Susanllewellyn's Blog

March 20, 2010

What Kind of God Do You Think You are? Tefnut (1)

If twins are born around midnight, the delivery room staff will do everything they can to ensure that they have the same birthday.  I’d obviously never make it as a midwife, as it’s almost a month since my last post, and Shu’s twin sister Tefnut is only now putting in an appearance.  Sorry, kids.

Never mind, I’ve whipped her out, slapped her bottom, and here she is:

What can I tell you about Atum’s bouncing baby girl?  Well, even though she had the head of a lioness, she’s the spitting image of her Dad:  whereas Atum sneezed Shu into existence, he spat out the goddess Tefnut; the word tef in ancient Egyptian meant to spit. 

As you can tell, Shu and Tefnut were not identical twins.  As the god of air, Shu was a pretty dry character.  Tefnut, on the other hand, was a bit wet.  She personified moisture, particularly the morning dew.

Opposites attract and, let’s face it, there wasn’t much competition.  Atum had had no mate, but Shu and Tefnut paired off immediately in a brother-sister marriage.  At least that way, Atum was able to keep the business in the family. In due course, they had children of their own; we’ll come on to them later. 

As with many a good Mum, it was not only Tefnut’s own children who benefited from her mothering; other kids on the block came in for some tlc, too.  One of her jobs, for example, was occasionally to cleanse the King of his impurities.  She could be strict, though, and always sided with Shu when it came to discipline, even joining him in his fiery torture activities in the netherworld. 

Shu clearly trusted Tefnut absolutely.  After the rebellion which led to Shu and Tefnut’s palace being sacked, Shu and his entourage retired to the penthouse office in the sky after defeating the invaders and left Tefnut on earth in the ground-floor boardroom as regent.  If only the kids had turned out ok, everything might have been different, but you know how even well brought up offspring from stable, loving families can sometimes turn out to be problem children…  But that’s another story.

February 26, 2010

What Kind of God Do You Think You Are? Shu (3)

So, we’re running our fingers across Shu’s office nameplate:

 

Our tongues protruding slightly, our breath misting up the polished brass,   we’ve traced the contours of his name, and are now sliding our fingers down the two stacked hieroglyphs of his title:

  sa Ra son of Re.

What?  Son of whom?  You just told us Shu was the son of Atum, and now you’re telling us he’s the son of Re?

Well, yes.  The thing about ancient Egyptian gods was that many of them had their own cult centres in provincial cities the length and – at least in the Delta – the breadth of Egypt.  In their own temples in their own cities, as far as they and their priests and citizens were concerned, they were the most important god around.  Several of them, not just Atum, claimed to be the creator god, and got put at the top of the family tree.  Whoever painted and captioned this particular family portrait obviously had it in his head that Re was the creator god and father of Shu, even though he’d drawn Atum sitting in front of him.  

More than one creator god – OK, we can understand that.  Every company chairman is the supreme god in his own universe.  As far as the bosses of Pepsi and Coke are concerned, there’s only one cola in the world.  So who is this Re, then?  I’m sure we’ve met him before; he’s the sun god known to the Victorians and thence to Hollywood producers as Ra, but to most Egyptologists as Re.  We’ll come back to him some other time.

Let’s look at the hieroglyphs.  The first one looks like an egg, you draw it like an egg and by golly it is an egg – a goose egg, in fact.  Here’s a picture of one, in case you don’t know what an egg looks like:

The egg  symbol in this case writes the word s3, sa, son.  Just draw it at an angle, pointing the sharp end towards the beginning of the sentence.  The second hieroglyph, a circle with a dot in it, is the standard hieroglyph for the sun and encapsulates the name of the god Rc, Ra, Re.  (It’s also possible that the mysterious and superfluous circle in the name of the god which we saw in the last post is an abortive attempt at a sun disk, as there was a word shu meaning sun.)  If you don’t know what the sun looks like, here it is:

There’s no dot in the middle that I can see, and I’m not sure what that was about.  But if the chairman’s son says the sun has a dot in the middle, it’s probably not a good idea to disagree.

