Category Archives: 02. HAIR AND MOURNING WOMEN

Sex in Egyptian Art: the Stele of Sebekaa.


Egyptian art can hide very important information in small pieces.

That is the case of the stele of Sebekaa in British Museum.

Stele of Sebekaa from Thebes. XI Dynasty. Ancient Egypt. British Museum

Stele of Sebekaa from Thebes. XI Dynasty. Photo: British Museum.

This piece of ancient Egyptian art dates from XI Dynasty and it was found in Thebes. In just a space of 70 cm x 60 cm (aprox.) the Egyptian artist could include a number of typical scenes which dominated the corpus of funerary Egyptian art.

Although the whole composition does not have a narrative logic, the greater part of the activities can be identified: butchery, bakery, offerings…

Stele of Sebekaa from Thebes. XI Dynasty. British Museum. Ancient Egypt. On the left a detail of the image of the dead being embraced by a smaller human figure

On the left a detail of the image of the dead being embraced by a smaller human figure.

At the left of the middle register there is an isolated scene, which was not too usual in ancient Egypain art: the dead lies on his bier and he is embraced by a smaller figure. According to the information from the British Museum’s website: The man on the bed is probably the deceased, and the figure on top of him might be one of a variety of goddesses, such as Isis, Nephthys and Nut, who embrace him. Whether there are any sexual connotations in this scene is uncertain”.

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“The Hand to the Mouth”. Suckling the Dead in Ancient Egypt.


Funerary practice in the mastaba of Qar with lector priest, embalmer and mourner Drt; the scene is closed by two images of an ox. V-VI Dynasty. Giza. Ancient Egypt. Image: W.K. Sympson.

Funerary practice in the mastaba of Qar with lector priest, embalmer and mourner Drt; the scene is closed by two images of an ox. V-VI Dynasty. Giza. Image: W.K. Sympson.

The assiduousness of the icon in the icnongraphy of Ancient Eypt of the mother bringing closer her breast with the aid of her hand to her baby’s mouth seems to be plenty of sense in the ancient Egyptian belief related to the new life. For that reason it does not seem too crazy to think that the expression “Djat Ra” (“the hand to the mouth”) from the tomb of Qar was related somehow to the dead’s resurrection. Let’s also remember that this gesture “Djat Ra” was closely related to the Opening of the Mouth ceremony and the resurrection of Qar’s corpse.

how-to-breastfeed-your-babyThat quotidian gesture of bringing the breast to the baby’s mouth is, in fact, a very basic way of opening the baby’s mouth, for allowing him to nurse. The first tip given to mothers at the beginning of the breastfeeding is to open well the baby’s mouth and to point the nipple to the middle part of the baby’s palate.

In the context of Ancient Egypt this idea would fit in the following way:  

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“The Hand in the Mouth”: Nursing the Baby in Ancient Egypt.


Funerary scene in the tomb of Qar. VI Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Funerary scene in the tomb of Qar. VI DynastyPhoto: Hair and Death in Ancient Egypt

The ancient Egyptian expression “Djat Ra“appears in a resurrection scene in the tomb of Qar; according to the inscription the mourner and the embalmer are making the “Djat Ra“. It could be a way of indicating  literally the gesture that both were making.

However, the expression “Djat Ra” also meant “feeding” [Wb V, 514] as the gesture of taking the mouth to the food. It could be related to the funerary offerings, which would grant the food for the dead in the Hereafter. But, it could also refer to gesture of the mother taking her breast to her baby’s mouth for nursing him. In fact the mother approaches her hand to her baby’s mouth for moving her breast closer.

Statuette of nursing woman. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt. Brooklyn Museum

Statuette of nursing woman. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt. Brooklyn Museum

The woman nursing her baby is a very common icon in Egyptian art. We can find many examples in the private sphere of reliefs and statuettes of nursing women.

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Hair was essential in Aztec Mourning like in Ancient Egypt.


Mourning is a extended practice in funerals of many cultures all over the world. Not just in Ancient Egypt, but also in some other African cultures, in the ancient Assyria or in Archaic Greece.

Recently I wrote a short text about mourning in Ancient Egypt for www.mexicolore.co.uk, an on-line platform for the diffusion of Aztec culture. My contribution was just a small text included in an article about the mourning among the Aztecs.

Aztec ritual weeping; Florentine Codex, Book 1.

