Positive Progress Through The Benevolent Use Of Knowledge

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Egyptian Heaven and Hell*

HAVING briefly referred to the origin and development of the magical, religious, and purely funeral texts which, sometimes with and sometimes without illustrations, formed the "Guides" to the Ancient Egyptian Underworld, the form of the conceptions concerning the place of departed spirits as it appears in the Recensions of the XVIIIth and XIXth Dynasties must now be considered. To reconstruct the form which they took in the Predynastic Period is impossible, for no materials exist, and the documents of the Early Empire are concerned chiefly with providing the deceased with an abundance of meat, drink, and other material comforts, and numbers of wives and concubines, and a place in Sekhet-Aaru, a division of Sekhet-hetepet, to which the name "Elysian Fields" has not inaptly been given. In later times Sekhet-Aaru, or Sekhet-Aanru, comprised all Sekhet-hetepet. Of Sekhet-hetepet as a whole the earliest known pictures are those which are painted on the coffins of

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Al-Barsha, and of no portion of this region have we any detailed illustrations of the occupations of its inhabitants older than the XVIIIth Dynasty. To the consideration of Sekhet-Aaru, which was the true heaven of every faithful worshipper of Osiris, from the time when he became the judge and benevolent god and friend of the dead down to the, Ptolemaïc Period, that is to say, for a period of four thousand years at least, the scribes and artists of the XVIIIth Dynasty devoted much attention, and the results of their views are set forth in the copies of PER-EM-HRU, or the Theban Book of the Dead, which have come down to us.

In one of the oldest copies of PER-EM-HRU, i.e., in the Papyrus of Nu, 1 is a vignette of the Seven Arits, or divisions of Sekhet-Aaru; the portion shown of each Arit is the door, or gate, which is guarded by a gatekeeper, by a watcher, who reports the arrival of every comer, and by a herald, who receives and announces his name. All these beings save two have the head of an animal, or bird, on a human body, a fact which indicates the great antiquity of the ideas that underlie this vignette. Their names are:--

Arit I. Gatekeeper. SEKHET-HRA-ASHT-ARU.

Watcher. SEMETU.

Herald. HU-KHERU.

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The Seven Arits, each with its Gatekeeper, its Watcher, and its Herald.

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Arit II. Gatekeeper. TUN-HAT.

Watcher. SEQET-HRA.

Herald. SABES.

Arit III. Gatekeeper. AM-HUAT-ENT-PEHUI-FI.

Watcher. RES-HRA.

Herald. UAAU.


Watcher. RES-AB.


Arit V. Gatekeeper. ANKH-EM-FENTU.

Watcher. ASHEBU.


Arit VI. Gatekeeper. AKEN-TAU-K-HA-KHERU.

Watcher. AN-HRA.


Arit VII. Gatekeeper. METES-SEN.

Watcher. AAA-KHERU.


From another place in the same papyrus, 1 and from other papyri, we learn that the "Secret Gates of the House of Osiris in Sekhet-Aaru" were twenty-one in number; the Chapter (CXLVI.) gives the name of each Gate, and also that of each Gatekeeper up to No. X., thus:--


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Gatekeeper. NERI.


Gatekeeper. MES-PEH. (or, MES-PTAH).

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Gate I.

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Gate II.


Gatekeeper. ERTAT-SEBANQA.


Gatekeeper. NEKAU.

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Gate III.

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Gate IV.


Gatekeeper. HENTI-REQU.

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Gate V.

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Gate VI.

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Gatekeeper. SMAMTI.

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Gate VII.

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Gate VIII.


Gatekeeper. AKENTI.


Gatekeeper. KHU-TCHET-F.

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Gatekeeper. TCHESEF.

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Gate IX.

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Gate X.


Gatekeeper. SEKHEN-UR.


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From the above lists, and from copies of them which are found in the Papyrus of Ani, and other

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finely illustrated Books of the Dead, it is quite clear that, according to one view, Sekhet-Aaru, the land of the blessed, was divided into seven sections, each of which was entered through a Gate having three attendants, and that, according to other traditions, it had sections varying in number from ten to twenty-one, for each of the Gates mentioned above must have been intended to protect a division. It will be noted that the names of the Ten Gates are in reality long sentences, which make sense and can be translated, but there is little doubt that under the XVIIIth Dynasty these sentences were used as purely magical formulae, or words of power, which, provided the deceased knew how to pronounce them, there was no great need to understand. In other words, it was not any goodness or virtue of his own which would enable him to pass through the Gates of Sekhet-Aaru, and disarm the opposition of their warders, but the knowledge of certain formulæ, or words of power, and magical names. We are thus taken back to a very remote period by these ideas, and to a time when the conceptions as to the abode of the blessed were of a purely magical character; the addition of pictures to the formulae, or names, belongs to a later period, when it was thought right to strengthen them by illustrations. The deceased, who not only possessed the secret name of a god or demon, but also a picture of him whereby he could easily recognize him when he met him, was doubly armed against danger.