February 24, 2010

What Kind of God Do you Think You Are? Shu (2)

Now we’ve perused Shu’s biography and CV, let’s take a closer look at his name and title.  Here he is in close-up, with his nameplate in front of him:

The hieroglyphs are quite cursive or simplified, but they are still (mostly)recognisable.  This group spells the god’s name:

 

We haven’t had Shu’s tall, curling ostrich feather hieroglyph before.  Here’s a real one:

The feather hieroglyph is a biliteral, and was pronounced shu.  Old Office Hieroglyphs hands will spot that the quail chick hieroglyph, which we have seen before, is only reinforcing the -w sound.

I must confess that I am not entirely certain what the round sign between the feather and the chick on the papyrus may be.  Some of the ink has been lost at this spot, as you can see from the fading of the baseline on which the chick stands, compared with other chicks in the same papyrus.  There’s no real need for a hieroglyph here at all.  It may be that the scribe was attracted by Shu’s association with sunlight to put in this determinative of the rays of the sun:

  It does look as though there’s the beginning of some kind of addition to the circle (if it is a circle) on the right hand side. 

If it is just a circle, then the scribe may have put it in because he was thinking of a similar word, seshu,  meaning ring, and put the ring hieroglyph in as well. 

Or then again, maybe not.  If anyone has any suggestions – or knows what it is – please let me know.

We’ll look at his title next time.

February 23, 2010

What Kind of God Do You Think You Are? Shu (1)

Moving along the portrait gallery in the boardroom corridor of the gods, we come next to a family group.  Here they are:

Atum, the creator of the world, founder of the family firm known as the Nine Gods or Ennead, and his twin offspring, his son Shu and his daughter Tefnut.  That’s Atum at the front, but you know that because you can read his name in hieroglyphs in front of him.  The scribe who wrote this papyrus has stuck an extra hieroglyph in at the end – the quail chick which, as we know from Osiris’ titulary was pronounced w, making him (A)tmu, but that won’t have fooled you.  Nor will the rather stick-figure version of the seated god determinative.  You can still see his beard sticking out and his knees sticking up.  That’s Atum, all right, and in any case he’s wearing the double crown of the Kings of Upper and Lower Egypt.

That’s Shu sitting right behind him.  We’ll take a look at his name later.  Let me tell you a bit about him, first. We already know that he is the motherless product of self-assisted conception.  There is another story about his origins, though.  Some priests and scribes put it about that Atum sneezed him into existence – more of an atchoo! than a Shu.  Indeed, the name Shu is closely related to the Egyptian word for a sneeze.  So, basically, according to some people at the time, Shu grew out of a bit of snot.  But hasn’t he done well?  Some people prefer to translate the name as “he who rises up”.

Shu was both Atum’s heir and his air.  Having made the earth rise up and separate from the water, Atum decided he needed to let some air into the place.  He created Shu to be the god of air.  It’s difficult to draw air, so the ancient Egyptians represented it by drawing a feather, and a glamorous ostrich plume (or two or three or four) was Shu’s favourite headdress.  He’s wearing it in this picture.  Snot with feathers on.  If that reminds you of any of your non-executive directors, who am I to argue?  You be the judge.

You may think that an air god must have been a pretty insubstantial character, but Shu’s very flimsiness was at the same time his greatest asset.  He represented the space between earth and sky (we’ll come back to this later) which let the sun shine in.  One of the reasons that Atum created Shu was so that he could see all the other things he’d created.

Because he had this important role in channeling the sun, Shu was a close associate of the sun god in his various forms.  One of his responsibilities was to bring the sun to life every morning, and, like his Dad Atum, he did his bit to protect the sun from attack by the serpent Apophis. As the air god, it was Shu who enabled the solar barque to rise up and sail across the sky.

Shu was certainly the light of Atum’s life.  Atum was very proud of his son.  To him, Shu was life itself, and it was only after Shu was born that Atum truly found his voice and began to speak and have a dialogue with the universe.  Shu was therefore a very powerful driver of Atum’s creative enterprise, his reason to carry on. 

