Susanllewellyn's Blog

November 22, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (26)

Well here we are, three lines in to the offering formula and about to start on the fourth and last.  And here it is:

en ka en imakhy Senwosret, maa-kheru: for the ka of the revered one Senwosret, true of voice.

Sound like anyone you know?  Do you revere the colleague whose card or whiteboard you are embellishing?  Are they known for their honesty, the accuracy of their pronouncements or their karaoke prowess?  Never mind, it’s only a formula.  Let’s look at the first bit of it.

en ka en:  for the ka of.  Let’s do the easy bit first.   The Sherlock Holmeses among you will instantly have deduced that the squiggly lines top and bottom correspond to the en. 

Elementary.   And speaking of elements, the squiggly line in hieroglyphs represents the watery one.  It’s a ripple of water:

See the resemblance?  We’ve already seen wavy lines representing water, in the post on wabet.  But we haven’t had them as the actual letter n.  Here’s an original:

It’s a zigzag line.  What else is there to say?  The ka, on the other hand…

The Egyptians didn’t have souls.  Or rather, they didn’t just have single souls.  The deceased Egyptian exploded into a whole menagerie of afterlife entities:  the body, the shadow, the akh (a heron-like bird with a lamp who circled the skies with the stars), the ba (a human-headed bird that hung around the necropolis and twittered mournfully – they’ve made a comeback on the Internet lately) and the ka, or life force.

The ka had its advantages and disadvantages.  A disadvantage was that it was confined to the tomb, unlike the ba and the akh.  Maybe it kicked the ba and the akh out, so it could get some elbow room, with the body and the shadow.  Maybe that was why the ba twittered mournfully.  The advantage was that the ka got to ascend the burial shaft, come out through the false door into the offering chapel and feast upon the food and drink brought by the family or magically invoked by the passer-by.  The ka was the life force, and it fed upon the life force of the food.  But we’ve been through all this before.

The hieroglyph for ka is a pair of upraised arms, as found on the head of this royal ka statue:

What a beautiful, slender yet well moulded pair of arms and  shoulders, and delicate, detailed hands.  They didn’t always put so much work into the hieroglyphs,

although they have taken care to paint this ka the dark red colour they used for male skin (men being more likely to be outdoors than women, and therefore more tanned).  I draw my kas very simply:  three straight lines plus a little crescent at each end for the hands.

NB:  this ka is not to be confused with the ka meaning bull of a few posts ago.  Katie Hughes tweeted a good idea about that some time ago:  kh1369  @SusanLlewellyn Egyptians would be sustaining the ka (“spirit”) with ka (meat)? What a multi-purpose word! Also, is “kau” like “cow”? Easy!  She’s great at making these connections.

August 18, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (15)

line 2

 line 2 transliteration

di ef peret-kheru (em) te henqet, kau apedu, shes menkhet

so that he may give an invocation-offering (consisting of) bread, beer, meat, fowl, alabaster, clothing

The second chunk of the offering formula.   For new readers, or for old readers who have lost the (pretty rambling) track:  in previous weeks’ exciting episodes, we’ve heard  in ancient Egypt the King owns everything and is high priest of all the temples, and how the temple storerooms gather in all the trade and taxes on behalf of the King – in kind, as there is no coinage for most of the pharaonic period.  The King has given an offering to Osiris –

Now read on.

so that he may give…  In other words, so that when Osiris has finished with his offerings, he will send some of the leftovers round to the tomb for the tomb owner. 

In an ancient Egyptian temple, the priests and temple servants cooked and served three square meals a day to the cult statue of the god – real food, only the best, and lots of it.  They would place the food in front of the god’s statue, and in front of the statues of members of his family and divine visitors from other temple cults in Egypt who hung around in his temple.  Then they would wait for a decent interval, during which they believed the ka or life force of the gods took the nourishment they needed from the food, without actually clearing even a tiny bit of their plates.  (Do not let your kids read this bit; it will give them too easy an excuse not to finish their broccoli.)

When the gods had eaten what they wanted in spirit (they should in theory have been able to have their cake and eat it), the priests got to eat in the flesh.  What was left, they took around to the tomb chapels of the people who had arranged for the afterlife delivery service.  They placed the food in front of the statue of the tomb owner, and the ka of the tomb owner came up the tomb shaft, inhabited his statue and had a good nosh.  If there were not enough leftovers to go round, reciting the spell would make them appear magically in the afterlife.

So, the King gives a lot of offerings to Osiris, and Osiris, once he and his retinue have finished with them, passes some of them along the food chain to the tomb owner.

We’ll have a look at the takeaway menu in the next few posts.

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