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Tag: Atum

Eco: The Egyptian Alphabet, 2

ngcs.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de

Stephan Michelspacher, Cabala, Spiegel der Kunst und Natur in Alchymia, (Cabala, the Mirror of Art and Nature in Alchemy), Augsburg, 1615. Also hosted courtesy of the Bayerische Staats Bibliothek. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

“Now we can understand what Horapollo sought to reveal. He wished to preserve and transmit a semiotic tradition whose key was, by now, entirely lost. He still managed to grasp certain features at either the phonetic or the ideographic level, yet much of his information was confused or scrambled in the course of transmission.

Often he gives, as the canonical solution, a reading elaborated only by a certain group of scribes during a certain, limited period.

Yoyotte (1955: 87) shows that when Horapollo asserts that Egyptians depicted the father with the ideogram for the scarab beetle, he almost certainly had in mind that, in the Late Period, certain scribes had begun to substitute the scarab for the usual sign for t to represent the sound it (“father”), since, according to a private cryptography developed during the eighteenth dynasty, a scarab stood for t in the name Atum.

Horapollo opened his text by saying that the Egyptians represented eternity with the images of the sun and the moon. Contemporary Egyptologists debate whether, in this explanation, he was thinking of two ideograms used in the Late Period which could be read phonetically as, respectively, r’nb (“all the days”) and r tr.wì (“night and day” that is, “always”); or whether Horapollo was thinking instead of Alexandrine bas reliefs where the two ideograms, appearing together, already signify “eternity” (in which case they would not be an Egyptian symbol, but one derived from Asian, even Hebraic sources).

In other places, Horapollo seems to have misunderstood the voices of tradition. He says, for instance, that the sign to indicate a word is depicted by a tongue and a blood shot eye. There exists a verbal root mdw (“to speak”) in whose ideogram there appears a club, as well as the word dd (“to say”) in whose ideogram appears a snake.

It is possible that either Horapollo or his source has erroneously taken either the club or the snake or both as representing a tongue. He then says that the course of the sun during the winter solstice is represented by two feet stopped together.

In fact, Egyptologists only know a sign representing two legs in motion, which supports the sense “movement” when accompanying signs meaning “to stop,” “to cease activity” or “to interrupt a voyage.” The idea that two stopped feet stand for the course of the sun seems merely to be a whim of Horapollo.

Horapollo says that Egypt is denoted by a burning thurible with a heart over it. Egyptologists have discovered in a royal epithet two signs that indicate a burning heart, but these two signs seem never to have been used to denote Egypt.

It does emerge, however, that (for a Father of the church such as Cyril of Alexandria) a brazier surmounted by a heart expressed anger (cf. Van der Walle and Vergot 1943).

This last detail may be an important clue. The second part of Hieroglyphica is probably the work of the Greek translator, Philippos. It is in this part that a number of clear references appear to the late Hellenistic tradition of the Phisiologus and other bestiaries, herbariums and lapidaries that derive from it.

This is a tradition whose roots lie not only in ancient Egypt, but in the ancient traditions throughout Asia, as well as in the Greek and Latin world.

We can look for this in the case of the stork. When the Hieroglyphica reaches the stork, it recites:

“How [do you represent] he who loves the father.

If they wish to denote he who loves the father, they depict a stork. In fact, this beast, nourished by its parents, never separates itself from them, but remains with them until their old age, repaying them with piety and deference.”

In fact, in the Egyptian alphabet, there is an animal like a stork which, for phonetic reasons, stands for “son.” Yet in I, 85, Horapollo gives this same gloss for the hoopoe. This is, at least, an indication that the text has been assembled syncretistically from a variety of sources.

The hoopoe is also mentioned in the Phisiologus, as well as in a number of classical authors, such as Aristophanes and Aristotle, and patristic authors such as St. Basil. But let us concentrate for a moment on the stork.

The Hieroglyphica was certainly one of the sources for the Emblemata of Andrea Alciati in 1531. Thus, it is not surprising to find here a reference to the stork, who, as the text explains, nourishes its offspring by bringing them pleasing gifts, while bearing on its shoulders the worn-out bodies of its parents, offering them food from its own mouth.

The image that accompanies this description in the 1531 edition is of a bird which flies bearing another on its back. In subsequent editions, such as the one from 1621, for this is substituted the image of a bird that flies with a worm in its beak for its offspring, waiting open-mouthed in the nest.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 149-51.

The Legend of Ra and Isis

This version of the Legend of Ra and Isis is from the classic by E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Papyrus of Ani, 1895. pg. xc-xci.

I have edited the version with paragraph breaks to ease readability, and inserted sparing editorial notes. Care has been taken to preserve Budge’s precise translation, using capital G’s for the word “God” and lowercase g’s for the words “gods” and “goddesses.”

Source text can be found at the following URL:

http://www.sacred-texts.com/

“Now Isis was a woman who possessed words of power; her heart was wearied with the millions of men, and she chose the millions of the gods, but she esteemed more highly the millions of the khu’s. And she meditated in her heart, saying “Cannot I by means of the sacred name of God make myself mistress of the earth and become a goddess like unto “Ra in heaven and upon earth?”

The Legend continues,

“Now, behold, each day Ra entered at the head of his holy mariners and established himself upon the throne of the two horizons. The holy one had grown old, he dribbled at the mouth, his spittle fell upon the dirt, and his slobbering dropped upon the ground.”

