Tag Archives: mourners

The two Mourners in the funerary Mask of Artemidora.


We have already seen that Artemidora selected images of Isis, Nephthys, the two mourners, and Osiris at their feet and at both sides od her corpse. In both cases, the decoration was very concise and minimalist, but highly effective.

Coffin of Artemidora from Meir (AD 90-100). Isis and Nephthys are a constant in the iconography. Photo: metmuseum.org

The funerary mask of Artemidora was the most decorated element of the whole set. In contrast to the body art the head appears as the selected support for a more complete composition. We can even distinguish an upper and lower register with their corresponding scenes.

Upper register.

he first thing that attracts attention is the background color: black.

Over this background at each end (left and right) appear a mourning woman. Both present interesting features:

  • Unidentified (no name and no symbol)
  • Kneeling.
  • Half mane (or short hair) and a tape around the forehead.
  • Half naked. They are just wearing a simple skirt.

Funerary Mask of Artemidora. Right side with one of the mourners. Photo: metmuseum.org

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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.

 

Three Dimensions of the Ancient Egypt Mourning Rite in a Rishi Coffin.


The distribution of images is clue in Ancient Egypt decoration. Depending on how the scene is ordered and where it is located it has a sense or not.  We have seen how mourning women took up different spaces in a rishi coffin, indicating so two different dimensions onwards the deceased’s resurrection.

Rishi coffin of Lady Rini from Thebes. The whole lid is covered by feathers. XVII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Rishi coffin of Lady Rini from Thebes. The whole lid is covered by feathers. XVII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

But there is still a third one: the top of lid. On the exterior of the lid a pair of big wings wrap the whole body[1], these ones are usually identified with the wings of Isis. What is the sense of these feathers?

At the end of the XVII Dynasty the feathers on a rishi coffin symbolizing the Isis’ wings would be a way of remembering the image of this goddess over the corpse of Osiris.

Isis as a kite is over the body of the dead. Statuette of prince Tutmosis, son of Amenhotep III. XVIII Dynasty. Altes Musuem (Berlin). Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Isis as a kite is over the body of the dead. Statuette of prince Tutmosis, son of Amenhotep III. XVIII Dynasty. Altes Musuem (Berlin). Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

In the Egyptian myth of Osiris, Isis, the mourning wife, put herself as a kite over the mummy of her husband for giving him back his breath and his virility. So, we would be facing the highest level outside the coffin as the divine sphere.

coffin of Ahhotep Tanodjmu. Nut outside the lid of the coffin. Early XVIII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Ahhotep Tanodjmu. Nut outside the lid of the coffin. Early XVIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

But due that in the Egyptian belief the upper part of the lid is the divine sphere, this surface accepted another goddess: Nut. At the beginning of the XVIII Dynasty some of the anthropoid coffins changed the feather by an image of Nut, as we can see in the coffin of Ahhotep Tanodjmu. In it an extended image of Nut appears covering the upper part of the lid.

We know that in Ancient Egypt cosmogony Nut was the mother of Osiris and that in the mourning ritual the nwn gesture of shaking hair forwards was a way of evoking this goddess and giving the deceased back to his birth. The mummy came back to his mother’s womb and was a new-born.

So between the end of the XVII and the beginning of the XVIII dynasties, the anthropoid coffins in Thebes had three dimensions:

  1. The coffin base was the earthly dimension, where the common mourners on earth shook their hair, remembering what happened on Earth for the deceased’s resurrection.
  2. The threshold of the divine dimension was at the feet of the lid, where the two professional mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys did their mourning rites for bringing the dead back to life.
  3. The upper part of the lid was the pure divine sphere, where the goddesses Isis and Nut had their place as wife and mother of Osiris and performed according to the myth.

DIMENSION IN A RISHI COFFIN. ANCIENT EGYPT

 

To be continued…


[1] In fact this is why these coffins are known as rishi coffins, from the Arabic word for “feather”.

Hair, Mourners and Opening of the Mouth in Ancient Egypt.


We have seen throughout this work that the mourners’ hair (locks, mane, dishevelled, plaits) played a very important role in the funerary ceremony of ancient Egypt. We have also seen that sometimes those different aspects of the hair had just a symbolic meaning from a resurrection point of view (as for instance the two ringlets wprty). We also know now that there were two types of mourners: those ones being in a group in the procession accompanying the corpse and the two women impersonating Isis and Nephtys and in charge of the deceased’s rebirth.

