Susanllewellyn's Blog

August 12, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (12)

Ddw hieroglyphs

Ddw transliteration

Djedu:  Busiris, the Lower Egyptian cult centre of Osiris, in the middle of the Nile Delta. 

There’s not much to see there now.  But the hieroglyphs in its name bear some investigation.

The first symbol is an ancient and powerful Egyptian fetish:  the djed pillar,djed pillar hieroglyphDd transliteration

pronounced – wait for it – djed

Waaaay back in the mists of the Predynastic period, the djed pillar was a sizeable cult object, something like a totem pole.  It appears to have been a tree trunk with sheaves of grain bound to it to give it its distinctive shape.  If you think it has a certain vertebrate quality, you’re right.  When Seth chopped up Osiris’ body and scattered his forty-two limbs the length and breadth (such as it is) of Egypt, Busiris got his backbone.  Osiris, as you’ll remember, was an agricultural god, who taught farming while he was alive and was resurrected in the growing corn after he was slain and had fallen.  So his Lower Egyptian symbol, the djed pillar, is a kind of gigantic backbone made of corn.  Whether that was how the Egyptians understood it in the early days, who knows – but that was what it came to symbolise as the milennia rolled on.

The djed pillar or backbone of Osiris was a powerful magical symbol and represented stability, endurance, everlastingness.  In the form of an amulet, it conveyed everlastingness on the owner, alive or dead.  Djed pillars are very common in Egyptian art, from tiny beads to unwieldy cult objects. 

Here are a couple of carved and painted djed hieroglyphs:

2 djeds070

Here is the djed symbol incorporated into the top of the sceptre of the god Ptah:

Ptah071

And here is the King grappling with the erection of the djed pillar (surmounted by double plumes and a sun disk and probably much smaller than life size) at the festival of Osiris at Abydos (of which more anon, in a post coming to a blog near you soon):

big djed072

Now I’ve shown you a few different versions, you’ll be seeing it everywhere.  It’s not difficult to draw; a central column, rounded at the top and flaring out into a base at the bottom, and then just draw four straight horizontal lines across the top.  Whether the ultimate symbol of stability is appropriate for a redundancy leaving card, I leave to your own judgement.

Now for the w.  The w is one of those signs that make it easy to tell which way the hieroglyphs run, because it has a recognisable face to turn to the beginning of the sentence:

w hieroglyph

  And the face is the face of a little fluffy quail chick.  Aaaaaaahh.  Or, rather, oooohh.  Here’s a painted version:

quail chick073

See his downy body and his little wing?  A pity the artist/scribe hasn’t given him an eye, but there may be a (magical) reason for that, as this one comes from a tomb.  When you draw yours, start with his beak and rounded head, go down his back and turn the corner of his tail, come up under his belly and around to his beak again.  Or something like that, but draw the outline, anyway, Then add on his two little stick-like legs and make sure you put in a baseline for him  to stand on.  The Egyptians liked to have their animals and people standing on the ground.  They didn’t like them hovering in mid-air.  In any case, he can’t fly yet, he’s only a chick.  Then you can dot his eye and give him a little curved, featherless wing.  Ah bless!

Hang on, you’re saying, we’re only two hieroglyphs into the word and we’ve already got the sound Djedu.  We seem to have a lot of signs left over.

Er – kind of.  The third sign, niwt hieroglyphis a determinative – which, you’ll remember, is a soundless sign put at the end of a word to show what kind of word it is, and to prevent confusion with other words of the same consonantal pattern.  It may look like a button or a hot cross bun, but it is actually a town or village.  You wouldn’t think it, would you – a whole town, or even a village, encompassed in that one little sign?  However, the essentials are there:  two intersecting streets surrounded by an enclosure wall.  Here’s a relief version:

niwt074

Now, the scribe could have stopped there.  He’d finished the place name Djedu; all sounds faithfully rendered and a town determinative on the end.  But he must have got carried away.  The Egyptian word for town was niwet, and it was written niwet word

In this word, the city sign is not just a determinative; it has a phonetic value, niwe.  You can see our old friend the loaf of bread t completing the word. The final stroke is a kind of determinative that conveys the idea “one of these” as opposed to two or three strokes, which mean the dual or plural form of the noun.  Or sometimes it’s just a filler.

So it looks as though, when the scribe or artist got to the determinative of Djedu, he followed straight through into the word for town or village: Djeduniwet; Busiriston, maybe.  Thank god he didn’t have to spell banana.

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4 Comments »

  1. Great blog!

    I took a photo of one of these htp-di-nsw dedications at the British Museum earlier this year. I wonder if you’d be able to help me translate it: http://gallery.me.com/sigfpe/100148/IMG_2946/web.jpg

    My attempt is:

    Top left: Osiris, First of the Westerners.

    Bottom left: The offering a king gives Osiris so that he may give everything good and pure, bread, beer, ox, birds, ???, wine, milk, for the ka of ??? ??? (Amun? hiding?) before ??? (his sky?).

    Could you help with the ??? bits? I’m finding the bit just after n-ka-n particularly hard to get, and what looks like a determinative for a guy with a bad migraine in column 4.

    Sorry if you get fed up of repeated requests like this.

    Comment by Dan P — August 12, 2009 @ 9:14 pm | Reply

    • Hi Dan,

      glad you’re enjoying the blog. After squinting hard at the inscription, I believe it reads “…en ka en sedjem-ash Amunerhatef” (very frustrating not to be able to type a proper transliteration quickly!) Sedjem-ash means “hearer of the call” and was a title commonly used among the necropolis workmen at Deir el -Medina. This stela, however, comes from Abydos.

      Hope this helps.

      Comment by susanllewellyn — August 13, 2009 @ 12:38 pm | Reply

      • Oh, it’s a little sDm ear! It seems smaller than how it’s drawn in my books so I didn’t recognise it. That’s the toughest thing about hieroglyphs – getting used to the ‘handwriting’. Anyway, I think it all makes sense now. I guess the Aa15 is the m of sDm and maybe the guy with migraine is cupping his ears 🙂

        Thanks!

        And I’m impressed you can tell where this came from!

        Comment by Dan Piponi — August 13, 2009 @ 2:51 pm

      • I wasn’t sure about the f at the end of his name from the photo, so I ran down to the BM at lunchtime and found the stela. Provenance is easy when you can read the label. And as I have a bikini to get into in September, it was a good excuse to skip lunch!

        Comment by susanllewellyn — August 13, 2009 @ 6:09 pm


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