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Egyptian funeral procession: what are these people doing / holding?

Egyptian funeral procession: what are these people doing / holding?

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The picture below is notable for being the "World's oldest depiction of a stern-mounted steering rudder (c. 1420 BC)".

This much is clear enough. However, I'm curious about the man on the left and the man leaning over the side.

For the man on the left, I'm guessing he's holding something to check the depth of the river. Can anyone confirm this?

For the man leaning over the side, he is holding something in his hand. What is it and what is he doing?

This wall painting is located in the tomb of Menna, which is one of the many tombs located at ancient Thebes. There are a lot of wall paintings in the complex, which you can learn about in full here.

The river boat in the image is actually part of a larger sequence of two boats on a pilgrimage to and from Abydos. You can find the entire image in hi-res segments halfway down this page.

The man on the bow is definitely using a sounding pole to measure the depth of the water to avoid running aground. Average depth of the Nile is 8-11m, but of course would vary across the river proper as well as the delta branches. Whereas lead lines were eventually used by ancient mariners to measure the Mediterranean depth, the Nile was on average 8-11 meters deep so long, graduated sounding poles worked just fine.

The man leaning over the side of the boat could still be up to interpretation. This isn't a funeral procession, but actually a pilgrimage to a holy site, as interpreted by other paintings in the tomb. So, due to the religious nature he could very well be gathering water for a ritual. Alternatively, I wouldn't rule out drinking water either. The Nile wasn't used for sewage and the Egyptians of this time had no working knowledge of bacteria. If you were thirsty, a quick drink from the river may have been normal.

Sa Nguyen

In Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece, religion plays a very important role in their lives. The change from life to the life after dead or the afterlife was the principal in their beliefs, so the Egyptian and the Greece funeral and burial practice were very essential for them to ensure the participation in the afterlife of the dead. Although the Greeks adopted and practiced the Egyptian funerary customs, in order to fit with Greek’s custom and traditions there were differences in how the Greeks practiced, however the idea of afterlife was kept. Even though Egypt and Greece culture have experienced each other, they still have some major differences, which represent each one’s exclusive. Especially, their funeral and burial practice clearly signify one of the differences between these civilizations. In this paper, I will discuss about two main differences between Egypt and Greece in the preparation of the corpse and the funeral procession.

Death in Ancient Egypt was considered as the transitional step in the progress to a better life in the afterlife. They believe that each person have three souls: the “Ka”, the “Ba” and the “Akh” (Ancient Egyptian Religion), and in order to success joining the dead to the afterlife the body must be survive undamaged, so that the Egyptian performed the mummification process to protect the body from being rotten. The process of mummification consists of three main steps. At first, except the heart and the skeleton, everything from the inside of the body must be removed and placed in jars. These jars were called canopic jars and they will also be placed in the chamber when buried. The main artery, which was said to be the chair of aptitude and sentiment, was left in the body. However, the brain was said to be not important so it was extracted through the nostrils. (Otey)

Secondly, in order to absorb the body fluids, brackish substance was filled in to the hollow body so the body can be dried. The body was left out for forty-five day to allow dehydration and ground wood was packed with the body to keep the appearance of the corpse. (Otey)
The last step, the body was wrapped with linen together with small charms. The amulet “Scarab Beetle” was placed over the heart, and while it was placed on the body, a cleric will pray for the dead person. After this process was finished, the body was placed in a shroud, and wait until the time of the procession. (Otey)

The concept of the afterlife and the burial ceremonies were already well established by the Greeks by the 6th century B.C. They believed that when a person died, the spirit will left the body and travel in form of a little breath or a puff of wind, so that the burial ceremony was also very important for the Greeks. The process of preparing the corpse for later procession and interment was called the prothesis in Greeks culture. Different from the Ancient Egyptian who practices mummification, the Greeks have a simpler process of preparing the corpse. First thing first, the eyes and mouth of the corpse was closed right after dead to prepare for burial. Women played a very important role in this process. The women of the household have to wash the body with water, it would be preferred to wash the body using seawater. If there were any wounds on the body of the dead, it will be cleaned and dress. (Alirangues)

