Susanllewellyn's Blog

February 9, 2011

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

Filed under: Uncategorized,What kind of god do you think you are? — Valerie Billingham @ 8:21 pm
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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.

February 6, 2011

What Kind of God Do You Think You Are? Horus the Elder (2)

Filed under: Uncategorized,What kind of god do you think you are? — Valerie Billingham @ 5:39 pm
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I left you last time round, hand poised over the sorry-you’re-leaving card of a newly redundant colleague, part-way through the offering formula and about to write in the name of the god Horus the Elder, patron divinity of swingeing cuts – except that I hadn’t told you how to spell it.  Sorry about that. You must have terrible non-writer’s cramp by now.  Take a break and flex those aching fingers while I show you which hieroglyphs to home in on. 

You remember Horus the Elder, from his flat-share temple at Kom Ombo; here he is again on the left.  The hieroglyphs which make up his name are these ones, from the right-hand vertical column above his head: 

Heru wer, known to the Greeks as Haroeris, Horus the Elder or Horus the Great. 

Ignoring the  last vestiges of the signs immediately above this group in the relief, the first hieroglyph is the falcon  , transliterated as  originally, but without the w as time went on.  The key to drawing the Horus falcon is to give him curves.  I usually start with the little curved beak, then a rounded head, down the back to the tail, give him some decent feathering around the legs, then bring a curvy wing around to hide his breast, put his feet on and dot his eye.  Everything has to be compact, sleek and rounded for Horus, as in this beautiful relief: 

  The species of falcon which the Egyptians identified with Horus has not been identified, and it’s probably a wild goose chase anyway (no pun intended) as the Egyptians were not that bothered about the finer subdivisions of the Linnaean system of taxonomy – not least becasue it hadn’t been invented then.  But here’s a picture of a real Egytpian falcon anyway: even more beautiful.

The second half of the god’s name is , a stooping old man leaning on a stick.  This is usually the determinative for an old man but it can also be used for a chief or great man, as the village headman would probably be a wise elder – or so one would hope, anyway.  In this case, the latter applies, as it is transliterated wr, “great”.  I usually draw a blob for the head first, then a curve for the back and hips, making him definitely bent with age and not upright as a younger man would be.  Bring the line across for the bottom of his kilt and do a parallel curve up for the front of his body.  Put on matchstick arms and legs, giving the left arm a dangling position and the right arm a sharp v so he can clutch his stick.  The a line across the waist makes his belt.

I have scoured all the sources currently at my disposal for an image of a stooped old man leaning on a staff for you, but without success.  They’re all too upright.  The Egyptians didn’t want to be surrounded by any but fit, active people in th afterlife, and certainly didn’t want to be decrepit themselves.  Sorry.

So there he is:  Horwer, Horus the Elder.  Although the portrait we’re admiring at the moment is from his shared accommodation at Kom Ombo, Horus the Elder was known as “Foremost of Letopolis”, from his main cult centre at the modern Kom Ausim.  We’ll learn how to write that title in the next post.  have a rest now.  Your hand must be killing you.

January 30, 2011

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

OK.  So far so good.  This is where it gets confusing.  There are umpteen gods called Horus in the ancient Egyptian pantheon.  The most famous one is the son of Isis and Osiris, but that’s not who we’re talking about here.  Horus the Elder is his uncle, the fifth, anomalous offspring of Nut, although under the influence of other Horuses he has been known to be considered the son of Isis.  Well, you know what it’s like when two close family members have the same name.  They answer each other’s calls, open each other’s mail, get arrested for each other’s offences…  To make things worse, both the elder and younger Horuses married a goddess called Hathor.  Imagine what it must have been like in the company mailroom. 

