In ancient Egyptian mythology, Apophis -- also known as Apep -- was a god of evil. He was the primary enemy of Egypt’s sun god, Ra, and symbolized darkness, chaos and destruction. The snake-like god frightened many with his relentless power.
A Giant Snake
Apophis was depicted in the form of a giant snake. Incredibly powerful, he was not part of the natural world, so he needed no nourishment to survive. In fact, there was no way to destroy the creature, though he could be temporarily stopped. He was particularly terrifying to the Egyptians because it was thought that whatever he swallowed did not die, but instead entered a void and simply ceased to exist at all, with no chance of ever reaching the afterlife.
The Journey of Ra
Apophis was always trying to defeat Ra. The ancient Egyptians believed that each night Ra would travel through the underworld of darkness and be reborn when he rose again at dawn. During this journey, Apophis would be waiting to strike and annihilate Ra, and would attack him each morning. Ra had guards who would travel with him, and these deities would defend Ra and keep him from being destroyed. Of course, they were also keeping the world from being destroyed, because if Ra were extinguished, the world would go dark.
Images of Apophis
In texts and art, the snake that was Apophis was usually shown being trapped, killed or dismembered. The power of this evil god was so frightening to the Egyptians that they dared not depict him as victorious or strong. Egyptians believed images have life, and so they chose to portray Apophis in a perpetual state of defeat, so that he could not rise up and harm them.
Apophis in Ancient Texts
In the mythological stories, Apophis has existed since the beginning of time, but he does not appear in any ancient texts until the writing of The Middle Kingdom, 2125-1991 BC. The most vivid and definitive tales of Apophis appear even later, in the funerary texts of The New Kingdom, 1550-1070 BC. He was not worshiped like other gods in mythology. He was feared and hated, and his image survived into the Roman period. Then he was called “he who was spat out” and was said to have been born from the saliva of the Egyptian goddess Neith.
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Ancient Egyptian Gods and Goddesses
- The Facts on File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend; Anthony S. Mercatante
- Tour Egypt: Apophis, the Enemy of Re
- Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images