After the corpse was cleaned, it was dressed in an ankle-length shroud in either white or grey color. Moreover, depends on the profession or what the deceased was doing recently, he or she will be dressed accordingly. For example: if the person was a soldier, he will be dressed in military cloaks. If the person who died was about to get married or just married recently, they will be dressed in their wedding costume. Earrings and necklace were given to the women’s body to wear and they usually the modest ones. In order to add dignity, the crown was placed on the head of the corpse however the exact reason of putting the crown on the head is not known. (Alirangues)
The corpse was laid on a draped bed with a bier-cloth and had checked pattern with its feet facing to the door. In order to make the payment to Charon for ferrying the dead across the Styx (one of the rivers in the underworld), a coin was placed in the mouth of the dead. To prevent the jaws from opening, there was a linen chinstrap tied around the head or a cushion placed beneath the head. (Alirangues)

One of the most important parts of the prothesis, which was totally different from the process of preparing the corpse of the Egyptian, was the ritual lament of the Greeks. The lament was sung by friends and relatives of the dead, while singing they will move around the bed where the corpse was placed. There was another type of lament in which professional mourners sang the lament and this was called the Threnos. (Alirangues)

After all the important stages of preparing the corpse in the mummification process of the Egyptian and the Prothesis of the Ancient Greeks, the next step of the Funeral’s procession was then progressed.

After the process of mummification was finished, the Egyptian placed the corpse in the shroud and waited until the time of the procession. The relatives of the dead were alerted when it was time of the procession, and then they would prepare for the journey to the other side of the Nile. A parade would go together with the mummy to the tomb, and was transported by boat across the Nile. (Otey)

Clerics, which are the religious leader, led the procession while repeatedly sing the ceremony hymns. Other people would go together in the procession carrying vegetation, gifts, canopic jars all of these were to be buried in the tomb together with the mummy. After arrival at the burial site, there were many rituals were performed to pertain to “Osiris”- God of the afterlife. (Otey)

The last ceremony, which was one of the most important Death Rituals of the Ancient Egyptians, The Opening of the Mouth ceremony. To perform this ceremony, the mummy was raised in a standing position, facing south. There were many steps involved in the practices of this ceremony, including: purification, ritual objects was used to touch the mummy at the eyes, mouth, ears and nose in order to awake the senses of the dead so he or she could eat, drink and speak in the next world. Finally, the mummy was fully prepared to participate in the afterlife and was placed in the burial chamber of the tomb. (Death Rituals)

There were some similarities of the funeral procession of the Greeks to the Egyptian, which involved in the transport of the corpse to the burial site and the parade that go along with the corpse. The procession was called Ekphora in Ancient Greeks, the corpse was brought to the grave with the help of either horse-drawn hearse or it was carried by the pall-bearers which comprised of Klimakphoroi (ladder-carriers), Mekrophoroi (corpse carrier), Nekrothaptai (corpse-burriers) and the Tapheis (grave diggers). These pall-bearers used to be the family members, however later they were hired. It is different from the Egyptian, the musicians were hired instead of the family members to sing. While transporting the corpse to the gravesite, the mourners stopped at each corner of the street and lament to grab the attention of the people around. (Alirangues)

Although the idea of the afterlife was adopted by the Greeks from the Egyptian, the way of practicing the belief of each civilization has its unique approach to the concept. After approaching the gravesite, the Greeks practiced both inhumation and cremation. Wine was used to put out the funeral pyre after the corpse was cremated, then the ashes will be gathered by one of the relatives and put them into a vase. Food and ointments were then offered to the dead, which were deposited in the grave or next to it. To finish the burial ceremony, the women had to leave first so they could go back home to prepare a banquet held in honor of the dead. The grave or tomb were then be fully prepared by the men who stayed while the women left home. Finally, the grave would be placed over with a stele, which was very close to the modern gravestone. (Alirangues)

The world has acknowledged many achievements of Egypt and also Greece not only in their unique architectures, such as: Egypt with Pyramids and Greece with Pantheon or the Coliseum, but also their religious life. The preparation of the corpse and the funeral procession of the Egyptian and the Greeks has become one of the famous burial rituals in the world nowadays. The unique approach to the practices of the death rituals in each civilization make it become their own traditions and fit with each civilization cultures.