Horus the Elder’s main cult centre was at Letopolis, modern Ausim, a dozen kilometres or so north-west of Cairo. There’s not much left of his temple there now, but there is rather more left of the temple of Kom Ombo in Upper Egypt, where Horus shared his accommodation with a flatmate, the crocodile god Sobek.  Here’s a portrait of Horus from his Nile Valley residence:

Regular readers of this blog will know that the divine company history had always been a turbulent one, even before the arrival of the Children of Nut.  You’ll also remember how ruthlessly the real stories of many attempted – and successful – boardroom coups by each succeeding generation were suppressed by the company founders.  But legends will persist, even in open plan offices. 

 The legend about Horus the Elder is that he owed his seniority to one such attempted coup.  Atum got wind that a faction in the family firm – the names of the guilty have been successfully withheld from the public – was plotting against him.  Atum was getting on in years by now and didn’t feel able to confront them directly, especially as they were his own family and would presumably get to choose his retirement home.  He needed to get a handle on the size of the forces ranged against him, so he sent out a company spy to hang around the water cooler, listen in to the gossip and report back.  We’ve all met them. 

 The spy discovered that eight senior executives and two hundred and fifty-seven of the workforce, backed up by a huge army, were doing nothing but slandering Atum at every water cooler, tea point, restroom and smoking break in the company.  Just as he uncovered this information, the conspirators realised he was a spy and took immediate action:  they stuck out their tongues at him.  This was apparently much more frightening then than it is now – maybe because it was a reminder that the Egyptians used to cut out the tongues of the slain on the battlefield.  Anyway, the spy acted in the time-honoured tradition of snitches everywhere and ran straight back to Atum.

Atum immediately called in company secretary Thoth for high-level counter-coup discussions.  Thoth advised him to choose a high-profile individual to champion Atum’s policies in the workplace.  Atum chose Horus the Elder, put him in uniform, armed him to the hilt and let him rip. The result was a massacre and a flight of the vanquished, some of whom turned into fish and birds to effect their getaway.  Well, even if they’d had company cars then, they’d have had to give them back.  But it was no use:  whatever they turned into, Horus copied, hunting them down and exterminating them wherever they were hidden.  It was worse than a government leak inquiry.  Eventually, though, company order was restored and Horus found himself promoted above his peers for services rendered, becoming “leader of the troops”.  Here he is, not in a portrait this time but in a rather fine bronze, as a Roman soldier:

 

You have to admire Horus the Elder all the more once you know t hat the company champion had battled disability to achieve his excellent performance rating and an enviable promotion. Horus the Elder’s two eyes represented the sun and the moon.  On pitch dark nights when these two heavenly bodies were invisible, the god used to go blind.   On these occasions he was known in the company as Mekhenty-en-irty, “he who has no eyes”.  In his blind form, he swapped his falcon’s head for the head of a shrew, an animal thought to fear broad daylight.  When he recovered his eyesight, he was known as Khenty-en-irty, “he who has eyes”.  At one of Horus’ cult centres, Kom Ombo, the priests commissioned a carving of surgical and medical instruments for the temple wall, in which the eye doctor’s equipment has a prominent place.

Well, it never ends there, does it?  If you promote one of five siblings, the others are bound to feel a certain grievance.  And you have to remember, company grievance procedures were much less sophisticated then.  At any rate, these events were soon followed by a rebellion of the Children of Nut against Chairman Atum.  Horus the Elder had to take up his sword again. 

The rebellion came to a head on board the solar bark.  It was a pitch dark night, Horus the Elder couldn’t see a thing, he was on a mission and he was armed with a sword.  You can imagine what was about to happen.  Horus didn’t let the mere fact of his blindness hold him back; he set about himself with a vengeance, lopping off heads left right and centre.  When the sun came up in the morning, he found that he had decapitated not only half the workforce but a lot of the gods as well.  Talk about swingeing cuts – Horus the Elder was the George Osborne of his day.  The company ship came to a halt – as the crew had been beheaded, that was probably inevitable – one of the four pillars holding up the sky fell into the primeval ocean and the universe stood tottering on the brink of collapse.  (That’s what happens when you implement radical retrenchments too quickly, George – let that be a warning to you.)  Fortunately, the Chairman was able to restore the gods’ heads to their shoulders and, after a kindly but firm word with the junior executives about their future career prospects, Atum was able to effect repairs and the company ship sailed on.