 Aztec ritual weeping; Florentine Codex, Book 1. Photo: http://www.mexicolore.co.uk

 

American cultures prove, not only that crying for the dead in funerals is a practice inherent to human being, but also that hair is an essential element during the “ritual weeping”.

According to Katherine Ashenburg, Aztecs (central Mexico) had also, as in Ancient Egypt, professional mourners for crying for to dead kings and noblemen and for those who died in war.  Those Aztecs professional mourners did, together with the widows and the children of the deceased ones, a public lament, in which they cried and showed their long and disheveled hair as a proof of their sadness. In addition, during 80 days the widow (s) entered in a period of real dirty, since they could not wash themselves, nor their bodies, nor their hair…After that a ritual washing happened for concluding the mourning.

Native woman from Michoacan

Native woman from Michoacan plaiting her hair.

On the other hand, it is said that native women from Michoacan (in the south of Mexico) plaited her hair for catching in it pain and sadness.

Summing up, also in American cultures women’s hair was a very important element related to the mourning practices, as it was in the ancient Egyptian culture.

 

The Ancient Egyptian Goddess Serket. The Water Scorpion that Helped the Dead Breathe.


Serket from the tomb of Nefertari. XIX Dynasty. Ancient Egypt.

Serket from the tomb of Nefertari. XIX Dynasty. Valley of the Queens. Photo: www.jfbradu.free.fr

It has been always thought that the ancient Egyptian deity Serket was the Scorpion Goddess, whose power was in her stings.

 

Scholars considered that, due to the quality of killing with the poison, Serket was in Ancient Egypt an effective divine protection against poisonous bites.

 

Nowadays it is widely considered that in fact Serket was not a scorpion, but a nepid, that is a water scorpion.
Water scorpion

Water scorpion. Photo: www.geoffpark.wordpress.com

The water scorpion is an insect which lives in the marshes and, whose appearance remembers the one of scorpions. The water scorpion looks like an earth’s scorpion due to the shape of its two forelegs and to a long breathing-tube at the end of the abdomen that looks like a sting.

Although morphologically they seem to be very close, the nepid is a harmless insect, while the scorpion is harmful and in some cases can cause death. The bite of a scorpion produces many damages, among them the asphyxiation; on its behalf the waterscorpion presents a breathing-tube at the end of the abdomen which allows t take air while the animal is under the water. So, Ancient Egyptians could have considered the water scorpion as the positive counterpoint of the lethal scorpion. They would be the both side of the same matter:

Serket. scorpion versus nepid

Serket. scorpion versus nepid

Serket.Hieroglyph. Ancient EgyptOn the other hand, Serket is a name which comes from the verb srk:Serket. Name in Hieroglyps. Ancient Egypt

which means “breathe”, “make breathe” (Wb IV, 201). And Serket is the short version of the name of this goddess. Her complete name was srkt Htw:

Serket. complete name. Ancient Egypt

This ancient Egyptian name meant: “she makes breathe the windpipe”.

Among the faculties the dead (assimilated to Osiris) needed for coming back to his new life, was the breath. According to the belief of ancient Egypt, it was Isis the goddess who blew air to the nostrils of Osiris by beating her wings. And Serket was eventually assimilated to Isis.

Isis as a kite flaps wings and put herself over her husband.  Relief from the temple of Seti I in Abydos.  XIX Dynasty. Photo: www.passion-egyptienne.fr

Isis as a kite flaps wings and put herself over her husband. Relief from the temple of Seti I in Abydos. XIX Dynasty. Photo: http://www.passion-egyptienne.fr

This exposure makes us think of the posibility that ancient Egyptians included Serket in the team for protecting the corpse thanks to her faculty for allowing the breathing.

Why Became the Ancient Egyptian Goddess Neith a Protective of the Dead?


In Ancient Egypt Isis, Nephtys, Neith and Serket formed a team of four goddesses, who protected the caponic jars containing the organs of the dead.

Canopic shrine of Tutankhamun. Serket. Ancient Egypt.

Canopic shrine of Tutankhamun with Serket on the left and Isis on the right. XVIII Dynasty. Cairo Museum. Photo: www.globalegyptianmuseum.org

For that reason Egyptians depicted these four goddesses in the canopic chests and sometimes also in sarcophagi.

