Photo Essay: British Museum Part 2 The Egyptian Galleries
Dr Bhaskar Dasgupta
The Egyptian Galleries in the British Museum are perhaps one of the most visited galleries. No wonder, the displays are just brilliant. Not surprised that Zahi Hawass, the Head of the Egyptian Antiquities Services goes into a catatonic apoplectic fits at the mere mention of the British Museum.
So what do you see as you enter the gallery? You see perhaps one of the most famous stones in the world. The Rosetta Stone, what allowed us to decipher Egyptian Hieroglyphic writing. It contains three translations of the same script, hieroglyphic, Demotic and classical Greek created in 196 BC, discovered in 1799 in Rossetta. From a libertarian perspective I love it because its one of the oldest examples that a ruler actually revoked taxes. Not that you will know it looking at the current set of governments who believe in a constant growth of their world. Bloodsuckers. Anyway, this is what it says:
In the reign of the new king who was Lord of the diadems, great in glory, the stabilizer of Egypt, but also pious in matters relating to the gods, superior to his adversaries, rectifier of the life of men, Lord of the thirty-year periods like Hephaestus the Great, King like the Sun, the Great King of the Upper and Lower Lands, offspring of the Parent-loving gods, whom Hephaestus has approved, to whom the Sun has given victory, living image of Zeus, Son of the Sun, Ptolemy the ever-living, beloved by Ptah;
In the ninth year, when Aëtus, son of Aëtus, was priest of Alexander and of the Savior gods and the Brother gods and the Benefactor gods and the Parent-loving gods and the god Manifest and Gracious; Pyrrha, the daughter of Philinius, being athlophorus for Bernice Euergetis; Areia, the daughter of Diogenes, being canephorus for Arsinoë Philadelphus; Irene, the daughter of Ptolemy, being priestess of Arsinoë Philopator: on the fourth of the month Xanicus, or according to the Egyptians the eighteenth of Mecheir.
THE DECREE: The high priests and prophets, and those who enter the inner shrine in order to robe the gods, and those who wear the hawk's wing, and the sacred scribes, and all the other priests who have assembled at Memphis before the king, from the various temples throughout the country, for the feast of his receiving the kingdom, even that of Ptolemy the ever-living, beloved by Ptah, the god Manifest and Gracious, which he received from his Father, being assembled in the temple in Memphis this day, declared: Since King Ptolemy, the ever-living, beloved by Ptah, the god Manifest and Gracious, the son of King Ptolemy and Queen Arsinoë, the Parent-loving gods, has done many benefactions to the temples and to those who dwell in them, and also to all those subject to his rule, being from the beginning a god born of a god and a goddess—like Horus, the son of Isis and Osirus, who came to the help of his Father Osirus; being benevolently disposed toward the gods, has concentrated to the temples revenues both of silver and of grain, and has generously undergone many expenses in order to lead Egypt to prosperity and to establish the temples... the gods have rewarded him with health, victory, power, and all other good things, his sovereignty to continue to him and his children forever.
But I am afraid it does not speak to me. Its a dumb stone, nothing very exciting in it personally for me. In this gallery of perhaps 300 odd exhibits, only a few spoke to me but I will give you examples of some that didnt as well. Cant be THAT biased now, can I?
Then we come to my favourite Pharaoh, Ramses II. This is a statue from his funerary temple, but the reason why I like him is because of the poem by Percy Byshe Shelly in 1818.
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said--"Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart....Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
Another statue of the Eagle, head of Horus. Again didnt speak to me, although the legend of Horus does speak to me very loudly, what a fascinating story. This one looks squished from the top and looks fairly overweight. Not fun.
Another very famous inhabitant of the British Museum. Cats were considered sacred in Egypt, many mummified cats have been found in tombs. Bastet was a cat headed Goddess. This statue is bronze with a silver plaque and gold jewellery possibly from Saqqara. Its a very fine piece of work, the lighting is perfect and she looks almost ready to pounce. A temple cat precisely. Very nice.
Here’s Bastet on the right with a pharaoh on the left.
An inner stone sarcophagus which will usually nestle inside an outer sarcophagus shown below.
Damn bureaucrats exist everywhere. This was Ankh Khered Nefer, the great inspector of the Palace. And he commissioned this statue to be placed in temples so that people will pray to him and he will have eternal sustenance. Out of public money. Another blood sucker. humph.
Tables full of hieroglyphics, carvings and runnels carved into the stone used for funerary purposes. I like these tables, you can just imagine standing in front of them, or on the preparation table with the body of the pharaoh lying in state and you extracting the organs, filling the bodily cavities with natron salts, scooping out the useless grey matter in the skull with a scooped instrument via the nostrils. And then preparing the various flowers and other bits and bobs which will be required to accompany the pharaoh in his journey with Ra in the afterlife. Whispering the magical spells over the flowers and ushabti as they lie on the table. I could imagine myself as a high priest faffing around with spells, flowers, spices, implements, cleaning these tables, praying to the Gods. Ok ok. moving on.
This is a limestone bust of Queen Ahmes-Merytamun around 1550 BC wearing the Hathor Wig. She looks a bit dissatisfied as if she had asked for a good chicken dish and somebody brought a pan of beetles. You can just see from her face that she aint a happy bunny.
Now that’s cute. Limestone statue of a man and wife in the Eighteenth Dynasty. I suppose this was the equivalent of the 1970’s era studio photographs where mum and dad would push off to the studio and then the photographer will take the photo of the couple looking very stiff. But here they are looking quite relaxed.
This is a wall fresco, showing a limestone carving with cattle and donkeys. A typical agricultural pastoral scene, the lower panel shows other workers doing other farming work with sheep and threshing.
Now this was so cute, showing Senenmut who is a steward, holding the princess Neferura, daughter of Hatshepsut who was one of the very few female pharaohs. He is the chap who actually architected Hatshepsut’s funerary temple, perhaps one of the most imposing temples in Ancient Egypt. The face of the child is so cute, softly rounded and smiling. Fascinating sculpture. You can just see him sitting for the carving and smiling softly. Very nice.
My eyes fell on the dhoti like clothing on the headless statue on the left, the inscription says that its for Horemheb who became king of Egypt in 1323 BC but the legend at the bottom says that this could well have been made for Tutankhamun himself. Go figure. The figure on the right is the God Amun Ra who appears in the form of the fertility god Min.
Now this statue of Hathor speaks to me. She has such a great little smile, a happy, secretive, small smile for you. And she looks gorgeous. Like what a goddess should look like. Just look at her, she is just inviting you to speak to her, unburden your worries and sorrows, and you can almost feel a ghostly sweet smelling soft hand stroke your head and back and tell you that everything will be just fine. Now that’s a mother for you. Wonderful. And whoever did the restoration seems to have done a good job. The full slide show is here. The next part relates to the Assyrians.