The two priests and one mourner (the wife according to the inscription) in the Opening of the Mouth of Roy. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

The two priests and one mourner (the wife according to the inscription) in the Opening of the Mouth of Roy. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

According to the sources the hair of these two mourning women was important from many points of view: symbolic, mythic and ritual. From the Egyptian iconography and texts we can discern a mourning rite in which the two women made a gesture with their hair or lock of hair over the mummy with a regenerating goal, and we can also guess a practice of shaving or cutting hair to the two mourners that happened in some moment at the end of the funerals when the deceased’s rebirth was a fact.

After the embalming of the corpse, the cortège walked to the necropolis, once there took place the main Egyptian rite for the benefit of the dead: the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, which consisted in a group of gestures for transmitting vitality to the mummy (this way the deceased recovered the ability of breathing, seeing, hearing…), and the two representatives of Isis and Nephtys took part in that process. Many sources reflect this ritual, but usually they are not too explicit. It is mostly represented in a shorten way, with the lector priest and/or the sem priest holding the utensils used for the ritual (mainly the adze and the stone vessels) and officiating on the mummy, meanwhile two mourners or sometimes just one, cry close to the dead. In some cases the scene has a more divine nuance and the one officiating is Anubis, while Isis and Nephtys stay at both extremes of the corpse.

Anubis, Isis and Nephtys in the Opening of the Mouth rite. Painting from the tomb of Nakhtamon in Deir el-Medina. XIX Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

Anubis, Isis and Nephtys in the Opening of the Mouth rite. Painting from the tomb of Nakhtamon in Deir el-Medina. XIX Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

The most explicit document about the Opening of the Mouth ceremony that ancient Egyptians have left to us is the representation in the south wall on the tomb of Rekhmire. In a composition of fifty three scenes the artist showed the rite step by step.

Opening of the Mouth ceremony from the tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Image: www.digitalegypt.ucl.uk

Opening of the Mouth ceremony from the tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Image: http://www.digitalegypt.ucl.uk

The broad outline which Rekhmire offers would be:

1. The mummy or deceased’s statue (as it is the case in Rekhmire’s tomb) is put on a mound symbolising the primeval hill.
2. The mummy/statue is purified with water, natron and incense.
3. The sem priest transmits the vital energy rememorizing the ancient Egyptian tradition of the sacrifice and rebirth of the tekenu. The sem priest imitated the ancient victim curled up and wrapped in a clothing, he came up from it and had a small dialogue with the lector priest:

Sem priest: “I saved the eye from his mouth, I healed his leg”

Lector priest: “I have placed your eye, through which you revive”[1].

4. The sem priest makes the first gestures of Opening the Mouth with the little finger.
5. The mesentiu (labourers) work on the statue (polishing and carving) as a creational gesture[2].
6. Sacrifice of the ox of Upper Egypt for restoring the vitality of the deceased. The sem priest offers the animal’s heart and foreleg to the mummy/statue. One of the mourners (the big Dyeret) is present:

Sem priest: “to stretch the arms towards the bull ng of Upper Egypt”

Slaughterer: “get up over him, cut its foreleg and remove its heart”

The big Drt says at his ear: “Your lips have done that against you. Will your mouth open?”

Sacrifice of the ox with the presence of the mourner. Painting from the tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Sacrifice of the ox with the presence of the mourner. Painting from the tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

This part of the ceremony is very important for us, not just because of the presence of one of the mourners, but also because it seems to remind the conflict between Horus and Seth. According to J. C. Goyon the sequence would stage when these two gods fought and Isis became a kite, landed on a tree and cried to Seth, who denounced unconsciously his crime: “Cry over you. Your own mouth has said it. Your ability has judged you. What else?[3]

The idea is the same one as in the tekenu ceremony we have seen in the tomb of Mentuherkhepeshef: killing a victim and offering the foreleg and the heart… but what about the hair?

Funerary scene of the tomb of Montuherkhepeshef in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty.

Funerary scene of the tomb of Montuherkhepeshef in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty.

Maybe we should relate the lock of hair of the tomb of Mentuherkhepeshef with the presence of the mourner in the tomb of Rekhmire; and think that a mourner’s piece of hair was cut and offered join with the foreleg and the heart.

