Susanllewellyn's Blog

February 9, 2011

What Kind of God Do You Think You Are? Horus the Elder (3)

Did you put the pen down after the last post? And how is the cramp now – better?  Good, because we’re going to press on with Horus the Elder.

This time, we’re going to make a start on his title, Foremost of Letopolis. And here is Horus the Elder’s title spelled out quite fully in hieroglyphs:

  , khenty Khem, Foremost (of) Letopolis.

First and foremost, the word khenty comprises the three signs stacked one on top of the other on the left:    The middle and lowest of them will be familiar to old Office Hieroglyphs hands, but the top one is new to this blog:  , a row of water jars on a stand making the triliteral sound khent.  (Ignore the diagonal line cutting across the top left hand corner of the sign in this example, it shouldn’t be there.)  The wavy ripple of water beneath reinforces the n sound, and that perennial favourite, the loaf of bread, reinforces the t.  The y sound is not spelled out here; it’s just understood.  Khent = before or in front of, khenty = the on who is in front or foremost.  It was obvious to the Egyptians from the context that khenty was what was meant here, and adding in the y would have spoiled the arrangement of the signs, so they left it out.

But back to the hieroglyph, and the water jars on a stand.  An individual jar on a stand looked like this: 

The jar has to be on a stand because it has a pointed bottom and would fall over if it wasn’t.  See how the base of the stand adds that triangular shape you can see in the hieroglyph?  Here’s a more elaborate pained version of three jars in a row:

The artist has carried that shape over into the bottom of the jars as if they were shaped like that.  And that’s the easiest way to draw them.  I start by drawing each jar like a figure eight, with an elongated oval upper loop and a short, flattened triangle for the bottom one.  The you just add a little T on the top of each jar for the stopper and a bent line each side from the shoulder of the jar to ground level to suggest the framework of the stand.  I like drawing khent.  It looks complicated but it’s easy once you know how.

I think your hand deserves another rest now.  We’ll get on to Letopolis next time round.

April 8, 2010

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

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It’s been a while since we left the terrible twins Geb and Nut, fighting and fornicating like an episode of Skins.  That’s almost poetry.  Well, maybe not.  Time to have a look at Nut’s name and titles.

We have two examples of her name from the pictures in the previous post.  In the family portrait on papyrus, Nut’s label is fixed, not tastefully in the bottom centre of the mahogany frame, as one would expect in a boardroom, but is slapped, rather tastelessly to modern eyes, right in front of her pubic area:

This is the kind of thing which starts rumours in the office:  I leave you to contemplate the appropriateness of the position as it may or may not apply to any members of yours.  The arm pointing to Nut’s genitals belongs to her father, Shu.  You can’t blame him:  he’s just trying his best to prop her up and keep her away from Geb, and she is a big girl.

Shu is not the only one being familiar; zooming in on the hieroglyphs which make up Nut’s name, we find most of them looking familiar too:

There’s a rather apathetic version of the zigzag line of the letter n, reinforcing the n in our old friend the water pot nw, the loaf of bread for the letter t, all spelling Nwt, Nut and rounded off with two determinatives:  the sky symbol for obvious reasons, and a seated goddess holding a slightly smudged lotus blossom drooping on a stem.

The second version of Nut’s name appears, rather more respectably, above her head on the inside of the coffin lid:

You can just make out the nw-pot, letter t and the sky hieroglyph.  There’s no room there for the embellishments of the first version.  However, the coffin lid also depicts Nut’s favourite title:  ms(t) ntrw, mes(et) netjeru, mother of the gods.  This may be the reason why the scribe of the papyrus thought writing Nut’s name as close as possible to her birth canal was just as appropriate as writing it next to her head.  The ancient Egyptians were a practical people.  They weren’t prudish as we are.

This is the first word, ms, written in front of Nut’s face:

Reading from the right, the first symbol is a new one:  the biliteral ms, mes. It’s easy to draw in its simple form:  one straight vertical line and two curved ones overlapping the top coming in from  different directions.  However, the simplicity is deceptive; the original object from which the hieroglyph derives is an apron made of fox skins tied together.  More elaborate versions can be found, such as this one, where you do get more of a sense of fox pelts tied together, with their brushes hanging down and the limbs dangling:

We’ve had the second symbol before; the strip of folded cloth reinforcing the letter s in  ms.  There should be a letter t for the feminine ending of mother, but, well, there isn’t in this example.  Perhaps Nut is trying to cut down on the bread – she is on the large side.

