Sunday, November 4, 2012

Egyptian gardens

From BM EA10471/21 Nakth and his wife worshiping Osiris and Maat
Osiris' own tomb was made of sycomore wood and shaded by sycomore trees . The sycomore fig (Ficus sycomorus) was the abode of Hathor and its symbol was used as a hieroglyph for all trees. Its fruit is edible but fertilisation depends on interaction with a wasp which lays its eggs in the "eye" of the fruit. Without fertilisation, the fruit falls to the ground and rot. Unripe fruit is cut 14 days after it appears. This introduces air into the fruit, killing the eggs and making the fruit sweet. The tree can bear up to 7 crops a year on small leafless branches is remarkable. Sycomore wood was the favoured material for making a sarcophagus.

Design historians sometimes distinguish temples and tombs but since the pharaoh was both a god and a king it is more a matter of emphasis than function. In the Old and Middle Kingdoms, the mortuary role was emphasised. Small riverside temples were linked by ceremonial routes to pyramids set in compounds. In the New Kingdom, the ceremonial role was emphasised and tombs were placed in the Valley of the Kings for reasons of security. Temples came to be planned more like houses, with a sacred lakes and groves within the compound and a ceremonial route leading to the river.

Communities of priests held elaborate rituals within the 'mansion of god'. For more than 2,000 years, embracing the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms, the planning of tombs was inspired by a creation myth associated with Osiris.

At a flood's high-water mark the Nile Valley was a serene composition of water and desert. As the flood receded, all the land was coated in black mud . Because of the swirling currents, the surface was uneven. Mounds would emerge before flats and hollows. Then the sun shone, plants grew and birds arrived. Egypt's creation myth held that the earth itself was created in this way, with a primal mound emerging from the waters to become vegetated and then populated. Concepts, and aspects of the creation, were represented by a family of gods with some shared roles. Atum was father of the gods. Amun was king of the gods. Ptah was creator of the universe. Nu, or Nun, being the god of the primordial waters, was old and wise. Re was father of mankind. As Amun-Re, he was identified with the sun god. Osiris was giver of civilisation, ruler of the dead and god of fertility. Osiris had a son, Horus, by Isis. Osiris' family, the 'Children of Nut' extended from the father of the gods, Atum, to Egypt's reigning pharaoh the 'Living Horus'. A pharaoh's tomb was designed to symbolise the tomb of Osiris. Since the pharaoh continued to be be a god after death, and since he was related to the other gods, the distinction between mortuary temples and cult temples was more of emphasis than of kind. The Osirian mortuary role was emphasised in the Old and Middle Kingdoms. The cult role was emphasised in the New Kingdom. The shift in emphasis is associated with change from building pyramids to building cult temples for rituals. Pharaohs were 'Lords of the Ritual'. New Kingdom temples continued to be inspired by the tomb of Osiris but were planned in a similar manner to houses, with a protective wall, a court and an inner sanctuary in which to sleep.

Private citizens were also urged to 'Build a domain in the west, dig pools and plant sycomores' so that an owner could 'Walk as he wished on the beautiful bank of his pool... and draw water from the well which he had installed for eternity and forever.'  An illustration in the Book of the Dead shows a royal scribe, Nakht, with his wife. They stand in front of their house. It has a flat roof for outdoor sleeping and upstands to give privacy. Their hands are outstretched in a gesture used in hieroglyphs to signify worship. On the other side of the pool, surrounded by nine sycomore figs and four date palms, sits goddess Osiris with Maat standing behind her. Osiris was god of the dead and of resurrection. Maat was the goddess of truth and justice. A tomb was a realm of peace, truth and justice in which to dwell for ever. The idea of heaven is of paradise as another world in a different place was not Egyptian.


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