Category Archives: 08. REFLECTIONS

The Ancient Egyptian Goddess Serket, a Dead Protector.


Last week we knew that the ancient Egyptian goddess Neith had her reasons for being part of that team of four goddesses-mourners (Isis, Nephtys, Neith and Serket) protecting the dead.

Serket as scorpion. Statue from Late period. Musée du Louvre. Ancient Egypt

Serket as scorpion. Statue from Late period. Musée du Louvre. Photo: www.museumsart.de

Serket was also a very important divinity in the Egyptian pantheon. She had a great healing power and for that reason she was invoked in ancient Egyptian remedies against scorpion bites.  

 

 

In the funerary sphere of Ancient Egypt Serket helps the Egyptian solar god in his daily rebirth. Re, during his journey in the darkness of the night has to fight against his enemy, the serpent Apophis, which is facing the solar bark.

Serket killing Apophis. Detail from the tomb od Seti I. XX Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Serket killing Apophis. Detail from the tomb od Seti I. XX Dynasty. Photo: www.bibelwissenschaft.de

The Egyptian the Book of the Amduat from the New Kingdom tells how in the seventh hour, which takes place in the Cavern of Osiris, the power of Serket becomes a great help for defeating Apophis. This great serpent had drunk all the water and the solar bark juts could move thanks to the magic of Isis (the magic of Isis helped also Anubis in the mummification process of Osiris). So, Apophis was in the solar sphere of Ancient Egypt the image of chaos. And among the gods who helped Re against his enemies, was Serket, whose power helped in capturing Apophis and dismembering his body.

Serket from the tomb of Khaemwaset. Valley of the Queens. XX Dynasty. Ancient Egypt.

Serket from the tomb of Khaemwaset. Valley of the Queens. XX Dynasty. Photo: www.corbisimages.com

But Serket appears also associated to the Myth of Osiris. According to a version of the legend Serket helped Isis and Horus the Child when both had to hide from Seth in the marshes. Maybe for that reason Serket appears already mentioned in the Pyramid Texts of Old Kingdom associated with Isis, Neith and “The Two Harmonious Ones” (Pyr. 308).

However, is this link of the goddes with the protection of the dead, which comes from ancient times, related just to these two things we have mentioned?

Next week we will tackle an aspect of goddess Serket, which could make easier to understand her association with the protection of the corpse.

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?

 

The Beauty of Hair in Ancient Egypt.


Hair has been from ancient times an important element for preserving a good- looking. Recently in the blog Studia Humanitatis it was published a very interesting post about how the concept of a woman’s beauty is closely related to hair.

He mentioned a passage of The Metamorphoses of Lucius Apuleius, in which he falls in love of Fotis and concretly of her hair. The author notices then that hair is the main point of beauty of women for two reasons: 1)  because it is the first thing that men see and that it is shown to them;2) becasue, if the clothes embellish the body, the hair do the same thing with the head. In fact, Apuleius dedicates a big paragraph for exalting the sensuality of a long hair, the gesture of plaiting it, the hair loose… and he says that a bald women could never be attractive. (Lucius Apuleius, The Metamorphoses, II, 8-9).

Woman with mirror. Turin Papyrus. Ancient Egypt

Woman with mirror. Turin Papyrus. Photo: www.gettyimages.es

This thoutgh can also be applied to Ancient Egypt. For Egyptians the appearance was such a important thing, that cosmetic remedies were included in medical texts. For instance the Edwin Smith Papyrus includes prescriptions for renewing the skin and rejuvenating the face (Pap. Edwin Smith, V. 4, 3-8).

Hair was not an exception in Ancient Egypt among beauty cares. Egyptians were concerned, as nowadays, about grey hair and baldness. The Papyrus Ebers shows many remedies against these two problems, always using the natural components they had.

Man with sparse hair. Painting from the tomb of Horemheb. XVIII dynasty. Louvre Museum. Ancient Egypt.

Man with sparse hair. Painting from the tomb of Horemheb. XVIII dynasty. Louvre Museum. Photo: www.lessingimages.com

For growing hair Ancient Egyptians rubbed the scalp with a mixture of tooth of ass with honey, also they rubbed the bald area with a mixture of fat from different animals (lion, hippopotamus, crocodile, cat, snake and goat).

