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.