Thursday, March 19, 2015
Apep: From Ancient Egypt to TV Star
Legends of the deities of ancient Egypt are as old or older than any on the planet and are lavishly packed with a hierarchy of gods and demi-gods. One deity, however, was considered so evil that Egyptian priests conducted an annual ritual to repel and banish it. Apep, known to the Greeks as Apophis, ruled the oceans as a giant serpent, although he could also appear as a mighty crocodile. Also known as Evil Lizard and Encircler of the Earth, Apep’s chief sin was his constant attempt to stop the sun god, Ra, from completing his journey through the sky every day. Apep would wait until Ra’s fiery barge had passed the horizon at sundown and then attack from the watery depths of the ocean. Apep was blamed whenever a solar eclipse occurred and also took the heat for violent storms and other natural disasters.
Priests considered containment of Apep so crucial that they wrote a complete manual on the subject, “The Books of Overthrowing Apep.” Part of the ritual involved chopping, burning, and spitting upon a wax effigy of Apep, as verses were chanted to leave no question as to his defeat. A sample of the anti-Apep rally from ancient sources reads: “Taste thou death, O Apep, get thee back, retreat, O enemy of Ra, fall down, be repulsed, get back and retreat! I have driven thee back, and I have cut thee in pieces.”
Many Egyptian illustrations of Apep show him hacked into many sections or posed in other stages of defeat. The ancient priests would have been astonished to know that some 4,000–5,000 years after Apep was first mentioned in their manuscripts, he would achieve great fame on the other side of the world.
The TV show Stargate SG-1 (1997–2007), about a United States military team that used an ancient portal to visit other places and times, featured an alien named Apophis who was a lord of the tyrannical, powerful Goa’uld race. Apophis, like other Goa’uld in the show, was based on the Egyptian character bearing his name. As in Egyptian myth, Apophis and Ra were enemies. In the myths, Apophis wasn’t able to kill Ra, but in Stargate SG-1, a U.S. team of experts managed to do what Apep never could, defeating Ra and leaving Apophis free to rampage throughout the universe. The ancient priests of Egypt would have been horrified.