The iconography in Ancient Egypt was not gratuitous. Every image had a reason to be, but also every space.
From the Old Kingdom the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephthys were accompanying the dead until the tomb at both ends of the mummy. The hieroglyphs of the wooden coffins from the Middle Kingdom tell how Isis was located at the feet and Nephthys at the head. This position could be due to a will of reproducing the moment of the rebirth of the deceased.
Later on the art of Ancient Egypt found in the coffin a new surface for including several icons, as the two professional mourners. From the XXI Dynasty became common to include these two female figures upside down in the in the external feet surface of the lid of the anthropoid coffin.
The inner part of the coffin offered also the artists of ancient Egypt a great surface for the sacred iconography. So, what was outside could also be drawn inside. At that point is emblematic the outer coffin of Nesykhonsu (XXI-XXII Dynasty), in whose interior…
Continue reading in www.mariarosavaldesogo.com
In Ancient Egypt the Legend of Osiris was so important that it was integrated into the solar theology. As a result Isis and Nephthys, the two mourners of Osiris, became an essential part of some solar iconography, so both from the New Kingdom were depicted flanking the solar disk in its daily rebirth.
Book of the Dead of Nespakashuty. XXI Dynasty. Photo: www.louvre.fr
It also had an effect in the holy conception of geography in Ancient Egypt. If the rising sun occupied the east and the sunset the west, the two mourning goddesses had to be also located somewhere, so they had to have also a geographical assignation: north and south. At that point the titles of the two goddesses are quite explicit. In Ancient Egypt, Isis was “The One of the South” and Nephthys “The One of the North”.
Cartonnages in Ancient Egypt were used over the wrapped mummy mainly for mummy masks and some important parts of the body.
The cartonnage of Irtirutja in the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York dates from the Ptolemaic period. In it one can see how the artist of Ancient Egypt dedicated this technique for covering some special parts of the mummy.
The fact of choosing those parts of the anatomy could reveal an intention of including the essential elements in the belief of Ancient Egypt for the dead’s resurrection.
Obviously the mummy mask was obligated, since, among the many faculties the dead had to recover, there were the faculties of seeing and breathing.
The feet of the mummy were covered with two images of Anubis. It seems as if they were inverted, but they are actually dressed to the deceased’s eyesight.
Two images of the scarab with the solar disk were also a grant of the mummy’s rebirth. In Ancient Egypt, the Osiriac resurrection and the solar rebirth were united, in the iconography and in the religious texts.
Image of Nephthys mourning in the mummy of Irtirutja. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.
The four sons of Horus (two at each side of the body) were also included in the composition, They were a personification of the canopic jars, which contained the dead’s viscera, so they accompanied always the deceased.
Finally, the ancient Egyptian artist could not omit two of the most important figures in the dead’s resurrection: Isis and Nephthys, the two professional mourners, who making a mourning ritual gave the faculties back to the mummy…
In the last post it was considered the role of Nephthys in the religion of Ancient Egypt. It is a fact that Nephtys was a very important goddess in the ancient Egyptian pantheon. Isis needed her help for granting the resurrection of Osiris; they both Isis and Nephthys formed a perfect team. But it is also a fact that Nephthys in some cases seemed not to be indispensable.
Isis was the real one who stimulated the virility of Osiris.
Isis was the mother of Horus, so Isis was the one who could give a legitimate heir to the throne of Ancient Egypt. Nephtys was also important in that birth, since she was present during this childbirth. So Nephthys assisted her sister Isis.
Isis nursing Horus. Louvre Museum. Photo: wikipedia
The common icon in Ancient Egypt for maternity was the woman nursing her baby, applied by the artist of Ancient Egypt in private and royal art. It is very common the image of a mother suckling his baby in statues and reliefs from private tombs. We find also regular in royal monuments to find reliefs of Hathor or Sekhmet nursing the king; but the image of maternity par excellence in Ancient Egypt for maternity was Isis nursing Horus.
Nephthys was not a mother, but the wet nurse. According to the Pyramid Texts (Pyr. 365) she suckled the king, Horus on earth. So, as in the case of the chilbirth, Nephthys assisted her sister Isis.
Among the Ancient Egypt gods, Isis and Nephtys occupied a very important role.
All along our work we have been writing about those two women, who were essential in the funerary ceremony of Ancient Egypt, but what do we really know about them?
Two different ways of representing Isis and Nephtys assisting the deceased: as the two kites (tomb of Sennedjem) and as women (tomb of Nakhtamon). XIX Dynasty. Photos: http://www.osirisnet.net
Ancient Egyptian art shows the two professional mourners always at both ends of the corpse in the cortege to the tomb; they are identified as Isis and Nephtys or as “kites” (according to the legend of Osiris Isis adopted the shape of a kite for giving him back the breath and his virility), but the inscriptions do not clarify much more about them.
There is an important ancient Egypt document, which could help us in understanding better the requirements of these two representatives of Isis and Nephtys for “working” as official mourners in ancient Egyptian funerals: The Songs of Isis and Nephtys (Brisith Museum Papyrus No. 10188)…
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. 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?
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.
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 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.