For all you New Kingdom fans out there.
Only the sleeper sees the dream
- The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant (c. 1600 BC)
Papyrus from the Setne Khaemwaset stories
Possibly from the Fayum, Egypt
Roman period, 1st century AD
Prince Khaemwaset, the fourth son of Ramesses II (1279-1213 BC), has been called ‘the first Egyptologist’, since he left inscriptions about restoration on a number of pyramids of the Old Kingdom (about 2613-2160 BC) in the cemeteries of Memphis. In the later periods he was revered as a great magician and stories developed around his supposed exploits.
The Setne Khaemwaset cycle of stories is one of the great treasures of Demotic Egyptian literature. Two parts of it survive, the second of which (Setne II) is in The British Museum. ‘Setne’ is a corruption of the priestly title held by Khaemwaset. It is normally read ‘setem’ or ‘sem’, but by the time of these stories it was treated as if it were one of his personal names.
Setne II consists of two main stories, written in demotic script on papyrus. In one story Setne sees the funerals of a rich and a poor man. He is then taken to see different parts of the Underworld where he sees the two men again, but this time their positions are reversed. This story may have influenced related Jewish and Greek legends.
The second story is that of a magical contest 1500 years in the past, between an Egyptian and a Nubian magician, which ends dramatically when the conflict threatens to return in the present.
(Source: The British Museum)
Head of a nobleman
Late Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 12, 1878–1841 B.C.
Reddish brown quartzite head of an official, with distinctive features of late dynasty 12, including large ears, heavily-lidded and sunken eyes, furrowed brow, hollow cheeks and downturned mouth. Nose broken.
(Source: Boston Museum of Fine Arts)
12th Dynasty sculpture, though. <3
Letter from Tushratta to Amenhotep III
Mitannian, about 1370-1350 BC
From Tell el-Amarna, Egypt
This clay tablet is part of a collection of 382 cuneiform documents discovered in 1887 in Egypt, at the site of Tell el-Amarna. They are mainly letters spanning a fifteen- to thirty-year period. The first dates to around year 30 of the reign of Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BC), and the last to no later than the first year of the reign of Tutankhamun (1336-1327 BC). The majority date to the reign of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) (1352-1336 BC), the heretic pharaoh who founded a new capital at Tell el-Amarna.
This letter is written in Akkadian, the diplomatic language of Mesopotamia at the time. It is addressed to Amenhotep III from Tushratta, king of Mitanni (centred in modern Syria). Tushratta calls the pharaoh his ‘brother’, with the suggestion that they are of equal rank. The letter starts with greetings to various members of the royal house including Tushratta’s daughter Tadu-Heba, who had become one of Amenhotep’s many brides. Diplomatic marriages were the standard way in which countries formed alliances with Egypt.
Tushratta goes on to inform Amenhotep that, with the consent of the goddess Ishtar, he has sent a statue of her to Egypt. He hopes that the goddess will be held in great honour in Egypt and that the statue may be sent back safely to Mitanni.
Three lines of Egyptian, written in black ink, have been added, presumably when the letter arrived in Egypt. The addition includes the date ‘Year 36’ of the king.
(Source: The British Museum)
Funerary Cloth of Isetneferet
New Kingdom, 1300-1070 BC
This type of painted linen panel was placed on the chest of the coffin. It was another means of ensuring the eternal provision of offerings, which were also depicted on the walls of the tomb. Water, as a substance with no colour, taste or smell, was used in Egyptian rituals for purification.
Isetnefret is shown seated before an offering table loaded with loaves of bread. Her lion-footed chair is similar to examples found in wealthy tombs, but has much longer legs. She holds a lotus flower to her nose; the flower’s stylized curved stalk is typical of representations dating to the New Kingdom. The lotus flower is symbolic of rebirth.
Both Isetnefret and her daughter Tii are dressed in fashionable voluminous robes, with the fringed edge running down the front of the garment. They also wear wide collars and heavy wigs. Tii wears hoop earrings. Pierced ears were fashionable for men and women from the New Kingdom. The small boy, Penpare, like all children in Egyptian art, is shown naked, but does not have the usual sidelock of youth.
(Source: The British Museum)
Arched Wooden Harp
From the tomb of Any, Thebes, Egypt
New Kingdom, 1550-1069 BC
Harps were often shown in banquet scenes, decorating the walls of tombs. The harp is usually depicted on a stand and such scenes sometimes included the lute and double oboe, as well singers and dancers. Analysis of these images has shown that the harp was probably played by plucking two strings at the same time. The pitch and semitone interval between strings made it ideal for accompanying songs. Most of the songs performed at a banquet were dedicated to a deity, usually Amun. He was the most important god at Thebes, and the most important annual feast of the Theban necropolis was celebrated in honour of this deity.