The Field Of Reeds

In the Field of Reeds, sometimes also called The Field of Offerings, there’s no suffering only pleasure, infinitely.

Death was not the end, but the beginning of the journey into afterlife and to enter the Field of Reeds, it’s essential to observe the proper funeral practices.

Ancient Egyptians believed that the soul was divided into nine parts:

  1. Khat– The body
  2. Ka– a doppelganger
  3. Ba a human-avian conduit between heaven and earth
  4. Shuyet a shadow self
  5. Akh a transformed immortal self
  6. Sahu part of Akh
  7. Sechem part of Akh
  8. Ab the source of good and evil, the heart
  9. Ren a secret name

After collecting the Akh, the god Anubis would guide the soul to the Hall of Truth where it would be judged by Osiris, the Judge of the Dead, and Ruler of the Underworld.

Osiris would weigh the Ab, “the heart” of the soul against the Feather of Ma’at on a grand scale of gold.

If it’s heavier, the soul would be punished. If it’s lighter, the soul would be further investigated by the 42 Judges and the gods. Only worthy souls would enter the Field of Reeds.

Mesopotamian And Egyptian

The people of Sumeria and Babylonia believed that the souls of the departed went to the Underworld, which was beneath Earth’s surface. As a result, the dead were buried in the ground so they could have easy access to their next home.

They were also buried close to where they had lived so their survivors could bring offerings, such as food and beverages, to the site. This was thought to appease the gods and ensure the deceased a good afterlife.

They were also buried with belongings they might need in the afterlife. The Egyptians used almost the exact same practices, but there were a couple of notable differences.

The first was that Egypt was hot and arid, necessitating mummification of the dead to prevent them from rotting and drawing disease to the living. The second was the use of pyramids, which were tombs where pharaohs were buried.

These were used only by royalty and only for a brief period of Egyptian history. Burial sites for most people were on the western side of the Nile, with large funeral processions featuring mourners dressed to represent deities associated with death, such as Isis.

3. Tomb reliefs

Procession of figures with offerings part of a wall-painting from the tenth tomb at Gourna, Thebes. Image Credit British Library / Commons

Tomb reliefs are one of the major sources of knowledge about Egyptian society. We can all picture the weird full body depictions of the Egyptian, with their heads and legs turned sideways. The reason for this, however, is that the Egyptians understood images to have power.

They were representations of reality, endowed with the essence of the real thing. Tomb reliefs showed everything a person might need in the afterlife, as the images would act as the real objects or people in the afterlife. This is why all parts of the body were shown, so that a person would retain all parts of their body.

Later tombs contained physical objects, so they could quite literally be taken to the afterlife. This is the reason for the lavish tombs of pharaohs such as King Tut. Some early kings even had their servants sacrificed and buried with them. This practice would soon be replaced by shabti, small statues that would act as representations of servants.

Modern Egyptian Burials

It&rsquos safe to say that modern Egyptian burial practices are quite different from the mummification process of the past. For instance, today, Egyptians may cremate a deceased person. They would not have done so back when they believed that preserving a person&rsquos body was essential to their survival in the afterlife.

That&rsquos not to say that all Egyptians cremate their deceased loved ones. Because most Egyptians today are Muslim, they follow relatively traditional Muslim burial and funeral practices . This often involves allowing family members and friends to gather at a small family mausoleum to pay their last respects, before transporting the deceased&rsquos body to a cemetery for burial.

Funeral Service History

The practice of embalming in the US began during the Civil War. The corpses on the battlefield had to be preserved so they could be shipped home, .

Greeks first made cremation a ritual.