7. After the sacrifice the sem priest makes more gestures of opening the mouth to the mummy/statue with the utensils, and in one case with the ox’s foreleg. The finality was to keep in touch the whole of the head with those magical tools (the nTrt adze and the wr-HkAw).
8. The mummy/statue is given to the rpat, who represented the heir[4], and the mesentiu work again on it.
9. New gestures of opening the mouth to the deceased are made. After that, there is an offer of 3bt stones[5].
10. Sacrifice of the ox of Lower Egypt. Here again we have the presence of one mourner, the small Dyeret, and once more the animal’s foreleg and heart are offered to the dead one.
11. After the sacrifice the priest opens again ritually the deceased’s mouth.
12. Funerary offerings and the final resurrection is a fact (the sem priest pays his respects to the new soul who lives in the Hereafter).

According to Rekhmire’s tomb, the two mourners impersonating Isis and Nephtys took part in the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. TTA4 and TT53 have both scenes of sacrifice of an ox with the presence of one mourner. But it is also true that in some other cases there is no trace of mourning women in this rite, as we can see in the tomb of Menna[6]

Opening of the Mouth ceremony from the tomb of Menna in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

Opening of the Mouth ceremony from the tomb of Menna in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

Anyway, sources proof that the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys made an important role in that ritual for the deceased’s resurrection. They were members of the group of personalities who took care of the rebirth of the corpse and who reproduced the myth of Osiris.

The Opening of the Mouth ceremony was a group of practices for giving the life back to the deceased assimilated to Osiris. The priests and the two mourners recreated the chapter of the legend where Horus avenges his father’s death at the hands of Seth. In the rite it is the moment of the animal sacrifice, the ox, as scapegoat, with the presence of the sem priest, the slaughterer and the two mourners. The animal’s foreleg and heart are offered to the dead one, but also a piece/lock of hair. At this point we must remember chapter 667 of the Coffin Texts, where the healing of the hair sm3 happens at the same time of the offering of the foreleg and the giving of breath. And the final resurrection happens when the lunar eye is reconstituted and offered as Udjat eye to the deceased. E. Otto assimilated the lunar eye with the foreleg and/or the heart of the animal victim[7]; for others the moon can also be a knife, a leg or a lock of hair[8].

Carrying the leg and the heart for the deceased. Painting from the tomb of Menna in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

Carrying the leg and the heart for the deceased. Painting from the tomb of Menna in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

Throughout this work we have seen the relationship in Egyptian belief between the hair and the lunar eye and how there is a clear coincidence between cutting mourner’s hair (cutting the s3mt or shaving the mourners) and giving the Udjat eye to the dead one. It is also interesting to notice the use in the Opening of the Mouth ceremony of the flint knife peseshkef, considered by scholars as a very ancient tool for cutting the umbilical cord.

Knife peseshkef made of flint and coming from a tomb in Giza. VI Dynasty. Kunsthistorisches Museum of Wien. Photo: www.globalegyptianmuseum.org)

Knife peseshkef made of flint and coming from a tomb in Giza. VI Dynasty. Kunsthistorisches Museum of Wien. Photo: http://www.globalegyptianmuseum.org

The sacrifice of the ox represented the victory of Horus over Seth, it was also the moment of restoring the Udjat eye and, according to the funerary texts, shaving the mourners and/or cutting the s3mt. And New Kingdom iconography shows the mourners taking part in the Opening of Mouth ceremony and with no mane of hair after the rite.

But, do we really know why were these two women there, what did they really do or why their presence during the Opening of the Mouth is not so evident in iconography?


[1] E.Otto, 1960, p. 71.

[2] This step would be made when the ceremony was made on a statue. In ancient Egypt the sculptor was called sankh, which meant “to make live”.

[3] J.C.Goyon, 1972, p. 121.

[4] It means “prince” (Wb II, 415, 15).

[5] Some scholars consider they symbolize the milk teeth.

[6] TT69

[7] E. Otto, 1950, p. 171.

[8] Ph. Derchain, 1962, p.20.

HAIR AND DEATH IN ANCIENT EGYPT


In 2005 I published my book about Hair in Funerary Context in Ancient Egypt, which was my doctorate research. With the help of Nadine Guilhou from Université Paul Valéry (Montpellier) I came to important conclusions that helped to know much better some funerary rites in Ancient Egypt.  But, mainly, I noticed the importance of mourning women, whose presence was crucial for the dead’s resurrection.

Mourning women, one of them on the ground pulling her hair. Relief from the tomb of Mereruka in Saqqara. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

It was published in Spanish and my intention was to translate it into English or French for the international community.

Thanks to the new technologies, now we can share knowledge in an easy and quick way, so I have thought to use them  to transmit that content to everyone who could be interested.

I hope you enjoy.

María Rosa Valdesogo Martín