Okay, the Houseguest doesn’t have an encyclopedic list of dung beetle facts (or maybe she does? I dunno). I was just struggling for a title.
However, before I wrote my last post pondering whether copywriters are a lower form of life than dung beetles, I was telling the Houseguest about the text conversation that sparked the idea for the post. And as is typical, she went into full Museum Nerd mode and treated me to a lengthy discourse on how ancient Egyptian society revered the dung beetle as a sacred creature connected to the solar deity. (By the way, anytime you touch on one of her areas of interest — and there are a lot of them — be prepared for an in-depth, scholarly lecture.)
A dung beetle by any other name…
Originally, the only insect I associated with the ancient Egyptians was the scarab and that was from watching the 1999 adventure film The Mummy starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz.
Little did I know, but according to the Houseguest, dung beetles and scarabs are the same thing. Apparently, ‘scarab’ is the dung beetle’s cool street name. Anyway, the film portrayed the scarabs as vicious and malevolent flesh-eaters capable of swarming and overwhelming a man or burrowing to his heart in seconds. But in reality, they’re humble poop rollers that also like to snack on it. (No judgment, dung beetle. You do your thing.) Moreover, they’re quite industrious little buggers, able to roll up to 50 times their own body weight in poop. (Man, and you think your life sucks.)
Look online for images of Egyptian artifacts from pharaonic times and you’ll notice the ancient Egyptians were really into scarabs and featured them prominently in their artwork and jewelry. Turns out the Houseguest is also into scarabs and pulled out her small collection for an impromptu show-and-tell. (P.S. She’s also into collecting evil eyes — she’s got way more of those.)
Roll over the images for the captions
Landing that cosmic gig
To explain how the sun moved in the heavens, the ancient Egyptians imagined a dung beetle dutifully rolling it across the sky each day. Probably not the story I would have gone with, but I do give the Egyptians high marks for originality.
One thing I noticed about Egyptian mythology is they had trouble keeping their religious stories straight over time. They ended up with multiple tales accounting for the sun’s apparent celestial locomotion. That includes the one I’m familiar with where the falcon-headed god, Ra, traveled across the sky in his solar boat. (By the way, back in college I once had a startlingly intense interaction with Ra. True story. Of course, I had taken some unexpectedly strong LSD — but that’s a tale for another time).
After a while, the Egyptians must have decided a dude with a giant bird head seemed a little unbelievable. So, they gave the job of pushing a flaming ball of poop across the sky to our friend, the humble dung beetle.
Besides Ra (and several other gods including Re, Amun, Atum, and Bob) the Egyptians also associated the sun with the creator god Khepri. And they linked the dung beetle to Khepri. See, dung beetles lay their eggs in poop. The ancient Egyptians didn’t realize this, so when dung beetles seemed to spontaneously emerge out of nowhere, it reminded them of Khepri, the lord of creation, who also appeared out of nothing.
All-in-all, for a creature that spends all day collecting shit and eating it, the dung beetle hasn’t done half-bad in the PR department.
Just for the hell of it, here are some other interesting sun myths I came across while reading up on the Egyptians.
In the early days, the Maori were annoyed because the sun was too quick in his daily travels. No one could get anything done because the day was too short. So a hero named Maui took a big-ass club and busted the sun up to teach him a lesson and to slow his ass down.
Quick question: Couldn’t they just have asked the sun to slow down before going straight for the knee-capping option?
Back in the day, the world had ten suns. Each morning, their mom, the solar goddess Shiho, picked one to light the world up while the rest hung out in a big-ass tree that was 10,000 feet tall. But like teenagers, the suns all wanted to hang out together and goof around. So they came up with a plan. One day, they all went out at the same time to light the earth up super bright. They figured it would last a while so they could call in sick and screw around together.
Unfortunately, things got scorching hot, rivers dried up, and people roasted to death. So the sun god Dijun told his boy Hou Yi, the archer, to go cap those ignorant-ass suns. He shot nine of them and was about to gank the sole surviving sun when some random kid stole the archer’s last arrow saving the earth from perpetual darkness.
My question: Why do you need 10 suns when you’ve got a sun goddess AND a sun god? Was this like some kind of shady union gig like in The Sopranos?