So, if you’re poised pen in hand over yet another leaving card, about to write your offering formula and wondering which god to select for yet another colleague whose job has been axed, Horus the Elder might be the one.  He’d also be good for one of those slash-and-burn types, or salami-slicers of services.  We’ll have a look at exactly how you write him in there next time.

January 29, 2011

What Kind of God Do You Think You Are? The children of Nut

Filed under: Uncategorized,What kind of god do you think you are? — Valerie Billingham @ 8:42 pm
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Now, where were we?  As I recall, we were strolling down the mahogany-lined corridor of the company yacht of the ancient Egyptian gods, admiring the portraits of the founders of the divine dynasty and exploring their place in the company’s history.  We were just about to reach the portraits of the fourth generation, the “children of disorder”:  Osiris, Isis, Seth, Nephthys and their shadowy sibling Horus the Elder.   Here they are:

 

That’s Osiris on his throne with Isis and Nephthys behind him, and that’s Horus the falcon and Seth the we’re-not-sure-what-but-it’s-probably-mythological clapping their godly, supportive hands on either shoulder of the King. 

And what an appropriate time to return to them.  To look at them, as with many children, you’d think butter wouldn’t melt.  However, in the words of the Book of the Dead:

“..what is to be done with the Children of Nut?  They have fomented war, they have stirred up quarrels, they have caused disorder, they have fomented rebellion…”  words which must be echoing around a presidential palace not a million miles from Egypt as I type.

 As far as the senior members of the firm were concerned, the children of Nut had no self discipline and constantly gave in to their worse instincts.    Atum the chairman used to complain about them all the time to Thoth, the company secretary of the gods.  Thoth, who was also the office timekeeper, told him he shouldn’t have to put up with it and he should put a time limit on them:  cut their hours and put them all on fixed-term contracts.

Of course, you can’t curtail junior executives’ terms and conditions without imposing similar or even worse cuts on their subordinates.  Following through the inexorable logic, Atum placed limits on the lifespans of human beings and even on the length of time they could stay dead.  (I’m sure I saw that last bit in the Coalition Plan for Government.)  One day, Atum decreed, you lot, dead or alive, will all go back into the primeval ocean and I can put my feet up and have a snooze.

The older gods blamed the children of Nut for setting a bad example to mankind, leading them eventually to rebel against the rule of the gods themselves.  But that’s another post.

April 10, 2010

What Kind of God Do You Think You Are? Nut (3)

Filed under: What kind of god do you think you are? — Valerie Billingham @ 8:38 am
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Have you had a proud mother come back to the office during her maternity leave, to show off the baby and horrify everyone with a blow-by-blow account of her labour?  If so, you may want to choose Nut as the appropriate goddess of the offering formula you write in her congratulations card. 

You’ll recall how Nut the sky and Geb the earth, separated by their father Shu, the air, had to resort to special measures to start a family, namely and to wit:  passing semen mouth to mouth in a kiss.  Well, they didn’t have turkey basters then.  They didn’t even have turkeys. 

It was unconventional, but it worked.  Nut became pregnant.  And it annoyed the hell out of the other gods.  Well, the divine family firm was still a small to medium-sized enterprise then, and the pregnancy of a key worker like the sky can hit an SME hard.  One of the senior directors, the sun god Re, took it badly and declared that Nut might be pregnant, but there was no way she was going to give birth on any day he was in charge of.  (You can understand why:  Nut’s job involved swallowing the sun at night and the stars at daybreak, and giving birth to them again at the appropriate time.  If she had offspring in there as well, he must have been concerned about overcrowding in the workplace.)  As the sun god, Re was basically in charge of days, so this presented a problem for Nut. 

