The Djed

The djed is an ancient Egyptian symbol for stability which features prominently in Egyptian art and architecture throughout the country’s history. `Stability’ should be understood to mean not only a firm footing but immutability and permanance. The symbol is a column with a broad base which narrows as it rises to a capital and is crossed by four parallel lines. The column and the lines are sometimes brightly painted and other times monochrome. The djed first appears in the Predynastic Period in Egypt (c. 6000-3150 BCE) and continues through the Ptolemaic Dynasty (323-30 BCE), the last dynasty to rule Egypt before it became a province of the Roman Empire.

The djed is often overlooked in Egyptian art, and especially in architecture, simply because it is so ubiquitous; the djed is featured on pillars, tomb walls, architraves (the main beam which rests on pillars), palace walls, sheets of painted papyrus, and especially sarcophagi. Once one is aware of the djed and its importance to ancient Egyptian culture it is impossible to miss. It is a potent symbol associated with the god Osiris and his return from the dead. The symbol has been interpreted to represent different objects such as the god Osiris’ backbone, the tamarisk tree which enclosed the god, four pillars rising one behind another, and a fertility pole raised at festivals. `Stability’, however, seems to have been its prime meaning and the one which the ancient Egyptians attached the greatest importance to.

The precise origin of the djed is unknown but it was associated with the god Ptah, an early creator god in the Predynastic Period whose attributes were later assumed by the deities Atum and Osiris. According to historian Clare Gibson, the djed was an early phonogram which could also act as a pictogram or ideogram. A phonogram is a symbol representing a sound and a pictogram a symbol for a specific word or phrase while an ideogram is a symbol of a thing itself without reference to words or sounds (such as numerals where one recognizes the symbol 10 as representing a certain quantity). The djed symbolized the spoken word-concept for stability, was the written word for stability, and stood for the concept itself.

Sources: World History Encyclopedia

Hammurabi

In around 2000 bce, the Amorites (Westerners), a semi-nomadic people from Syria, swept across Mesopotamia, replacing local rulers with Amorite sheikh dynasties in many of the city-states. By the early 18th century bce, the three most powerful Amorite kings were pre-eminent Shamshi-Adad in the north, Rim-Sin in Larsa in the south, and Hammurabi in Babylon in the center. Over the course of his long reign, Hammurabi consolidated all of southern Mesopotamia into his kingdom and eventually extended his power as far up the Tigris as Nineveh, and as far up the Euphrates as Tuttul, on the junction with the river Balikh. He personally supervised the construction of many temples and other buildings.

The prelude to his code, a tribute to Hammurabi, and a long historical record of his conquests, boasts that his leadership was divinely sanctioned by the gods who passed control of humanity to Marduk (deity of Babylon), and so to its king. It also reveals he saw his role as the guarantor of a just and orderly society.

Rosetta Stone Discovered

Today in Egyptian history —> On this day in 1799, French Captain Pierre-François Bouchard found the Rosetta Stone in an Egyptian village. The stone was inscribed with hieroglyphics, demotic script and Greek script in 196 BC but was lost during the Medieval period. After its rediscovery, it prompted widespread excitement as scientists raced to be the first to decipher the ancient text. It was eventually translated by Jean-François Champollion, a French scholar, in 1822!

The inscription, by the way, is about the divine status of Ptolemy V.

The Egyptians want it returned for their new Grand Egyptian Museum (opening later this year), but the British Museum says no as it’s the most visited artifact in the museum.

The Rök Stone

The Rök Stone is one of Sweden’s most interesting rune stones. A man called Varin erected it in honour of his dead son’s memory in the 9th century. The stone stands beside Röks Church on the plains of the province of Östergötland. Its complicated web of stories continues to baffle scholars.

The Rök Stone stands two and a half metres above ground and around one metre beneath ground. The boulder of pale grey, fine-grained granite probably originates close to where it was found. The surface is strewn with runes; there are around 280 on the front and 450 on the back side. The stone engraver composed the placement of his text so brilliantly that a person standing upright can read the meandering runes. The stone is now protected by a pyramid-shaped roof in the outdoor museum that was established in 1991.

Varin’s contemporaries must have perceived the Rök Stone as a literary and artistic masterpiece. A rune stone carver with a distinct sense of form and ornament has created the decorative text. He also appears to have been a learned poet, familiar with mythic tales and conceptions of the period. It seems like he wanted to put the reader’s acumen and education on trial. Nowadays, scholars agree about how to read the Rök Stone, but not on how to interpret it. The stone consists of convoluted legends, obscure myths and various epics, as well as accounts of Varin’s own family history.

The monumental size and rich ornamentation of the Rök Stone suggests that the man called Varin belonged to an influential family. Furthermore, the appearance of Thor, a pagan God, in the latter part of the text, could be an effort to give a divine legitimacy to Varin and his family. In that sense, the stone served as a memorial of a lost son, as well as a status symbol for the family.

