Egypt
Medu netcher

Egypt Timeline
   The picture below is a photograph of what you might call an Egyptian map of the universe, or at least one-half of it: the journey of the sun through the Underworld. The painting shows the journey of Re, the sun-god, travelling through the Underworld in his solar barque, a journey he undertakes every night. The bottom of the painting shows a barque filled with several gods of the Egyptian pantheon (outside of Ra and Osiris, these gods are difficult to identify for they have no distinguishing marks); on either side of these deities are the souls of royal dead in one case praising and in the other case worshipping these gods. This painting graces the walls of the tomb of Sennedjem (Seti I), who ruled in the Nineteenth Dynasty during the New Kingdom (see the Egyptian Timeline). We have discussed in class the rudiments of the world view contained in this Egyptian depiction of the cosmos as well as the general feel of Egyptian hieroglyphics. This hieroglyphic mode of writing, medu netcher ("the words of the gods"), as the Egyptians called it, is fundamentally more than writing, more than some secret code where picture x equals word y. Hieroglyphics betray the fundamental view among Egyptians that the entire world was a symbolic speech act of the gods; everything had symbolic meaning as well as a defined and logical relation to all the other symbols the gods peopled the earth with.


   To get a feel for this world view and an idea as to how to read or look at Egyptian art, the picture of the Egyptian Underworld below is an image map. The central elements of the picture contain links to discussions of the cultural or symbolic value of that picture element. You should move around in the picture and browse these meanings; when you've had enough, try to assemble the meaning of the picture into some coherent whole, in other words, try to put these meanings together and tell the class something sophisticated about the Egyptian world view. Now that you understand some of the symbols, what do you think the "meaning" of this picture is?











Egypt
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1997, Richard Hooker
Updated 9-27-97