 However, a good legal department can usually come up with a solution (even though the boss may feel they’re in league against him.)  Nut visited the company secretary in the form of the god Thoth, scribe of the gods.  Thoth did a quick stocktake and pointed out that, although Re was head of the day department, his department was not at full strength.  The Egyptian calendar was based on three seasons of four months, with thirty days to a month, making a grand total on 360 days in a year.  This immediately looks like a shortfall to us, but give them a break, they were making the market back then.  Thoth looked in the stores and came up with an extra five days’ worth of light, which he shoehorned in between the end of one year and the beginning of the next.  He told Nut she could have those five days off to give birth.  Talk about coming straight back to work.  (They never did figure out the extra quarter day.  It caused the office party schedule no end of trouble in the long run.)

 You’ll have noticed that the divine board of directors is becoming more complicated and causing more trouble with each generation.  It was all so simple when Atum was a sole trader.  He single-handedly brought up two kids, one of each, who didn’t give him a bit of trouble, probably because they were essentially cloned from himself.  It was only when the second generation became a two-parent family that things started to be less than straightforward, and their kids took up unusual sex and violence.  So what with that and Nut’s problem pregnancy, you can guess that the next generation is going to be even more interesting.

 For a start, there were more of them.  Nut made good use of her five-day maternity leave, and produced four children:  Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephthys.  There are also rumours of a fifth child, called Horus the Elder, which would make sense given the five days of labour.  The impact of this houseful of kids on the older gods was a bit like the baby boomer generation on the pre-war traditionalists:  there were too many of them, they were selfish, they didn’t know how to behave and they were wrecking the place.  The older gods called Nut’s children the “children of disorder”; little horrors, in other words.

 And they did take over.  As children of Geb and Nut, they laid claim to the earth and the sky, roaming around the land and circling the sky as stars, planets and constellations.  Despite her vast and quarrelsome brood, Nut was back on the day and night shift without missing a beat.  Sky goddess, fine; glass ceiling, no way.

February 14, 2010

What Kind of God Do You Think You Are? Atum (5)

Remember that flaky basket hieroglyph we saw last time?  Well here’s an even flakier one.  Atum’s next title, nb ‘Iwnw, neb Iunu, Lord of Heliopolis, begins at the bottom of one column and continues at the top of the next:

Yes, those random black marks underneath nb t3wy are all that is left of another basket sign.  The three symbols at the top of the left-hand column form the word ‘Iwnw:

Don’t worry about the curly think snapping out like a frog’s tongue i n pursuit of a fly; that’s just the curly bit on the front of the Red Crown of Lower Egypt, which Atum is wearing in the picture.

We’ve had two of the hieroglyphs in this group before (sort of), but the first one is new:

 ‘Iwn, Iun.  It’s a pillar with a tenon, or tongue for inserting into a slot, on the top; part of the mechanism for locking the pillar into the structure of the roof.  This picture of columns at the Ramesseum will give you an idea:

 It’s another easy to draw sign; a tall, thin rectangle with a v neck, and a short stroke (or, sometimes, a cross) inserted into the v, and a line about halfway or two thirds of the way down, marking the border between the different colours with which the pillar is painted. 

We’ve had the second hieroglyph before, but lying on its side and standing on one foot – a real contortionist of a sign.  It’s the little water pot which formed part of the word wcbt, wabet, pure in the offering formula.  Standing up on its own two feet (but without the feet) it reads nw, nu, reinforcing the n in Iunu and adding the sound u.

The final hieroglyph is the place determinative, a circle with an x in it, representing a town wall and a crossroads, which we’ve seen before in Djedu and Abdju, Busiris and Abydos, in Osiris’ titulary.

So the whole group reads ‘Iwnw, Iunu, the ancient Egyptian name for the cult centre which eventually became know throughout the Greek-speaking world as Heliopolis, the City of the Sun. 

