the Greek form of the name of the god whom the Egyptians called Menu. One of the oldest of the Egyptian deities, he was associated with fertility, and specifically, male sexual potency. He was also the god of the desert, especially the wastelands to the east of Coptos and Akhmim, his chief centers of worship. His protection was sought by those who traveled through those inhospitable regions in search of gold, perfumes, and incense in the lands toward Arabia, and he was specially revered by laborers who worked the Eastern Desert mines.
Min is one of the few Egyptian gods whose iconography can be traced into the Predynastic period. At that time, he was represented by an enigmatic emblem—a horizontal line with a disk in the center, flanked by two hemispherical projections. This symbol has been variously identified as a meteorite, a bolt of lightning, an arrow with barbs, the bolt of a door, or two fossilized shells. It appears on palettes, earthenware vessels, and mace heads, as well as on standards. Later, it was incorporated into the hieroglyph for Min's name and the symbol for the fifth nome of Upper Egypt, whose capital was Coptos. Among the earliest anthropomorphic representations of the god are three pillar-like colossal limestone statues excavated at the temple of Min at Coptos by W. M. Flinders Petrie, which date from the late fourth millennium BCE. Now in the British Museum, they are among the few examples of divine sculpture from the beginning of the Early Dynastic period. These damaged statues, executed in a strikingly minimalist manner, depict a male figure whose left hand grasps at a space formerly occupied by a stone phallus. The fifth dynasty Palermo Stone records that in the first dynasty a royal decree commanded a statue of Min to be carved; the sculpture was probably similar to the ones at Coptos. Much later, a Ptolemaic temple of Min and Isis (still extant) was built at Coptos by an official named Sennuu for Ptolemy II, and the Roman emperor Claudius constructed a small temple to Min, Isis, and Horus at el-Qal'a, to the north of Coptos.
The other chief center for the cult of Min was Akhmim, in the ninth nome, on the eastern bank of the Nile. There is a rock chapel dedicated to him at el-Salamuni, to the northeast of Akhmim, which was most likely the creation of the eighteenth dynasty king Thutmose III; it was decorated by Nakhtmin, the “First Prophet of Min.” West of Akhmim were two companion temples dedicated to Min and Repyt (Triphis), the goddess who was considered to be his consort. Both temples probably date from the Greco-Roman period, but might possibly be older. There was also a temple of Isis and Min at Buhen in Upper Nubia, built by Thutmose's successor Amenhotpe II (the “North Temple”); it is now removed to Khartoum.
In pharaonic art, Min appears as a human figure, standing upright and wrapped as a mummy, holding his erect penis in his left hand. The earliest known example of this ithyphallic depiction is most likely an ink drawing on a stone bowl found in the tomb of Khasekhemy (died c.2687 BCE). The other iconographic characteristics of Min are the flail that he holds in his upraised right hand, and the distinctive crown that he wears; the crown is tall and double-plumed, with a long ribbon in the back. Later, Min's crown was taken over by Amun. Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) was associated with Min, possibly because it was believed to be an aphrodisiac or, perhaps, because of the resemblance that its milky sap bears to human semen. Lettuces are sometimes depicted on an offering table adjacent to the god, which stands between him and his sanctuary. Depictions of Min's sanctuary resemble the tents that desert-dwellers used, and New Kingdom reliefs on temple walls illustrate the ceremony of raising the tentpoles for Min. As lord of the Eastern Desert, Min was sometimes depicted in the company of gods of foreign origin, such as Reshep, Qedeshet, and Anat. Some scholars have identified him with the being described by the Pyramid Texts as “the one who raises his arm in the East.” As an embodiment of male sexuality, Min was complemented by the goddess Hathor, who was associated with the libidinous aspects of the feminine.
During the Middle Kingdom, Min was assimilated into the Horus-myth. Sometimes he was identified as the son of Isis; at Abydos he was called “Min-Horus-the-victorious,” the powerful conqueror of Seth. Alternately, Isis was pictured as his wife, with Horus as their child. By New Kingdom times, however, Min was equated with Amun, especially with the primordial creative aspect of the latter deity. Min-Amun-Re was given the appelation Kamutef, which literally means “bull of his mother”—that is, one who impregnates his own mother so that she gives birth to himself. This aspect of the supreme deity Amun, depicted exactly like the mummiform, ithyphallic Min, emphasized the eternal and self-subsistent character of divine and pharaonic power. A ceremony honoring Min, featuring a procession of a statue of the god, sometimes took place during the royal coronation as a means of ensuring the king's potency. Similar rituals occurred during sed-festivals (royal jubilees); a twelfth dynasty limestone relief now in the Petrie Museum in London shows Senwosret I celebrating his sed-festival, holding an oar, and (the inscription reads) “hastening by boat to Min, the god in the midst of the city.” At Medinet Habu, the second court of the temple of Ramesses II (nineteenth dynasty) shows a similar festival, during which the pharaoh worships this agricultural divinity by harvesting a sheaf of wheat. Another ritual involved annointing a statue of the god with a life-giving mixture of bitumen and various burnt ingredients. Popular worship of Min was of a riotous nature. The Greeks associated him with Pan, their own rustic god of unbridled male eros, and during Ptolemaic times they renamed Akhmim as Panopolis (“Pan's city”).
See also KAMUTEF.
- Bleeker, Claas J. Die Geburt eines Gottes. Leiden, 1956.
- Gauthier, Henri. Les fêtes du dieu Min. Cairo, 1931.
- Gauthier, Henri. Le personnel du dieu Min. Cairo, 1931.
- Germer, Renate. “Die Bedeutung des Lattichs als Pflanze des Min.” Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur 8 (1980), 85–87.
- Ogdon, J. R. “Some Notes on the Iconography of Min.” Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar 7 (1985–1986), 29–41.
- Wilkinson, R. H. “Ancient Near Eastern Raised-arm Figures and the Iconography of the Egyptian God Min.” Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar 11 (1991–1992), 109–118.