Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Seth Animal

by Caroline Lawrence

I am in Egypt researching book fifteen of my Roman Mysteries seriesThe Scribes from Alexandria. David from Edinburgh (a member of our tour group) is a keen Egyptologist and quite fluent at reading hieroglyphs. I've also been teaching myself the rudiments, with Angela McDonald's excellent book Write Your Own Egyptian Hieroglyphs. She talks about a curious hieroglyph called the Seth Animal:

'One of the most widely used [hieroglyphs]... is one of the most complex to explain. The identity of the so-called Seth animal has puzzled Egyptologists and zoologists for over 150 years. It has the body-shape of a dog, which gives it a muscular physique and clawed paws, and a curved snout. It usually has some sort of weapon for a tail, most commonly an arrow but sometimes a club or forked stick... The Seth animal sign was therefore the perfect determinative for words describing anything strange or disruptive to the natural order of the world, such as storms or malevolent weather.'

All week David and I had been looking for the Seth Animal and on our last day in Alexandria, we found it. It was on a stele of Rameses III which had been found underwater in the harbour. Of course, Pharaonic monuments like this were not made in Alexandria, but transported there in Ptolemaic times.

P.S. If you liked this you might enjoy my blogs about Upside Down Egypt and A Day in Old Cairo.

[Flavia and her friends encounter several different varieties of 'Seth Animal' in The Scribes from Alexandria. It is now available in paperbackKindle and as an abridged audiobook, and is perfect for primary schools studying Egypt in Key Stage 2.]


  1. Set was by far my favorite god in their world. The fact that no one knows what animal it is just awesome, because it means someone came up with the idea and it gained a mass-following. Thanks for another excellent article, although it was really short. =(

    Have an excellent day. =)

  2. Anonymous9:13 PM

    You may be interested to know that the Egyptian name for the Seth Animal seems to be šɜ, which for our purposes we can pronounce "sha."