Ostraca from Louvre Museum with men with alopecia. Ancient Egypt

Ostraca from Louvre Museum with men with alopecia. Photo: www.wikipedia.org

Ancient Egyptians fought against accidental alopecia rubbing the affected area with quills of hedgehog warmed with oil or with a mixture of lead and froth of beer.

Finally, against grey hair men and women from Ancient Egypt applied blood of the gabgu bird (an unknown bird mentioned in the Coffin Texts as a dangerous bird) for dyeing the white hair, or horn of deer mixed with warm oil, or womb of cat mixed with egg of gabgu bird and oil. Grey eyebrows could be dissimulated with a mixture of liver of an ass, warm oil and opium.

Obviously we do not know the efficacy of these beauty remedies for the hair, but our question is: if they were important in Ancient Egypt for the livings, were they also for the dead? Did the Egyptians apply these prescriptions to their mummies? Had their mummies be as beautiful as possible for the Afterlife?

Mummy with wig of queen Henuttawy. XXI Dynasty. Cairo Museum. Ancient Egypt

Mummy with wig of queen Henuttawy. XXI Dynasty. Cairo Museum. Photo: www.commons-wikimedia.org

 

 

 

Hair in Egyptian Art for Respect and Reverence in Women.


Egyptian artisans of the New Kingdom used hair in their drawings for expressing body movements (dance, body bow…).

This technique, adopted from the way of drawing the professional mourners, was applied to the masculine figures in a respectful attitude. The front lock of hair forwards helped the Egyptian artist to represent the respectful bow in front of deities.

Later on, we find that this same practice was applied also to some femenine figures.

In the Papyrus of Anhai, which dates from XX Dynasty, the dead women was represented  also bending her body to the goods, but her whole mane of hair is shaken forwards. The gesture remembers the one of the mourners covering their faces with their hair.

Papyrus of Anahi. the dead woman with her hair forwards and bending her body as a sign of respect. XX Dynasty. Ancient Egypt . British Museum.

Papyrus of Anahi. the dead woman with her hair forwards and bending her body as a sign of respect. XX Dynasty. Photo: British Museum.

Obviously we are not facing here a mourning rite. The Egyptian artist took the tachnique from the mourning scenes and this way he could stress the gesture of respect of the dead women in front of the goods.

The point here is to see how this practice of the whole mane of hair forwards is applied in Egyptian art to a female figure. While for the dead men the front lock of hair was enough for stressing the respectful attitude. The idea that comes to our mind is that the hair forwards covering the face was in Egyptian art just a female gesture.

Book of the Dead of Henuttawy. XXI Dynasty. Ancient Egypt. British Museum

Book of the Dead of Henuttawy. XXI Dynasty. Photo: British Museum

The Book of the Dead of Henuttawy dates also from XXI Dynasty and shows Henuttawy adoring the rising sun . In this case the body gesture is not just respect, but reverence. She is completely on earth, kneeling and facing the ground, while many locks of hair are falling in front of her head. Here the Egyptian artist utilised this femenine resource of the disheveled hair falling forwards for stressing the reverential attitude of the woman.

Summin up, Egyptian artists used the hair for representing the mourning gestures of women in funerals. This technique was later also adopted in Egyptian art from the New kingdom to express some quotidian body movements (playing music, dancing, bending) and some attitudes related to them (respect and reverence).

 

 

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.

 

Hair: a Resource in Ancient Egypt Art for Expressing Movement.


XVIII Dynasty tombs located in Luxor are especially rich in small details, some of them escaping easily from our sight, which give much information about Ancient Egypt.

This is the case of an image in the scene of the banquet in the tomb of Rekhmire (I have to express my gratitude to Dagmar Krejci, who called my attention on it).

Banquet in Rekhmire's tomb.Ancient Egypt. Egyptian Art

Banquet in Rekhmire’s tomb in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo

The whole scene shows many women during the Egyptian banquet being assisted by young girls. These servants are pouring drinks, offering floral necklaces and playing music. The Egyptian artist expressed the youth of those girls by means of their hairstyle, made by lateral fine plaits and a thicker back lock.

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.

We want to focus on one girl playing a long neck lute, whose hair covers her face. About this girl Dagmar Krejci and Peter Zamarovsky, from Czech Republic, already wrote something, paying especial attention to the lute she is playing.

What about her hair? Watching carefully, we realize that her hairstyle is the same one as her fellows’, with the lateral plaits and the back lock. However her face is covered by the plaits, while the black stroke in her front seems to be her back lock, which is now onwards. Why?