Heliopolis was one of the most important cult centres of ancient Egypt, the site of the first known sun temple and sacred to the solar cult.  The position of the sun was far too important a celestial occupation for just one god.  As well as Atum, the elderly god of the setting sun, there was Harakhty or Horus of the Horizon, god of the rising sun; Khepri, the scarab beetle who rolled the sun across the sky at midday, and the generic sun gods Re, (known to the producers of Hollywood epics as Ra) and Aten, credited with being the god of the first monotheistic religion.  Now that’s job sharing.

According to the ancient Greeks, Heliopolis was the destination of the phoenix, the sacred bird which, when old, flew to the temple of the sun god to burn itself upon the solar altar and rise again from the ashes.  Now it’s mostly buried under Cairo airport, and all that flies in there these days are planeloads of tourists. 

One obelisk is the only thing of any size now visible, but there are others closer at hand depending on where you’re reading this); Cleopatra’s Needle on the banks of the Thames in London and the obelisk in New York’s Central Park both came from Heliopolis.

The origin of the legend of the phoenix was probably the bird known to the ancient Egyptians as the benu bird, a sacred heron associated with the sun cult.  The legend lives on @Bennu on Twitter!

February 5, 2010

What Kind of God Do You Think You Are? Atum (1)

Imagine we’re in the gods’ boardroom.  It’s a typical boardroom in an old established family firm, with cedar panelling and portraits of the founders hanging on the wall.  We’d better imagine it’s on a yacht, as the Egyptian gods did not have an office but a boat, on which they sailed through the heavens.  The yacht does make the family sound more like a lot of Russian oligarchs, but you can’t have everything.

Anyway, we’re strolling down the gallery of portraits and we stop at the portrait of the founder of the dynasty and chairman of the board:  the god Atum.  And here he is.

A fine figure of a god. I’m sure you’ll agree:  a king among gods, in fact, and dressed as an Egyptian king to make his status clear.  You might be prepared for the revelation that the portrait is a little flattering; Atum was a very old god, associated with the setting sun, and the Egyptians sometimes depicted him as a stooped old man.  You wouldn’t think, though, would you, that underneath that kingly exterior, he was a real snake? 

Atum was so old he existed before the world began.  Back in the primeval ocean, Atum floated as a gigantic snake, his tail in his mouth, with no beginning, no ending, eternal.  But he knew he had it in him to be so much more than that.  So he emerged from the primeval ocean (which was called Nun), standing on the very first mound of dry land – the original self-made man. 

Atum separated land from water and basically had to organise everything himself from then on.  For a long time, he was the organisation.  And he laid good foundations.  During his tenure, he cooled down the air and dried out the land, and those who came after can thank him for that. 

In those days, Atum was king of all he surveyed.  But it’s lonely at the top.  Atum had no goddess to share his exclusive waterfront development.  What is a bachelor god to do?  Atum did the only thing he could, and took himself in hand.  His act of procreation produced twins, a boy and a girl, called Shu and Tefnut.  We’ll meet them later.  So in the early years, Atum was a single Dad, bringing up a family on his own as well as founding a planet.  You’ve got to admire him. 

And no, he was not the least bit ashamed of the hand thing.  Atum scorned cover-ups.  In fact, he was proud of his hand, and so were the Egyptians.  They put together a whole PR strategy for Atum and his hand.  They painted it on coffins, and some priestesses at Thebes took the title “God’s Hand” to show how indispensible they were to the god.  So much better when you don’t have to deny anything because everyone knows anyway and thinks it’s great.  He was a smart god, Atum.

As you would expect of a founder, Atum was very protective of his dynasty.  Eventually, it would extend through several generations of gods to the Egyptian King, whom he regarded as his particular protegé.  (Kingship was all about organisation to the Egyptians.) He even had him dress the same.  When Isis was looking for somewhere safe to give birth to Horus, Atum found her just the spot and made it inaccessible to their arch enemy Seth.  When the King died, Atum would lift him up out of the pyramid and transform him into a star god. 

