“Souchos is just – souchos being a name for a crocodile, and a (specific) kind (of crocodile) – for no animal acts unjustly.” So wrote the Syrian philosopher Damascius in his Philosophical History (quoted in Photius, Bibliotheca, cod. 242, p. 342b).
“The city Arsinoe was previously called Crocodilonpolis (krokodeílōn pólis, ‘city of crocodiles’), for in this nome” – Egypt being divided into 42 nomes or districts – “they especially revere the crocodile, and they have a sacred one which is reared in a lake by itself, and which is tame to the priests. He is called Souchos. He is fed on grain, flesh and wine, which are always given to it by foreigners who have come to see him.” (Strabo, Geography 17.1.38.)
Crocodilonpolis/Arsinoe were the Greek names of a city called Šd.t in Egyptian, and Fayyūm in modern Arabic – the same name that is used today for the 21st nome, of which it was the capital. The Arabic Fayyūm derives from Coptic Ⲡⲉⲓⲟⲙ Peiom, ‘lake’, referring to Lake Moeris, which is fed by the Nile, sustains the entire nome, and was once home to Nile crocodiles and West African crocodiles.
The ancient priests would select the sacred crocodile Souchos from among the latter, smaller species (the one which Damascius calls souchos, one assumes), and mummify him after death. They believed that this sacred crocodile carried the soul (eg. bꜣ, copt. ⲃⲁⲓ, cf. Horus Apollon 7) of the god Souchos himself (one of the “royal souls”, to use the language of Hermes, SH 25–26).
In Greek, this god Souchos was also called Kronos (as will be discussed below), reflecting identification with another Egyptian god commonly translated as Kronos, namely Gēb/Kēb (the father of Osiris, Isis, Nephthys, Sēth and Horus the Elder). Consequently, a Latin text, of Greco-Egyptian origin, on astral gemstones and their engravings instructs us to depict a crocodile-headed figure on the stone of planet Saturn (Kronos).
2 The name Souchos
Souchos – pronounced SOO-koss – is a modern Latinization of the ancient Greek form of the god’s name, Σοῦχος (Soûkhos). In antiquity, it would have been Latinized as Suchus, although this is only indirectly attested (in the human name Petesuchus).
At first glance, Souchos seems like a horrible mangling of the god’s Egyptian name, Sobek, but this is not so. In fact, Sobek is the distorted form, used purely by convention in modern Egyptology. Souchos was the form both Egyptians and non-Egyptians used when speaking Greek, and it was simply the Coptic form of the name, Ⲥⲟⲩⲕ Souk (pronounced Sook), plus a Greek ending. (The variation between k and kh is immaterial in this context.)
But if the Egyptian is Souk and the Greek Souchos, whence the Egyptological “Sobek”? This form reflects the older Egyptian spelling, which was purely consonantal, namely sbk. To make this pronounceable, an o and an e were inserted, but without the pretension that this was ever a historical vocalization.
We are not left at a total loss for pre-Copzic pronunciation, however. Souk is probably a simplification of earlier Sobk-, and dialectal Coptic forms that include a final vowel (either ⲏ ē or ⲓ i) indicate that sbk was once pronounced someting like Sobki.
In any event, the name could be spelled hieroglyphically as, among other variations:
- 𓆋𓀭, where the first sign (Gardiner I6, crocodile on shrine) represents Souchos, while the second (A4, seated god) is an unpronounced determinative indicating this is a divine name;
- 𓆋, without determinative;
- 𓋴𓃀𓎡𓆊, where the first three signs stand for s, b, k, while the last is a determinative for crocodiles (Gardiner I3);
- 𓋴𓃀𓎡, without determinative.
- 𓋴𓈎𓃀, one of multiple spellings found in the Book of the Fayyūm. Here, k is written as q (𓈎), and for aesthetic reasons, this smaller sign is placed between the two larger ones (as if sqb), rather than after them.
The signs can also be written right to left, in which case they are flipped to face the other way. See the writing to the right (Beinlich p.52 [off-site link]), where the symbols for s (𓋴), q (𓈎) and b (𓃀) are turned around. The same spelling is also found in the image in section 1.
3 The character and iconography of the god
[cont‘ Strabo, Geography 17.1.38]
4 Other names and other crocodile gods
Aside from the full form of his name, Souk, a shortened variant form Sok- is found in compound names, such as Soknopaios and Soxitos, which also refer to Souchos (or a Souchos, if you will); so is an even more reduced form, Sek-.
5 The Book of the Fayyūm