Susanllewellyn's Blog

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.

August 6, 2009

Office hieroglyphs (8)

htp di nsw


      transliteration htp di nsw


An offering which the King gives; as we’ve already looked at the hieroglyphs for “King” and “offering”, the last symbol in the group, di

must betransliteration di



You’re right, and guess what?  It’s yet another loaf of bread; the third different kind we’ve encountered in the space of four symbols.  The ancient Egyptians may not have had coinage (not until very late, anyway) but they sure had a lot of dough. 

It’s easy enough to draw:  a big triangle with a little triangle inside it, on the baseline. Here’s an example of the hieroglyph from a carved inscription:








Bread has sacred significance in most cultures, and the ancient Egyptians were no exception, as you can tell.  Why was this?  Well, when you think about it, the invention of bread is a major technological advance, of the kind that changes the world.  Before we became farmers, we lived on perishable food.  We had fresh meat and fresh vegetables and, if we were living in Egypt, hot weather and millions of flies.  We had to eat the food quickly, before it decayed, then set about replacing our stocks.  This was pretty restricting.  

However, once we learned to grow cereal crops, process them and bake them into bread and cakes, we had a source of food which lasted longer.  We could store it long term, take it with us on journeys or dole it out to hired labourers or soldiers as their pay for the month.  A whole new way of life opened up, not least the ability to survive famines of meat and vegetables, during which people would otherwise have died.  In this case, bread really would have been the staff of life – hence its sacred significance.

Clay moulds you could stack in the fire for baking bread were the start of a series of culinary innovations which has taken us from the bread oven through the deep freeze and the microwave to the – er – electric bread maker. The Egyptians baked many different kinds of bread and cakes, flavoured with different fruits, spices and herbs. They gave lots of them in exchange for other goods and services, and gave lots more as offerings to the gods and to their ancestors, so much so that the name of one kind of loaf became synonymous with the verb “to give”. In fact, an alternative way of writing the same word was with an outstretched arm holding the loaf, as in this inscription:




NB:  don’t go looking for the words “an”, “which” or “the”.  Just understand that the sense of them is there.  All you want is to be able to write some convincing retirement wishes in colleagues’ memory books.  You don’t want to get any further into Middle Egyptian grammar and syntax than you have to, trust me.

So, what does this mean in practical terms, “an offering which the King gives”?  It stems from the ancient Egyptian principle that the King was owner, ruler, lawgiver and high priest of everything and every cult in the land.  Remember back at the beginning of this blog, when I said that the tomb owner would place a takeaway order with the local temple, as part of his or her insurance against starvation in the next life?  Well, the ancient Egyptian fast food chain was a long and complex one, and it began with the authority of the King.  Of which more anon.

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