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In addition to the Seven Arits, and the Ten, Fourteen, or Twenty-one Gates (according to the manuscript authority followed), the Sekhet-Hetepet possessed Fourteen or Fifteen Aats, or Regions, each of which was presided over by a god. Their names, as given in the Papyrus of Nu, 1 are as follows:--

Aat I. AMENTET wherein a man lived on cakes and ale; its god was AMSU-QET, or MENU-QET.

Aat II. SEKHET-AARU. Its walls are of iron. The wheat here is five cubits high, the barley

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Aat I.

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Aat II.

is seven cubits high, and the Spirits who reap them are nine cubits high. The god of this Aat is RA-HERUKHUTI.

Aat III. AATENKHU. Its god was OSIRIS or RA.


Aat V. AATENKHU. The Spirits here live upon the inert and feeble. Its god was probably OSIRIS.

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Aat III.

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Aat IV.

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Aat V.

Aat VI. AMMEHET, which is presided over either by SEKHER-AT or SEKHER-REMUS. This was sacred to the gods, the Spirits could not find it out, and it was accursed for the dead.

Aat VII. ASES, a region of burning, fiery flame, wherein the serpent REREK lives.

Aat VIII. HA-HETEP, a region containing roaring torrents of water, and ruled over by a god called QA-HA-HETEP. A variant gives the name of this Aat as HA-SERT, and that of its god as FA-PET.

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Aat VI.

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Aat VII.

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Aat IX.

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Aat X.

Aat IX. AKESI, a region which is unknown even to the gods; its god was MAA-THETEF, and its only inhabitant is the "god who dwelleth in his egg."

Aat X. NUT-ENT-QAHU, i.e., the city of Qahu. It was also known by the name APT-ENT-QAHU. The gods of this region appear to have been NAU, KAPET, and NEHEB-KAU.

Aat XI. ATU, the god of which was SEPT (Sothis).

Aat XII. UNT, the god of which was HETEMET-BAIU; also called ASTCHETET-EM-AMENT.

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Aat XI.

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Aat XII.

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Aat XIII. UART-ENT-MU: its deity was the hippopotamus-god called HEBT-RE-F.

Aat XIV. The mountainous region of KHER-AHA, the god of which was HAP, the Nile.

A brief examination of this list of Aats, or Regions, suggests that the divisions of Sekhet-hetepet given in it are arranged in order from south to north, for it is well known that Amentet, the first Aat, was entered from the neighbourbood of Thebes, and that the last-mentioned Aat, i.e., Kher-aha, represents a region quite

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Aat XIV.

close to Heliopolis; if this be so, Sekhet-Aaru was probably situated at no great distance from Abydos, near which was the famous "Gap" in the mountains, whereby the spirits of the dead entered the abode set apart for them. We see from this list also that the heaven provided for the blessed was one such as an agricultural population would expect to have, and a nation of farmers would revel in the idea of living among fields of wheat and barley, the former being

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between seven and eight feet, and the latter between nine and ten feet high. The spirits who reaped this grain are said to have been nine cubits, i.e., over thirteen feet, in height, a statement which seems to indicate that a belief in the existence of men of exceptional height in very ancient days was extant in Egypt traditionally.

Other facts to be gleaned from the list of Aats concerning Sekhet-Aaru are that:--1. One section at least was filled with fire. 2. Another was filled with rushing, roaring waters, which swept everything away before them. 3. In another the serpent Rerek lived. 4. In another the Spirits lived upon the inert and the feeble. 5. In another lived the "Destroyer of Souls." 6. The great antiquity of the ideas about the Aats is proved by the appearance of the names of Hap, the Nile-god, Sept, or Sothis, and the Hippopotamus-goddess, Hebt-re-f, in connection with them.

The qualification for entering the Aats was not so much the living of a good life upon earth as a knowledge of the magical figures which represented them, and their names; these are given twice in the Papyrus of Nu, and as they are of great importance for the study of magical pictures they have been reproduced above.

