If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:2:31

Video transcript

This hippopotamus, nicknamed William, is the unofficial mascot of the Museum. The statuette is made of Egyptian faience, a glazed, non-clay ceramic material, and it has this wonderful blue color. Egypt was, and still is, a land of the desert. The blue water of the Nile and the green, narrow band of vegetation along it were the source of life for the ancient Egyptians. And they believed that objects made in this color bore the quality of life and could also magically transfer it. Hippopotami stay in the river during the day, and they submerge themselves in the water and can disappear from sight for several minutes. In black paint there are open lotus flowers, closed lotus buds, and lotus leaves. They represent the natural world that William lived in, the swamps of the Nile River. The ancient Egyptians connected the cycle of the opening and closing of the lotus flower to sunrise and sunset, which meant birth, death, and rebirth. The hippopotamus has these stumpy, short legs, and this rounded body and he seems on a first view innocent and friendly. But if you see a hippopotamus in the wild, they are huge. They can weigh several tons. This cute-looking animal can outrun you and has a gigantic mouth with a gigantic jaw and teeth. A lot of us are inclined to only see his cute side, but in fact there is a lot more to him than that. This hippopotamus was found in a tomb. Ancient Egyptians believed that depictions could magically come to life. William was able to bestow his positive qualities of regeneration and life, but due to its destructive and dangerous aspect, the hippopotamus could be associated with chaos and evil. This animal had the potential to harm its owner in the tomb. Only his front left leg is intact. Three of his legs are modern restorations. It is likely that the legs were actually broken on purpose, so his potential as a threat to the wellbeing of the deceased was destroyed. He has all these interesting levels of meaning and symbolism. And he also has a slightly dark side.