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Archive for January, 2014

The celebrations for Xmas and New Year are over – in our century, but, as I promised, there will be a part two giving more detail as to how the ancient Egyptians celebrated the most important occasion in life.  As we shall see again, and below, reliefs on tomb walls show us how the ancient Egyptians had a good time and celebrated what, to them, was the most important party of all time – the Afterlife.  These selected reliefs give us clues as to how the ancient Egyptians regarded their present (earthly life) as opposed to their expected afterlife – the goal of all time!

The Ancient Egyptian party: what does it tell us?

Perhaps the most essential factor to remember is that when you see all these people having a good time is that – they are all actually DEAD!  They have, like any other ancient Egyptian:

–  died

–  been mummified (ie. those of high status)

–  have travelled through the underworld

–  have passed various tests, devised by the Gods, to test their suitability to enter the afterlife

–  have been accepted as suitable for the afterlife

Thus, having been accepted into the afterlife they are then entitled to enjoy a good time!

The people featured in the party have, as we are given to understand, passed the relevant tests set by the Gods and so are accepted for entrance into the next life.  Yes, they are dead and, according to the tests they have passed, the Gods (and Goddesses) are welcoming them into the next life.  How do we know they are being represented as dead?  Well, it has often been suggested that the strange cones on their heads (see fig. 1) represent the fact that they are, in fact, dead.

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fig. 1: a high status party in the next life p note the cones (of animal fat?) on the heads of the musicians.

These cones, which may well be blocks of animal fats, are perched on the heads of people guesting in these parties.  Many researchers have suggested that these blocks of ‘fat’ are there merely to  add a sensual feel to the scene – their being, probably, infused with flowers and aromatic oils.  Thus, it has been suggested that, as in some tomb scenes, we can see the residues of fat melting over the party-goers costumes in the extreme heat, leaving a yellowish trail in its wake.  It has been suggested that they are there solely to indicate sensual pleasure. Yet, perhaps this idea should be challenged.  We should consider exactly how hot it would have needed to be (in these parties) in order for such animal fats to actually melt  –  I suspect VERY hot indeed!  Do we accept this supposition that ancient Egyptian party-goers would actually undergo such extreme heat – extreme enough to melt animal fats?  This would have been extremely uncomfortable (to say the least) – I don’t think any human being, ancient or modern, would willingly undergo such ‘torture’ – even for the sake of appearing at a great, high-ranking party!  Not such a good idea!

So, we return to the alternative idea that these animal fat cones on party-goers’ heads might, in fact, be really informing us that these people are dead.  I feel it might be similar to the images seen in Christian art, whereby those who are actually dead (and are also, perhaps, martyrs) are shown wearing a halo around the head – indicating that they are now with God (ie. dead, in the physical sense).  This may be the case in ancient Egypt – whereby the animal cone fat is a symbolic representation indicating that the people we are viewing are, in fact, dead!  Thus, they are with the Gods – their ultimate goal.

Food and drink:

One of the essential ingredients for a celebratory party was of course – good food.  No party is complete without such delicacies.  Many ancient Egyptian tomb reliefs show us depictions of tables laden with food.

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fig. 2: tomb scene, showing a table laden with food and pots of drink beneath

The scene in figure 2 is a fairly typical of the genre.  Here we see a table piled high with tempting food items: fruit, bread, a leg of meat and other mouth-watering items.  It is important to remember that certain items, such as meat, were indeed special items.  The majority of ordinary people in ancient Egypt did not enjoy the luxury of eating meat.  Meat (cattle, sheep, goats) were expensive and desirable items in ancient Egyptian society – but only the rich could afford to eat such things.  Cattle were regarded as a sign of wealth and status – this cattle status is maintained in some modern African cultures (fig. 3).

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fig. 3: cattle are highly prized in many African cultures, as in Nubia/modern northern Sudan

We know that cattle, for example, in ancient Egypt were considered as luxury items because we see scenes of (and read accounts of) cattle counts wherein wealthy Egyptians would count their cattle every year to find out how many adult cattle had died, how many calfs had been born – and so, enable them to assess their then current wealth.  Figure 4 shows how well cattle were regarded in the ancient Egyptian wealth stakes!

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fig. 4: how high;y cattle were prized is seen here in the Tomb of Nebamun

Beneath the table of food we see the other essential ingredients for a ‘good party’ – tall pots of liquid, probably wine, if the grape vines overlying them are indicative of the contents!  Like any party, ancient or modern, people drank too much (fig. 5).

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fig. 5: alcohol, then as now, was very attractive at parties!

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fig. 6: the consequences of too much alcohol!

The consequences are not unfamiliar – figure 6 clearly shows that ancient people suffered from ‘nausea’  as much as do modern people – nothing is new!

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