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Showing posts from October 27, 2011

Ancient Egyptian Symbolism, The Forms and Functions

In Egyptian culture the more important and frequently encountered aspects of visual symbolism are form, hieroglyphs, relative size, location, material, color number, action and gesture. However, symbolism in ancient Egypt is a very complex topic that, from one Egyptologist to the next, can have different connotations. Certainly, we have some obvious examples of symbolism, but as we delve deeper into the intricacies of symbolism, there is less clarity. On the other hand, any investigation of this topic is an expedition into the ancient Egyptian mind, and the study of symbolism adds much to our understanding of ancient Egypt.

Form Egyptian art utilizes form symbolism at two levels, which may be said to be primary and secondary, or direct and indirect types of association. At the first level, objects are shown in the forms they are meant to represent and gain symbolic significance through association and context. An example of this is the djed pillar as a symbol of support.

At the seco…

Common Myths About Cleopatra

She was Egyptian

Nope, she was Greek. Her family lived in Egypt for three hundred years or so, which might make her Egyptian in your eyes and mine, but to the Egyptians she was still Greek. She was descended from the general Ptolemy who served under Alexander the Great during his conquests. Following Alexander's untimely death, Ptolemy and two other generals divided up his empire and he got Egypt.

She was beautiful

Depends on who you ask, but most would agree that she wouldn't have won any beauty contests. She had a large hooked nose and fleshy face. You can see this in the Roman coins Antony had minted in her honor. Elizabeth Taylor she wasn't.

Cleopatra wore her hair with bangs

Watching any of the Hollywood movies based on her "life," one would assume it was the height of Egyptian fashion to wear bangs. Not so, Cleopatra wore a wig of tight curls on her shaven head. Claudette Colbert in Cecil B. DeMille's 1934 classic wore bangs because she had a personal …

The Treasure Thief

Rameses the Third, the Pharaoh who, when he first came to the throne, wished to marry Helen of Troy, ruled for many years and Egypt grew prosperous under him. Early in his reign he defeated invasions from both Palestine and Libya; but after this he lived at peace with his neighbours and encouraged trading to such an extent that he became the richest of all the Pharaohs.

Rameses gathered his treasures together in the form of gold and silver and precious stones - and the more he gathered the more anxious he became lest anyone should steal his hoards.

So he sent for his Master Builder, Horemheb, and said to him, 'Build me a mighty treasure house of the hewn stone of Syene; make the floor of solid rock and the walls so thick that no man may pick a hole in them; and rear high the roof with stone into a tall pyramid so that no entrance may be broken through that either.'

Then Horemheb, the Master Builder, kissed the ground before Rameses, crying, 'Oh Pharaoh! Life, health, stren…

The Adventures of Sinuhe

In spite of all that he had done to unite Egypt and bring peace and prosperity to her after years of civil war, Pharaoh Amen-em-het went in constant danger from plots to murder him, hatched by one great lord or another who wished to seize his throne.

Fearing lest one of these plots should prove successful, and knowing that if one of his lords tried to usurp the throne it would plunge Egypt into civil war again, Amen-em-het promoted his son Sen-Usert (whom the Greek historians called Sesostris) to be his viceroy and co-ruler, so that he should be ready to step into his place as Pharaoh immediately it became vacant, and be able to put down any rising or rebellion that might break out.

Amen-em-het's wisdom was proved ten years later when he was in fact murdered as the result of a conspiracy in the palace.

Sen-Usert was abroad at the time, leading an army against Temeh in Libya. He had defeated the enemy and was returning to Egypt with much booty and many captives, when messengers arr…

The Land of the Dead

The one visit to the Duat of which a record remains was paid by Se-Osiris, the wonderful child magician who read the sealed letter, and his father Setna, the son of Pharaoh Rameses the Great.

They stood one day in the window of the palace at Thebes watching two funerals on their way to the West. The first was that of a rich man: his mummy was enclosed in a wooden case inlaid with gold; troops of servants and mourners carried him to burial and bore gifts for the tomb, while many priests walked in front and behind chanting hymns to the gods and reciting the great names and words of power which he would need on his journey through the Duat. - The second funeral was that of a poor laborer. His two sons carried the simple wooden case: his widow and daughters-in-law were the only mourners.