The second half of the title, ntrw, netjeru, gods, is written behind Nut’s head, so the whole thing reads top down and right to left:  Nwt ms ntrw, Nut mes netjeru, Nut Mother of the Gods.  We’ve seen the flagpole hieroglyph for god before.  This time, instead of three short strokes to convey the plural, the artist has painted three flagpoles out in full.  It means the same thing.

We all know colleagues who talk and act as though they invented a product or a practice when it’s been around in the company for a generation.  Nut was not the first goddess, nor the first goddess to give birth.  Her mother Tefnut had done it all before her, but you didn’t hear her bragging about it the way her daughter did.  What was so special about Nut’s experience of motherhood?  What was so fantastic about her kids?  We’ll find out next time.

March 27, 2010

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

Let’s look at the nameplate attached to the portrait of the third MD of the divine family firm.  Here it is:

Reading right to left, from the top of the column to the bottom, it says:

Gb `it ntrw   Geb it netjeru  Geb, Father of the Gods

Let’s look at his name first:

The first hieroglyph is clearly a bird, and although it’s cursively rendered, there’s something familiar about its face.  What do you mean, you don’t see it?  Have a look at this one:

Recognise him now?  I’ll give you a clue:  last time we met him, it was as a disembodied head.  Ah – got it!  Yes, that’s right, his head had made a sola appearance in Office Hieroglyphs as 3pdw, apedu, fowl, in the list of offerings.  Now we have the whole goose – a white-fronted goose in fact, just like this one:

 Beautiful, isn’t he?  He’s tricky to draw, but worth it.  I usually start with a short horizontal line for his beak, curve up and over for his head, come inwards for his neck and then sweep outwards and downwards for his back, down to the tip of his tail.  The you can return to the base of his beak, draw a flattish line for his chin and swoop in and out again for his neck and breast, pulling the line downwards for his belly and joining up the two lines at the tail tip.  Make a deep curve across his body for the wing, and make the wing tip cut the line of his back.  Then you can put in two short lines of his legs and a baseline for his feet.  A final dot for his eye, and he’s done.

The goose hieroglyph is a biliteral, gb.  The foot hieroglyph which represents the letter b is another old Office Hieroglyphs friend, and is only there to reinforce the b sound already contained in the goose symbol.  Finally, the seated god hieroglyph, familiar from many of our divine corporation nameplates, denotes that this is the name of a god.

 The next group looks straightforward, but, like Geb, it’s a treacherous item:

You’ll recognise the top half of Tefnut’s snake sandwich; the loaf of bread and the horned viper.  On the face of things, this group should be pronounced tef, but in fact it’s the word ‘it, it, father.  Other versions of the word have the inital ‘i written out in full, but ‘i is a semi-vowel (a vowel with some of the force of a consonant) and we know the Egyptians placed greater emphasis on writing down the consonants than on writing vowels, so they often left out the ‘i of ‘it.  The viper in this case is not the letter f but a determinative  – a soundless symbol put in to show what kind of word this is – whose significance is obscure.

And so to the final group of hieroglyphs in Geb’s title:

We’ve seen them all before:  the temple flagpole representing the sound ntr, the seated god determinative; the loaf of bread for the letter t and the three short strokes denoting the plural ending w, the whole lot reading ntrw, netjeru, gods.  Strictly speaking, the letter t shouldn’t be there.  As we know, it’s a feminine ending, which might suggest that Geb is claiming only to be the father of the goddesses, which would not do him justice.  We know he was not exactly a champion of female rights, so we can’t take this as evidence of positive discrimination in the workplace.  I think it’s probably crept in there because the similar title God’s Father, found in the titles of certain high-ranking Egyptian nobles and possibly meaning King’s Father-in Law, was often written with the flagpole sign followed by the loaf of bread from ‘it, father, and the scribe just kept on going because he was so used to writing that title, even though he’d already written the word for father.