Atum even took the lad into the firm and, in due course, when the staff complement had grown a bit, sent him on errands, sorting out problems with the other gods.  Shu was an obvious choice for this kind of work; as the air god, he was everywhere at once and knew where everyone else was, so didn’t actually have to go anywhere.  However, some of these tasks were pretty stretching, and Shu did not always manage to carry them out.  His Dad tended to send him to find goddesses who’d run away or got lost, and talk them into coming back.  When it was a particularly aggressive goddess who’d gone on the rampage, got drunk and run away, for example, he wasn’t quite up to the job.

Nevertheless, Shu rose steadily up the ranks of the administration of his father’s new enterprise, and was credited with instituting the capital cities of the administration.  In due course, the old man decided he was going to retire, and handed over his throne to Shu.  Atum did not leave the company; he stayed around and kept an eye on it, but Shu was now running the show. 

Shu’s term in the Managing Director’s chair started in peace, as Atum’s whole term of office had been.  At some point, though – and this episode of company history is pretty obscure – hostile forces from the edge of creation tried to lead a revolution.  Shu’s divine palace on earth was sacked by the enemy, as though a whole lot of enraged graphic designers had trashed the top floor corner office.  Shu had to bring them to heel and kick them out.

This episode shows that Shu was not all sweetness and light.  In fact, there are scenes of the netherworld which show him as the gangmaster of a band of torturers threatening the deceased person in a fiery region of hell from which there is no escape.  But then, if you’re toiling away in the boiler room in the company basement, that may well be how you regard one or more of your board members.

Finally, Shu seems to have had a reputation for being able to relieve himself with ease.  For the Egyptians, being able to defecate like Shu was a highly desirable quality.  Excrement and the air god; the original stuff that hit the fan.

February 19, 2010

What Kind of God Do You Think You Are? Atum (7)

Lord of the Sacred Land.  As Atum was the god who made the first land rise from the waters of the primeval ocean, and as he was the only god around to lord it at the time, the title is no more than his due.  Here it is, the last in the sequence of titles in this inscription:

 

Nb t3 dsr  neb ta djeser  Lord of the Sacred Land

Our old friend neb, Lord, is such an old friend it needs no introduction. 

Ta, land, we’ve also had before, in tawy, the Two Lands of ancient Egypt.  It was written in an abbreviated form in that example.  Here it’s written out more fully,

with the strip of mud bank sign we’ve had before – which is the bit pronounced ta –  followed by a single stroke and another sign.  Neither of these two signs is pronounced; they are both determinatives to give the reader a clue about the type of word this is.  The single short stroke indicates that the ta sign is to be taken literally – it is the word for land, not a different word which sounds like the word for land. 

The third sign is – wait for it – another bit of land! It’s easy to draw; one short straight side and the two long sides come together in a curve, not an angle – just like a tongue.  This particular hieroglyph is a spit or tongue of land, like this one:

What they really want to emphasise here with these three hieroglyphs is that this is the word for land.  Land, land, land.  Not water.  Not air. Land.  Have you got that? Good.  (They also want to fill an awkward space at the bottom of the column.)

Dsr, djeser, sacred, by contrast, fills the last remaining space very nicely on its own:

It’s an arm holding a certain type of ritual implement, a kind of wand.  If you draw an arm holding an ice cream cone, one of those soft ones that extrude from a nozzle (yum) you won’t go far wrong.  Stop short of the raspberry sauce and the chocolate flake, though.  That would just be ridiculous – or maybe that’s a good reason to write them in someone’s card.  You decide.  (Come to think of it, the arm does look as though Atum, the divine ice cream man, is leaning out of the serving hatch of the ice cream van … )

I have tried hard and failed to find a picture of an actual wand of this type for you, so here is at least a picture of a more colourful version of the hieroglyph, in the cartouche of King (Djeserkheprure Setepenre) Horemheb (Merenamun):

If anyone does have a picture of the wand, I’d love to have it for the blog.

So we’ve come to the end of Atum’s career as founder of the universe and the titles he acquired on the way. In the next post, it will be time to look at the contribution of the next generation; Atum’s twin offspring, Shu and Tefnut.

