Susanllewellyn's Blog

November 21, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (24)

Filed under: Office hieroglyphs,Uncategorized — Valerie Billingham @ 9:07 pm
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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…

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August 13, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (13)

Number thirteen!  Are you feeling lucky or unlucky?  I’m feeling quite lucky that although this week’s post concerns two words, the words consist of only one hieroglyph each:ntr aa hieroglyphs

ntr aa transliteration

Netjer aa, the great god.  What excellent value per hieroglyph.

As with many languages, the adjective follows the noun in Egyptian, so the first word, netjer, is the word for god.  I bet, after finding out that they spelled the word for king with a stick of salad and a bread roll, you can’t wait to find out what they used to convey the idea of divinity.  I bet if I told you it was one of those little paper labels you stick in cheese, you’d at least half believe me. 

Actually, it’s not a million miles away from that; it is a flag.  Just as fetish symbols were erected at Egyptian shrines from the Predynastic period onwards, so banners with emblems of the gods were set up on flagpoles outside their temples.  The flagpoles are gone now, but you can still  see the sockets that housed them when you visit temples in Egypt today.  This is Luxor temple, where there are four deep sockets in the facade of the first pylon where the massive poles were once lodged.

Luxor temple

And this is what they would once have looked like:

pylon_panahesi

This is probably about as much as the average Egyptian got to see of the local god much of the time.  Most of them would not have been allowed very far beyond the front gate of the temple, except on very special occasions.  Even when the god’s statue was carried in procession, it was hidden from sight in a curtained shrine.  So the flags really came to stand for the gods in people’s minds, to the extent that it was the simplest way of writing the word for god:

painted ntr

And it’s not difficult to draw.  Just draw a flag on a pole.

aa hieroglyph

aa transliteration

Aa, great, is slightly more tricky.  It’s a wooden column, of the sort used in houses or smaller or buildings, where it wouldn’t have had to support a great deal of weight.  I suppose using a pillar to convey greatness kind of figures.  Wooden columns are mainly known from paintings and models, as they’ve mostly perished. One good source for what they looked like, though, is the step pyramid complex of Djoser at Saqqara, as they were only just learning to work in large quantities of stone then, and the buildings imitate wooden originals.  These are stone imitations of wooden columns at Saqqara:

house_north_herald_96-6308-02

You can see from this painted version of the hieroglyph that the column symbol is broader towards the base and more slender towards the top. painted aa

It seems to have a capital shaped like a papyrus umbel, like the Djoser columns, with an abacus – the cover plate that connects the column with the ceiling – on the top, like this one:

Capital

So, when you’re drawing it, you need to convey the intricacies of the capital.  I usually draw two back-to-back little scollops to start with aa scollops then an equal and opposite pair underneath

aa scollops2

 then the slightly pear-shaped body of the column:

aa hieroglyph

But you’ll figure out what works best for you.  Luck has nothing to do with it.  It’s all about practice.

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