Ancient Egypt: Religion and wine

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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Wine is said to be the drink of gods, and also of the dead (along with beer and milk). Thus it was important in cult worship and is frequently mentioned in lists of offerings, sometimes several sorts together. It was frequently offered as nourishment to deities by the king or private persons, also symbolizing purification. libations of wine and water were made at temples and tombs throughout the country.

The goddess Hathor, ‘the mistress of drunkenness’, was the Egyptian equivalent of the Sumerian beer goddess, Ninkasi. She was closely associated with a lesser goddess ‘who makes beer’, Menqet. One festival to honour Hathor, appropriately designated the ‘the Drunkenness of Hathor’, at her temple in Dendera, recalled the story of how the goddess had gone on a rampage to destroy a rebellious humanity in her form as the lioness goddess, Sekhmet. Just in time, Re diverted her from her mission by filling the inundated fields with ‘red beer’, which Hathor interpreted as a sign that she had accomplished her task. She then over-indulged, and forgot to carry out the devastation of mankind. The yearly celebration at Dendera coincided with the inundation of the Nile during the summer, when reddish iron-rich soils were washed down from the Atbara River in Sudan, giving the waters the appearance of ‘red beer’. By drinking an alcoholic beverage at the festival—both wine and beer—and celebrating with music and dance, humanity shared in Hathor’s transformation into her more benign form as the feline Bastet.