Variations: Āpep, Āapep, Aaapef, Apophis, Rerek; further names from the Papyrus of Nesi-Amsu listed by Budge are Nesht, Tutu, Hau-hra, Hemhemti, Qettu, Qerneru, Iubani, Amam, Hem-taiu, Saatet-ta, Khermuti, Kenememti, Sheta, Serem-taui, Sekhem-hra, Unti, Karau-anememti, Khesef-hra, Seba-ent-seba, Khak-ab, Khan-ru… uaa, Nai, Am, Turrupa, Iubau, Uai, Kharubu the Four Times Wicked, Sau, Beteshu
Apep, Āapep, or Apophis in Greek, is the chief chthonic monster in the Egyptian cosmogony, born during the dark times of the First Intermediate Period and depicted as an enormous serpent with winding coils or alternatively as a giant crocodile, or with a human head and hands as in the Stele of Taqayna. He is described as being a hundred and twenty cubits (55 meters) long, or otherwise thirty cubits (14 meters) long, with the first eight cubits made of flint and with coils like sandbanks, lying on a sandbank 450 cubits (205 meters) long.
Apep is darkness, cloud, wind, rain, mist, and storm. The antithesis of light and life, his primary goal is the destruction of the sun god Ra and his solar barque, causing the elimination of light and day and the victory of chaos and darkness. Assisted by a retinue of lesser demons and serpents – the mesu betshet or “children of rebellion”, the snakes Seba, Af, and Nak, and the crocodile Seshsesh – he hides under the earth and below the horizon, and attempts to swallow Ra’s barque every night. Ra, aided by his cortège of gods, thwarts Apep’s attempts time and time again, allowing the sun to rise once more. Occasionally Apep gains the upper hand, causing storms, earthquakes, and solar eclipses, but those end as Ra is cut free from Apep’s stomach. The serpent’s inevitable fate is to be chopped up into pieces and cast back into the abyss, but he always returns the following night, as full of malice and venom as ever, in an endless cycle of destruction.
In a mythology revolving around the sun, Apep, sworn enemy of Ra, darkness personified, is as evil a creature as could exist in the Egyptian pantheon. Some degree of respect was granted him; the Hyksos pharaoh Apepi (r. 1590 – 1550 BCE) took him as his namesake, in a perverse move likely intended to instill fear in the native Egyptians. As a deity, he was never worshipped, but always avoided, spited and mutilated in effigy during natural disasters.
The apotropaic “Book of Overthrowing Apep” (4th century BCE) provides helpful instructions for the faithful, including exhortations for “Spitting on Apep”, “Trampling on Apep with the Left Foot”, “Taking the Knife to Smite Apep”, “Taking the Lance to Smite Apep”, “Putting Apep on the Fire”, “Fettering Apep”, and other such activities. The Book of the Dead features the soul of the deceased piercing Apep, praying for aid in destroying Apep at the apex of his power. Apep’s gruesome punishment is described at length – he is to be speared, stabbed with knives, each bone of his body separated by red-hot knives, scorched, roasted, and consumed by fire. Each name of Apep had to be cursed separately, and the Papyrus of Nesi-Amsu lists the serpent’s many names.
In time the role of Apep as the enemy of the Sun overlapped with that of the desert god Set, once the primary defender of the solar barque from Apep’s depredations, such that Apepi is described in ca. 1274 BCE as a monolatrous worshipper of Set.
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