Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ancient Egyptian Quote of the Week

The sun barque stands still and fares no further,
The sun is still where it was yesterday,
food is shipless, the temples blocked,
sickness there will turn disruption back
to where it was yesterday.
The demon of darkness roams about, time is not divided,
the figures of shadows can no longer be observed.
Springs are blocked, plants wither,
life is taken from the living,
until Horus recovers for his mother Isis,
and my patient also recovers. 

~An excerpt from an Egyptian spell used to heal serpent and scorpion bites as quoted in Jan Assmann's The Search for God in Ancient Egypt

I find this particular text very interesting. First, note that this is a spell that was used by Egyptian physicians who were also priests of the goddess Sahkmet and thus were magicians. Second, instead of asking the gods for an act of healing, the physicians are threatening the gods that they will cause the the sun barque to "run aground on the sandbank of Apophis" if the patient doesn't recover. The quote above describes the results of such an occurrence.

All of this is possible because of the Egyptian concept of the world as "dramatic", meaning the actions of the deities are constantly causing everything that happens and humans are capable of participating in this ongoing cosmic drama. Because everything in the world is being constantly acted out catastrophe of one kind or another is always possible and thus every sunrise is an event to be greeted with joy.

One such catastrophe the Egyptians feared was possibility of the serpent Apophis (or more accurately Apep) overcoming the gods in the sun barque during the period of time at night when Re traveled through the Duat or underworld. If Apophis was able to conquer Re then the sun would not rise again and, as the quote above describes, the world would be thrown into chaos. In fact, the Egyptians believed that Apophis did manage to overcome Re, at least temporarily, every time there was a solar eclipse. The idea of a more permanent solar death was probably one of the worst fates they could imagine.

1 comment:

  1. I love these little glimpses into ancient Egypt. Can't imagine what it must have been like to see an eclipse and not understand what was happening!

    Have a great weekend!


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