A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890

(Βούβαστις), an Egyptian divinity whom the Greeks used to identify with their own Artemis, and whose genealogy they explain accordingly. (Hdt. 2.137, 156; Steph. Byz, s. v. Βούβαστος.) She was a daughter of Osiris and Isis, and sister of torus (Apollo). Her mother, Isis, entrusted Bubastis and Horus to Buto, to protect them from Typhon. In the town of Buto there was a temple of Bubastis and Horus, but the principal seat of the worship of Bubastis was in the town of Bubastus or Bubastis. Here her sanctuary was surrounded by two canals of the Nile, and it was distinguished for its beautiful situation as well as for the style of the building. (Hdt. 2.137, 138.) An annual festival was celebrated to the goddess here, which was attended by immense crowds of people (Herodotus, 2.60, estimates their number at 700,000), and was spent in great merriment. But the particulars, as well as the object of the solemnity, are not known, though the worship of Bubastis continued to a very late time. (Ov. Met. 9.687; Gratius, De Venat. 42.) The animal sacred to Bubastis was the cat ; and according to Stephanus of Byzantium, the name Bubastis itself signified a cat. When cats died they were carefully embalmed and conveyed to Bubastis. (Hdt. 2.67.) The goddess herself was represented in the form of a cat, or of a female with the head of a cat, and some specimens of such representations, though not many, are still extant. This is explained in the legend of Bubastis by the story, that when the gods fled from Typhon, Bubastis (Artemis, Diana) concealed herself by assuming the appearance of a cat. (Ov. Met. 5.329; Ant. Lib. 28.) But it seems more natural to suppose here, as in other instances of Egyptian religion, that the worship of Bubastis was originally the worship of the cat itself, which was subsequently refined into a mere symbol of the goddess. The fact that the ancients identify Bubastis with Artemis or Diana is to us a point of great difficulty, since the information which we possess respecting the Egyptian goddess presents little or no resemblance between the two divinities. The only point that might seem to account for the identification, is, that Bubastis, like Artemis, was regarded as the goddess of the moon. The cat also was believed by the ancients to stand in some relation to the moon, for Plutarch (De Is. et Os. 63) says, that the cat was the symbol of the moon on account of her different colours, her busy ways at night, and her giving birth to 28 young ones during the course of her life, which is exactly the number of the phases of the moon. (Comp. Phot. Bibl. p. 343a., ed. Bekker; Demeter. Phal. Περὶ Ἑρμην. § 159, ed. Oxford.) It might, therefore, seem that Bubastis, being the daughter of Osiris (the sun) and Isis (the moon), was considered as the symbol of the new moon. But the interpretation given by Plutarch cannot be regarded as decisive, for in another passage (De Is. et Os. 74) he gives a different account of the symbolical meaning of the cat. Another point in which some think that Bubastis and Artemis coincide, is the identity of the two with Eileithyia. But although Artemis and Eileithyia may have been the same, it does not follow that Bubastis and Eileithyia were likewise identical, and originally they must have been different, as the mode of worship of the latter was incompatible with the religion of the Egyptians. (Manetho, apud Plut. De Is. et Os. 73; Hdt. 2.45; Macrob. 1.7.) We must, therefore, be contented with knowing the simple fact, that the Greeks identified the Egyptian Bubastis with their own Artemis, and that in later times, when the attributes of different divinities were exchanged in various ways, the features peculiar to Eileithyia were transferred to Bubastis (Anthol. Graec. 11.81) and Isis. (Ov. Amor. 2.13.) Josephus (J. AJ 13.3.2) mentions Bubastis with the surname ἀγρία, or the rustic, who had a temple near Leontopolis in the nomos of Heliopolis, which had fallen into decay as early as the reign of Ptolemy Philometor. (Comp. Jablonsky Panth. Aeg. 3.3; Pignorius, Exposit. Tab. Isiacae, p. 66, ed. Amstelod.)