Susanllewellyn's Blog

August 28, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (19)

I bet you’re starting to get annoyed now, aren’t you?  You’ve been sitting there at the offering table for days.  The waiter brought your bread and beer and then cleared off.  That was days ago.  Not a sniff of dinner since.  There aren’t even any crumbs left – and that’s saying something for an ancient Egyptian funerary feast.  You know how much they loved their bread.  You’re must be almost on the point of walking out.

If you think you’ve got it bad, imagine what it must have been like for the ancient Egyptian (deceased); (what it may still be like, for all we know, if you’ve read Terry Pratchett’s Pyramids).  Eternity could go by, and still no main course – to prevent which is the point of the offering formula, of course.

I am terribly sorry.  You must be starving.  Let’s bring on the meat.

kau apedu shes menkhet hieroglyphs  kau apedu, shes menkhet transliteration



Kau apedu, shes menkhet:  meat and fowl, alabaster and clothing.  Not just the main course, but the fingerbowl and napkin afterwards.  How’s that for service?

Let’s take the first pair of dishes:  kau apedu, meat (and) fowl.  (You’ll have noticed by now that the ancient Egyptians didn’t bother much with the word “and”.  In that respect, they were five millennia ahead of Google.) 

Ka is the word for ox or beef, and is written with the head of an ox.  Aped is the word for bird, and is written here with the head of a pintail duck.  In the compressed rendition of the offering formula, they stand for any kind of meat or fowl; a limited menu is no good when you have the whole of your afterlife to fill.  The –w suffix, conventionally pronounced –u, is the plural, and is normally rendered by three short strokes, which are absent in this handwritten version but present in the painted version, below:

kau apedu shes menkhet painting077

The ox head is a tricky sign to draw, but satisfying when you master it.  You can start with a roughly trapezoid outline for the shape of the head, rounding the corners and going in a bit for the bridge of the nose.  Then add a u-shape on top for the horns, a little ear and a dot for the eye. 

For the duck’s head, I usually start with the beak, widen out the head and give it a graceful curved neck.  It may not be a swan, but it’s not an ugly duckling, either.  And don’t forget to dot its eye as well.

Meat especially was a high status food, usually served only to the gods and their servants, and to the wealthy.  The well endowed tomb owner expected nothing less, and expected it served on the best dinner service, too, hence the stipulation of alabaster. 

The loopy-looking sign pronounced shes  is indeed a loop: a loop of cord or rope, pronounced in a similar way to the word for alabaster and so used to express it in writing.  But they didn’t want any ropey old dishes.  They were expecting something more like this:

alabaster dish alabaster jug





I don’t need to describe how to draw the loop of cord, do I?  Let’s move on to the final sign, menkhet:  clothing.

We’ve all seen some outlandish catwalk creations, some of them being worn in restaurants, but even so I doubt that many people would identify the menkhet sign as an item of clothing.  It looks more like a child’s swing.  But, you know how things look completely different when you see them through a microscope?  Well, the menkhet sign is an extreme close-up of the edge of a piece of cloth.  It’s the edge of a piece of cloth with a fringe, in which the individual threads are twisted together to make thicker dangly bits.  The symbol shows two sets of two threads twisted together.  You’d think they’d be hanging down, wouldn’t you, but they’re sticking up.  They went in for subverting expectations in ancient Egyptian couture. 

You can see an example of fringing in this tunic:

fringed tunic

At least the hieroglyph is easy to draw:  a straight line with two upside-down y shapes on top. 

And this completes the second line of the offering formula.  (Not so fast, you’re saying, what’s that extra sign under the three short strokes in the painted version?  It’s a rolled-up garment of some sort, reinforcing the clothing idea of  menkhet, but stuck under the food signs for the usual reason of pleasing arrangement of the signs.)

As I was saying, this completes the first two lines of the offering formula.  To recap:

first two lines

Well done!  That was worth waiting for, wasn’t it?  But I won’t blame you if you don’t leave a tip.

August 25, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (18)

You’ll remember, at the end of the last exciting episode, that we left this group of signs only half explored, prt hrw t hnqt hieroglyphs

its upper and middle components rendered as peret -kheru, a going forth of the voice, or invocation offering, its two lower components dangling in mid air:

From a going forth of the voice to a going into the mouth: it’s time to start on the menu – and where else but with the appetisers?  These are the two signs so far unaccounted for:

t hnqt hieroglyphs

t hnqt transliteration

 The one on the left needs no introduction to you.  You can spot a loaf of bread a mile off by now.  If you look at the loaf of bread in the painted version of this group

prt hrw t hnqt painting076

(on the right this time, so read from  the opposite direction) you’ll see it looks like the loaf of bread on top of the hetep sign

htp coloured062

In other versions of the peret-kheru group, the rather more elaborate loaf is replaced by the simple bun shape of t, te, which demonstrates that this is is the simple word for bread.  You can use either version.  They’re both easy to draw.

Almost as easy is the last sign in the group; henqet, beer.  When you’re invoking a farewell pint or ten for Donald in Sports Equipment, all you’ll need to do is draw a jar shape with a t-shape on top;- make the crossbar wide and the stem very short, and you’re there.

The artist scribe of the painted version has taken rather more care over his beer jug. The long neck minimised contact with the air and aided fermentation.  Egyptian beer was basically a wetter form of bread.  It was made from fermented dough and full of sediment and general floaty bits; so much so, they drank it with a straw to get at the liquid through the debris, like this:


  But it was very nutritious. 

Bread and beer were the two staples of the Egyptian diet, both made from grain, and both taught to the Egyptians by Osiris, god of the harvest.  They were the first things the tomb owner put on his shopping list for the afterlife, and the first thing to appear on his menu.

An invocation offering of bread and beer; not much different from the first things the waiter brings to the table in the restaurant, in fact.  We’ll move on to the main course next time.

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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