The cemetery developed out of over crowding in burial space inside of the church.

During the Middle Ages cremation was popular but the amount lumber needed for the process was costly and scarce. As a result the practice of burial returned.

It was once considered an honor to have your deceased body devoured by dogs. The Hindu believed it was a good thing to have your remains devour by a particular type of bird. This ritual is still practiced today.

During the 17th & 18th century North American Natives practice cannibalism.

In the late 1800's it was customary to take pictures of deceased children. They would named the photos and published them.

During the Victorian age fiction writers created fictional horror stories about live people accidentally being buried. This generated fear in the community. As a result coffin makers started adding safety features to their coffins to help alleviate fears.


Horus was the son of Osiris and Isis and the enemy of the wicked God Seth. He is depicted as a hawk or as a man with the head of a hawk. Sometimes he is shown as a youth with a side lock, seated on his mother’s lap. He was the god of the sky and the divine protector of kings.

Horus was worshipped throughout Egypt and was particularly associated with Edfu, the site of the ancient city of Mesen, where his temple can still be seen.
There are many stories of his wars against his uncle Seth, who murdered his father and usurped the throne. Eventually Horus defeated Seth and became the king of Egypt.

Understanding the Grieving Process

A depiction of an ancient Egyptian funeral procession

The Apostle Paul calls God “the God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3).

One way that we see God as the God of all comfort is the fact that His Word, the Bible, has so many descriptions of grieving people and funerals.

This shows us that God comes alongside us at these times and is with us.

Ultimately, it points us to Jesus who is “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:1). He knows what it is to grieve as we we are reminded when He stood before the tomb of Lazarus: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

In the many funerals of the Bible, God teaches us what it means to grieve. He teaches us about the grieving process which is a process that He has created for human beings to recover from loss.

A funeral for a loved one isn’t the only time we enter into the grieving process. We may need the grieving process for all sorts of losses: when loved ones move away, when we lose a job or a dream is shattered, when opportunities are lost, or when we experience trauma. However, funerals represent one of the strongest forms of grief, so they are particularly helpful in teaching us about grieving for all sorts of loss.

One example of a funeral in the Bible is the funeral for Jacob in Genesis 50. There are several important points about this funeral:

  1. They expressed their emotions. “Joseph threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him” (Gen. 50:1). Later, they spent a whole week expressing their emotion at the loss (v. 11).
  2. They took time. The Egyptians mourned for Jacob for 70 days (50:3).
  3. They talked about it. They didn’t hide it. They openly shared that they were dealing with struggles, and Joseph even asked Pharaoh for a leave of absence so he could process the grief (50:4–6).
  4. They got support. Joseph and his brothers didn’t do this alone. They took along those who cared about them and were a part of their lives (50:7–8).
  5. They used rituals. This whole section of Scripture involves detailed rituals that the Bible and ancient wisdom recognized as a good means for walking through the grieving process and recovering from loss.

This same pattern can still be used today. The grieving process is what God has created for human beings to recover from loss.

When I say that it is a process, I do not mean that these five points are a checklist such that once you’ve checked off all these things from your list, you are done grieving. No. These five things are just the sorts of things that we must do in order to walk through the grieving process.

We also cannot say for certain how long or how often we will have to walk through these things in order to recover. As Scott Floyd writes: “Grief allows no timetable” (Crisis Counseling: A Guide for Pastors and Professionals [Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2008]).

Indeed, there is a sense in which recovery is never complete. There is real and substantial recovery in this life but rarely a perfect one. As C.S. Lewis explained: “I thought I could describe a state make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process. It needs not a map but a history, and if I don’t stop writing that history at some quite arbitrary point, there’s no reason why I should ever stop” (cited in Floyd, Crisis Counseling, 79). In other words, sorrow becomes part of our lives and is incorporated into it, even when we find substantial healing.

The continuing presence of an element of sorrow in our lives causes us to look forward to the life to come when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Rev. 21:4).

