Susanllewellyn's Blog

November 22, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (25)

Thereby.  And thereby hangs a tale… or, in this case, tail.  We can see it this time.  Last time it turned up, it was invisible.

 Im; thereby, by it.  Let’s have a closer look at the individual signs.  First, i:

 A simple sound, and a simple sign to draw.  I usually start at the top, making a little curve which turns into the downstroke, a bit like a walking stick.  Then I start at the walking stick handle and draw a slightly outward-sloping line which curves back in again to meet the bottom of the first downstroke, and closes off the bottom of the stalk.  And a stalk is what it is, as this symbol represents the flowering head of a reed, like these ethereal beauties:

It’s difficult to capture such fragile beauty in stone or ink, but the originals do retain their purity of line:


Now, we’ve had m before, but it was in brackets because the scribe hadn’t actually put it in to the inscription, as often happens with common symbols in formulae, when you’ve got umpteen to bang out in the workshop and most people can’t read anyway.  M was the invisible owl.  We can see him now:

 There, I told you he was gorgeous.  He’s tricky to draw, but he has four basic characteristics; if you emphasise them in your hieroglyphic hand, he will be recognisable.  They are:  a flat head; a front-facing face (unusual for the Egyptians, who were always presenting their best profile to the observer); a wing that folds right across his breast, as though he’s glaring at you over the top of his arm in his cape, like Zorro, and a square bottom to his tail.  Put them all together, and you’ve got yourself an ancient Egyptian owl.

Back to the drawing board.  I usually start left to right with the flat line of the head, then a sharp turn downwards and a little curve in for the side of the head and neck, and a long curve at about 45 degrees for his back.  Then I come back up to his shoulder and make the deep right to left curve of his wing, swoop it round and just make his wing tip meet the line of his back.  The I go back to my starting-point at the top left of his head and come straight down the side of his head and neck, slope down and in for his body (doing it this way means you get the line the right side of his wing.  If you do the outline first and the wing second, you sometimes don’t leave enough room.)  Do a sharp dogleg in under his belly and a couple of little vees for his feathery legs, then down again for his tail, squaring it off at the bottom.  Then you can draw him a couple of little stick feet emerging from his feathers, and a nice deep v with curly ends for his eyes and beak.  He’s a complicated sign to draw, but he’s worth it.  And look what they could do with him when they had time:

I am so glad we can see him this time.  He’s beautiful!

So there we are, Line 3 of the offering formula well and truly dissected:

khet nebet nefret wabet ankhet netjer im:  “every good and pure thing by which a god lives”.

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