Out of the deeps rises the mysterious lotus. Stop in for refreshment, heka, and reflections from the sacred waters of ancient Egypt.
Di Ankh Djed: Given Life Enduringly
Di ankh djed – given life enduringly. The glyphs jumped out at me on one after another of the tablets, statues and mummy cases we passed in the museum. I was spending a very happy birthday visiting the Egyptian wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After a dozen years of following an Egyptian path I finally began to learn hieroglyphs last spring, having no idea that Red Cross would send my husband in for a long-term assignment in the wake of hurricane Sandy. Our holiday gift to each other was for me to join him in New York City for most of December while he continued to do relief work from the Hell’s Kitchen operation office.
No coffee-table book can prepare you for the beauty of Egyptian art. Those who say they dislike the rigid canon used by the ancients have never stood before the Mona Lisa smile of a pharaoh carved in red granite, holding out his offering of nu pots (nu=water), or the graceful curves of a ram in bas-relief, the shining eyes of painted coffin faces, the silent witness of Wepwawet in limestone, or the vibrant colors of a family boat outing.
But my deepest fascination was with the abundant rows and columns of medu neter, the hieroglyphic “words of the gods.” The more I get to know the sacred writing, the more I feel its magic, its ability to convey deep and layered meaning in symbol. Egyptians were not spare in their use of written magic; with it they covered the borders of monuments, the insides of coffins, the back sides of scarabs – everything, it seems, deemed important and meant to last.
My six-hour stroll through the galleries surveyed nearly 4,000 years of visual history. For centuries the monuments were silent, during the time that hieroglyphics became a forgotten pagan language. We are fortunate to live in a time when their meaning (most of it, at least) has been recovered by scholars. Like the inscription commonly found alongside a pharaoh, we, too, are “given life enduringly.” The glyphs are more than translated speech. They embody spiritual ideas which still give us life all these centuries later. From time to time in this column we will return to the heka, the magic, of the words of the gods.
Please login first in order for you to submit comments