But enough of these bureaucratic technicalities.  Geb was the third patriarch in the family firm.  Why did he claim to be the father of the gods?  What was so special about his divine kids?  Well, let’s meet the gods’ mother, first, and after that we’ll find out.

March 21, 2010

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

Time to run our fingers down Tefnut’s nameplate now.  Here it is:

Tfnwt nbt pt   Tefnut nebet pet   Tefnut, Lady of Heaven.  Let’s look at her name first:

As you can see, her name – if you forget about the unspoken determinative at the end for a minute – begins and ends with our old favourite the loaf of bread letter t, which I suppose makes it a sandwich.  And what’s the filling?  The horned viper letter f and the water pot nw, both of which we’ve had before.  Not everyone’s choice of a packed lunch, perhaps, although snake is supposed to taste like chicken.

The determinative is new, though, and no, it’s not the discarded sandwich wrapper.  It’s a cursive writing of another serpent hieroglyph:

This one is a (non-horned) cobra, and was often used as a determinative for the name of a goddess, especially if the goddess in question were a snake goddess like Wadjet, the cobra goddess who adorned the King’s forehead.  But other goddesses could use it as well.  Tefnut was a lioness rather than a cobra, but her Dad Atum was the original giant serpent, so I suppose she felt entitled.  And she ate those little horned vipers for lunch.

The cobra determinative is tricky to draw, but it can be done.  You may want to start with a little flat head, like a sock puppet looking straight ahead.  Then you can make the wide sweep of the hood, tapering down to the narrow body; turn and continue horizontally, then make a downturn for the tail.  The you can add a loop in each “elbow” to suggest the coils.

Here’s one doing some textbook rearing:

You’d need a whole row of baguettes to make a sandwich out of that.

Tefnut’s title, nbt pt, starts with a familiar object: 

the basket hieroglyph nb, neb , Lord, which should really be followed by a t in Tefnut’s case, to make it the feminine nbt, nebet, Lady, but the scribe hasn’t put it in. Well, you can see he was in a hurry from his cobra.  The group of three signs underneath the basket is this one: 

pt, pet, the sky or heaven.  The first two symbols are familiar; you’ll remember from Office Hieroglyphs the stool made of reed matting which represents the letter p.  The scribe in Tefnut’s case has abbreviated it to three short strokes, which was quite common in cursive hieroglyphs, but I recommend you draw it as a square.  And there’s yet another loaf of bread t.  The rectangle with two downward-pointing corners is the sky symbol.  You can see it painted blue on the top of this stela, although the artist has had to bend it around to fit the curved top:

Bendy or not, it gives the sun disk somewhere to hang.

The sky had a particular significance for Tefnut, as we’ll find out when we meet her and Shu’s children.  In the meantime, just remember:  however heavenly the chairman’s daughter, if she invites you to lunch, take your own sandwiches.


December 22, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (30)

You’ve heard them singing carols in the office.  You’ve heard them karaoke down the pub. This is the best time of year to decide which of your colleagues merits the last phrase of the offering formula:

maa-kheru; true of voice.

We’ve had kheru, voice, before.  It was in the complex little group of signs which make up the standard phrase for “an invocation offering of bread and beer”:

where “invocation” is literally “that which comes forth by the voice”.  And there’s kheru, right in the middle of the group, like a wooden spoon ready for stirring the pudding (which would make the other signs a chopping board, a bag of flour and a bottle of brandy in seasonal montage straight out of the Lakeland kitchenware catalogue.  Except they’re not.)  But you know it’s an oar, and the other signs are a house, a loaf of bread (naturally) a jug of beer and the invisible owl.

So now we have the oar again, twice in one formula.  They did like sticking their oar in, the ancient Egyptians.  But what’s the first sign,

maa?  A doorstop?  An eraser? Nothing so mundane.  The wedge-shaped sign maa (very easy to draw) represents a platform or pedestal, as here supporting a figure of the god Ptah (from Tutankhamun’s tomb furniture):

(Ok, you could use him as a door wedge, I’ll give you that.  But he would be far from mundane.  There could be a whole interior design industry in this for someone – and that someone will need an office, and that office will need hieroglyphs…. I must stop getting carried away.) 