February 15, 2010

What Kind of God Do You Think You Are? Atum (6)

We’re recycling again.  Atum’s next title is one we’ve had earlier, in Office Hieroglyphs, when it was being used by Osiris.  This is what it looked like the first time:

      , netjer aa, the Great God; an economical use of two hieroglyphs to spell two whole words. 

This time around, in Atum’s titulary, the spelling has expanded a bit.  This is what it looks like now:

 

     netjer, god, is written with the flagstaff hieroglyph which you’ll remember from before, plus the seated god determinative we saw earlier in this inscription. 

 aa, great, is difficult to see because it’s partly flaked off, but when you know what’s there, you can pick out the traces.  The wooden column which was written vertically in Osiris’ titulary is horizontal in Atum’s.  You can see the line of the upper edge, but the lower edge has disappeared.  You’ll have to imagine the mirror image of the visible edge reflected in the gap below it. 

The sign underneath is a new one, though; it’s this:

 a sheet of papyrus, rolled into a scroll, tied up and sealed, like this one:

 It’s a determinative often used for abstract words.  It’s easy to draw:  a thin rectangle with a little w on top.  And it’s versatile; like the wooden pillar aa, you can draw it vertically or horizontally, to suit the artistic balance of your own inscription.

It’s up to you whether you think your colleague is a great enough god to warrant the fuller version of the title; or whether you think they’re better represented by something short and flaky.

February 14, 2010

What Kind of God Do You Think You Are? Atum (5)

Remember that flaky basket hieroglyph we saw last time?  Well here’s an even flakier one.  Atum’s next title, nb ‘Iwnw, neb Iunu, Lord of Heliopolis, begins at the bottom of one column and continues at the top of the next:

Yes, those random black marks underneath nb t3wy are all that is left of another basket sign.  The three symbols at the top of the left-hand column form the word ‘Iwnw:

Don’t worry about the curly think snapping out like a frog’s tongue i n pursuit of a fly; that’s just the curly bit on the front of the Red Crown of Lower Egypt, which Atum is wearing in the picture.

We’ve had two of the hieroglyphs in this group before (sort of), but the first one is new:

 ‘Iwn, Iun.  It’s a pillar with a tenon, or tongue for inserting into a slot, on the top; part of the mechanism for locking the pillar into the structure of the roof.  This picture of columns at the Ramesseum will give you an idea:

 It’s another easy to draw sign; a tall, thin rectangle with a v neck, and a short stroke (or, sometimes, a cross) inserted into the v, and a line about halfway or two thirds of the way down, marking the border between the different colours with which the pillar is painted. 

We’ve had the second hieroglyph before, but lying on its side and standing on one foot – a real contortionist of a sign.  It’s the little water pot which formed part of the word wcbt, wabet, pure in the offering formula.  Standing up on its own two feet (but without the feet) it reads nw, nu, reinforcing the n in Iunu and adding the sound u.

The final hieroglyph is the place determinative, a circle with an x in it, representing a town wall and a crossroads, which we’ve seen before in Djedu and Abdju, Busiris and Abydos, in Osiris’ titulary.

So the whole group reads ‘Iwnw, Iunu, the ancient Egyptian name for the cult centre which eventually became know throughout the Greek-speaking world as Heliopolis, the City of the Sun. 

Heliopolis was one of the most important cult centres of ancient Egypt, the site of the first known sun temple and sacred to the solar cult.  The position of the sun was far too important a celestial occupation for just one god.  As well as Atum, the elderly god of the setting sun, there was Harakhty or Horus of the Horizon, god of the rising sun; Khepri, the scarab beetle who rolled the sun across the sky at midday, and the generic sun gods Re, (known to the producers of Hollywood epics as Ra) and Aten, credited with being the god of the first monotheistic religion.  Now that’s job sharing.

According to the ancient Greeks, Heliopolis was the destination of the phoenix, the sacred bird which, when old, flew to the temple of the sun god to burn itself upon the solar altar and rise again from the ashes.  Now it’s mostly buried under Cairo airport, and all that flies in there these days are planeloads of tourists. 