Of the general form and the divisions of Sekhet-Aaru, or the "Field of Reeds," and Sekhet-hetepet, or the "Field of Peace," thanks to the funeral papyri of the XVIIIth Dynasty, much is known, and they

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may now be briefly described. From the Papyrus of Nebseni 1 we learn that Sekhet-hetep was rectangular in shape, and that it was intersected by canals, supplied from the stream by which the whole region was enclosed. In one division were three pools of water,

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Sekhet-Hetepet (Papyrus of Nebseni, British Museum, No. 9900, sheet 17).

in another four pools, and in a third two pools; a place specially set apart was known as the "birthplace of the god of the region," and the "great company of the

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gods in Sekhet-hetep" occupied another section of it. At the end of a short canal was moored a boat, provided with eight oars or paddles, and each end of it terminated in a serpent's head; in it was a flight of steps. The deceased, as we see, also possessed a boat wherein he sailed about at will, but its form is different from that of the boat moored at the end of the canal. The operations of ploughing, and of seed-time and harvest, are all represented. As to the deceased himself, we see him in the act of offering incense to the "great company of the gods," and he addresses a bearded figure, which is intended probably to represent his father, or some near relation; we see him paddling in a boat, and also sitting on a chair of state smelling a flower, with a table of offerings before him. None of the inscriptions mentions Sekhet-Aaru, but it is distinctly said that the reaping of the grain by the deceased is taking place in Sekhet-hetep, or Sekhet-hetepet.

In chronological order the next picture of Sekhet-hetepet to be considered is that from the Papyrus of Ani, and it will be seen at a glance that in details it differs from that already described. Ani adores the gods in the first division, but he burns no incense; the boat in which he paddles is loaded with offerings, and he is seen dedicating an offering to the bearded figure. The legend reads, "Living in peace in Sekhet--winds for the nostrils." The second division contains scenes

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Sekhet-Hetepet (Papyrus of Ani, British Museum, No. 10,740, sheet 32).

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of' reaping and treading out of corn, but only three pools of water instead of four. In the third division we see An! ploughing the land by the side of a stream of untold length and breadth, which is said to contain neither fish nor worms. It is important to note that this division is described as SEKHET-AANRU. The eyot which represents the birthplace of the god of the city has no title, and the larger island, which is separated from it by a very narrow strip of ground, contains a flight of steps, but no gods. In the left-hand corner is a place which is described as "the seat of the Spirits, who are seven cubits in height"; the "grain is three cubits high, and it is the perfect Spirits who reap it." In the other portion of this section are two boats instead of one as in the Papyrus of Nebseni.

In connection with the two pictures of Sekhet-hetepet described above, it is important to consider the text which accompanies the older of them, i.e., that of the Papyrus of Nebseni. The deceased is made to say that he sails over the Lake of Hetep (i.e., Peace) in a boat which he brought from the house of Shu, and that he has come to the city of Hetep under the favour of the god of the region, who is also called Hetep. He says, "My mouth is strong, I am equipped [with words of power to use as weapons] against the Spirits let them not have dominion over me. Let me be rewarded with thy fields, O thou god Hetep. That

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which is thy wish do, O lord of the winds. May I become a spirit therein, may I eat therein, may I drink therein, may I plough therein, may I reap therein, may I fight therein, may I make love therein, may my words be powerful therein, may I never be in a state of servitude therein, and may I be in authority therein . . . . . . [Let me] live with the god Hetep, clothed, and not despoiled by the 'lords of the north,' 1 and may the lords of divine things bring food unto me. May he make me to go forward and may I come forth; may he bring my power to me there, may I receive it, and may my equipment be from the god Hetep. May I gain dominion over the great and mighty word which is in my body in this my place, and by it I shall have memory and not forget." The pools and places in Sekhet-hetepet which the deceased mentions as having a desire to visit are UNEN-EM-HETEP, the first large division of the region; NEBT-TAUI, a pool in the second division; NUT-URT, a pool in the first division; UAKH, a pool in the second division, where the kau, or "doubles," dwell; TCHEFET, a portion of the third division, wherein the deceased arrays himself in the apparel of Ra; UNEN-EM-HETEP, the birthplace of the Great God; QENQENTET, a pool in the first division, where he sees his father, and

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looks upon his mother, and has intercourse with his wife, and where he catches worms and serpents and frees himself from them; the Lake of TCHESERT, wherein he plunges, and so cleanses himself from all impurities; HAST, where the god ARI-EN-AB-F binds on his head for him; USERT, a pool in the first division, and SMAM, a pool in the third division of Sekhet-hetepet. Having visited all these places, and recited all the words of power with which he was provided, and ascribed praises to the gods, the deceased brings his boat to anchor, and, presumably, takes up his abode in the Field of Peace for ever.