Back to maa – the pedestal has that distinctive shape because it in turn is a representation of nothing less than the primeval mound; the first bit of land to appear from out of the waters of chaos at the very creation of the world.  The Egyptians were used to seeing mounds of land rise from the water every year, as the floodwaters of the Nile receded after the annual inundation, leaving behind fertile silt which they could cultivate.  (So, we have to assume that Ptah is standing on a little island, with the waters of the primeval ocean lapping almost at his feet, at the bottom of the little slipway on his pedestal.)  The Egyptians assumed that this was how the gods had first created the land on which they lived.  To them, this pristine terra firma meant the world the way the gods had created it, the way the world was meant to be.  Maa meant “true” or “right” or “just” in the sense of  “the proper order of things”.

Here is an example of the maa kheru group in a  carved relief:

 True of voice:  the “of” is unwritten but understood from the construction.  The maa hieroglyph is easy to draw:  a thin rectangle with one slanting short side.

But if our tomb owner Senusret was “true of voice”, what did that mean?  They didn’t have karaoke in the netherworld, did they?  No.  It was much worse than that.  To get into the Egyptian afterlife, you had to win the divine version of the X Factor.

Anyone who thinks the X Factor is hell on earth will get the idea of the Egyptian afterlife.  If life on earth was Round 1, to go forward to the afterlife or Round 2, you had to impress a panel of judges.  Here’s a scene from the show:

On the left,we have the tomb owner being led onstage by his divine sponsor, the god Anubis.  In the middle, the scene shows an early version of the machine used to record the audience’s verdict.  Back then, in the days before electronic voting buttons, they used a weighing scale.  In the right-hand pan of the scale is a feather, representing truth, order, justice and all those primeval virtues.  In the left is the tomb owner’s heart.

On the right of the scene, in their own special booth, sit the judges:  Osiris, the Simon Cowell of the underworld, sits on his throne, backed by two divas of the day, the goddesses Isis and Nephthys then, and fronted by four lesser judges, his own four sons, who stand on a lotus blossom.

The format of the show is this:  to qualify for the next round of existence, the tomb owner has to declare that he has led a good life on earth.  But just saying so is not enough; he has to prove it.  To test whether or not he is speaking the truth, the gods weigh his heart against the feather.  If his heart is not weighed down by sin and falsehood, it will balance the feather and he will be let through to the next round.  If it is heavier than the feather, it will be thrown to the crocodile-headed she-monster waiting by the weighing scale, (her name is Devourer-of-Hearts, but let’s call her Anne) and the tomb owner will be thrown off the programme – you are the weakest link, goodbye.  That won’t happen, though, because in the finest traditions of audience voting reality TV, Anubis is rigging the result by fixing the scale.  The Ibis-headed god Thoth is standing by like the Lottery adjudicator to verify the outcome.  And sure enough, Anubis is conducting the tomb owner, who has been proven to be speaking the truth, to Simon, sorry, Osiris, who declares him fit to go forward to the final. 

And ever after, our tomb owner is known as “true of voice”, as a sign that he has passed the test and successfully entered the next world.

So there we are:  at the end of the offering formula.  You know it all now:

Hetep di nesu Usir neb Djedu, netjer aa, neb Abju, di ef peret-kheru (em) te henqet, kau apedu, shes menkhet, khet nebet nefret ankhet netjer im, en ka en imakhy Senusret, maa-kheru.

“An offering which the King gives (to) Osiris Lord of Busiris, the great god, Lord of Abydos, that he may give invocation-offerings (consisting of) bread, and beer, meat and fowl, alabaster and clothing, and all good and pure things by which a god lives, to the ka of the Revered One, Senusret, True of Voice.”

How’s that for a Christmas list?

December 15, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (28)

You know how you sometimes get a Christmas card, but can’t for the life of you make out the signature, and spend the whole New Year wrestling with the guilty suspicion that you’ve missed someone off your list, while they kept you on theirs?  Well, this is not going to happen this time; not on Office Hieroglyphs, it isn’t.  We are about to decipher the cryptic symbols by means of which our revered tomb owner conveyed his name – or at least had someone else to convey it for him.