One obelisk is the only thing of any size now visible, but there are others closer at hand depending on where you’re reading this); Cleopatra’s Needle on the banks of the Thames in London and the obelisk in New York’s Central Park both came from Heliopolis.

The origin of the legend of the phoenix was probably the bird known to the ancient Egyptians as the benu bird, a sacred heron associated with the sun cult.  The legend lives on @Bennu on Twitter!

February 10, 2010

What Kind of God Do You Think You Are? Atum (4)

Running our inky fingers further along the polished brass of Atum’s nameplate, we come to the title:

 nb t3wy  neb tawy, Lord of the Two Lands.  We’ve had nb, Lord, before.  Some of the paint has flaked off, but it’s still quite recognisable as the basket hieroglyph from Osiris’ titulary.  Each of the thick black lines underneath it reads t3, ta, meaning land.  Taken together, they read t3wy, tawy, the two lands, as ancient Egyptian had a dual as well as a singular and plural. Sticking a -wy is the way they expressed a pair of somethings.  Sometimes the -wy ending would be written out in full, but the two lands, or I should say, the Two Lands, was such a common phrase that there was no need. Everyone knew how to say it.

Each of the two hieroglyphs represents a stretch of  the flat, black, fertile  silt brought down by the Nile, the river that made civilisation possible in what would otherwise have been desert:

  When you draw them, rather than making each one a thick line, it’s more usual to draw two cigar-shaped loops, and put three little dots representing grains of sand close together in the middle underneath each one:

The Lord of the Two Lands usually meant the King in ancient Egypt.  Atum has the title because he was the first divine King, and the not-quite-so-divine dynasties who followed the reign of the gods on earth inherited the title from him and his descendants. 

The Two Lands in question were Upper and Lower Egypt.  Way back in the mists of time, right at the beginning of Office Hieroglyphs, in fact, we heard how the tribes along the Nile in Predynastic times gradually became two kingdoms, one based in the Nile Valley and one in the Delta, until, eventually the two became united under one King.  After unification, Kings were careful to proclaim themselves the rulers of both kingdoms. 

Here are the Two Lands, in all their splendour:

You can see how dependent the whole of Egypt was (and still is) on that flat black soil with the sandy borders, and how the Delta and Nile Valley kingdoms would have kept their distinct characters even after unification. Right from the beginning, when he made the first mound of earth rise from the water, you could say that Atum was in two minds about his new venture.

February 9, 2010

What Kind of God Do You Think You Are? Atum (3)

Ok, let’s roll up our sleeves and get back down there with those hieroglyphs.  We’re working on Atum’s name in this post.  Here it is:

  (‘I)tm Atum

The ‘I or A at the beginning is in brackets because in this spelling it’s not actually written in the ancient Egyptian, although it did sometimes appear.  (In some versions, he has an -w sound at the end of his name:  ‘Itmw.)  That won’t surprise you old Office Hieroglyphs hands, because you know the Egyptians hardly ever write the vowels; what we mostly have are the consonants.  But the name derives from the word tm which meant “complete” or “whole”; as the creator god, Atum contained within himself everything out of which he created the world.

The first hieroglyph in Atum’s name needs no introduction; it’s our old Office Hieroglyphs favourite, the loaf of bread standing for the letter t.  Here, as we’ve found elsewhere, it is only reinforcing the t sound contained in the biliteral sign which follows:

 tm tem

Now this is a new one.  It’s easy to draw:  two parallel lines curving up at the ends, a pair of cross-hatchings at each end, and finally a little loop just below the upward curve.  It’s not quite so easy to tell what it is.  See if you can spot it in this tomb painting:

Well done.  Got it in one, didn’t you?  It’s a sledge.  Right.  Just what you need in the frozen wastelands of the Nile Valley.  And why not?  As I write this, Cool Runnings is on BBC Three, and Ghana is sending a skier to the winter Olympics.  I bet if they’d had sledging in the ancient Greek Olympics, the Egyptians would have swept the medals table clean.