The answer could be in her gesture. This girls is slightly bended forwards for playing the lute. Maybe the Egyptian artist tried to find a way of expressing this position drawing her hair forwards.

However, some other girls in this same scene appear also bended, in many cases with a real nod, and their hairstyle has no changes. Then, which is the difference with our lute player?

We need to consider two things: 1) the long neck of the lute based on the ground and 2) the fact that she is playing while standing. Maybe for playing with this posture she needed to move and this movement was expressed by the Egyptian artist with the change in her hairstyle. So, she was not just playing, but also moving.

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: www.metmuseum.org

The movement expressed by means of the hair forwards is not new for us. We have seen all over this blog that it was a resource in Egyptian art for depicting the movement of the Egyptian mourners. On the other hand, in Rekhmire’s tomb there are many new artistic solutions for expressing different things: the girl turning her back, the lateral perspective of the shoulders, the body spinning around, the dynamism of some workers…

Man spinning his body around. Tomb of Rekhmire. Ancient Egypt. Egyptian Art

Man spinning his body around. Tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo

Girl turning her back. Tomb of Rekhmire. Ancient Egypt. Egyptian Art

Girl turning her back. Tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo

The XVIII Dynasty was a moment of news in Egyptian art and the young lute player in the tomb of Rekhmire could be a sign of it. The Egyptian artist manipulating her hairstyle, tried to express as real as he could what the young girl was exactly doing: moving herself while playing the lute.

Re and Geb also place Isis and Nephtys at both ends of the Egyptian mummy.


We know that goddess Nut places Isis and Nephtys in some Egyptian coffins of the XII Dynasty. That goddess, as mother of these two mourners, decided to put Isis at the feet and Nephtys at the head of the mummy.

But that was not always like that in the Egyptian belief.

Some other coffins from XII dynasty and also found in Middle Egypt show that some other gods of the Heliopolitan cosmogony were also involved in that decision.

Feet end of inner coffin of Gua from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Feet end of inner coffin of Gua from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Photo: www.britishmuseum.org

The inner coffin of Gua, from el-Bersha, presents inscriptions at both extremes of the box. At the feet end we read “Words said by Geb, I have put Isis at your feet in order she weeps you“. At the head end the hieroglyphs show that again Nut is the responsible of placing Nephtys there.

Head end of the coffin of Nakhti from Asyut. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Head end of the coffin of Nakhti from Asyut. XII Dynasty. Photo: www.cartelfr.louvre.fr

 

 

The coffin of Nakhti from Asyut is different. At the head end of the box we read: “Words said by Ra, I have put Isis at your head in order she weps you and she mourns“.

Feet end of the coffin of Nakhti from Asyut. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Feet end of the coffin of Nakhti from Asyut. XII Dynasty. Photo: www.cartelfr.louvre.fr

At the feet end we read: “Words said by Ra, I have put Nephtys at your feet in order she weps you and she mourns“.

In the coffin of Nakhti we find two things. On one hand Isis is at the head, while Nephtys is at the feet; the opposite of the expected location. On the other hand, the one who decides that location is Ra, the main god of the Heliopolitan cosmogony.

 

 

The coffin of Sebekhetepi from Beni Hassan has no trace of Isis andNephtys at both ends of the box. Instead of that, Sebekhetepi is in front of Anubis and The Great God Lord of the Sky, which is usually an epithet of Re.

These three coffins date from the XII Dynasty and come from Middle Egypt. The information we get from the inscriptions demonstrates that nothing about this subject was still fixed in the period of the Egyptian history.

Some reflections come to my mind:

  • The Egyptian mourning rite for helping in the dad resurrection was still too unknown and also the role of these two women as representatives of Isis and Nephtys. So what they did or where the were was not so clear for Egyptian  artists.
  • The mourning rite had a deep osiriac origin and was not yet well stablished in Egyptian decoration.
  • The mourning rite and its osiriac origin needed the Heliopolitan cosmogony for helping in that stablishment. Maybe Egyptian priests during the Middle Kingdom were atill looking for the way of combining these two traditions in the Egyptian coffins.

Nut places the two mourners in some coffins of the XII Dynasty.


In Ancient Egypt Isis was usually located at the feet extreme of the mummy, while Nephtys were located at the head extreme of it. Although it seems to have a logic based on a mythic legend, we find that this was not the rule all over the Egyptian history.

