The Egyptian word s3mt. “Hair”, “Mourning” or both?

We have read in many chapters of the Coffin Texts that the s3mt was cut -although not destroyed (CT 334) – and offered, and that seems to happen when the mourners were shaved. But, do we know exactly what the s3mt was?

Pharaoh Snofru. Funerary stela from Cairo Museum. IV Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

Pharaoh Snofru. Funerary stela from Cairo Museum. IV Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

The Egyptian word s3mt had different meanings[1]. According to A. Erman and H. Grapow, it meant “sadness” [2]; but s3mt could also be “moan” [3] or “mourning” [4]. Some scholars have translated s3mt as “lock of hair” [5]. Some consider that it could describe “not cut hair” as a sign of mourning[6] or “careless hair” [7]. William A. Ward took as basis chapter 1131 and affirmed that the expression Hdq s3mt meant “cut the dishevelled hair” and for giving this meaning to s3mt he referred to the Prophecy of Neferty[8].

The text relates how the wise man Neferty tells Pharaoh Snofru (IV Dynasty) about the future (First Intermediate Period), as a chaotic time when all rules (natural and cultural) get reversed. Among all the disasters happening to Egypt (the country will be attacked by Asiatics, the sun will not shine, the Nile will dry, and there will be wars…) Neferty says:

“…nobody will cry for the death,

Nobody will fast during for the death,

A man’s hearth will be concerned just about himself,

Today will[9] not be any s3mt carried out,

Neferty

 

 

The heart will be completely away from it…”

W. Helck translated “…today none will dress hairstyle for death” but M. Lichtheim considered that Neferty was saying that the mourning was not done and for G. Lefrebvre Neferty’s words said “…there will not be mourning ceremonies…”[10] Before that Neferty told how none would cry nor fast for the death, that is, would nobody do the orthodox funerary practices; that means that s3mt could be considered as an Egyptian word for the mourning as a funerary custom. So, for us it makes more sense to translate as: “…today will not be the s3mt carried out…” and it would match perfectly with the chaotic image Neferty is describing.

Group of mourning women. Unfinished painting from the tomb of Userhat in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Group of mourning women. Unfinished painting from the tomb of Userhat in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Thanks to some stelas found in Serapeum we know that during the embalming of Apis there was mourning ceremony called s3mt: “… I was among the miserable, being in moan, being in mourningSerapeum-s3mt[11].

The word s3mt could refer to an spect of the mourner's hair or just to the mourning itself.

The word s3mt could refer to an spect of the mourner’s hair or just to the mourning itself.

Everything points to the Egyptian word s3mt as a funerary custom related to hair and mourning, but nothing indicates that it could refer to a special hairstyle. Would it be maybe the two mourners’ hair manipulated during funerals for the deceased’s benefit?


[1] In the Old Kingdom s3mt is documented  as a personal name (P.Kaplony, 1966, p. 68)

[2] Wb IV, 18, 10.

[3] D. Meeks, 1977-1979, p.306, nº 78.3295.

[4] D. Meeks, 1977-1979, p.304, nº 77.3349. Another way of writing s3mt wass3mt-ojo

[5] R.O. Faulkner, 1962, p. 210.

[6] D. Meeks, 1977-1979, p. 239, nº 79.2409.

[7] D. Meeks, 1977-1979, p. 304, nº 77.3349.

[8] W. Helck, 1970

[9] nn sDm.f implies future.

[10] G. Lefebvre, 1988, pp. 101-102.

[11] W. Jansen, 1994, p. 35; J. Vercoutter, 1962, pp. 37-38.

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