Susanllewellyn's Blog

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.

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:

strainer

  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.

Blog at WordPress.com.