In previous posts we have seen how during the XI and XIII Dynasties Egyptian coffins show Isis at the head end and Nephtys at the feet end.

However, some coffins dating back on the XII Dynasty (the core Middle Kingdom), show that in that period of the Egyptian history Egyptians started thinking of Nephtys at the head end of the box and Isis at the feet end of it.

Coffin of Senbi from Meir. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Senbi from Meir. XII Dynasty. Cleveland Museum of Art. Photo: www.commons.wikimedia.org

For instance, in the coffin of Senbi from Meir in the Cleveland Museum of Art, the inscription shows that the place of Nephtys was the head extreme of the coffin.

Detail of the head end of the coffin of Senbi. Inscription referring to goddess Nephtys. Meir. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Detail of the head end of the coffin of Senbi. Inscription referring to goddess Nephtys. Meir. XII Dynasty.

Another example is the coffin of lady Senbi from Asyut in the Altes Museum of Berlin, which also shows the head extreme of the box as the place for Nephtys. So, in both cases Isis would be standing at the feet end.

Coffin of Lady Senbi from Asyut. XII Dynasty. Nephtys at the Head. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Lady Senbi from Asyut. According to the hieroglyphs, Nephtys is at the head end. XII Dynasty. Egyptian Museum in Berlin: Photo: www.egyptian-museum-berlin.com

There are some other coffins, whose information is still much more complete. Not only they indicate the place for each goddess, but also inform us about who decided that.

Coffin of Sopi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Musée du Louvre. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Sopi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Musée du Louvre. Photo: www.cartelfr.louvre.fr

The coffin of Sopi, an intendant under the reigns of Sesostris II and III, from el-Bersha and now in the Louvre Museum, has a very rich decoration inside and a more austere one outside. Anyway, in both cases, the inner and outer decorative/textual pattern sends the same information: Isis is at the feet of the mummy. That happens because, according to the inscription,  “Nut has placed Isis at the feet of the corpse.

Coffin of Sepi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Outer head end. Nut places Nephtys at the head. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Sepi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Outer head end. Nut places Nephtys at the head. British Museum. Photo: www.britishmuseum.org

The same case we find in the coffin of the army commander Sepi, also from el-Bersha and in the British Museum. Outside of both extremes the hieroglyphs read how Nut has placed Isis at the feet and Nephtys at the head.

Coffin of Sepi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Inner head end with the name of Nehtys. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Sepi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Inner head end with the name of Nehtys. British Museum. Photo: www.britishmuseum.org

Coffin of Sepi from el Bersha. XII Dynasty. Outer feet end. Nut places Isis at the feet. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Sepi from el Bersha. XII Dynasty. Outer feet end. Nut places Isis at the feet. British Museum. Photo: www.britishmuseum.org

And also in the inner head end of this coffin, we read how the dead is there in front of Nephtys.

 

In these two cases, Isis stands at the feet of the dead and Nephtys at the head, following a decision of the goddess Nut.

Could we conclude something?

Not at all!

Next week we will see that nothing was stablished about this subject in the XII Dynasty.

Some other gods will also decide about tyhe location of Isis and Nephtys at both ends of the mummy.

The two Mourners Isis and Nephtys in the Egyptian Coffins of XIII Dynasty.


We saw on 1st April that during the XI Dynasty hieroglyphs on Egyptian coffins show that Isis was supposed to be at the head of the mummy and Nephtys at the feet. 

Later on, in the XIII Dynasty the tendency was the same one. Inscriptions on Egyptian coffins were also embellished with images. One of the best examples is the coffin of Khnum Nakht from Meir. 

Coffin of Khnum Nakht. Head extreme with image of Isis. On the left the false door with the two udyat eyes indicating the threshold between the earthly world and the Afterlife. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Khnum Nakht from Meir. Head extreme with the image of Isis. On the left the false door with the two udyat eyes indicating the threshold between the earthly world and the Afterlife. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

There is a group of coffin from Thebes (from el-Asasif) dating back to the XIII Dynasty and whose main feature are their black background colour. They also include some figures: at the head end of the panel there is the false door and at both extremes of the coffin the artists draw the images of two goddesses with her raised arms.