And here it is:

Senusret, sometimes transcribed as Senwosret or, in its later, Greek form, Sesostris; a name of commoners, nobles and of course a number of famous Twelfth Dynasty Kings.

If you cast your mind back to the very beginning of this blog, you may remember that we encountered the device known as honorific transposition, which is a pretty rotten trick to pull on the eager beginner.  However, we’ve seen it before and we’re not intimidated.  We know it just means that the Egyptians believed that some words were more important and magical than others, especially when they were written down, and that they had better write down the most powerful symbols in a word or phrase first, even if they were not actually spoken first, or the magic letters might get annoyed and start acting up. 

Well, Senusret is one of those cases.  It is a theophorous name, which means it contains the name of a god or, in this case, goddess:  the goddess Usret or Wosret.  Senusret means “Man of (the goddess) Usret”.  And you’ve guessed it; even though the tomb owner’s name was Senusret, the diva gets her name at the top of the bill.  This is why, in very old textbooks written before they’d figured it out, early Egyptologists sometimes wrote the name as Usertsen.

So, we’ll spend this post giving all our attention to the goddess:

Usret:  literally, “the powerful one”, perhaps an early version of “She-Who-must-be-obeyed”.  She was a relatively obscure goddess who is rarely depicted, probably because her cult flourished (at Thebes, modern Luxor) during the Middle Kingdom in Egypt (roughly 2000-1700 BC), and very little remains of the temples of that period – they’ve mostly been broken up, re-used and covered over by later monuments.  Similarly, later, even more powerful goddesses supplanted her as objects of worship.  However, the Kings of the time, who came from her home town, saw her as their patron goddess, which was why several of them were named after her.

We’ve got some new symbols here, too, which makes a change from the recycling we’ve seen lately.  Have a look at the first one:

It looks like a head on a stick.  In fact, it’s the head of some dog-like animal on a greatly elongated neck.  They did like their animal body parts, didn’t they?  When you draw it, you can just draw a head on a stick:  two pointy ears and a protruding snout, then a vertical line for the neck. The symbol is a triliteral – it conveys the sound wsr or user.  The next two letters are simply the s and the r written out in full for emphasis:


 is the letter s, one of two in the transliteration of ancient Egyptian.  A droopy looking sign, isn’t it.  After all the butchery we’ve had in this blog lately, you’d be forgiven for assuming it’s a length of trailing intestine, but in fact it’s a folded cloth, something like the throw hanging over the back of the throne in our picture of Osiris from ages ago:

Maybe they need something to mop up the blood at this point in the formula.

is the letter r.  We’re back to good old body parts with this one; the r represents the human mouth. Here’s a slightly wonky inlaid technicolour version:


 Two curves touching at the tips will describe it nicely.

Finally, dedicated scribes will have spotted our old friend the loaf of bread

 representing the letter t, and forming the feminine ending, so we know Usret is a goddess, not a god:  “the powerful (female) one”.

Here they all are in the name of one of the Kings called Sesostris, enclosed by a rope border known as a cartouche:

Look at them all, like presents in Santa’s sack.  We’ll pull out the last couple next time.

November 21, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (24)

So, the lucky tomb owner now has every good and pure thing.  But not just any old every good and pure thing, oh no:  only every good and pure thing by which a god lives.  Good and pure things for divine consumption only, thank you very much:

Needless to say, the components don’t appear in Egyptian in the same order as that in which they appear in English.  A literal translation would be “which lives a god thereby”.  That’s a bit of a mouthful.  Let’s break it down into bite-sized pieces.

The first chunk is perhaps the most famous hieroglyph of them all:  the ankh:


It’s easy to draw; a loop with a downstroke and a crossbar. Here’s a sculpted version: 


It’s not a cross and, despite what they tell tourists in Egypt, it’s not the key to the Nile or they key of life or any kind of key, not even a key to the offiering cupboard.  The Egyptians didn’t have locks and keys.  They had bolts and bars and cords and seals, but not locks and keys. 

