks, confusing the name of the city with that of the goddess, called the latter Bubastis, and the former also Bubastis (later Bubastos). Bubastis, capital of the 19th nome of Lower Egypt, is now represented by a great mound of ruins called Tell Basta, near Zagazig, including the site of a large temple (described by Herodotus) strewn with blocks of granite. The monuments discovered there, although only those in hard stone have survived, are more important than at any other site in the Delta except Tanis and cover a wider range, commencing with Khufu (Cheops) and continuing to the thirtieth dynasty.

Ubasti was one of many feline goddesses, figured with the head of a lioness. In the great development of reverence for sacred animals which took place after the New Kingdom, the domestic cat was especially the animal of Bubastis, although it had also to serve for all the other feline goddesses, owing no doubt to the scarcity and intractability of its congeners. Her hieratic and most general form was still lioness-headed, but a popular form, especially in bronze, was a cat-headed women, often holding in her right hand a lion aegis, i.e. a broad semicircular pectoral surmounted by the head of a lioness, and on the left arm a basket. The cat cemetery on the west side of the town consisted of numbers of large brick chambers, crammed with burnt and decayed mummies, many of which had been enclosed in cat-shaped cases of wood and bronze. Herodotus describes the festival of Bubastis, which was attended by thousands from all parts of Egypt and was a very riotous affair; it has its modern equivalent in the Moslem festival of the sheikh Said el Badawi at Tanta. The tablet of Canopus shows that there were two festivals of Bubastis, the great and the lesser: perhaps the lesser festival was held at Memphis, where the quarter called Ankhto contained a temple to this goddess. Her name is found on monuments from the third dynasty onwards, but a great stimulus was given to her worship by the twenty-second (Bubastite) dynasty and generally by the increased importance of Lower Egypt in later times. Her character seems to have been essentially mild and playful, in contrast to Sokhmi and other feline goddesses. The Greeks equated Ubasti with their Artemis, confusing her with the leonine Tafne, sister of Shöou (Apollo). The Egyptians themselves delighted in identifying together goddesses of the most diverse forms and attributes; but Ubasti was almost indistinguishable in form from Tafne. The name of her son Iphthimis (Nfr-tm), pronounced Eftem, may mean “All-good,” and, in the absence of other information about him, suggests a reason why he was identified with Prometheus.

See K. Sethe in Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyclopädie; E. Naville, Bubastis, and Festival Hall of Osorkon II.; Herodotus ii. 67, 137-156; Grenfell and Hunt, Hibeh Papyri, i.  (F. Ll. G.)