From the extract from the Chapter of Sekhet-Aaru and Sekhet-hetepet given above, it is quite clear that the followers of Osiris hoped and expected to do in the next world exactly what they had done in this, and that they believed they would obtain and continue to live their life in the world to come by means of a word of power; and that they prayed to the god Hetep for dominion over it, so that they might keep it firmly in their memories, and not forget it. This is another proof that in the earliest times men relied in their hope of a future life more on the learning and remembering of a potent name or formula than on the merits of their moral and religious excellences. From first to last throughout the chapter there is no mention of the god Osiris, unless he be the "Great God" whose birthplace is said to be in the region Unen-em-hetep, and nowhere in it is there any suggestion that the

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permission or favour of Osiris is necessary for those who would enter either Sekhet-Aaru or Sekhet-hetep. This seems to indicate that the conceptions about the Other World, at least so far as the "realms of the blest" were concerned, were evolved in the minds of Egyptian theologians before Osiris attained to the high position which he occupied in the Dynastic Period. On the other hand, the evidence on this point which is to be deduced from the Papyrus of Ani must be taken into account.

At the beginning of this Papyrus we have first of all Hymns to Ra and Osiris, and the famous Judgment Scene which is familiar to all. We see the heart of Ani being weighed in the Balance against the symbol of righteousness in the presence of the Great Company of the Gods, and the weighing takes place at one end of the house of Osiris, whilst Osiris sits in his shrine at the other. The "guardian of the Balance" is Anubis, and the registrar is Thoth, the scribe of the gods, who is seen noting the result of the weighing. In the picture the beam of the Balance is quite level, which shows that the heart of Ani exactly counterbalances the symbol of righteousness. This result Thoth announces to the gods in the following words, "In very truth the heart of Osiris hath been weighed, and his soul hath stood as a witness for him; its case is right (i.e., it hath been found true by trial) in the Great Balance. No wickedness hath been found in him, he hath not purloined the offerings in the

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temples, 1 and he hath done no evil by deed or word whilst he was upon earth." The gods in their reply accept Thoth's report, and declare that, so far as they are concerned, Ani has committed neither sin nor evil. Further, they go on to say that he shall not be delivered over to the monster Amemet, and they order that he shall have offerings, that he shall have the power to go into the presence of Osiris, and that he shall have a homestead, or allotment, in Sekhet-hetepet for ever. We next see Ani being led into the presence of Osiris by Horus, the son of Isis, who reports that the heart of Ani hath sinned against no god or goddess; as it hath also been found just and righteous according to the written laws of the gods, he asks that Ani may have cakes and ale given to him, and the power to appear before Osiris, and that he may take his place among the "Followers of Horus," and be like them for ever.

Now from this evidence it is clear that Ani was considered to have merited his reward in Sekhet-hetepet by the righteousness and integrity of his life upon earth as regards his fellow-man, and by the reverence and worship which he paid to every god and every goddess; in other words, it is made to appear that he had earned his reward, or had justified himself by his works. Because his heart had emerged

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triumphantly from its trial the gods decreed for him the right to appear in the presence of the god Osiris, and ordered him to be provided with a homestead in Sekhet-hetep. There is no mention of any repentance on Ani's part for wrong done; indeed, he says definitely, "There is no sin in my body. I have not uttered wittingly that which is untrue, and I have committed no act having a double motive [in my mind]." As he was troubled by no remembrance of sin, his conscience was clear, and he expected to receive his reward, not as an act of mercy on the part of the gods, but as an act of justice. Thus it would seem that repentance played no part in the religion of the primitive inhabitants of Egypt, and that a man atoned for his misdeeds by the giving of offerings, by sacrifice, and by worship. On the other hand, Nebseni is made to say to the god of Sekhet-hetep, "Let me be rewarded with thy fields, O Hetep; but do thou according to thy will, O lord of the winds." This petition reveals a frame of mind which recognizes submissively the omnipotence of the god's will, and the words "do thou according to thy will" are no doubt the equivalent of those which men of all nations and in every age have prayed--"Thy will be done."