“And Isis kneaded it with earth in her hand, and formed thereof a sacred serpent in the form of a spear; she set it not upright before her face, but let it lie upon the ground in the path whereby the great god went forth, according to his heart’s desire, into his double kingdom.

(So Isis set him up to be ambushed by her serpent, which included the spittle of Ra.)

“Now the holy god arose, and the gods who followed him as though he were Pharaoh went with him; and he came forth according to his daily wont; and the sacred serpent bit him.”

After Ra was bit:

“The flame of life departed from him, and he who dwelt among the cedars (Budge inserts a ? here) was overcome.

Budge continues:

“The holy god opened his mouth, and the cry of his majesty reached unto heaven. His company of gods said, “What hath happened?” and his gods exclaimed, “What is it?”

But Ra could not answer, for his jaws trembled and all his members quaked; the poison spread quickly through his flesh just as the Nile invadeth all his land.”

“When the great god had stablished his heart, he cried unto those who were in his train, saying, “Come unto me, O ye who have come into being from my body, ye gods who have come forth from me, make ye known unto Khepera that a dire calamity had fallen upon me.”

Ra continues,

“My heart perceiveth it, but my eyes see it not; my hand hath not caused it, nor do I know who had done this unto me. Never have I felt such pain, neither can sickness cause more woe than this.”

“I am a prince, the son of a prince, a sacred essence which hath proceeded from God. (Note: Budge has a capital G God, not god).

“I am a great one, the son of a great one, and my father planned my name; I have multitudes of names and multitudes of forms, and my existence is in every god.”

“I have been proclaimed by the heralds Tmu (Atum) and Horus, and my father and my mother uttered my name; but it hath been hidden within me by him that begat me, who would not that the words of power of any seer should have dominion over me.”

“I came forth to look upon that which I had made, I was passing through the world that I created, when lo! something stung me, but what I know not.”

“Is it fire? Is it water? My heart is on fire, my flesh quaketh, and trembling hath seized all my limbs.”

“Let there be brought unto me the children of the gods with healing words and with lips that know, and with power which reacheth unto heaven.”

“The children of every god came unto him in tears, Isis came with her healing words and with her mouth full of the breath of life, with her enchantments which destroy sickness, and with her words of power which make the dead to live.”

“And she spake, saying, “What hath come to pass, O holy father? What hath happened? A serpent hath bitten thee, and a thing which though hast created hath lifted up his head against thee.”

“Verily it shall be cast forth by my healing words of power, and I will drive it away from before the sight of thy sunbeams.”

Ra replied,

“The holy god opened his mouth and said, “I was passing along my path, and I was going through the two regions of my lands according to my heart’s desire, to see that which I had created, when lo! I was bitten by a serpent which I saw not. Is it fire? Is it water? I am colder than water, I am hotter than fire. All my flesh sweateth, I quake, my eye hath no strength, I cannot see the sky, and the sweat rusheth to my face even as in the time of summer.”

“Then said Isis unto Ra, “O tell me thy name, holy father, for whosoever shall be delivered by thy name shall live.”

[And Ra said], “I have made the heavens and the earth, I have ordered the mountains, I have created all that is above them, I have made the water, I have made to come into being the great and wide sea, I have made the “Bull of his mother,” from who spring the delights of love.”

Ra continues:

“I have made the heavens, I have stretched out the two horizons like a curtain, and I have placed the soul of the gods within them.”

“I am he who, if he openeth his eyes, doth make the light, and, if he closeth them, darkness cometh into being. At his command the Nile riseth, and the gods know not his name.”

“I have made the hours, I have created the days, I bring forward the festivals of the year, I create the Nile-flood. I make the fire of life, and I provide food in the houses. I am Khepera in the morning. I am Ra at noon, and I am Tmu (Atum) at evening.”

“Meanwhile the poison was not taken away from his body, but it pierced deeper, and the great god could no longer walk.

“Then said Isis unto Ra, “What thou has said is not thy name. O tell it unto me, and the poison shall depart; for he shall live whose name shall be revealed.”

Now the poison burned like fire, and it was fiercer than the flame and the furnace, and the majesty of god said, “I consent that Isis shall search into me, and that my name shall pass from me into her.”

“Then the god hid himself from the gods, and his place in the boat of millions of years was empty.

“And when the time arrived for the heart of Ra to come forth, Isis spake unto her son Horus, saying, “The god hath bound himself by an oath to deliver up his two eyes” (i.e., the sun and the moon).

“Thus was the name of the great god taken from him, and Isis, the lady of enchantments, said, “Depart, poison, go forth from Ra. O eye of Horus, go forth from the god, and shine outside his mouth. It is I who work, it is I who make to fall down upon the earth the vanquished poison; for the name of the great god hath been taken away from him.”

“May Ra live!”

“These are the words of Isis, the great goddess, the queen of the gods, who knew Ra by his own name.”

Budge concludes: “Thus we see that even to the great god Ra were attributed all the weakness and frailty of mortal man; and that “gods” and “goddesses” were classed with beasts and reptiles, which could die and perish.”

“As a result, it seems that the word “God” should be reserved to express the name of the Creator of the Universe, and that neteru, usually rendered “gods,” should be translated by some other word, but what that word should be is almost impossible to say.”

Legend of Ra and Isis from E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Papyrus of Ani, 1895. pg. xc-xci.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/

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