Our culture is the culture of the quick fix, but the human soul is not designed for a quick fix. If we follow the Bible’s wisdom, we can help people enter into the grieving process that God has created for recovery from loss and teach people what it means to mourn as those who have hope (1 Thess. 4:12).

Egyptian funeral procession: what are these people doing / holding? - History

Introduction to the Dover edition

Ancient Egypt bas been a source of fascination to the modern world since its rediscovery two hundred years ago by Napoleon Bonaparte and his savants. Everything about the pharaonic Egyptians has inspired close study. It started with the visible and obvious, like temples and pyramids. Champollion expanded the range of study and in fact gave birth to the scientific fïeld of Egyptology with his decipherment of the hieroglyphic writing of the Egyptians using the Rosetta Stone as the key. Eventually, every minute aspect of ancient Egyptian life became the subject of close scrutiny. Religious worship, burying the dead, slaughtering beef, brewing beer and all other human activities were examined.

The study of dance was no exception to this. The early-published sources on dance are listed by Lexova herself in her introduction. All of these are rather broad in their scope, containing either short sections on dance or scattered references throughout those books. Lexova's book is the first monograph devoted entirely to dance in ancient Egypt. It consists of a corpus of seventy-eight illustrations organized chronologically from the Predynastic Period through the New Kingdom with a few images from the Saite Period, the twenty-sixth Dynasty. The author also includes two images of Etruscan dancers at the end of the book for the purpose of comparison.

Lexova accesses the pictorial material through classification. She catalogs the images into ten types ranging from pure movement to religious and funerary dances. The discussion concludes with the musicians and musical instruments that accompany the dancers.

No book exists in a vacuum and every book is indeed enhanced by its relationship to other books of the same or related topic. Here are collected the most useful publications on dance in ancient Egypt that appeared after the work of Lexova:

Brunner-Traut, Emma. Tanz. IN: Lexikon der Ä gyptologie 6. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1985.

Brunner-Traut, Emma. Der Tanz im alten Ägypten nach bildlichen und inschriftlichen Zeugnissen, dritte, erweitere Auflage (Ägyptologische Forschungen 6) Glückstadt: Verlag J.J. Augustin, 1992. Revision of the two earlier editions of 1937 and 1958.

Decker, Wolfgang, and Herb, Michael. Bildatlas zum Sport im alten Ägypten: Corpus der bildlichen Quellen zu Leibesübungen, Spiel, Jagd, Tanz und verwandten Themen (Handbuch der Orientalistic I: Der Nahe und Mittlere Osten) Leiden: Brill, 1994.

Vandier, J. La Danse. IN: Manuel d'Archéologie égyptienne 4. Paris: Picard, 1964, p. 391-486.

Wild, Henri. Les danses sacrées de 1'Égypte ancienne. in: Les danses sacrées (Sources orientales 6) Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1963.

The monograph by Brunner-Traut is the most detailed and complete of this bibliography. The material was refined over many years with unquestioned scholarship. In Brunner-Traut's book are many quotations of the Egyptian literature that accompanied the ancient illustrations, and, in addition to drawings, many photographs of monuments depicting dancers. Lexova's work was written virtually simultaneously, but its form is different and serves as a useful complement to Brunner-Traut.

The fact that the Lexovà book is translated into English greatly increases the accessibility to its information. This is the only major work on ancient Egyptian dance in English. Its seventy-eight illustrations are rendered in line drawing making it very clear to see the positions, especially for the recreation of the dance steps.

Much research has been done in the field of ancient Egyptian dance, as in all aspects of Egyptological study, since 1935. Some of Lexova's interpretations have yielded to new insights and understanding, but her drawings remain unsurpassed. There is much overlap of illustrated scenes among Lexova, Brunner-Traut and Decker. If desired, they can be used in conjunction to get a total impression of the steps and positions with the aid of the photographs of the original representations.

In my capacity of Wilbour Librarian, I have had many occasions to introduce students of dance and choreographers to this book. The Wilbour Library is one of the few libraries in the New York metropolitan area that holds a copy. Only seventeen libraries in the United States list it among their holdings in the Research Libraries Information Network (RLIN).