We know that the link of Isis and Nephtys with the corpse is related to the Osiris Legend and to their mourning rite for helping him in his final resurrection. But, which attributes did Neith and Serket have for being part of that divine quartet?

In the case of Neith maybe the link would also be related to the Myth of Osiris, and concretely to the incident of the battle between Horus and Seth. This Ancient Egyptian myth tells how Horus had to revenge the death of his father Osiris at the hands of Seth. In the most popular version Horus and Seth battled, with the resulting bloodshed, which ended with the victory of Horus.

Canopic chest of priest of Montu Pady-Imenet. Neith pouring water on Qebehsenuef, the son of Horus who protected the intestines. XXII Dynasty.Luxor Museum. Ancient Egypt.

Canopic chest of priest of Montu Pady-Imenet. Neith pouring water on Qebehsenuef, the son of Horus who protected the intestines. XXII Dynasty. Luxor Museum. Photo: www.ancient-egypt.co.uk

According to another version, a court trial had to resolve the conflict. The gods were assembled in Heliopolis and Horus stated againt Seth. But, due to a lack of information the gods decided to write to Neith, an ancient Egyptian goddess of wisdom, and ask her for advice. The answer of Neith was clear: Seth was an usurper; Horus was Osiris’ legitimate heir, so he had to be in the throne of Egypt.

It seems quite probably that this mythical defence of Osiris and his son Horus caused the introduction of Neith in the funerary thought of Ancient Egypt as a protective goddess of the organs of the dead.

And…what about Serket?

 

Hair in Egyptian Art for Expressing Respect.


Hair became in Ancient Egypt a resource for expressing things.

The bending hair was used in Ancient Egypt art for drawing body movements.

As some movements were related in ancient egyptian belief to some attitudes, hair was also used for expressing those attitudes. We are referring concretly to “respect”.

The gesture of bending the body forwards was utilised by artists of Ancient Egypt for expressing the respect in front of kings and deities. And the hair forwards became a resource of stressing this gesture of veneration.

Papyrus of Ani. The couple in front of the final judgment. XIX Dynasty. British Museum. Ancient Egypt

Papyrus of Ani. The couple in front of the final judgment. XIX Dynasty. Photo: British Museum.

One good example is the Papyrus of Ani (XIX Dynasty) in the Brisith Museum. In it  we can see the couple bended when coming in front of the final judgment. Ani’s wife appears with her hair slightly forwards, this way the Egyptyian artists emphasized her body movement.

Papyrus of Ani. Ani greeting the Ennead. XIX Dynasty. British Museum. Ancient Egypt

Papyrus of Ani. Ani greeting the Ennead. XIX Dynasty. Photo: British Museum.

This was exagerated in the same papyrus when, after passing the judgment, Ani gets into paradise and greets the gods. In this case Ani is represented with a front lock of hair forwards; the artist stressed the meaning of bending the body as a signof respect.

The papyrus of Ramose (XIX Dynasty) in the Fitzwilliam Museum of Cambridge is too damage, but we can guess the same scene as in the former one. Ramose’s body is greeting the gods, while his body is bended and a front black lock of hair can be discerned.

Book of the Dead (Papyrus of Ramose). Ramose seems to show his front lock of hair. Fitzwilliam Museum. Cambridge. Ancient Egypt.

Book of the Dead (Papyrus of Ramose). Ramose seems to show his front lock of hair. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Fitzwilliam Museum. Cambridge.

Although these examples all date from XIX Dyansty, next week we will see that it was not trendy just at that time,

Hair in Egyptian Art for Expressing Dance.


Due to the estrict rules of the Egyptian art, artists in Ancient Egypt needed to find unnatural ways of expressing some movements, especially during the Old and Middle Kingdom. Distorsion and sprain characterises dynamic scenes (dancing, acrobaces, games…) in those periods of Egyptian history.

Dancing scene from mastaba of Mereruka. VI Dynasty. Saqqara. Ancient Egypt

Dancing scene from mastaba of Mereruka. VI Dynasty. Saqqara. Image: http://www.osirisnet.net

musician girls in Rekhmire's tomb. Ancient Egypt

Musician girl playing the long neck lute. Tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo courtesy: Dagmar Krejci.