Every night, Atum would sail through the Underworld, executing the King’s enemies and fighting another gigantic serpent called Apophis.  Apophis was a rival concern, hell bent on swallowing up the whole ship of the gods in the world’s most hostile takeover bid.  We’ll come back to him another time.  It takes a snake to know a snake, and Atum knew what it took to kill one; a mongoose.  So Atum would transform himself into a mongoose to defeat Apophis.  You see- he was adaptable.  He refused to be limited by his origins. 

Lizards, bulls and lions were also sacred to Atum.  He was associated with the scarab, because the scarab beetle emerging from its ball of dung reminded the Egyptians of Atum emerging on the primeval mound.  (Atum was obviously good at digging himself out of the brown stuff. ) But everyone expects that, when the crash comes and the whole world falls back into the primeval ocean, Nun, Atum will revert to being the snake he originally was.

I don’t know whether you can see it in this portrait, but there was one characteristic that always betrayed Atum’s serpentine origins; his green eyes.  He had quite a party trick he could do with one of his eyes; he could make it cry worms. 

Now we’ve admired Atum’s portrait, we’ll take a closer look at his name and titles.  If you think you recognise any of your colleagues from this account of Atum, you’ll want to be able to invoke him for their personalised offering formula.  But that’s for another post.

January 29, 2010

What kind of god do you think you are?

Welcome back.  Have you missed me?  I’ve been taking a break to look at other people’s blogs, tweets, websites, Facebook pages – look at and admire.  What a talented, committed, creative lot you are!  You’re absolutely divine – which brings me on to the subject of my next umpteen posts – the creative divinities of ancient Egypt.

If you dig back through the sedimentary layers of the last thirty posts, you’ll find, right at the beginning, that I made you a promise.  I promised that you’d learn how to vary some of the elements of the offering formula, to suit the person for whom you were writing it.  For a start, I promised to give you a selection of gods, so that you could swap one of them for Osiris if you prefer.

After all, Osiris may not be the patron you would select for that particular colleague.  You may feel slightly diffident about invoking the god of the dead for someone on the eve of retirement.  They might even curse you. (Maybe we’ll do curses later.  The Egyptians had some good ones.)  If ideal god or goddess who encapsulates your feelings about your colleague were rattling around the celestial vault unsummoned, and I hadn’t told you about them, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. 

So here I am, back, with a selection for you. We’ll look them over together, and see whether they remind you of anyone in work.  The Egyptians were a very organised people, and they arranged their gods in a hierarchy which often seems eerily familiar when you’re looking at it over an office keyboard. 

It’s a family firm.  At the top of the organisation is the creator god, Atum, the founder of the organisation.  Beneath him are two of his offspring, Shu and Tefnut, and beneath them two of theirs, Geb and Nut (like all family firms, it’s pretty incestuous).   They basically form the chair and non-executive directors of the firm, the solid, conservative old guard.  There are four executive directors – Osiris, whom we know, Isis, Seth and Nephthys; two married couples constantly at each other’s throats (and other body parts).  The Chief Executive is Isis and Osiris’ son, Horus – the young blood brought in in controversial circumstances.  Does any of this sound like anyone you know?

Around the family gathers a wider organisation of illegitimate offspring, distant relatives, hangers-on and their spouses and kids.  The convolutions of their turbulent lives!  The sex!  The fighting! The exotic locations!  The ships!  The festivals!  I can’t wait to go to work, can you?

August 14, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (14)

It’s the fourteenth post, and time to visit my favourite temple, Abydos, via the third of Osiris’ titles in this formula:

neb abdju hieroglyphs   nb abdju transliteration

neb Abdju, Lord of Abydos.

We’ve done neb, haven’t we?  We can get straight on to Abdju:

abju hieroglyphs   Abdju075

Just for a change, I thought we’d compare handwritten hieroglyphs and the more detailed painted hieroglyphs for the whole word side by side.  They’re facing in opposite directions, but that’s not going to bother experienced office scribes, is it?  And I know you’re going to take the spelling variation in your stride.  As for the slightly different arrangement of hieroglyphs for the sake of artistic balance – pah!  We laugh in its face.