The reaction to seeing this book, especially on the part of choreographers, has been to want to photocopy many of the images. I shall now be able to refer them to this reprint which I heartily welcome.

Wilbour Library of Egyptology

Brooklyn Museum of Art New York

Much has been written about the ancient Egyptian dances.

As far as I can remember, the oldest essay dealing with this subject was written by J. Gardner Wilkinson in his book: "Manners and customs of the ancient Egyptians", (London, 1837 Part II, pages 328-340). In an abridged form this essay appears in the book by J. Gardner Wilkinson: "A popular account of the ancient Egyptians", (new edition I.-II. London, 1874 Part I, pages 133-140).

Credit is due to Wilkinson in the first place for the vast pictorial material he has made accessible. The short essay in Part I, pages 133-140, may be summed up as follows: The dance consisted of a succession of figures in which the performer endeavoured to exhibit a great variety of gestures. Men and women danced at the same time or in separate groups, but the latter were preferred for their superior grace and elegance. Some danced to slow airs, adapted to the style of the movements, others preferred lively steps regulated by an appropriate tune. Sometimes when dancing the women accompanied themselves on lutes or pipes. Men always danced with great spirit, bounding from the ground more in the manner of Europeans than of an Eastern people. Dances were accompanied by music, consisting sometimes of several instruments (harp, lyre, lute, guitar, pipes, tambourine, &c.) at another time by clapping of hands only, or by snapping of fingers in the street by beating the drum only. Graceful attitudes and gesticulations were features of the general style of ancient Egyptian dancing. Some postures resembled those of our modern ballet, e. g., the pirouette was appreciated by the Egyptians thousands of years ago. Sometimes they danced in pairs holding each other's hands, turning their faces towards each other or averting them. Sometimes men and women performed a solo, marking time with the feet. The quality of the dance obviously depended on the talent and the art of the dancer and on the taste of those for whom it was performed. Comical gestures of clowns were permitted as well, so long as they did not overstep the limits of decency. The dances of the lower classes had a tendency to pantomime, and labourers delighted in grotesqueness and eccentricity more than in grace and elegance.

Women dancers were dressed in long loose robes made of fine transparent material, which permitted of observing the figure and movements of limbs. At times they wore a narrow ornamental girdle. Sometimes the women are represented without any indication of dress and appear to be perfectly nude, but it is difficult to say whether this is not simply an impression caused by the outlines of the dress having been effaced, or if the painter omitted to paint them on account of their transparency.

To banquets and festivals the professional musicians and dancing girls were also invited to entertain the guests by music and dances, which was considered an indispensable condition of good entertainment. In the houses of the rich, slaves were kept, whose duty it was, in addition to other occupations, to divert their masters and their guests with the art of dancing. But it was not customary for a well bred ancient Egyptian to indulge in the dance in public or in private, — that was the privilege of the lower classes. Dancing, however, was a part of education as well as music.

The Egyptians danced also within the temples in honour of their deities, and outside them during religious festivals. This custom was borrowed from them by the Jews, who neither considered it incompatible with the dignity of religion. This oldest treatise on the Egyptian dancing is quite modest. The author confines himself to facts gathered from ancient Egyptian pictures, and never attempts even to classify the dances.

Note: In a new edition of Wilkinson's work, *) J. Gardner Wilkinson: "The manners and customs of the ancient Egyptians" (new edition revised and corrected by Samuel Birch, I. - III. London 1878, Part. I.,pages 500—510).*) Birch literally reprints "Wilkinson's chapter on the dance from the first edition of his book, and supplements it with a paragraph on pictures of dances from the walls of tombs in the Old Empire and with a final remark.

Adolf Erman: "Aegypten und aegyptisches Leben im Altertum, neu bearbeitet von Hermann Ranke" (Tubingen, 1923), writes:

Dancing was not to be omitted from any of the ancient Egyptian festivals, because to the Egyptian it was a natural expression of joy. The farmer, bringing sacrifice to the god Min in Gebtiu at harvest time, always danced. Dancing went on during the festivals held in honour of the great goddesses of joy Hathor and Bastet.

