Susanllewellyn's Blog

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? — Susan Llewellyn @ 8:42 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

March 27, 2010

What Kind of God Do You Think You Are? Geb (2)

Let’s look at the nameplate attached to the portrait of the third MD of the divine family firm.  Here it is:

Reading right to left, from the top of the column to the bottom, it says:

Gb `it ntrw   Geb it netjeru  Geb, Father of the Gods

Let’s look at his name first:

The first hieroglyph is clearly a bird, and although it’s cursively rendered, there’s something familiar about its face.  What do you mean, you don’t see it?  Have a look at this one:

Recognise him now?  I’ll give you a clue:  last time we met him, it was as a disembodied head.  Ah – got it!  Yes, that’s right, his head had made a sola appearance in Office Hieroglyphs as 3pdw, apedu, fowl, in the list of offerings.  Now we have the whole goose – a white-fronted goose in fact, just like this one:

 Beautiful, isn’t he?  He’s tricky to draw, but worth it.  I usually start with a short horizontal line for his beak, curve up and over for his head, come inwards for his neck and then sweep outwards and downwards for his back, down to the tip of his tail.  The you can return to the base of his beak, draw a flattish line for his chin and swoop in and out again for his neck and breast, pulling the line downwards for his belly and joining up the two lines at the tail tip.  Make a deep curve across his body for the wing, and make the wing tip cut the line of his back.  Then you can put in two short lines of his legs and a baseline for his feet.  A final dot for his eye, and he’s done.

The goose hieroglyph is a biliteral, gb.  The foot hieroglyph which represents the letter b is another old Office Hieroglyphs friend, and is only there to reinforce the b sound already contained in the goose symbol.  Finally, the seated god hieroglyph, familiar from many of our divine corporation nameplates, denotes that this is the name of a god.

 The next group looks straightforward, but, like Geb, it’s a treacherous item:

You’ll recognise the top half of Tefnut’s snake sandwich; the loaf of bread and the horned viper.  On the face of things, this group should be pronounced tef, but in fact it’s the word ‘it, it, father.  Other versions of the word have the inital ‘i written out in full, but ‘i is a semi-vowel (a vowel with some of the force of a consonant) and we know the Egyptians placed greater emphasis on writing down the consonants than on writing vowels, so they often left out the ‘i of ‘it.  The viper in this case is not the letter f but a determinative  – a soundless symbol put in to show what kind of word this is – whose significance is obscure.

And so to the final group of hieroglyphs in Geb’s title:

We’ve seen them all before:  the temple flagpole representing the sound ntr, the seated god determinative; the loaf of bread for the letter t and the three short strokes denoting the plural ending w, the whole lot reading ntrw, netjeru, gods.  Strictly speaking, the letter t shouldn’t be there.  As we know, it’s a feminine ending, which might suggest that Geb is claiming only to be the father of the goddesses, which would not do him justice.  We know he was not exactly a champion of female rights, so we can’t take this as evidence of positive discrimination in the workplace.  I think it’s probably crept in there because the similar title God’s Father, found in the titles of certain high-ranking Egyptian nobles and possibly meaning King’s Father-in Law, was often written with the flagpole sign followed by the loaf of bread from ‘it, father, and the scribe just kept on going because he was so used to writing that title, even though he’d already written the word for father.

But enough of these bureaucratic technicalities.  Geb was the third patriarch in the family firm.  Why did he claim to be the father of the gods?  What was so special about his divine kids?  Well, let’s meet the gods’ mother, first, and after that we’ll find out.

March 25, 2010

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

The first generation in a successful family firm has made its way from the bottom to the top.  The old man’s had it tough, and tough is character forming.  The second generation may have been born into affluence, but they’ve been brought up by a Dad who knows how lucky they are and never lets them forget it.  So the kids feel all the responsibility of getting the fruits of Dad’s labour on a plate.  The trouble always starts with the third generation.  The grandkids are spoiled rotten.  They’re ungrateful, arrogant brats – or worse.

Look at this family portrait:

You’ll recognise the fine, upstanding figure in the middle immediately; that’s Shu.  Ignore the ram-headed characters; on either side of Shu; they don’t concern us in this dynastic history.  The other two figures are Shu’s children, Geb and Nut and, like many a Dad then and now, he’s having to keep them apart.

That’s Shu and Tefnut’s boy, Geb, on the bottom, lying at Shu’s feet.  Geb was the god of the earth, so that’s a very good place for him to lie.  The Nile rippled the length of his naked torso, which is often coloured green to represent the fertile vegetation of the Nile Valley.  In fact, Geb was so fertile that barley sprouted from his ribcage.  He sounds quite attractive, doesn’t he?

