Bes

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Bes (also spelt as Bisu) was a god thought to have been imported into Egyptian mythology from that of Nubia, during the Middle Kingdom. His name appears to be connected to a Nubian word for cat, and indeed, his first appearances have the suggestion of a cat god. Egyptians kept cats in order to attack snakes, and creatures that might ruin crop stores, such as mice, and so Bes was naturally singled out, amongst Nubian gods, as worthy of worship in Egypt.

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Bes gradually became a general household protector, responsible for protecting homes through such tasks as killing snakes, fighting off evil spirits, watching after children, and aiding (by fighting off evil spirits) women in labour (and thus present with Taweret at births). Consequently, over time, his image became distorted, and he came to be seen as what was effectively an hideously ugly dwarf, with long tongue, bow legs, and some feline body parts, and sometimes a lion's head.

Images of the god were kept in homes to ward off evil, and so he was depicted quite differently from the other gods. Normally gods were shown in profile, but instead Bes appeared in portrait, ithyphallic, and sometimes in a soldier's tunic, so as to appear ready to launch an attack on any approaching evil.

Since he drove off evil, he came to also symbolise the good things in life - music, dance, and generic, and sexual, pleasure. Later, in the hellenic period of Egyptian history, the female form of Bes' name, Beset, became considered Bes' wife, rather than just his feminine form. As a result, sometimes chambers were constructed, painted with images of Bes and Beset, naked, generally thought by egyptologists to have been for the purpose of a chamber in which people slept so as to cure fertility problems.

Like many Egyptian, and indeed Nubian, gods, the worship of Bes was exported overseas, and he, in particular, proved popular with the Phoenicians and the (ancient) Cypriots.

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