'Well,' said Setna, watching the two funerals going down to where the boats were waiting to carry them across the Nile, 'I hope that my fate will be that of the rich noble and not of the poor …

Se-Osiris and the Sealed Letter

Many tales were told in Ancient Egypt of Setna, the son of Rameses the Great, who was the wisest of all scribes, and who found and read the Book of Thoth. And tales were told also of his son Se-Osiris - 'the Gift of Osiris' - the wonderful child who, at the age of twelve, was the greatest magician Egypt had ever known.

His most famous exploit began on a day when Rameses sat in the great hall of his palace at Thebes with his princes and nobles about him, and the Grand Vizier came bustling in with a look of shocked surprise on his face and prostrated himself before Rameses, crying: 'Life, health, strength be with you, Oh Pharaoh! There has come to your court a rascally Ethiopian seven feet tall who demands speech with you, saying that he is here to prove that the magic of Egypt is nothing compared with the magic of Ethiopia.'

' will be a jest on the lips of all men.''Bid him enter, commanded Pharaoh, and presently a huge Ethiopian strode into his presen…

Isis and the Seven Scorpions

Whenever Isis left Horus in the evening while they were in hiding in the papyrus swamps near Buto, she was accompanied by seven scorpians. Three of the scorpians preceded her, Petet, Tjetet, and Matet and made sure that the path ahead was safe. At her side were the scorpians, Mesetet and Mesetetef. Bringing up the rear were Tefen and Befen.

Every night, Isis warned her companions to be extremely cautious as to avoid alerting Seth as to where she was. She would remind them not to speak to anyone they met along the way.

One night, Isis was traveling to the Town of the Two Sisters in the Nile Delta. A wealthy noblewoman saw the strange party arrive and quickly shut the door to her house. The scorpions were enraged at her rude behavior and decide to teach the woman a lesson. In preparation, six of the scorpions gave their individual poisons to Tefen who loaded his stinger with it. Meanwhile, a humble peasant girl had offered her simple home as a refuge to Isis.

The scorpions anger was not…

The Great Queen Hatshepsut

Amon-Re, the King of the Gods, sat upon his throne and looked out upon Egypt. Presently he spoke to the assembled council of the gods - to Thoth and Khonsu and Khnemu, to Isis and Osiris, Nephthys, Horus, Harmachis, Anubis and the rest - saying: 'There has been many a Pharaoh in the Land of Khem, in the Double Land of Egypt, and some of them have been great and have pleased me well. Khufu and Khafra and Menkaura long ago who raised the great pyramids of Giza; Amenhotep and Thutmose of today who have caused the peoples of the world to bow down at my feet. Now is the dawning of the golden age in Egypt, and it comes into my mind to create a great queen to rule over Khem: yes, I will unite the Two Lands in peace for her, I will give her rule over the whole world, over Syria and Nubia besides Egypt - yes, even to the far-distant land of Punt.'

Then said Isis in her silvery voice that sounded like the shaken bells on her sistrum, 'Father of Gods and Men, no queen has yet ruled i…

The Book of Thoth

Rameses the Great, Pharaoh of Egypt, had a son called Setna who was learned in all the ancient writings, and a magician of note. While the other princes spent their days in hunting or in leading their father's armies to guard the distant parts of his empire, Setna was never so happy as when left alone to study.

Not only could he read even the most ancient hieroglyphic writings on the temple walls, but he was a scribe who could write quickly and easily all the many hundreds of signs that go to make up the ancient Egyptian language. Also, he was a magician whom none could surpass: for he had learned his art from the most secret of the ancient writings which even the priests of Amen-Re, of Ptah and Thoth, could not read.

One day, as he pored over the ancient books written on the two sides of long rolls of papyrus, he came upon the story of another Pharaoh's son several hundred years earlier who had been as great a scribe and as wise a magician as he greater and wiser, indeed, for…