So, what is it, this most famous hieroglyph of them all?  Well, what it is, is:  a sandal strap.  A strap, especially that of a sandal, is what it is.  Here is a selection of ancient Egyptian Jimmy Choos:


  You get the idea.

Ankh is another triliteral sign which expresses the three sounds a, n and the third of the four Egyptian letters h.  Ankh is the verb “to live”, and the symbol of life itself, which the gods offer to the nose of the King; the breath of life:

It doesn’t seem quite so refreshing when you think that what he’s really getting is a whiff of hot, sweaty sandal.  I mean, you know the ancient world must have been pretty smelly, but realising that their idea of a breath of fresh air was to stick a bit of sandal up your nose takes the concept to another level.

In this bit of the formula, the word is actually:


Ankhet – “which lives”.  Yes, the loaf of bread denoting the t  has popped up again, as though from a toaster.  The technical term for it is a resumptive pronoun, but as we’re not doing grammar, you can forget I said that.

Talking about stale emanations, you already know netjer, god, don’t you?  Remember –

   netjer aa, “great god”, in the titular of Osiris, and all the stuff about the flagpole?  We don’t have to go into all that again, do we – not while we’re still reeling from the scent of insole?  The Italians think cheese smells like feet:  let’s think of this as a ripe piece of Roquefort.  Mmmmm…

November 15, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (23)

And after goodness, purity:


wabet transliteration

Wabet,  “pure” or “clean” – in the feminine form when spoken, but without the loaf of bread representing the t , because it’s so obvious to those in the know that the scribe, dashing off yet another offering formula, hasn’t bothered to write it down.  But we know it’s there, don’t we?

Advanced office scribes like us will also have deduced that the masculine form is wab, and that the rather curious sumbol above is a triliteral sign conveying the sound of three letters, w a and b. 

We’ve had b before, haven’t we?  If you cast your mind back to the first line of the offering formula, when we were looking at Abydos or Abdju, one of the major cult centres of Osiris, you’ll recall that the letter b in ancient Egyptian is represented by the human foot.  And what do we have as the bottom half of this symbol?  A human foot!  That’ll be the b, then.

But what’s that spout on top, and what’s it spouting?  No, it’s not what you’re thinking.  They could draw what you’re thinking much better than that.  The upper part of the symbol is a little water pot, and it’s pouring forth a libation of purifying water.

You can see the kind of pot in full pouring action in this scene from the sarcophagus of a royal lady:

lady pouring102

In this scene, one of the lady’s servants is pouring her a drink.  In temples and in funeral rites, water was used for ritual purification, as in this scene where a priest is pouring water over the coffin of the deceased:

priest pouring103

It’s a shame the painting has flaked away just where I want to show you the water spouting out of the pots, but never mind.  And the blue wiggly lines for the water have come out nicely.  So, the symbol for “pure” was the standard ritual purification device of ancient Egyptian religion, the pot pouring out clean water, rendering the person or object it was poured over cleansed and pure.  Wab was also the word for “priest” in ancient Egyptian; literally, “the pure one”.

Here’s an example from a temple relief:

wab seti relief104

We already know how to draw the foot.  Then just draw a little oval on top for the pot, like an egg lying on its side, but square off the pointy end a bit for the rim.  Then draw a zigzag line for the water, arcing out of the pot in a graceful curve.

Finally -please remember all this when the office plant contractors come round and water the aspidistras.  And stop stubbing out illicit cigarettes in the rubber plants, and using the weeping fig as a receptacle for your coffee dregs, or the office party plonk.  They’ve been ritually purified.  Have some respect.

Office hieroglyphs (22)

We’re on a famous syllable now:  nefer, the Egyptian word for beautiful or, as in this case, good.  It has sounded down the ages in the names of some of Egypt’s most famous queens: 


Nefertiti, “the beautiful one is come”;


Nefertari, “the most beautiful of them all”. 