However, from the New Kingdom dynamism appears in Ancient Egypt decoration in a more natural way. The Egyptian artist gradually tretaed the bodies in movement in a less rigid way. And one of the elements which helped them was the hair. We have already seen, for instance, that hair was a resource for expressing the movement while playing an instrument. However, hair as an artistic resource of Egyptian artist applied to the body language dates not from the New Kingdom, but before. According to the iconography, the mourning gesture of shaking hair forwards was expressed in Ancient Egypt by drawing the mane of hair over the woman’s face. That way, the Egyptian artist represented this body movement. We can imagine that the mourner was not permanent bended, but moving her body and head forwards and backwards.

Detail of the stele of Abkaou in the Louvre Museum. XI Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Detail of the stele of Abkaou in the Louvre Museum. XI Dynasty. Photo: http://www.commons.wikimedia.org

As long as we know, the first example of this artistic resource comes from Middle Kingdom; in the stele of Abkaou (XI Dynasty) and in a fragment of a coffin (XII Dynasty) mourners bend their body and their hair is forward.

Later on, in a rishi coffin from XVII Dynasty, there is a scene of the funerary procession, in which one mourner bends her body and shakes the hair forwards. That way of expressing this mourning gesture will go on in the Ancient Egypt iconography.

Rishi coffin. Right side with the funerary procession. On the left a common mourner shaking hair forwards. XVII-XVIII Dynasty. Thebes. Funerary ceremony in Ancient Egypt.

Rishi coffin. Right side with the funerary procession. On the left a common mourner shaking hair forwards. XVII-XVIII Dynasty. Thebes. Photo: http://www.metmuseum.org

Tomb of the Dancers from Thebes. XVII Dynasty. Ashmolean Museum of Oxford. Ancient Egypt.

Tomb of the Dancers from Thebes. XVII Dynasty. Ashmolean Museum of Art and Achaeology in Oxford. Photo: www.ashmoleanprints.com

The paintings from the “Tomb of the Dancers” date from the XVII Dynasty and we can see in them how in that period of the Egyptian history  artists started to treat the body in movement in a more realistic way, traying to express what that women were doing: jumps, gestures with the shoulders, arms raised…, although their hair are motionless.

In the New Kingdom, Egyptian art takes the technique from the sacred funerary decoration and the hair forwards and/or backwards became a way of drawing more daily gestures. Artist will learn to manipulate hair in a realistic way for expressing the movement of dancing.

Music scene from the tomb of Djeserkaraseneb. XVIII Dynasty. Tempera of Charles. K. Wilkinson. Ancient Egypt.

Music scene from the tomb of Djeserkaraseneb. XVIII Dynasty. Tempera of Charles. K. Wilkinson. Photo: www.metmuseum.org

In the tomb of Dyeserkaraseneb (TT 38), dating from the reign of Tuthmosis IV there is a music scene in which one of the musicians appears with her plaits moving for expressing how she turns he head back. Next to her a dancing girl is slightly bended backwards, whose lateral plaits of hair were drawn following her movement.

Dancing girl. Tomb of Dyeserkaraseneb (TT 38). XVIII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt.

Dancing girl. Tomb of Dyeserkaraseneb (TT 38). XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

 

Dancers and musicians from the tomb of Nebamon (TT 90). XVIII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt.

Dancers and musicians from the tomb of Nebamon (TT 90). XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.commons.wikimedia.org

The famous scene of the dancers from the tomb of Nebamon (TT 90) shows one of the dacing girls with both laterals plaits of hair shaing forwards with her head. In fact, the whole body was treated in such a realistic way that we can imagine her moving herself to the rhythm of the music her fellows are playing.

In that period of Egyptian history the artists learnt how to draw the body movement in a more realistic way manipulating many parts of the human body, included the hair. This last one was a technique taken from the sacred funerary art of Ancient Egypt.

 

Offering the Make-up in Ancient Egypt. Funerary rites get into Egyptian Art.


We usually think that the decoration from the Egyptian tombs does not change in the whole history of Ancient Egypt. But in fact, there are  some images, which appear in some periods and become usual during some time.

Mourner offering make-up in the tomb of Rekhmire. XVIII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt.

Mourner offering the make-up. Detail from the south wall in the tomb of Rekhmire. XVIII Dynasty.