We have little knowledge of these popular dances at harvest festivals of the Old Empire, men danced having previously put aside their dress except the belt, performing quick movements and holding canes in their hands, clapping them together.

More frequently we meet with dances performed by women of the household, by which they diverted their masters and mistresses. Judging by the old pictures these dances are very quiet and restrained. The dancers followed one after another, hardly lifting their feet from the ground and moving their hands sometimes other women beat time clapping their hands, at others they were accompanied by airs on harps and pipes.

But in this period already more lively dances are met with, which may be compared with our present day ballet. Also pair dancing occurs, and a picture dating from the Sixth Dynasty has been preserved in which girls, dancing with canes ornamented with little gazelle-heads, are divided—as it seems—into fours. More complicated dances, performed by men, occur rarely. One of such dances consisting of three sections has been known from a tomb, dating from the end of the Fourth Dynasty. The dancers, dressed in belts trimmed with long tassels, are facing each other, holding each others' hands and executing the same movements. In the first section they are lifting hands and feet opposite each other in the second, they are standing on one leg and bending the other at the knee like storks in the third one they exhibit a back to back position as if they wanted to flee in opposite directions. Each section of this dance bears its particular name, because the Egptians saw certain meanings in them. Such dances are not very far remote from our tableaux vivants. These we encounter in one of the Beni Hassan tombs in one of them two girls are depicted, one representing a king, the other his defeated enemy. On the other one a girl represents the wind, the two others a bush and grass respectively swayed by the wind. The participating girls are dressed in men's short aprons, the customary dress of women dancers in the Old and Middle Kingdoms showing the body covered as scantily as possible. The dancers wear necklaces, bracelets, rings on their feet and garlands on their heads. The chest is covered with ribbons. Their hair has sometimes been braided into a pigtail, the end of which has been weighted with a ball so as to ensure a graceful line during the dance.

The girl servants diverted their masters and mistresses also with games, neither were acrobatic performers lacking. The span was a known accomplishment to them. One of them, drawn from a Beni Hassan tomb, so controlled her body, that being bent backward in an arch and not touching the ground with her hands, she was in a position to carry a companion on her body. Another one with her head turned downward is being carried by her companion, two others are being whisked about by men, touching the ground only by heels. They are dressed in the customary long robes.

The dancers of the New Kingdom exchanged the men's apron for long transparent linen cloaks, which more revealed than concealed the body, or wore a narrow belt round their hips only. Dances of this period were more refined. Whereas previously the dancers were accompanied by music, now hired women dance at the banquets beating time themselves with tambourines or castagnettes in quick tempo.

This essay is accompanied by four pictures only (fig. 46, page 175, fig. 120-122, pages 280-282), but in the notes exact references are made to many pictures, which Wilkinson has omitted from his work.

For my part, there is only one objection to this essay. The author in his description considers our picture fig. 32 to be an illustration of three quiet postures instead of three phases of the same movement, and it does not occur to him that this posture—according to the physical law of balance—is altogether impossible. Correct comprehension of this picture would have led the author to a different interpretation of other pictures as well.

A. Wiedemann: Das alte Aegypten (Kulturgeschichtliche Bibliothek, herausgegeben von W. Foy, I. Reihe: Ethnologische Bibliothek 2, Heidelberg, 1920) devotes an independent chapter to the dance (pages 371-375) with two pictures (fig. 73, page 373, and fig. 26 on the attached plates) and four hieroglyphic signs, representing dancing men (page 371).

Although persons of higher standing did not themselves dance for pleasure, dancing was of considerable importance to the Egyptians. As shown by hieroglyphic signs, representing joy and its expression, the Egyptian, when giving way to the feeling of happiness, could not resist bounding and performing other movements, which especially in festive moments certainly were not arbitrary. So for instance on the arrival of the king and other persons of importance such bounds were executed by two men, armed with boomerangs, while three others likewise armed were beating time. At religious processions women danced around the sacred barge naked, or dressed in cloaks open in front, to the accompaniment of music, in order to chase away the demons by their complete or partial nudity. The participation at such ceremonies was rigorously observed and lists of participating temple servants have been preserved.

