The Beauty and The Beast - The Hippo as a Symbol of Power and Fear in Ancient Egypt

While most of us have only ever seen a hippopotamus on TV or in the safe confines of a safari park, for the Ancient Egyptians, the animal found a permanent home in visual culture and mythology.

Despite sharing territory, hippopotami and the Ancient Egyptians had a complicated relationship. On the one hand, the creatures killed and maimed many civilians whilst roaming wild, and had an appetite for top vegetarian cuisine (in the form of farmers’ crops), often devastating harvests and livelihoods.

On the other hand, hippos lived in the murky waters of the Nile - a national symbol of life and fertility - and were respected for their power and strength.

The most prominent way the Egyptians incorporated these animals into their visual culture, was through the crafting of statuettes and amulets. Made with great care and attention, these earthenware objects were often decorated with botanical imagery to symbolise the hippos’ lives in the rivers, and placed in the tombs of important figures and dignitaries.

Hipppotamus (“William”), 1961 - 1878 BC, Faience | © The Met Museum | Creative Commons Licence CC0 1.0

It’s thought that these hippo statues were placed inside tombs to safely guide the deceased through dangerous waters on their way to the afterlife.

The Egyptians passionately believed in their power - so much so that the legs of the hippos were often broken off before being put in place (as with this one above - its legs have been restored), to make sure the hippo didn’t come to life and harm its entombed companion.

This illustrates just how formidable the animals were in Ancient Egyptian society. Whilst civilians sought to capture and emulate their power, they never forgot about the huge threat they posed.

Hippopotamus, 1981 - 1650 BC, Faience | © The Met Museum | Creative Commons Licence CC0 1.0

As well as their heavy involvement with burial rituals, hippos’ behaviours were studied, and connected with representations of the gods. The Egyptians took particular notice of the animals’ fierce protection of their young and the ominous way they sunk down and back up again in the water (which they attributed to mirroring the movements of the sun). This lead to them being associated with many gods ranging from Seth (the god of chaos) to Taweret (the goddess thought to protect mothers and children).

When looking at these creations, it’s almost impossible to believe they were created thousands of years ago - they wouldn’t look out of place in a modern-day ceramicist’s studio! The care and dedication that went into producing these works of art is so evident, and a true gift to artists, historians and museum visitors. It’s as if we’ve been built a window into an Ancient Egyptian world.

Sources/Further Reading:

Delange, E. The Louvre, Available at: https://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/hippopotamus-figurine , (Accessed: 07/08/2018).

The Met Museum, Available at: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/544227?sortBy=Relevance&ft=egyptian+animal&offset=0&rpp=100&pos=93 , (Accessed: 07/08/2018).

The Met Museum, Available at: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/547746?sortBy=Date&where=Africa&ft=hippo&offset=20&rpp=20&pos=25 , (Accessed: 07/08/2018).


Stünkel, I. (2017). The Met Museum, Available at: https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/hipi/hd_hipi.htm , (Accessed, 07/08/2018).






Switch Off Your Phone, Put On Some Music, Make Art.

As a working artist, I can’t begin to express the monumental importance, of making art for no reason at all.

Making art that’s just for you has such a different energy compared with art that’s made for a commission, or art that you know you’re going to sell and comes with the pressure of thinking of Instagram captions and marketing techniques.

Of course I love all that stuff too, and I see my role as a business owner as just as important as my role as an artist, yet it’s so easy to get caught up in product photography and SEO and growth targets that I sometimes forget what brought me to art in the first place.

Particularly when your art career is just beginning, there’s so much pressure to make consistent progress and to seize every opportunity to grow your business. But actually, this is the stage where you need to nurture your creative practice, and make time to create without judgement or expectation.

Whilst I was on residency earlier this year at Stiwdio Maelor, for the first time in a long time, I remembered what it was like to make art in full ‘flow’.

It must’ve been the first or second night I was there, and I can remember that I couldn’t sleep. Like, at all.

My legs and arms were aching from the amount of walking I’d done with a huge backpack. The house had no wifi. I didn’t have any films downloaded, or books to read.

Thank fuck for the Spotify offline playlist!

Rather than staring at the wall all night I decided to embrace my involuntarily nocturnal routine. Using the individual studio I was lucky enough to have been provided with, I set up a lamp, cup of tea, a block of clay and my bluetooth speakers, and made sculpture after bowl after dish, until the clay was all used up.

I soon forgot about the stress of not being able to sleep, and was reminded of how, when I’m painting, sculpting or otherwise making art, time passes 100 x quicker.

I made the female figure pictured at the top of this post, with no prior intention to do so. I just made it intuitively, and I don’t think I would have had the inclination to if I was working during my normal daily routine, with emails and notifications and to-do lists.