The instruments were usually highly decorated, this example being no exception. The sound box has the head of deity wearing a double crown and striped head-dress at its end. The underside and lower part of the harp’s neck are decorated with a floral pattern. The falcon head at the top of the neck is characteristic of this type of harp, which usually had between nine and eleven strings, rather than the five shown in this model.
Instruments of this shape were usually played by male solo artists.
(Source: The British Museum)
“Regnal year 30, month 3 of the Inundation, day 7:
The god departed for his horizon. The Dual King Sehetepibre
rose up to heaven, and was united with the sun-disk,
the divine flesh mingling with the one who fashioned it.”
- The Story of Sinuhe, R 5-7: Sinuhe describes the death of king Amenemhat I.
(Hieroglyphs written using JSesh, after Koch, 1990.)
Wall of the Temple of Hathor at Dendera.
“The mouth of a man saves him,
And his speech grants him indulgence.”
-The Story of the Shipwrecked Sailor, 17-19.
(Hieroglyphs written using JSesh, after Blackman, 1932.)
After Hannig’s Großes Handwörterbuch:
I also put both writings in JSesh for you, just in case you need to use them for something, and because I was bored anyway. Hope it helps!
(For further reference, the TLA might help. If you search the list of Egyptian words and enter Thinis in the box after translation, it gives you a third spelling. It’ll also mostly work for other toponyms whose exact hieroglyphic spelling you’re after. I say mostly because sometimes it’s behaving like an unruly child.)
Treatment methods for oral and dental ailments in Ancient Egypt
Like us, the ancient Egyptians weren’t spared from oral ailments. Their diet, which was full of fibre and coarse, often uncooked, vegetables, in combination with a dental hygiene that possibly wasn’t up to our standards, caused various diseases such as attrition, caries and periodontitis. But the Egyptians were inventive, and not unversed in medical practices: they had devised many treatments for the various affections that bothered them, both chirurgical and medicinal in nature.
Molars suffering from attrition
Attrition was by far the most common affection in ancient Egypt. Caused by the coarse diet (which may also have lacked necessary minerals and vitamins) and the presence of sand, husks, and sometimes even straw, in their bread, many Egyptians suffered from this condition. The skulls and jaws found in burial shafts and tombs almost all show attrition to some degree. This may not sound like a very serious disease, but attrition, when left unchecked, can be a stepping stone to much more severe issues. It can lead to abscesses, inflammation of the gums and jawbone, and tooth loss.
Despite a diet free of refined sugar, caries was still fairly well represented amongst Egypt’s pearly whites. Interestingly enough, this disease seemed to have been much more common among the elite than it was among lower classes. This may be attributed to the higher sugar content in the diet of higher class Egyptians.
Other conditions, most of them attested in medical papyri such as papyrus Ebers, were dental abscesses (“purulency in the gums”), receding gums (“a tooth which gnaws against an opening in the flesh”), loose teeth, ulcerative stomatitis (“eating ulcer on the gums”), periodontitis (“blood-eating”), alveolar diseases, dental sepsis and calculus.
Lower jaw with traces of a periodontal abscess (the small hole in the bone)
Cures, treatments and dentists
So what did the ancient Egyptians do about this? Dental conditions aren’t to be taken lightly: they can very well prove lethal if they remain untreated. There’s some discussion on whether or not the profession of dentist existed in Pharaonic Egypt, mostly because of the seeming lack of actual surgery to cure these affections. To some extent, physicians in Egypt relied on spells and other magic for their treatments, but medicinal therapy was just as big a part of this. The papyri Ebers, Hearst and Berlin give us quite some recipes which could very well have made a difference by alleviating the pain or even inhibiting inflammation. If we define the term dentist as one who knows and attempts to cure diseases of the mouth, then there certainly have been dentists in Pharaonic times.
The papyrus Ebers has eleven recipes which pertain to oral issues. Four of these are remedies for loose teeth: the tooth in question is either ‘packed’ or ‘filled’ (the translation and therefore our interpretation is a little ambiguous) with a mixture that is akin to a modern day composite filling: a filler agent (ground barley) is mixed with a liquid matrix (honey) and an antiseptic agent (yellow ochre). This is either used as an actual filling, or as a splint to keep the tooth in place.
Egyptians also had various mouthwashes and mixtures that had to be chewed and then spit out, meant to combat gum disease. Some of these have more active ingredients than the others, and they certainly seem to have at least provided the patient with some manner of pain relief. These recipes have ingredients such as sweet beer, creeping cinquefoil, bran and celery in different compositions. Some of the mouthwashes were for the specific purpose of maintaining a healthy mouth and teeth.
But not everything is purely medicinal in Egyptian medicine. The Edwin Smith surgical papyrus gives us treatments that are, as the title suggests, much more surgical in nature. One case handles the dislocation of a jaw, and the treatment for this hasn’t changed in over five thousand years. Some of the discovered jaws and skulls have evidence of additional treatment next to the application of medicine. It’s not altogether impossible that Egyptian dentists knew how to drain an abscess, or cut away cankered gums.
