The Pyramid Texts

It may be that the book should not end here, after all. Actually, one of the shafts points to a particular spot in the northern sky, and the other points to particular spot in the southern sky. Perhaps, it is relevant.

The Giza pyramids are silent, giving away nothing that can be of use to us. However, there are pyramids from later dynasties in which the sepulchral chamber and antechamber are covered with hieroglyphics (in the pyramids from earlier dynasties these chambers were bare). These writings are the so-called Pyramid Texts, discovered by Gaston Maspero at the end of the 19th century. They are the oldest collection of Egyptian religious writings, and one of the oldest collections of writing anywhere in the world.

It is a daunting task to describe the texts. I cannot read hieroglyphics and thus I have never read the original texts but only the official and somewhat poetic translation (generally acknowledged as being definitive) by Faulkner (1998). We have to take the translation on trust, which can be tricky, as anyone translating an ancient text is bound to be influenced by his own knowledge of the period in question, and such knowledge might be imperfect or incomplete (for example, the translator's knowledge of ancient astronomy might have been derived from Neugebauer's views on ancient Egypt).

Reading the Pyramid Texts can try one's patience, as most it is obsessive repetition, with little variation from pyramid to pyramid (the texts appear in the pyramids of Unas, Teti, Pepi I, Merenre I, Pepi II, and Ibi, and in those of the queens Wedjebten, Neith, and Iput). An electronic version of the texts would be of enormous assistance in studying the main elements without all the repetitions. Another problem is trying to determine the date of the texts. Although they first appear in the pyramid of Unas, the fact that they do not make up an organic corpus but are rather a loose collection of disparate discourses most likely indicates that the material already dated from an earlier period when it was transcribed. It seems at times that the inscriber of the texts on the wall was not aware of the full significance of what he was writing. Moreover, some of the content would appear to refer to aspects of the funerary cult that had been out of use since before the age of the pyramids, prompting some Egyptologists to wonder whether the utterances had even been codified originally as far back as the predynastic period.

The texts are numbered according to their position, starting from the back of the funerary chamber. It is not clear in which order they should be read, but it is clear that they should be read, since each column begins with the allocution "Words to be declaimed.'' We have no way of knowing whether there were rituals to be performed simultaneously and what form such rituals might take.

The main subject of the texts is the resurrection of the king and his ascent to the afterlife. This journey is not easy, given that there are a number of obstacles to overcome, especially doors, which are often guarded by sentinels, that the king can pass through only by correctly answering some questions. The sky is cited continually as a place of frenzied activity, and various crowded zones of it are considered to be of great importance. Most significantly, there are two distinct destinations for being reborn: the "imperishable stars,'' that is, the circumpolar stars, which never rise or set, and the stars of the "southern constellations,'' close to Sirius-Isis (called Sothis in Faulkner's translation), which identify the Duat region (essentially Orion and Taurus). It is not clear whether there is a corresponding geographical division of the various souls, and, if there is, which soul relates to each place. There is also a solar component of rebirth: the pharaoh joins Re-Atum on the "sun boat'' and they cross the sky together. A winding waterway in turn crosses the sky, which can be flooded; I share the view of many who are convinced that this must be the Milky Way, seen as a celestial counterpart of the Nile, although other interpretations (e.g., the ecliptic) have been proposed.

Numerous other allusions to heavenly bodies and events crop up throughout the texts. In particular, there are many references to iron. As we saw in Chapter 4, this would be meteoritic iron, of heavenly origin and hence to some extent divine. Indeed, perhaps the whole vault of the sky was even considered an "involucrum'' of iron, and the stars seen as holes though which sunlight passed when, at night, the sun crossed the outside part of this involucrum (Lesko 1991).

To enable us to explore some aspects of particular interest to us, here are some passages from Faulkner:

1. The king joins Re-Atum on the sun boat, becomes the "lord of the four pillars,'' that is, the four cardinal points, and together with Re-Atum he traverses both the nights and the days:

Re Atum, this King comes to you, an imperishable spirit, lord of the affairs of the place of the four pillars; your son comes to you, this King I comes to you. May you traverse the sky, being united in the darkness; may you rise in the horizon, in the place where it is well with you. [Pyramid Text (PT) 217, §152]

2. The king ascends into heaven via the Milky Way:

Hail to you, you two falcons who are in this [bark] of Re which conveys Re to the East: may you lift me and raise me up to the Winding Waterway, may you set me among those gods the Imperishable Stars that I may fall among them; I will never perish nor be destroyed. [PT 624, §1759]

3. The king ascends to the imperishable stars, passing through the gates and placing himself near the North Pole (the "Mooring Post,'' Ursa Minor and Mes, Ursa Major):

I will cross to that side on which are the Imperishable Stars, that I may be among them. [PT 520, §1223]

The doors of the sky are opened for you, the doors of the firmament are thrown open for you, (even) those which keep out the plebs. The Mooringpost cries to you, the sun-folk call to you, the Imperishable Stars wait on you. [PT 463, §876]

The sky is clear, Sothis lives, I because I am a living one, the son of

Sothis, and The Enneads have cleansed themselves for me in Ursa Major, the imperishable. My house in the sky will not perish, my throne on earth will not perish. [PT 302, §458]

4. The king is joined with Osiris-Orion exactly as he is joined with the Sun God. For example:

0 King, you are this great star, the companion of Orion, who traverses the sky with Orion, navigates the Netherworld with Osiris; you ascend from the east of the sky, being renewed at your due season and rejuvenated at your due time. [PT 466, §882]

You will regularly ascend with Orion from the eastern region of the sky, you will regularly descend with Orion into the western region of the sky, your third is Sothis, pure of thrones, it is she who will guide both of you in the goodly roads which are in the sky in the Field of Rushes. [PT 442, §821-822]

5. Some verses seem to refer to the heliacal rising:

Orion is swallowed Up by the Netherworld, Pure and living in the horizon. Sothis is swallowed up by the Netherworld, Pure and living in the horizon. I am swallowed up by the Netherworld, Pure and living in the horizon. [PT 216, §151]

6. The "Opening of the Mouth" is cited several times, with the associated "adzes" of meteoric iron:

1 split open your mouth for you l with the adze of iron which split open the mouths of the gods. O Horus, open the mouth of this King!" [PT 21, §13]

7. Just as the adze motif of the Ursa constellation is iron, so too the king's bones are iron, and his limbs are the stars:

This King ascended when you ascended, O Osiris; his word and his double are bound for the sky, the King's bones are iron and the King's members are the Imperishable Stars. [PT 684, §2051]

8. One wonders what role the pyramids play in the Pyramid Texts, but this matter does not seem to have received much attention. Anyway, The pharaoh has a "stairway to heaven'' at his disposal:

A stairway to the sky is set up for me so that I may ascend on it to the sky. [PT 267, §365]

One also might wonder how the soul of the king could find the right way to the afterlife. Yet nobody seems to have addressed that issue until 1964.

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