Separate animals, sheep and hippo, together (the pair embraced in the portmanteau shippo):


From an old friend (whose birthday is today). The hippo is William, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a present I gave her some years ago. Now she writes:

I always have him someplace I can look at him. Last week I came home from China with this sheep made out of soap, and they seemed made for each other.

Some words about William.

A better view:


From the museum’s site:

Statuette of a Hippopotamus, Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 12, ca. 1981–1885 B.C.
This well-formed statuette of a hippopotamus demonstrates the Egyptian artist’s appreciation for the natural world. It was molded in faience, a ceramic material made of ground quartz. Beneath the blue-green glaze, the body was painted with the outlines of river plants, symbolizing the marshes in which the animal lived.

The seemingly benign appearance that this figurine presents is deceptive. To the ancient Egyptians, the hippopotamus was one of the most dangerous animals in their world. The huge creatures were a hazard for small fishing boats and other rivercraft. The beast might also be encountered on the waterways in the journey to the afterlife. As such, the hippopotamus was a force of nature that needed to be propitiated and controlled, both in this life and the next. This example was one of a pair found in a shaft associated with the tomb chapel of the steward Senbi II at Meir, a site about thirty miles south of modern Asyut.

(The original William is seriously ancient — from about 4,000 years ago.)

William has been a marketing success for the museum, so of course they’ve created some other merchandise featuring him: a board book and a plush toy:


Enjoyable, and (importantly) unbreakable. For ages 3 and up. The counting is, of course, in English (from one blue hippo to 10 scarab beetles), not in Ancient Egyptian.

Leave a Reply