Pharaonic physicians were no strangers to reconstruction works: there have been three instances of a dental bridge: one or more lost teeth reattached by means of a gold or silver wire to the surrounding teeth. However, it’s a bit unclear whether these works were performed during the life of the patient or after death – to tidy them up, as it were, before their burial.
All in all, the ancient Egyptians were very attached to their pearly whites, and took great care to treat the diseases they knew as best as they could. They were skilled in medicine and surgery, relying on actual treatment just as much, or perhaps even more, as they did on magic spells and prayers to the Gods.
Hesy-re, “Head of Dentists” - A Third Dynasty physician
Aah, the wonderful memories of my first year’s paper. <3
Leotards named after Egyptian Gods/Kings.
Apparently, this was a thing in Christian Moureau’s collection of last season? It has a lot of mythology.
I’m imagining Cheops and Osiris having a competition who can do the best front walkovers while Min and Nemty are trying to decide which of them has the prettiest blue leotard.
Perspective, space and realism in Egyptian art
Ask anyone who has a passing familiarity with art or Egyptology about the conventions of Egyptian art, and most answers you get will include all or any one of the following phrases: non-perspective, spaceless, flat, not realistic. Only one of these terms is close to being correct, the others stem from a misconception on the nature of Egyptian art.
To start off with the term that is more or less correct: non-perspective. Egyptian art hasn’t the type of perspective that we today consider a requirement for naturalistic pieces of art. To the eye unused to the conventions of Egyptian art, reliefs can look almost childish in their executions. These reliefs and wall paintings use a baseline upon which all figures stand, and the pieces are neatly divided into registers of (mostly) equal height and length. The figures are a amalgamation of different views of different body parts: a side view of the head, a front view of the torso, etcetera. This combination of views, which looks so strange to us, is the product of the Egyptian solution to the problem of reproducing a three-dimensional figure on a two-dimensional surface.
German Egyptologist Emma Brunner-Traut has put another term forward to describe this phenomenon: aspective. Aspective, like perspective, is a perceptual attitude, and while they are different in execution they are the same in the underlying thought. The lack of conventional perspective, however, doesn’t make the art spaceless. Even though you cannot have perspective without it indicating space, the term aspective doesn’t mean without space.
You can see this in particular in this object. If there is anything this palette from the early First Dynasty, currently in the collection of the Louvre, has in abundance, it is the application of space. Though the proportions are off (the man is a veritable giant in comparison to the bull), the man is placed between the legs of the bull, his arm reaches in front of the animal’s horns, and one of his legs is being trampled under its hooves. This also means Egyptian art is everything but flat.
Egyptian measurements are based on body parts. For example, there are eighteen handbreadths to a fathom, and a fathom is the distance between both arms when completely outstretched, as well as the height of a figure from head to toe. Egyptian art had strict conventions: a figure was 18 squares on a raster, and had a set formula of front- and side views as mentioned above. Within these exacting customs, however, the Egyptian artisan had plenty of space to make the representation as realistic as he wished. You can see this in the palette above, where the man’s calf is being compressed by the pressure of the bull standing on it, as well as in the muscles in both the man’s physique and that of the animal.
This is also perfectly illustrated in the head of Senwosret III, the fifth king of the Twelfth Dynasty, the Middle Kingdom. We see a very Egyptian representation of a king – I doubt there is anyone who could mistake this piece for a different period in history. The face of this king, however, isn’t young and ethereal, as we’ve come to expect from other periods in Egyptian history, but rather looks at us with a world-weary glance. He has circles underneath his eyes, his cheeks are sunken in and he has lines next to his mouth and between his eyebrows. We get the distinct impression of a tired monarch, one who has spent most of his life in the service of his people – but doesn’t regret it for a moment.
This realism was not limited to figures of man only. Flora and fauna were presented in such detail that it is possible for researchers to determine the genus and species of most of these.
In conclusion, Egyptian art is, while aspective, also a product of the collective perceptual attitude and creative solutions to the various problems present in representing three-dimensional images. While the Egyptian artisan would have been bound by conventions and the client, he was, once he had acquired mastery of the rules, free to bend these rules to suit his vision. Egyptian art is a portrayal of their cultural idea of the world. It doesn’t use our perspective, but nonetheless has a sense of time and space and is very realistic in varying degrees.
Researchers recreated the light bulb drawings on the sides of the pyramid, and they WORK! Only light source in the pyramids because flame will not light in the low oxygen environment.
No, sorry. This isn’t a light bulb, but a representation of a part of the Egyptian creation myth. Of course light bulbs based on these images created with our current knowledge will work: that’s because we’re projecting back our modern conventions on ancient times. This does not mean Egyptians had electricity to light their temples. They actually used oil lamps, which we have found in abundance. We haven’t found a single ‘light bulb’ or anything that might pass as such.
Also, these images are from the temple of Hathor in Dendera, NOT the pyramids.