OK, let’s do a bit of dissection. 

ab hieroglyph    ab transliteration

The first sign is – well, no-one’s quite sure, but it could be a chisel. In which case, the blade is probably the wide, flat bit that looks like the handle.  It’s painted green in the inscription on the right, which would figure if it were copper or bronze .  (Almost the whole of the Pharaonic Period, took place in the Bronze Age in Egypt – something to contemplate while you’re waiting for that response from the IT helpdesk.)  The horizontal lines in the painted version may be cords lashing the blade to the handle.

So, when you’re drawing it, you need to draw a shape something like a short, wide vase or jar, then add a long thin shaft to the bottom.

The second sign (or the third sign in the painted version)

b hieroglyph

b transliteration

is a reinforcement of the b already present in Ab.  It’s a human foot, and in the second version painted the normal colour used for male skin in ancient Egypt – a dark, suntanned he-man red.  Ladies (and, in later periods, privileged men like scribes who worked indoors), were painted a pale yellow.

When you’re drawing your foot, give him a straight shin, an indication of the toes and heel and maybe a bit of instep – unlike the painted one, which seems to be flat-footed.  I know what that’s like and it’s cruel, so be kind to your hieroglyphs and don’t deform them (unless you’re writing them for someone ina  traditionally flat-footed profession, like the police).

Which brings us to the third sign (or second in the alternative version)

dju hieroglyphdju transliteration

dju.  See how the artist in the painted inscription has given it a reddish, speckled, grainy appearance above a thick, dark baseline?  That is because the  dju hieroglyph is a depiction of the desert hills rising above the fertile plain of the Nile.  And the gap between the hills is where the sun would rise above or set below the horizon.  (The two pylons of a temple and the gap of the gateway also represent this idea.)

Finally, some familiar signs to complete the word;  the cute little quail chick reinforcing the u sound of dju in the painting; the city or village determinative, and the single stroke, as much to fill an otherwise empty space as for any other reason.

Abdju, or Abydos, was the major cult centre of Osiris in Upper Egypt, or the Nile Valley. 

It’s not as easy to get there as it used to be, for security reasons, and there are restrictions on how long you can stay (nowhere near long enough) but it’s the most wonderful place. 

For one thing, it’s very ancient.  There are royal tombs out in the desert which date back to around the time of the unification of Egypt – the tombs of several “he of the sedges”.  In later times, the Egyptians believed that one of them was the tomb of Osiris himself, and it became a place of pilgrimage for people from all over the country.  There was a huge festival there every year, where mystery plays re-enacting the death and resurrection of Osiris and the battles of Horus and Seth were performed.  People came from far and wide to be part of them.

Kings built magnificent temples to Osiris there: the temple of Seti I is just about the only Pharaonic temple of any size with it roof intact.  This plus the fact that the Christians whitewashed over the walls  meant sthat the colours of  the reliefs are the best preserved of any Egyptian temple – and Seti I went for quality; just compare them with his son Ramesses II’s temple next door – even allowing for the fat that the roof is gone, there’s no comparison really.  Behind the Seti I temple is a highly intrguing underground temple called the Osireion, with an island in an underground lake, and…

Oh, I can’t wait to go back!. Go, go, go!

August 7, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (9)

Osiris and titles

Osiris titles transliteration

 

Usir neb Jedu, netjer aa, neb Abju:  (t0) Osiris Lord of Busiris, the great god, Lord of Abydos.

We’ve been working hard on the first bit of the offering formula.  I tell you what; let’s not have a hieroglyphic lesson this time.  Put your feet up, and I’ll tell you a story.

Once upon a time in ancient Egypt, when Egypt was so ancient that the gods lived on earth, there was a god-king called Osiris.  He was married to his sister Isis, which seems odd to us but was fairly normal for Egyptian gods (and their kings, come to that). Osiris was a good king and very useful; he invented farming and taught it to the Egyptians, his subjects.  His rule was peaceful and happy. 

