Susanllewellyn's Blog

August 25, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (18)

You’ll remember, at the end of the last exciting episode, that we left this group of signs only half explored, prt hrw t hnqt hieroglyphs

its upper and middle components rendered as peret -kheru, a going forth of the voice, or invocation offering, its two lower components dangling in mid air:

From a going forth of the voice to a going into the mouth: it’s time to start on the menu – and where else but with the appetisers?  These are the two signs so far unaccounted for:

t hnqt hieroglyphs

t hnqt transliteration

 The one on the left needs no introduction to you.  You can spot a loaf of bread a mile off by now.  If you look at the loaf of bread in the painted version of this group

prt hrw t hnqt painting076

(on the right this time, so read from  the opposite direction) you’ll see it looks like the loaf of bread on top of the hetep sign

htp coloured062

In other versions of the peret-kheru group, the rather more elaborate loaf is replaced by the simple bun shape of t, te, which demonstrates that this is is the simple word for bread.  You can use either version.  They’re both easy to draw.

Almost as easy is the last sign in the group; henqet, beer.  When you’re invoking a farewell pint or ten for Donald in Sports Equipment, all you’ll need to do is draw a jar shape with a t-shape on top;- make the crossbar wide and the stem very short, and you’re there.

The artist scribe of the painted version has taken rather more care over his beer jug. The long neck minimised contact with the air and aided fermentation.  Egyptian beer was basically a wetter form of bread.  It was made from fermented dough and full of sediment and general floaty bits; so much so, they drank it with a straw to get at the liquid through the debris, like this:


  But it was very nutritious. 

Bread and beer were the two staples of the Egyptian diet, both made from grain, and both taught to the Egyptians by Osiris, god of the harvest.  They were the first things the tomb owner put on his shopping list for the afterlife, and the first thing to appear on his menu.

An invocation offering of bread and beer; not much different from the first things the waiter brings to the table in the restaurant, in fact.  We’ll move on to the main course next time.

August 6, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (8)

htp di nsw


      transliteration htp di nsw


An offering which the King gives; as we’ve already looked at the hieroglyphs for “King” and “offering”, the last symbol in the group, di

must betransliteration di



You’re right, and guess what?  It’s yet another loaf of bread; the third different kind we’ve encountered in the space of four symbols.  The ancient Egyptians may not have had coinage (not until very late, anyway) but they sure had a lot of dough. 

It’s easy enough to draw:  a big triangle with a little triangle inside it, on the baseline. Here’s an example of the hieroglyph from a carved inscription:








Bread has sacred significance in most cultures, and the ancient Egyptians were no exception, as you can tell.  Why was this?  Well, when you think about it, the invention of bread is a major technological advance, of the kind that changes the world.  Before we became farmers, we lived on perishable food.  We had fresh meat and fresh vegetables and, if we were living in Egypt, hot weather and millions of flies.  We had to eat the food quickly, before it decayed, then set about replacing our stocks.  This was pretty restricting.  

However, once we learned to grow cereal crops, process them and bake them into bread and cakes, we had a source of food which lasted longer.  We could store it long term, take it with us on journeys or dole it out to hired labourers or soldiers as their pay for the month.  A whole new way of life opened up, not least the ability to survive famines of meat and vegetables, during which people would otherwise have died.  In this case, bread really would have been the staff of life – hence its sacred significance.

Clay moulds you could stack in the fire for baking bread were the start of a series of culinary innovations which has taken us from the bread oven through the deep freeze and the microwave to the – er – electric bread maker. The Egyptians baked many different kinds of bread and cakes, flavoured with different fruits, spices and herbs. They gave lots of them in exchange for other goods and services, and gave lots more as offerings to the gods and to their ancestors, so much so that the name of one kind of loaf became synonymous with the verb “to give”. In fact, an alternative way of writing the same word was with an outstretched arm holding the loaf, as in this inscription:




NB:  don’t go looking for the words “an”, “which” or “the”.  Just understand that the sense of them is there.  All you want is to be able to write some convincing retirement wishes in colleagues’ memory books.  You don’t want to get any further into Middle Egyptian grammar and syntax than you have to, trust me.

So, what does this mean in practical terms, “an offering which the King gives”?  It stems from the ancient Egyptian principle that the King was owner, ruler, lawgiver and high priest of everything and every cult in the land.  Remember back at the beginning of this blog, when I said that the tomb owner would place a takeaway order with the local temple, as part of his or her insurance against starvation in the next life?  Well, the ancient Egyptian fast food chain was a long and complex one, and it began with the authority of the King.  Of which more anon.

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