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:
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.