Comfort Classics: Louise O’Brien

The world is in a state of upheaval at the moment, and we’re all looking for things to make us feel less anxious. Maybe Classics can help.

Today’s interview is with Louise O’Brien

Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?

Bes Jars! Every time I see one, they just make me smile. In the museum I volunteer at, we have a small collection of Bes Jars which I’ve always found fascinating and entertaining.

When did you first come across these objects?

I was assigned a project in one of my first-year modules as an undergrad to research the god Bes and his importance and came across the jars in my research. I realised that my university museum had several of the jars and decided to centre my paper around them. Once I started volunteering at the museum, they quickly became some of my favourite pieces in the collection.

Image from Wikimedia

Can you tell me a bit about these jars and their context?

Bes jars are essentially pots, jars or other vessels which depict the form of the god Bes. Originally, Bes was a god reserved for the king, to protect him and ward off evil spirits with his ugly face and lion-skin clothing. As a result, Bes is one of the few figures in Egyptian art that appears front facing, looking out at the world to scare away demons. Over time, Bes came to be a protector of the home, of children and families. He appears on many household objects, including beds and even painted onto walls. The Bes jars represent a portable, simple incarnation of the god that could be placed anywhere in the home to provide protection.

This particular jar is from the Louvre, and shows just how simple but adorable the jars can be! Bes jars come in many shapes and sizes and can be much more intricate, but the more simple incarnations show the key aspects of the god. In this piece, Bes’ whiskers are shown, and he is front facing with an angry expression. While the decoration may seem simple, it had great importance, and was a symbol of protection.

What is it about the jars that appeals to you most?

I think aesthetically, they’re so funny and cute! But more than that, they’re a representation of household worship. Even though they are adorable little jars, they’re also physical embodiments of human desire to create and protect.

The jars may have been placed in a child’s room, to ward off demons, or by the head of a woman in labour to keep her and her child safe. The god, and his jars, represent a desire to protect women and children, but also show how simplistic household worship could be, compared to the grand temples and public worship we see all over Egypt. This more private display of the god indicates how ingrained religion was in Egyptian life, and how important Bes was as a protector for Egyptian families. The jars are a snippet of household worship and embody a very human desire to protect one’s family.

And finally… what do you do, outside of studying the ancient world, to cheer yourself up?

I’m a huge gamer! I love playing anything that involves escapism, so I’m a big Skyrim fan, and love the Witcher and Assassin’s Creed series (especially Origins, although that might be because it makes me feel like I’m *technically* doing work when I’m procrastinating!). I’m also a big reader and love a good fantasy or sci-fi series.

Louise is a First Year PhD Egyptology student at the University of Liverpool. Her research, entitled ‘Private vs Public: Reconstructing the Hybrid in Graeco-Roman Egypt’ focuses on rethinking the way Egyptologists and archaeologists approach hybrid material. She aims to use a novel methodology, ‘Reconstruction’, to look at cultural hybridity from a contextual angle.

Previously, Louise has volunteered with the British Museum, Garstang Museum of Archaeology, and National Museums Liverpool. In her spare time, she runs a research-oriented Instagram @SheWhoReadsPapyri, and works as a social media manager, while Ziggy the dog tries to take over her home office!

You can find her on Twitter @egyptology_lou

Catch up with all the Comfort Classics interviews here.

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