However, beneath many a lush exterior lurks a far less enticing interior, and it was certainly better to stop at the surface of Geb than to gain a more intimate acquaintance with what went on underneath.  For the deceased Egyptian, buried in the soil of Geb, he was a malevolent imprisoner.  Sound like any of your board?  Read on…

You’ll notice that Geb’s mother Tefnut is not in the family portrait, even though Shu had left her behind as regent when he retired to the heavens following the rebellion in the company ranks.  The ugly truth is that, when Shu retired, Geb sexually abused his own mother Tefnut, and tried to seize his father’s crown.  You can’t blame her for not turning up for the photoshoot. 

The incestuous rape of Tefnut was probably just another way of Geb usurping his father’s position.  Geb’s real design was on the crown.

When Geb tried to steal Shu’s crown, he came with a crowd of supporters and yes-men to take it from the casket in which it lay.  As soon as he lifted the lid, the sacred cobra which sat on the King’s brow shot out spitting fire, killed his whole entourage and injured Geb himself.  Well, you know what vicious threshold guardians these bosses’ secretaries can be.

The immediate result of Geb’s attempt to steal Shu’s crown was a badly burned hand which needed specialist treatment from the sun god, Re.  However, there was a nine-day stormy period when the company was in crisis and no-one seems to have been in charge.  When, finally, order was restored, guess what?  The thieving, incestuous rapist Geb was crowned King in Shu’s place.  We’ve all seen the crown go to the undeserving.  And it makes you suspect that Geb may have had something to do with the original rebellion.

Deserving or not, the ancient Egyptian throne came to be knows as the throne of Geb, and the Egyptian King himself was known as the heir of Geb, so Geb was pretty good at rebranding.  The floor of a temple, or of the embalming house, was regarded as Geb.  The bedrock of the company – or maybe just a pile of dirt.

March 21, 2010

What Kind of God Do You Think You Are? Tefnut (2)

Time to run our fingers down Tefnut’s nameplate now.  Here it is:

Tfnwt nbt pt   Tefnut nebet pet   Tefnut, Lady of Heaven.  Let’s look at her name first:

As you can see, her name – if you forget about the unspoken determinative at the end for a minute – begins and ends with our old favourite the loaf of bread letter t, which I suppose makes it a sandwich.  And what’s the filling?  The horned viper letter f and the water pot nw, both of which we’ve had before.  Not everyone’s choice of a packed lunch, perhaps, although snake is supposed to taste like chicken.

The determinative is new, though, and no, it’s not the discarded sandwich wrapper.  It’s a cursive writing of another serpent hieroglyph:

This one is a (non-horned) cobra, and was often used as a determinative for the name of a goddess, especially if the goddess in question were a snake goddess like Wadjet, the cobra goddess who adorned the King’s forehead.  But other goddesses could use it as well.  Tefnut was a lioness rather than a cobra, but her Dad Atum was the original giant serpent, so I suppose she felt entitled.  And she ate those little horned vipers for lunch.

The cobra determinative is tricky to draw, but it can be done.  You may want to start with a little flat head, like a sock puppet looking straight ahead.  Then you can make the wide sweep of the hood, tapering down to the narrow body; turn and continue horizontally, then make a downturn for the tail.  The you can add a loop in each “elbow” to suggest the coils.

Here’s one doing some textbook rearing:

You’d need a whole row of baguettes to make a sandwich out of that.

Tefnut’s title, nbt pt, starts with a familiar object: 

the basket hieroglyph nb, neb , Lord, which should really be followed by a t in Tefnut’s case, to make it the feminine nbt, nebet, Lady, but the scribe hasn’t put it in. Well, you can see he was in a hurry from his cobra.  The group of three signs underneath the basket is this one: 

pt, pet, the sky or heaven.  The first two symbols are familiar; you’ll remember from Office Hieroglyphs the stool made of reed matting which represents the letter p.  The scribe in Tefnut’s case has abbreviated it to three short strokes, which was quite common in cursive hieroglyphs, but I recommend you draw it as a square.  And there’s yet another loaf of bread t.  The rectangle with two downward-pointing corners is the sky symbol.  You can see it painted blue on the top of this stela, although the artist has had to bend it around to fit the curved top:

Bendy or not, it gives the sun disk somewhere to hang.

The sky had a particular significance for Tefnut, as we’ll find out when we meet her and Shu’s children.  In the meantime, just remember:  however heavenly the chairman’s daughter, if she invites you to lunch, take your own sandwiches.

