BES, or Besas (Egyp. Bes or Besa), the Egyptian god of recreation, represented as a dwarf with large head, goggle eyes, protruding tongue, shaggy beard, a bushy tail seen between his bow legs hanging down behind (sometimes clearly as part of a skin girdle) and usually a large crown of feathers on his head.
A Bes-like mask was found by Petrie amongst remains of the twelfth dynasty, but the earliest occurrence of the god is in the temple of the queen Hatshepsut at Deir el Bahri (c. 1500 B.C.), where he is figured along with the hippopotamus goddess as present at the queen's birth. His figure is that of a grotesque mountebank, intended to inspire joy or drive away pain and sorrow, his hideousness being perhaps supposed actually to scare away the evil spirits. In his joyous aspect Bes plays the harp or flute, dances, &c. He is figured on mirrors, ointment vases and other articles of the toilet. Amulets and ornaments in the form of the figure or mask of Bes are common after the New Kingdom; he is often associated with children and with childbirth and is figured in the "birth-houses" devoted to the cult of the child-god. Perhaps the earliest known instance of his prominent appearance of large size in the sculptures of the temples is under Tahraka, at Jebel Barkal, Nubia, at the beginning of the 7th century B.C. As the protector of children and others he is the enemy of noxious beasts, such as lions, crocodiles, serpents and scorpions. Large wooden figures of Bes are generally found to contain the remains of a human foetus. In the first centuries of our era an oracle of Besas was consulted at Abydos, where A. H. Sayce has found graffiti concerning him, and prescriptions exist for consulting Besas in dreams. It has been held that Bes was of non-Egyptian origin, African, as Wiedemann, or Arabian or even Babylonian, as W. Max Muller contends; he is sometimes entitled "coming from the Divine Land" (i.e. the East or Arabia), or "Lord of Puoni" (Punt), i.e. the African coast of the Red Sea; his effigy occurs also on Greek coins of Arabia. It is remarkable also that, contrary to the usual rule, he is commonly represented in Egyptian sculptures and paintings full faced instead of in profile. But the connexion of the god with Puoni may have grown out of the fact that dwarf dancers were especially brought to Egypt from Ethiopia and Puoni.
See K. Sethe in Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopddie, s.v.; A. Wiedemann, Religion of the Ancient Egyptians (London, 1897), p. 159; E. A. W. Budge, Gods of the Egyptians, ii. p. 284 (London); W. Max Muller, Asien u. Europa (Leipzig, 18 93), p. 310.
(F. LL. G.)
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