The best part about this art-making session, was that I knew I had no intention of selling any of the stuff I ended up making. I didn’t have a project or goal in mind, which offloaded all the usual pressure.

The best thing you can do for your art practice, if you’re feeling blocked or just a bit stagnant, is to pull yourself out of your normal routine - switch off your phone, forget about what you’e ‘supposed’ to be doing (emails, expanding your portfolio blah blah blah) and just make something. Anything. Let your intuition take the lead.

Pre Solo Travel Anxiety: Flip Your Mindset

I'm not sure what it is, during the run-up to a big trip, that makes your brain turn to mush.

Perhaps it's the sense of a deadline, and the thought of the days or weeks where you won't have phone signal (BILLS, TAXES, SPONTANEOUS EMAIL THAT MUST BE REPLIED TO IMMEDIATELY).

Or maybe it's the annoying purchases that are so boring you pretty much forget about them until the week before you leave, when you realise that they are absolutely essential (I simply MUST have 3 different types of aftersun and itch cream). 

And of course once you're swimming in that cesspool of worry, the atomic bomb of anxiety hits - what about all the things that could go wrong?! (this list is infinite).

Joking aside, pre-travel anxiety is real, and can leave you spinning out to such a degree that you completely lose control and end up questioning why you booked the trip in the first place. You shouldn't have to tolerate this sort of uncontrollable worry. 

I remember before travelling to Iceland (where I stayed for just over 2 months) I had never travelled alone before, and whilst I didn't consciously feel too worried about this (since Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world to travel around), the anxiety started to seep out in worried thoughts that I now recognise are completely irrational. It was obviously buried in some unconscious place, ready to come to the surface when I was caught off guard.

For example, in the week before leaving, I panicked over any tiny sign of possible illness, and started to worry that I'd get sick and be unable to travel - that I'd end up missing out on an opportunity that I'd spent months building up to. I don't usually have any sort of health anxiety or hypochondria, so this way of thinking was very unlike me - I barely recognised myself.

As a person who’s long dealt with persistent anxiety, I’ve realised that I’m always looking for reassurance - for outside opinions that validate my warped inner thinking. I want guidance, reassurance, a solid plan, but of course adventurous travel is the complete antithesis of all these things.

Of course this leads to me seeking out stories and personal accounts on why solo travel as a woman is a bad idea, just for the sense of having someone to relate to. I start to question my ability to get by on my own, and unconsciously absorb other peoples’ apprehension. I start to feel guilty, naive and nihilistic for wanting to visit countries that the Western world considers dangerous.

To the outsider it may seem that the whole idea of travelling isn’t worth my emotional stress. I even question it myself sometimes, when the anxiety is at its worst, but then that feeling in my gut always comes back - the sense that I was born to explore and have daring adventures and if I don’t at least try then the sense of ‘what if?’ might just kill me.


I worry sometimes that travel is at risk of becoming an exclusively male pursuit.

If women stop travelling alone, because they accept that it’s simply too dangerous, they never get the pay off.

The joy of realising that despite what they believed their whole life, they can navigate unexpected crises on their own. The crackling excitement of stepping into a territory where only ancient civilisations remain. The sheer sense of power you can only get from being completely alone and with only yourself to rely on.

When I first firmed up my plans to travel to Panama, I was told by a few people I hardly even knew that Central America is an extremely dangerous place for women. Quite simply, I decided immediately that wasn’t going to let this perception in.

I feel as though I owe it to adventurous women everywhere, and to my future daughters should I ever have any, to throw myself into experiences that pull me in, for reasons I can’t quite explain, as these are the experiences that will shape my very being for years to come.

If you’re at that point of overwhelming anxiety before a trip, try to step out of fear and into courage. As your trip draws closer, you need to start building a forcefield to block out the opinions and negative energy of others. It may seem harsh, but simply refuse to engage with people who only have negative opinions, or make comments that make you feel apprehensive rather than excited.

Trust that the universe has your back.

That people are out there to help you, not hurt you.

Remember that you’re an intelligent woman who knows what she’s doing, and that you’ve probably done way more stupid and dangerous things in your home town (getting so drunk you black out, walking home with complete strangers - we’ve all done it) than you would ever dream of doing half way around the world.

You’ve got a pretty small window to travel, before life gets complicated or you become physically unable.

So throw yourself into the wild, and discover the woman you were always meant to be.

When a young person is moved by a passion and feels compelled to go on this sort of quest, I think you have to let her. You can’t stop her. In our culture we don’t have formal rights of passage like in some ancient cultures. Subjecting yourself to risk... may be something you have to go through to be a woman.

— Jon Krakauer
— www.thecommonwanderer.com

Image - Pixabay