The Egyptians used sledges a lot.  They didn’t have snow (although some of them did encounter it on their travels in the Asiatic lands) but they had lots of wheel-clogging sand, heavy loads to transport, and wooden axles which couldn’t take the strain of chunky basalt statues or massive blocks of limestone, let alone the odd granite obelisk.  Sledges were ideal for transporting heavy weights across the sand, including statues of gods.   This picture shows a gang of hauliers dragging along a the seated statue of a tomb owner lashed to a sledge.  (The statue, not the tomb owner, that is.  The statute is shown at a much larger scale than the men hauling it, because it’s much more important than they are – it’s a representation of the tomb owner, very expensive and very difficult to replace, unlike the workers….)  That explains the cross-lines and the loop at the front of the hieroglyph; indications of the ropes which were used to haul the sledge.

And so on to the next sign: 

What is it?  Nobody knows for sure, but it’s easy to draw; start with the top line, do a blunt, rounded downturn at one end and leave the other end open.  It was pronounced ‘im and it’s reinforcing the m in the biliteral sign tm.  There, that didn’t take long, did it?  Ignorance is much easier than knowledge.

We do know what the final hieroglyph is, though:

It’s a seated god.  We know he’s a god because he’s got long hair and a beard, and he’s modestly swathed in an all-enveloping robe, unlike the short-kilted, bare-armed seated man we met at the end of Office Hieroglyphs.  The way I draw him is to start at the top of his head and make a long stroke halfway down his back, then do a little dog leg inwards to indicate the end of his hair.  Then bring the line down his back and bottom, continue with a straight line across the base, a sharp turn and little slope up for his feet, then a swoop out, up and over for his knees, straight up for his chest, a little wiggle to indicate his face and stick the beard on last.

I don’t need to tell you, because you know from Office Hieroglyphs, that determinatives were not pronounced; they’re only there because the Egyptians didn’t write the vowels, and they needed extra visual clues to tell them which kind of word the consonants were meant to convey.  then they knew which vowels to supply themselves when they read it.

So now you can adapt the offering formula so that your colleague’s gifts come from the god Atum instead of Osiris.  Wow – you’ve doubled your god quota almost overnight!  But Atum without his titles is not much of a substitute for the Lord of Busiris, the Great God, Lord of Abydos.  If you’re going to slot Atum into the offering formula instead of Osiris, you need to slot in his full complement, Lord of the Two Lands, Lord of Heliopolis, the Great God, Lord of the Sacred Land, behind him.  Otherwise he just looks naked.  And you can tell from the all-encompassing robe that he wouldn’t have liked that.  Well, would your chairman?  And, be honest, who really wants to see the chairman naked?

February 8, 2010

What Kind of God Do You Think You Are? Atum (2)

Ok, we’ve admired the portrait.  Now we’re walking down the boardroom corridor, stopping at the Chairman’s office and contemplating the nameplate on his door.  Here it is:

First, a test.  In which direction do you read the hieroglyphs, and how do you tell?  Of course you remember:  hieroglyphs face the beginning of the sentence, so you find one with a face and read backwards.  This lot reads right to left, from the top of the column to the bottom, starting again at the top of the next one.

And Atum’s name plate says:

(‘I)tm nb t3wy nb ‘Iwnw ntr c3  nb t3 dsr

Atum, Lord of the Two Lands, Lord of Heliopolis, the Great God, Lord of the Sacred Land

Pretty impressive nameplate, eh?  It’s pretty intimidating to walk down a corridor and realise you’re outside the office of one of the most fearsome powers in the universe.  (I know the feeling. Once, when I used to have a pass to the less penetrable parts of  the Palace of Westminster, I was ushered down a corridor and found myself passing a door on which the nameplate said “The Prime Minister; the Rt Hon Margaret Thatcher”.)

If you decide Atum is just the god to star in your colleague’s offering formula, then you just take out Osiris’ names and titles from the standard formula: 

and slot Atum’s into their place.  (But make sure they’re facing the right direction – unless you want to make a cryptic stylistic comment on you’re colleague’s character, behaviour, sense of direction or equilibrium on the way home from the party.)

We’ll go through them bit by bit, starting next time.

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