Well, you know gods.  They don’t like that kind of thing.  It doesn’t matter whether they’re Egyptian gods or Greek or Roman or Viking or Mexican; your average god likes nothing more than a humungous family row. They like to get everyone either miserable or furious, running around like headless chickens and finally descending into a brawl.  And there’s always one who starts it. (You’re beginning to see the pagan origins of Christmas now, aren’t you?)

The one who started it in Osiris’ case was his brother Seth.  He wanted to be King.  So, at a family party (when else?) he tricked Osiris into getting into a coffin, sealed it shut and threw it into the Nile.  The coffin with Osiris inside it floated down the Nile, out into the Mediterranean and along the Levant coast to Byblos.  At Byblos, it got tangled up in the roots of a cedar tree, and came to a halt.

Seth had, however, reckoned without their sister Isis.  Isis was a very resourceful goddess-queen, and not only that, a very powerful magician.  She was also devoted to Osiris, and had her sister Nephthys, Seth’s own wife, totally on her side.  Isis  transformed herself and Nephthys into kites (the birds, not the paper flying things) and they scoured Egypt and the East until they found the coffin stuck in the roots of the cedar.

They were too late.  Osiris was no longer of this world.  Isis hid the coffin in the marshes of the Nile Delta, which she organised a decent burial.  While she was up to her neck in the funeral arrangements, Seth discovered the coffin by accident, and was so angry that he tore Osiris’ body limb from limb and scattered the bits the length of Egypt.  Actually, it must have been more than limb from limb, because he broke it into anything up to forty-two pieces, depending on which version of the story you read.

The devoted, put-upon Isis set about clearing up the mess.  Someone always has to.  She found most of her husband’s bits, except – er – her husband’s bits, which had been swallowed by a fish.  Never one to admit defeat, she made him a new one.  One wonders whether it was  a new and improved one … Anyway, by reassembling Osiris. scattered limbs and bandaging them all together, Isis invented mummification.

Isis the magician was able to reanimate Osiris’ corpse, including the aritifically substituted bit, sufficiently to conceive the child Horus, who became the rightful heir to his father’s throne and opponent of his usurping uncle, Seth.

You can imagine how Seth felt about that.  He was about as much in favour of Osiris having an heir as elderly relatives are when they’re watching the news and the kid comes in an switches channels to the cartoons.  Realising the danger to her son, Isis hid him in the marshes until he was old enough to stand up to Seth.  In the meantime, Seth searched for Horus until, eventually, they met. 

The subsequent contendings of Horus and Seth were almost as bad as the battle over the remote control when the Queen’s Speech is up against the Christmas special.  Seth did his darndest to trick, seduce, blind, conquer and kill Horus to secure the throne.  However, much aided by Isis’ magic, and after a great deal of political wrangling among the gods, Horus eventually succeeded in ascending the throne and Seth was banished to the desert.

Osiris was still dead. However, you can’t keep a good god down.  Well, you can, but you can’t keep him inanimate.  Although Osiris could not rule Egypt any more, what with him being dead and a mummy and all, Re, King of the Gods, sent him  down to the Netherworld to be King of the afterlife. (No Egyptologist calls Re Ra any more.)  So Osiris gained a kingdom in the land of the dead.  And every year, when the green shoots of the corn that Osisirs had shown the Egyptians how to cultivate sprouted in the black mud of the Nile, people believed he was born again.  Aaaaaah…

That is why Osiris is usually shown as a mummy, and often with black or green skin, as in this tomb painting:

osiris 2

(And later on Osiris had an affair with Nephthys and a child out of wedlock called Anubis, god of mummification – after all Isis had done for him.  Typical.  Spoils it a bit, doesn’t it?)

Never mind.  We’ll start tearing him apart – or at least his name and titles  -next time.  That’ll teach him.

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