 

March 20, 2010

What Kind of God Do You Think You are? Tefnut (1)

If twins are born around midnight, the delivery room staff will do everything they can to ensure that they have the same birthday.  I’d obviously never make it as a midwife, as it’s almost a month since my last post, and Shu’s twin sister Tefnut is only now putting in an appearance.  Sorry, kids.

Never mind, I’ve whipped her out, slapped her bottom, and here she is:

What can I tell you about Atum’s bouncing baby girl?  Well, even though she had the head of a lioness, she’s the spitting image of her Dad:  whereas Atum sneezed Shu into existence, he spat out the goddess Tefnut; the word tef in ancient Egyptian meant to spit. 

As you can tell, Shu and Tefnut were not identical twins.  As the god of air, Shu was a pretty dry character.  Tefnut, on the other hand, was a bit wet.  She personified moisture, particularly the morning dew.

Opposites attract and, let’s face it, there wasn’t much competition.  Atum had had no mate, but Shu and Tefnut paired off immediately in a brother-sister marriage.  At least that way, Atum was able to keep the business in the family. In due course, they had children of their own; we’ll come on to them later. 

As with many a good Mum, it was not only Tefnut’s own children who benefited from her mothering; other kids on the block came in for some tlc, too.  One of her jobs, for example, was occasionally to cleanse the King of his impurities.  She could be strict, though, and always sided with Shu when it came to discipline, even joining him in his fiery torture activities in the netherworld. 

Shu clearly trusted Tefnut absolutely.  After the rebellion which led to Shu and Tefnut’s palace being sacked, Shu and his entourage retired to the penthouse office in the sky after defeating the invaders and left Tefnut on earth in the ground-floor boardroom as regent.  If only the kids had turned out ok, everything might have been different, but you know how even well brought up offspring from stable, loving families can sometimes turn out to be problem children…  But that’s another story.

February 23, 2010

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

Moving along the portrait gallery in the boardroom corridor of the gods, we come next to a family group.  Here they are:

Atum, the creator of the world, founder of the family firm known as the Nine Gods or Ennead, and his twin offspring, his son Shu and his daughter Tefnut.  That’s Atum at the front, but you know that because you can read his name in hieroglyphs in front of him.  The scribe who wrote this papyrus has stuck an extra hieroglyph in at the end – the quail chick which, as we know from Osiris’ titulary was pronounced w, making him (A)tmu, but that won’t have fooled you.  Nor will the rather stick-figure version of the seated god determinative.  You can still see his beard sticking out and his knees sticking up.  That’s Atum, all right, and in any case he’s wearing the double crown of the Kings of Upper and Lower Egypt.

That’s Shu sitting right behind him.  We’ll take a look at his name later.  Let me tell you a bit about him, first. We already know that he is the motherless product of self-assisted conception.  There is another story about his origins, though.  Some priests and scribes put it about that Atum sneezed him into existence – more of an atchoo! than a Shu.  Indeed, the name Shu is closely related to the Egyptian word for a sneeze.  So, basically, according to some people at the time, Shu grew out of a bit of snot.  But hasn’t he done well?  Some people prefer to translate the name as “he who rises up”.

Shu was both Atum’s heir and his air.  Having made the earth rise up and separate from the water, Atum decided he needed to let some air into the place.  He created Shu to be the god of air.  It’s difficult to draw air, so the ancient Egyptians represented it by drawing a feather, and a glamorous ostrich plume (or two or three or four) was Shu’s favourite headdress.  He’s wearing it in this picture.  Snot with feathers on.  If that reminds you of any of your non-executive directors, who am I to argue?  You be the judge.

You may think that an air god must have been a pretty insubstantial character, but Shu’s very flimsiness was at the same time his greatest asset.  He represented the space between earth and sky (we’ll come back to this later) which let the sun shine in.  One of the reasons that Atum created Shu was so that he could see all the other things he’d created.

Because he had this important role in channeling the sun, Shu was a close associate of the sun god in his various forms.  One of his responsibilities was to bring the sun to life every morning, and, like his Dad Atum, he did his bit to protect the sun from attack by the serpent Apophis. As the air god, it was Shu who enabled the solar barque to rise up and sail across the sky.

Shu was certainly the light of Atum’s life.  Atum was very proud of his son.  To him, Shu was life itself, and it was only after Shu was born that Atum truly found his voice and began to speak and have a dialogue with the universe.  Shu was therefore a very powerful driver of Atum’s creative enterprise, his reason to carry on. 