Source: Swedish National Museum

Viking Runes Introduction

By the beginning of the Viking Age, the Scandinavian rune-masters had developed an alphabet, or “futhark” (from the value of the first six characters), of sixteen characters that was quite distinct from the rest of the Germanic peoples. This alphabet was known as the “younger futhark”.

However, even within Scandinavia, there was no standard form for the characters and there are variations from inscription to inscription, but basically there were two main forms of futhark: the Common or Danish futhark (although it occurs outside of Denmark), and the Swedo-Norwegian futhark (although this also occurs outside of Sweden and Norway.

One can see that there are shortcomings with these alphabets. For example, there are characters for b, k and t, but there are none for p, g and d (this is because the futhark does not distinguish between these voiced and voiceless pairs. Therefore the rune-master had to use b for p, k for g and t for d.

There were other peculiarities: although there were two characters for the two different types of a, there were no symbols for e and o. This meant that the name “Svein” appears as in runes “suin” and the name “Gormr” appears as “kurmR”.

It becomes even more complicated, as the spelling practice allowed n to be omitted when it occurred before a consonant. Therefore the name Thormundr appears as thurmutR.

This of course means that many runic inscriptions can be very difficult to read and there can be a great deal of dispute about their true meaning.

Despite the difficulties in reading runic inscriptions, they can provide a good deal of useful information.

Source: Swedish National Museum Heritage Board’s website, but that page no longer exists.

Egyptian Gods & Goddesses Of The Great Ennead 

Egyptian Gods & Goddesses Of The Great Ennead 

The Ennead or Great Ennead was a group of nine deities in Egyptian mythology worshiped at Heliopolis: the sun god Atum; his children Shu and Tefnut; their children Geb and Nut; and their children Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys. 

According to the creation story of the Heliopolitan priests, the world originally consisted of the primordial waters of precreation personified as Nun. From it arose a mound on the First Occasion. Upon the mound sat the self-begotten god Atum, who was equated with the sun god Ra. Atum evolved from Nun through self-creation. Atum either spat or masturbated, producing air personified as Shu and moisture personified as Tefnut. The siblings Shu and Tefnut mated to produce the earth personified as Geb and the nighttime sky personified as Nut.

Geb and Nut were the parents of Osiris and Isis and of Set and Nephthys, who became respective couples in turn. Osiris and Isis represent fertility and order, while Set and Nephthys represent chaos to balance out Osiris and Isis. Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, is often included in this creation tradition.

 Atum —> Atum was the oldest of the creations gods worshipped by the Egyptians and they thought he existed before anything else. He created Nun, the celestial waters, and everything else through his thoughts. Thoth was Atum’s intelligence and put his creative thoughts into words to bring them to life. In the Book of the Dead, Atum was the setting sun and his images show him as a human wearing the double crown of Egypt.

 Shu —> was the husband of Tefnut and the father of Nut and Geb. He and his wife were the first gods created by Atum. Shu was the god of the air and sunlight or, more precisely, dry air and his wife represented moisture. He was normally depicted as a man wearing a headdress in the form of a plume, which is also the hieroglyph for his name. Shu’s function was to hold up the body of the goddess Nun and separate the sky from the earth. He was not a solar deity but his role in providing sunlight connected him to Ra. Indeed, he was one of the few gods who escaped persecution under the heretic king Akhenaten.

 Tefnut —> Tefnut was the wife of Shu and mother of Nut and Geb. She and her husband were the first gods created by Atum. She was the goddess of moisture or damp, corrosive air, and was depicted either as a lioness or as a woman with a lioness’s head.

 Geb —> was the father of Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys, and was a god without a cult. As an Earth god he was associated with fertility and it was believed that earthquakes were the laughter of Geb. He is mentioned in the Pyramid Texts as imprisoning the buried dead within his body.

 Nut —> was the mother of Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys, Nut is usually shown in human form; her elongated body symbolizing the sky. Each limb represents a cardinal point as her body stretches over the earth. Nut swallowed the setting sun (Ra) each evening and gave birth to him each morning. She is often depicted on the ceilings of tombs, on the inside lid of coffins, and on the ceilings of temples.

 Osiris —> Osiris was originally a vegetation god linked with the growth of crops. He was the mythological first king of Egypt and one of the most important of the gods. It was thought that he brought civilization to the race of mankind. He was murdered by his brother Seth, brought back to life by his wife Isis, and went on to become the ruler of the underworld and judge of the dead.

 Isis —> A very important figure in the ancient world, Isis was the wife of Osiris and mother of Horus. She was associated with funeral rites and said to have made the first mummy from the dismembered parts of Osiris. As the enchantress who resurrected Osiris and gave birth to Horus, she was also the giver of life, a healer and protector of kings.