The descriptions of the pictures of Sekhet-hetep given above make it evident that the views expressed in the Papyrus of Nebseni differ in some important details from those which we find in the Papyrus of Ani, but whether this difference is due to some general

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Sekhet-hetepet, showing the Sekhet-Aaru, with the magical boat and flight of steps, the birthplace of the gods, &c. (From the inner coffin of Kua-tep, British Museum, No. 30,840.)

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Sekhet-hetepet, showing the Sekhet-Aaru with the magical boat, the nine lakes, the birthplace of the gods, &c. (From the outer coffin of Sen, British Museum, No. 30,841.)

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development in religious thought, which took place in the interval between the periods when the papyri were written, cannot be said. There is abundant evidence in the Papyrus of Ani that Ani himself was a very religious man, and we are not assuming too much when we say that he was the type of a devout worshipper of Osiris, whose beliefs, though in some respects of a highly spiritual character, were influenced by the magic and gross material views which seem to have been inseparable from the religion of every Egyptian. Though intensely logical in some of their views about the Other World, the Egyptians were very illogical in others, and they appear to have seen neither difficulty nor absurdity in holding at the same time beliefs which were inconsistent and contradictory. It must, however, in fairness be said that this characteristic was due partly to their innate conservatism in religious matters, and their respect for the written word, and partly to their fear that they might prejudice their interests in the future life if they rejected any scripture or picture which antiquity, or religious custom, or tradition had sanctioned.

Certain examples, however, prove that the Egyptians of one period were not afraid to modify or develop ideas which had come down to them from another, as may be seen from the accompanying illustration. The picture which is reproduced on p. 53 is intended to represent Sekhet-hetepet, and is taken from the inner coffin of Kua-Tep, which was found at Al-Barsha, and is now

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in the British Museum (No. 30,840); it dates front the period of the XIth Dynasty. From this we see that the country of the blessed was rectangular in shape, and surrounded by water, and intersected by streams, and that, in addition to large tracts of land, there were numbers of eyots belonging to it. In many pictures these eyots are confounded with lakes, but it is pretty clear that the "Islands of the Blessed" were either fertile eyots, or oases which appeared to be green islands in a sea of sand. Near the first section were three, near the second four, near the third four, three, being oval, and one triangular; the fourth section was divided into three parts by means of a canal with two arms, and contained the birthplace of the god, and near it were seven eyots; the fifth is the smallest division of all, and has only one eyot near it. Each eyot has a name which accorded with its chief characteristic; the dimensions of three of the streams or divisions are given, the region where ploughing takes place is indicated, and the positions of the staircase and the mystic boat are clearly shown. The name of the god Hetep occurs twice, and that of Osiris once.

If now we compare this picture with that front the Papyrus of Nebseni we shall find that the actual operations of ploughing, reaping, and treading out of the corn are depicted on the Papyrus, and that several figures of gods and the deceased have been added. The text speaks of offerings made by the deceased, and of his sailing in a boat, &c., therefore the artist

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Sekhet-hetepet. (From the Papyrus of Anhai--XXIInd Dynasty.)

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Sekhet-hetepet. (From the Turin Papyrus-Ptolemaïc Period.)

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added scenes in which he is depicted doing these things; and the lower part of the picture in the Papyrus has been modified considerably. In the second division it may be noted that Nebseni is seen laying both hands on the back of the Bennu bird; there is no authority for this in the older copy of the picture. In the illustration on p. 55, which is reproduced from the coffin of Sen, in the British Museum (No. 30,841), a still simpler form of Sekhet-hetepet is seen; here we have only nine eyots, which are grouped together, and no inscription of any kind.

Still further modifications were introduced into the pictures of Sekhet-hetepet drawn in later times, and, in order that the reader may be enabled to trace some of the most striking of these, copies of Sekhet-hetepet from the Papyrus of Anhai (about B.C. 1040), and from that of Auf-ankh (Ptolemaïc Period), are reproduced on pp. 59 and 61.


28:1 British Museum, No. 10,477, sheet 26 (Chapter cxliv.).

31:1 Sheet 25.

35:1 The names of the gatekeepers of Gates XL-XXI. are not given in the papyri.

38:1 Sheets 28, 29, and 30.

43:1 British Museum, No. 9,900, sheet 17.

48:1 Probably the marauding seamen who traded on the coasts of the Mediterranean, and who sometimes landed and pillaged the region near which the primitive Elysian Fields were supposed to have been situated.

51:1 Ani was the receiver of the ecclesiastical revenues of the gods of Thebes and Abydos, and the meaning here is that he did not divert, to his own use any portion of the goods he received.

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