Atum even took the lad into the firm and, in due course, when the staff complement had grown a bit, sent him on errands, sorting out problems with the other gods.  Shu was an obvious choice for this kind of work; as the air god, he was everywhere at once and knew where everyone else was, so didn’t actually have to go anywhere.  However, some of these tasks were pretty stretching, and Shu did not always manage to carry them out.  His Dad tended to send him to find goddesses who’d run away or got lost, and talk them into coming back.  When it was a particularly aggressive goddess who’d gone on the rampage, got drunk and run away, for example, he wasn’t quite up to the job.

Nevertheless, Shu rose steadily up the ranks of the administration of his father’s new enterprise, and was credited with instituting the capital cities of the administration.  In due course, the old man decided he was going to retire, and handed over his throne to Shu.  Atum did not leave the company; he stayed around and kept an eye on it, but Shu was now running the show. 

Shu’s term in the Managing Director’s chair started in peace, as Atum’s whole term of office had been.  At some point, though – and this episode of company history is pretty obscure – hostile forces from the edge of creation tried to lead a revolution.  Shu’s divine palace on earth was sacked by the enemy, as though a whole lot of enraged graphic designers had trashed the top floor corner office.  Shu had to bring them to heel and kick them out.

This episode shows that Shu was not all sweetness and light.  In fact, there are scenes of the netherworld which show him as the gangmaster of a band of torturers threatening the deceased person in a fiery region of hell from which there is no escape.  But then, if you’re toiling away in the boiler room in the company basement, that may well be how you regard one or more of your board members.

Finally, Shu seems to have had a reputation for being able to relieve himself with ease.  For the Egyptians, being able to defecate like Shu was a highly desirable quality.  Excrement and the air god; the original stuff that hit the fan.

February 10, 2010

What Kind of God Do You Think You Are? Atum (4)

Running our inky fingers further along the polished brass of Atum’s nameplate, we come to the title:

 nb t3wy  neb tawy, Lord of the Two Lands.  We’ve had nb, Lord, before.  Some of the paint has flaked off, but it’s still quite recognisable as the basket hieroglyph from Osiris’ titulary.  Each of the thick black lines underneath it reads t3, ta, meaning land.  Taken together, they read t3wy, tawy, the two lands, as ancient Egyptian had a dual as well as a singular and plural. Sticking a -wy is the way they expressed a pair of somethings.  Sometimes the -wy ending would be written out in full, but the two lands, or I should say, the Two Lands, was such a common phrase that there was no need. Everyone knew how to say it.

Each of the two hieroglyphs represents a stretch of  the flat, black, fertile  silt brought down by the Nile, the river that made civilisation possible in what would otherwise have been desert:

  When you draw them, rather than making each one a thick line, it’s more usual to draw two cigar-shaped loops, and put three little dots representing grains of sand close together in the middle underneath each one:

The Lord of the Two Lands usually meant the King in ancient Egypt.  Atum has the title because he was the first divine King, and the not-quite-so-divine dynasties who followed the reign of the gods on earth inherited the title from him and his descendants. 

The Two Lands in question were Upper and Lower Egypt.  Way back in the mists of time, right at the beginning of Office Hieroglyphs, in fact, we heard how the tribes along the Nile in Predynastic times gradually became two kingdoms, one based in the Nile Valley and one in the Delta, until, eventually the two became united under one King.  After unification, Kings were careful to proclaim themselves the rulers of both kingdoms. 

Here are the Two Lands, in all their splendour:

You can see how dependent the whole of Egypt was (and still is) on that flat black soil with the sandy borders, and how the Delta and Nile Valley kingdoms would have kept their distinct characters even after unification. Right from the beginning, when he made the first mound of earth rise from the water, you could say that Atum was in two minds about his new venture.

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.

December 15, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (28)

You know how you sometimes get a Christmas card, but can’t for the life of you make out the signature, and spend the whole New Year wrestling with the guilty suspicion that you’ve missed someone off your list, while they kept you on theirs?  Well, this is not going to happen this time; not on Office Hieroglyphs, it isn’t.  We are about to decipher the cryptic symbols by means of which our revered tomb owner conveyed his name – or at least had someone else to convey it for him.

And here it is:

Senusret, sometimes transcribed as Senwosret or, in its later, Greek form, Sesostris; a name of commoners, nobles and of course a number of famous Twelfth Dynasty Kings.

If you cast your mind back to the very beginning of this blog, you may remember that we encountered the device known as honorific transposition, which is a pretty rotten trick to pull on the eager beginner.  However, we’ve seen it before and we’re not intimidated.  We know it just means that the Egyptians believed that some words were more important and magical than others, especially when they were written down, and that they had better write down the most powerful symbols in a word or phrase first, even if they were not actually spoken first, or the magic letters might get annoyed and start acting up. 