 Set —> Also known as Seth, Setekh, Suty and Sutekh. Set was the son of Geb and Nut, and the evil brother of Osiris. He was the god of darkness, chaos, and confusion, and is represented as a man with an unknown animal head, often described as a Typhonian by the Greeks who associated him with the god Typhon. He is sometimes depicted as a hippopotamus, a pig, or a donkey. Seth murdered his brother and usurped the throne of Egypt and most of the other gods despised him.

 Nephthys —> Daughter of Geb and Nut, sister of Isis, wife of Seth and mother of Anubis, Nephthys is depicted as a woman with the hieroglyphs for a palace and ‘Neb’ (a basket) on her head. She is thus known as “Lady of the Mansions” or “Palace.” Nephthys was disgusted by Seth’s murder of Osiris and helped her sister, Isis, against her husband, Seth. Together with Isis she was a protector of the dead, and they are often shown together on coffin cases, with winged arms. She seems to have had no temple or cult center of her own.

Ancient Egyptian Religion Overview

Ancient Egyptian Religion Overview:

~ The religion of Ancient Egypt lasted for more than 3,000 years, and was polytheistic, meaning there were a multitude of deities, who were believed to reside within and control the forces of nature.

~ Formal religious practice centered on the pharaoh, or ruler, of Egypt, who was believed to be divine, and acted as intermediary between the people and the gods. His role was to sustain the gods so that they could maintain order in the universe.

~ The Egyptian universe centered on Ma’at, which has several meanings in English, including truth, justice and order. It was fixed and eternal; without it the world would fall apart.

~ The most important myth was of Osiris and Isis. The divine ruler Osiris was murdered by Set (god of chaos), then resurrected by his sister and wife Isis to conceive an heir, Horus. Osiris then became the ruler of the dead, while Horus eventually avenged his father and became king.

~ Egyptians were very concerned about the fate of their souls after death. They believed ka (life-force) left the body upon death and needed to be fed. Ba, or personal spirituality, remained in the body. The goal was to unite ka and ba to create akh.

~ Artistic depictions of gods were not literal representations, as their true nature was considered mysterious. However, symbolic imagery was used to indicate this nature.

~ Temples were the state’s method of sustaining the gods, since their physical images were housed and cared for; temples were not a place for the average person to worship.

~ Certain animals were worshipped and mummified as representatives of gods.

~ Oracles were used by all classes.

Homer’s Odyssey Extract

According to the BBC, the oldest known extract from Homer’s Odyssey has been found on a clay tablet, found in Olympia Greece and dated “to Roman times” (better dating is impending). The extract “contains 13 verses from the Odyssey’s 14th Rhapsody, in which Odysseus addresses his lifelong friend Eumaeus.” It will be interesting to compare this to other extracts to see how well an orally transmitted work was reproduced in writing. Here’s part of the tablet:

#Homer #TheOdyssey

The Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone:

The 1.12m (3ft 6in) high Rosetta Stone in the British Museum is originally from Egypt and is made out of granodiorite stele, which is a coarse-grained rock.

It is a broken part of a bigger slab with text carved on to it that has helped researchers learn how to read Egyptian hieroglyphs – a form of writing that used pictures as signs.

It features three columns of the same inscription in three languages: Greek, hieroglyphs and demotic Egyptian – and is the text of a decree written by priests in 196 BC, during the reign of pharaoh Ptolemy V.

It is unclear how the stone was discovered in July 1799, but there’s a general belief that it was found by soldiers fighting with the French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte as they were building an extension to a fort near the town of Rashid – also known as Rosetta – in the Nile Delta.

When Napoleon was defeated, the British took possession of the stone under the terms of the Treaty of Alexandria in 1801.

It was then transported to England, arriving in Portsmouth in February 1802. George III offered it to the British Museum a few months later.

#RosettaStone

Hieroglyphics and Cartouches Simplified

Hieroglyphics and Cartouches

Hieroglyphics was a system, an alphabet, which Ancient Egyptians used to express their thoughts in written form. Composed of over 1000 distinct and illustrious characters, cursive hieroglyphics were used for religious and historic literature – recorded on papyrus which was resourceful in Ancient Egypt. Hieroglyphics can be found at many locations – from pyramids to catacombs to Pharaoh’s tomb writings (which helped identifying them).

The major discovery, which lead to the deciphering of hieroglyphics, was made by Napoleon’s army in 1799 – the Rosetta Stone! It took over 20 years, after the discovery, to fully comprehend Ancient Egyptian scripture. The Rosetta Stone involved the same text written in 3 different languages: Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, Demotic, and Ancient Greek.

Cartouches were carved tablets, mostly made of stone, which contained a message written in Hieroglyphic script. Cartouches were sometimes used as ornaments and, at other times, as titles for pharaohs and priests. the ancient Egyptians called them “shenu”.

The deciphering of hieroglyphics and discoveries of cartouches have, together, lead us to a much better understanding of the Ancient Egypt civilization. Ancient Egypt carries a rich history and it will take much more time – a year, a decade, a century, before we can have a complete and clear vision of its society… #AncientEgypt #Hieroglyphics