That is the case of a typical Egyptian scene of the professional mourner in some tombs of the New Kingdom: the tomb of Rekhmire (TT 100), the tomb of Sobekhotep (TT 63) or the tomb of Sennefer (TT 96). The mourner appears with no mane of hair kneeling in front of an altar and offering globular vases. According to the inscription in Rekhmire’s tomb, she if offering green make-up for the eyes (Hodel-Hoenes, S., Leben und Tod im Alten Ägypten. Thebanische Privatgräber des Neuen Reiches. Darmstadt, 1991, p. 130).

Offering make-up in the tomb of Sennefer. Ancient Egypt.

Offering make-up in the tomb of Sennefer.It is similar to the scene in the tomb of Rekhmire. Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

We could think that, if the scene appears now it is becuase it refers to something belonging to the Egyptian funerals of the New Kigndom,  but in fact it is not so.

This action happens just after the Opening of the Mouth ceremony; ; a group of Ancient Egypt sacred practices 8And also secret) for giving back the life to the deceased. We have already seen that, according to the documents, it seems that in these ceremony the mourners were shaven just after the official mourning rite. It was the moment of offering the Udjat eye to the mummy and reviving this way the myth of Osiris, in which the god received the Udjat eye as a sign if his final resurrection. And in the rite it happens when the ox (as a sethian victim) has already been sacrificed.

Offering make-up in the tomb of Sennefer. Gourna. Ancient Egypt.

Detailof the offering make-up in the tomb of Sennefer. Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

At the end of Ancient Egypt funerals the dead had to receive the Udjat eye. The funeral staff symbolized it shaving the mourners and giving make-up for the eyes. The fact of presenting make-up is already documented in the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom (Pyr. 54b-55; Pyr. 609) and the Coffin Texts of the Middle Kingdom (CT VII, 934; 936) as a gesture which symbolizes “to fit the eye in the face” (Wb, IV, 370, 12).

In many cases the mourners offered green make-up for the left eye and black make-up for the right one. This was a way of representing the whole lunar cycle, and therefore the victory of Horus over Seth. A belief, which was very rooted to Egyptian though from immemorial times. So, to give the make-up at the end of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony would be much older than the XVIII Dynasty.

For some reason, the practice of offering the make-up could be during the XVIII Dynasty represented. As it happens with some other gestures of funerary rites, the artists of the New Kingdom were more aware than before of what happened during the Egyptian funerals. The secret funerary rites of Ancient Egypt, got into the Egyptian art.

 

 

 

 

 

Shaven Mouners in an Ancient Egypt Funerary Boat.


Ancient Egypt wooden models were frequent during the Middle Kingdom and thanks to them we know much today about everyday life of ancient Egyptians: butchery, bread production, granaries… Among them there were also many dedicated to the funerary boats which Egyptians utilized for transporting the mummy on the Nile to the necropolis.

These funeral barges show the body lying on the bier and being flanked at both ends by the two professional Egyptian mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys and sometimes accompanied by one priest. The attitude of that two women depicted by the artist is quite static and not too much can be deduced from it, except that they accompany the deceased.

wood model of a boat with mummy and mourners. British Museum EA9524. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Wooden model of a funerary boat with the mummy and the two professional mourners. Their scalp is well visible in pink color and with black spots. XII Dynasty. Photo: British Museum.

However, piece EA9524 in the British Museum, dating from the XII Dynasty, represents the funerary boat with the corpse and the two mourning women and both extremes; in this case there is no priest, but a helmsman. And the image of both women gives some interesting information about them.

The two professional Egyptian mourners are not in such a static posture as usual. They appear with their left arms raised and the hand on the head, while the right arms are extended towards the mummy. So, they are not just standing, but making the typical gesture of mourning in Ancient Egypt.

But the most important point in this piece is in the head of those two professional Egyptian mourners. They are not with long hair, and their hair is not covered by a scarf. In both women (and also in the helmsman) the scalp can be seen. Their heads were painted in pink color with small black spots. So, the Egyptian artist indicated that their hair was very short or that their head had just been shaved.

The two Drty (two kites), offering nw vases to the four pools. Relief from the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

The two professional mourners with short hair at the end of the funeral. Relief from the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

That links perfectly with one of our affirmations: the hair of two professional Egyptian mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys was cut and that short hair was a distinctive of the professional mourner in Ancient Egypt. The short hair became a resource for the artists of Ancient Egypt for depicting these two professional mourners and differentiate them from the common mourners.