Well, Senusret is one of those cases.  It is a theophorous name, which means it contains the name of a god or, in this case, goddess:  the goddess Usret or Wosret.  Senusret means “Man of (the goddess) Usret”.  And you’ve guessed it; even though the tomb owner’s name was Senusret, the diva gets her name at the top of the bill.  This is why, in very old textbooks written before they’d figured it out, early Egyptologists sometimes wrote the name as Usertsen.

So, we’ll spend this post giving all our attention to the goddess:

Usret:  literally, “the powerful one”, perhaps an early version of “She-Who-must-be-obeyed”.  She was a relatively obscure goddess who is rarely depicted, probably because her cult flourished (at Thebes, modern Luxor) during the Middle Kingdom in Egypt (roughly 2000-1700 BC), and very little remains of the temples of that period – they’ve mostly been broken up, re-used and covered over by later monuments.  Similarly, later, even more powerful goddesses supplanted her as objects of worship.  However, the Kings of the time, who came from her home town, saw her as their patron goddess, which was why several of them were named after her.

We’ve got some new symbols here, too, which makes a change from the recycling we’ve seen lately.  Have a look at the first one:

It looks like a head on a stick.  In fact, it’s the head of some dog-like animal on a greatly elongated neck.  They did like their animal body parts, didn’t they?  When you draw it, you can just draw a head on a stick:  two pointy ears and a protruding snout, then a vertical line for the neck. The symbol is a triliteral – it conveys the sound wsr or user.  The next two letters are simply the s and the r written out in full for emphasis:

 

 is the letter s, one of two in the transliteration of ancient Egyptian.  A droopy looking sign, isn’t it.  After all the butchery we’ve had in this blog lately, you’d be forgiven for assuming it’s a length of trailing intestine, but in fact it’s a folded cloth, something like the throw hanging over the back of the throne in our picture of Osiris from ages ago:

Maybe they need something to mop up the blood at this point in the formula.

is the letter r.  We’re back to good old body parts with this one; the r represents the human mouth. Here’s a slightly wonky inlaid technicolour version:

 

 Two curves touching at the tips will describe it nicely.

Finally, dedicated scribes will have spotted our old friend the loaf of bread

 representing the letter t, and forming the feminine ending, so we know Usret is a goddess, not a god:  “the powerful (female) one”.

Here they all are in the name of one of the Kings called Sesostris, enclosed by a rope border known as a cartouche:

Look at them all, like presents in Santa’s sack.  We’ll pull out the last couple next time.

November 21, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (24)

So, the lucky tomb owner now has every good and pure thing.  But not just any old every good and pure thing, oh no:  only every good and pure thing by which a god lives.  Good and pure things for divine consumption only, thank you very much:

Needless to say, the components don’t appear in Egyptian in the same order as that in which they appear in English.  A literal translation would be “which lives a god thereby”.  That’s a bit of a mouthful.  Let’s break it down into bite-sized pieces.

The first chunk is perhaps the most famous hieroglyph of them all:  the ankh:

  

It’s easy to draw; a loop with a downstroke and a crossbar. Here’s a sculpted version: 

 

It’s not a cross and, despite what they tell tourists in Egypt, it’s not the key to the Nile or they key of life or any kind of key, not even a key to the offiering cupboard.  The Egyptians didn’t have locks and keys.  They had bolts and bars and cords and seals, but not locks and keys. 

So, what is it, this most famous hieroglyph of them all?  Well, what it is, is:  a sandal strap.  A strap, especially that of a sandal, is what it is.  Here is a selection of ancient Egyptian Jimmy Choos:

 

  You get the idea.

Ankh is another triliteral sign which expresses the three sounds a, n and the third of the four Egyptian letters h.  Ankh is the verb “to live”, and the symbol of life itself, which the gods offer to the nose of the King; the breath of life:

It doesn’t seem quite so refreshing when you think that what he’s really getting is a whiff of hot, sweaty sandal.  I mean, you know the ancient world must have been pretty smelly, but realising that their idea of a breath of fresh air was to stick a bit of sandal up your nose takes the concept to another level.

In this bit of the formula, the word is actually:

 

Ankhet – “which lives”.  Yes, the loaf of bread denoting the t  has popped up again, as though from a toaster.  The technical term for it is a resumptive pronoun, but as we’re not doing grammar, you can forget I said that.

Talking about stale emanations, you already know netjer, god, don’t you?  Remember –

   netjer aa, “great god”, in the titular of Osiris, and all the stuff about the flagpole?  We don’t have to go into all that again, do we – not while we’re still reeling from the scent of insole?  The Italians think cheese smells like feet:  let’s think of this as a ripe piece of Roquefort.  Mmmmm…

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.