So what symbol did the Egyptians choose to represent the sound of good and beautiful?  Have a look and see if you can tell what it is:


Nope?  Give up?  OK, I’ll tell you.  It’s the heart and windpipe, possibly of an ox.  Aaaah, of course!  You’re smacking yourself on the forehead now, aren’t you?  What else would you use to convey the sound for good or beautiful?  Well, I suppose these abstract concepts are hard to draw.  You have to reach for the practical, and the practical can be pretty earthy.  I suppose that, as writing was invented to keep inventories of valuable commodities, the butchered components of an expensive animal like an ox would be something you would want to itemise on a list.  The sound is just a coincidence. When writing is developing beyond the practical to capture abstract qualities, if a symbol already exists for that sound, that’s what you use.  So, they used the heart and windpipe for nefer, meaning good or beautiful.

Or rather, in this case:

nfrt transliteration




The nefer hieroglyph is a triliteral, conveying in one symbol the sound of three consonants:  n, f and r.  The second and third of these letters are written out more fully in other examples: nfr full099

However, in the case of our offering formula, like nebet in the previous post, the adjective is feminine, to agree with khet, “thing”.  You could put a loaf of bread after it, to stand for the “t” if you wanted, but as it’s a formula and things tend ot get compressed in formulae, the scribe hasn’t bothered in this example.    To draw the nefer sign, I usually start with the downward stroke, loop it around to make a squat little jar shape for it to stand on, cross the upright like a Roman t (I usually cross it twice, as the Egyptians often did, too) and then put in the details on the jar shape:  a little crescent above, and a little loop below.

Here are a couple of examples of the real hieroglyph, one a sculpted relief, the other an inlay in semi-precious stone:

nfr relief101

nfr inlay100

You can see the internal markings of the heart carved into the limestone, but not into the tiny bit of gemstone – too fiddly, perhaps, when you have a lot of them to do.

Again, I did consider putting a picture of a real, gory specimen on the blog – but if you really want to see one, you know where to look.  I’m not squeamish, but I don’t want to put people off.

So, if you fancy one of your colleagues but don’t know how to tell them, you can write the hieroglyph for beautiful on their whiteboard, and take it from there.  Or, if you really loathe them but are forced to write the offering formula on their birthday card because you’ve done it for yourself, you can console yourself that what you’re drawing for them is something really gory.  Fill in those details with relish!

November 14, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (21)

Filed under: Office hieroglyphs,Uncategorized — Susan Llewellyn @ 9:16 pm
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khet nebet


Khet nebet.  Every thing.  Or, rather, thing every.  Let’s look at thing, first.

khet khet transliteration

Khet, thing. As you’ve been sitting there, starving, for two and a half months, your attention will have been fixed instantly on the loaf of bread which, as usual, represents the letter t.  I wonder whether you’d fancy eating the object depicted above it, the symbol which to the Egyptians represented the second of their collection of four letters h?  Some people have been known to eat it.

The identification is not aboslutely certain, but it’s quite possible that it’s the symbol for a human placenta.  Some of you may be making the very sound of the second letter h as you contemplate the idea of eating it, especially if what you are eating at the moment is attempting to reguritate itself and / or fly across the room.  Some of you may be made of tougher stuff.

I did briefly toy with the idea of putting a photograph of a human placenta on this blog – and there are plenty of them in cyberspace , including one in which bread was also a feature – but I decided that, if you really want to do a comparison with the hieroglyph, you can easily find them.  They are a bit off-putting for the unwary Egyptophile.  We’ll make do with a couple of pictures of the original hieroglyph instead:

placenta 1097

 placenta 2098

They don’t help much with the identification, do they?  And they don’t look very appetizing.  I don’t know whether the Egyptians ate their placentas or not, but I did find a shampoo which listed placenta as an ingredient in Canada, of all places.  Who’d have thought it?  Anyway, in this context, it’s not for eating, it’s for saying the second letter h.  Kh.  And it’s easy to draw:  just a circle and some cross-hatching.


 nebet transliteration

Nebet means every or all.  The signs need no introduction to you.  We had the basket sign, neb, before, as the word for “Lord” in the titulary of Osiris.  Neb aslo means “every” or “all”, and it appears here as nebet because it is in its feminine form, agreeing with khet.  The “t” endings of words are often feminine.

There.  For two and a half months you’ve been feeling abandoned. Now you’re the tomb owner who has everything.

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