Coffin of Ikhet. XIII Dynasty from el-Asasif. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Ikhet from el-Asasif. XIII Dynasty. At the head end there is the false door and at the head extreme a feminine figure stands with raised arms. Photo: www.metmuseum.org

Coffin of Nefnefret. XIII Dynasty from el-Asasif. Isis and Nephtys. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Nefnefret from el-Asasif. XIII Dynasty At both extremes the two feminine images, Photo: www.metmuseum.org

These two women are not always identified, as for instance in the coffin of Ikhet or the one of Nefnefret, but in some cases the hieroglyphs accompanying them says clearly that they are Isis and Nephtys. This is what we can see in the coffin of Entemaemsaf. The woman on the head extreme is goddess Isis and the woman on the feet extreme is goddess Nephtys.

Coffin of Entemaemsaf. XIII Dynasty.Isis at the head and Nephtys at the feet. el-Asasif. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Entemaemsaf. Isis at the head and Nephtys at the feet. XIII Dynasty. El-Asasif. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

Model coffins are not an exception, because Egyptians treated them as authentic coffins. For instance the model coffin of Teti from the Second Intermediate Period is of unknown origin (maybe from Thebes, although it is not for certain), but it follows the feature indicated above. The coffin, with some spells from the Coffin Texts, has a false door in the head end of the right panel and at the head extreme a feminine figure is standing with her raised arms.

Model Coffin of Teti. Second Intermediate Period. Ancient Egypt

Model Coffin of Teti. Second Intermediate Period. British Museum. Photo: www.britishmuseum.org

In Ancient Egypt the decoration of coffins during the XI and XIII Dynasties could include hieroglyphs and images of these two women at both extremes. It seems reasonable to think that they were Isis at the head extreme and Nephtys at the feet extreme.

But, what happened during the XII Dynasty?…

 

The two Mourners Isis and Nephtys in the Egyptian Coffins of XI Dynasty.


In Ancient Egypt iconography Isis and Nephtys appeared at both extremes of the corpse, usually Isis stood at the feet, while Nephtys stood at the head of the mummy. However this position was not always like that. We saw on 18th March how at the Egyptian coffin of Khnum Nakht, dating from the XIII Dynasty and coming from Meir (Middle Egypt) had an excellent manufacture in the decoration but probably with the wrong location of these two goddesses; the inscriptions of the feet extreme of the coffin mention Nephtys, while at the head extreme was the figure of a goddess named as Isis.

Model coffin of Neferu. XI Dynasty. Deir el-Bahari. Ancient Egypt

Model coffin of Neferu. XI Dynasty. Deir el-Bahari. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

Many coffins and model coffins (small model coffins made of wood contained figurines of the deceased and have been used in Ancient Egypt from the Middle Kingdom) from the Second Intermediate Period show the same location for both Isis and Nephtys. But if we look back to the XI Dynasty, we find that also that happened.

The model coffin of Queen Neferu dates from the XI Dynasty and comes from Deir el-Bahari in Thebes. The inscriptions on it show that the extremes of the coffin was already at that time reserved to the two mourners of Osiris, Isis and Nephtys. But, according to the inscription, the place for Nephtys here was the feet end of the box.

Coffin of Child Myt. XI Dynasty. Thebes. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Child Myt. XI Dynasty. Thebes. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

 

This is not the only example of that; the coffin of Child Myt, from Thebes and dated in the XI Dynasty, shows also an inscription at the feet of the box mentioning the goddess Nephtys.

Coffin of Child Myt. XI Dynasty. Detail of Nephtys hieroglyph. From Thebes. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Child Myt. Detail of Nephtys hieroglyph. XI Dynasty. Thebes. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

The coffin of Princess Mayet dates from XI Dynasty and comes also from Thebes. The hieroglyphs in it shows clearly that the head end was the place for Isis, while the feet end was the extreme for Nephtys.

Coffin of Princess Mayet from Thebes. XI Dynasty. At the feet end the name of Nephtys. At the head end the name of Isis. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Princess Mayet. At the feet end (left) the name of Nephtys. At the head end (right) the name of Isis. XI Dynasty. Thebes. Photo: Brooklyn Museum

This location of Isis at the head and Nephtys at the feet in the coffin is also visible in some Theban coffins from XIII Dynasty, as for instance in the coffin of Entemaemsaf, from el-Asasif.

Coffin of Entemaemsaf. XIII Dynasty.Isis at the head and Nephtys at the feet. el-Asasif. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Entemaemsaf. Isis at the head and Nephtys at the feet. XIII Dynasty. El-Asasif. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

 

But it is not the only example…

To be continued.