UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A good coming and a bad coming : the dual symbolic roles of mice in ancient Egyptian representations Cessna, Leesha Michelle


This thesis examines the symbolic role played by textual, 2- and 3-dimensional representations of mice in Ancient Egypt from the Old Kingdom to the New Kingdom. Many of these attestations are found in funerary contexts and performed a medico-magical role. By building on an interpretive framework established by Warren Dawson in the 1920s, this paper demonstrates that the mouse had two opposing yet complimentary roles in Egyptian medical and religious practice. On one hand, the mouse’s powerful fertility was life giving, but on the other, its fertility could turn to the propagation of disease. Certain conventions of depiction and verbal description ensured that the mouse was controlled and prevented from expressing its negative qualities. Furthermore, the power of the mouse was subordinated to both the Nile and the sun god. These symbolic roles are reflective of much later medical interpretations of mice that prevailed from the Greco-Roman period into the early modern era. Thus, this study expands on Dawson’s work to demonstrate the historical origins of later medical practices. The study concludes with an examination of mouse representations in the broader context of Egyptian mythology and cosmology. It is evident that the duality expressed by the mouse is a common element of Egyptian invention as is the convention of controlling a dangerous force by verbal cues and terminology. Lastly, these mouse objects are indicative of the Ancient Egyptian’s familiarity with the physical world and the role of disease vectors and water in the spread of disease.

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