Also the king or his representative was obliged to dance at harvest festivals in honour of Min, the god of fertility. The often depicted king's haste with the sacrificial gift to the deity cannot be considered as a sacrificial dance. The speed simply demonstrates the zeal with which the king hurried to offer his sacrifice to the god.

Also the religious dances during funerals were of impor­tance to the Egyptians. Women in long robes, playing mu­sical instruments and lashing the air with branches, took part in the procession, while before the tomb a dance was performed for the benefit of the departed soul. Men pro­vided with high caps made of rushes moved about in quiet steps women clapping hands marked time. Sometimes the movements were livelier, the dancers rotated quickly and raised their feet high. At other times the dancers, conducted by a leading dancer, sped quickly forward bearing sacri­ficial instruments.

The movements of women dancers were considerably livelier than those of men. They fell in with a festive step, but then thrust about their hands and feet with all their might. Such dances are still customary at funerals in Egypt and in adjacent countries as well. The aim of the dance was not merely to cheer up the soul of the deceased, but also to chase away evil spirits who might harm the dead person, and for that reason the Egyptian, when still alive, often ex­pressed the wish that dances should not fail to be included in burial ceremonies. The model which the dancers partici­pating at funerals were following was the god Bes, who sometimes alone, sometimes with his companions, protected the young Sun from his enemies through dancing. As he was of a dwarfish figure, the Egyptians considered the burial dances especially efficacious if executed by a dwarf.

Also at banquets women danced to entertain the guests. Dressed rather in long than short robes or aprons, some­times they were completely naked or had a narrow belt round their hips. Often they moved slowly, playing mu­sical instruments, ordinarily in groups of two or more, sel­dom singly. Men dancers who were conspicuous through physical training, comical postures and movements seldom performed at banquets. With such dances they diverted the public in the streets for tips.

A carefully compiled list of literature dealing with an­cient Egyptian dances, which has been attached to this essay, deserves special notice.

Louise Klebs, Die Reliefs des alten Reiches, Die Reliefs und Malereien des mittleren Rei­ches, Heidelberg, 1915, 1922.

The authoress presents a complete list of all known pic­tures of dances from the Old and Middle Kingdoms, classi­fies them historically and describes them briefly.

The classification of the dances evokes my doubts regard­ing her opinion that slaughtering of cattle in the Old King­dom was accompanied by dancing in the same manner as in the Middle Kingdom dances were performed to a dying person or to a corpse, lying on the death-bed. Pictures of dancers in the vicinity of such scenes appear to me to be purely accidental.

Historically the classification of ancient Egyptian dan­ces in the way the authoress has carried it out evokes se­rious doubts, because of its logically erroneous judgment.

Pierre Montet in his book entitled "Scènes de la vie privée dans les tombeaux égyptiens de 1'ancien empire" (Publications de la faculté des lettres de 1'Uni-versité de Strasbourg, vol. 24, 1925) devotes a chapter to dancing on pages 365-368, the contents of which are as fol­lows: From the fact that women dancers are as a rule de­picted in a row under a line of musicians it does not follow that they danced to the accompaniment of music. The mu­sicians are men since women dancers have too short dresses, the master of the tomb would hardly allow other men to look at them. Women beating time with their hands always accompany women dancers. The vicinity of men musicians and women dancers can be explained by natural association of views by the artist who created the ornaments of the tomb.

In earlier times the dance consisted of a group of women with hands folded above the head, proceeding forward in time, so that one may rather speak of a march than of a dance. Later the movements of the women became more unrestrained standing on one leg they inclined their bodies backward and lifted the other leg forward. Sometimes they held instruments provided with little gazelles' heads, stri­king them together and so beating time. Later on more space in the tombs was reserved for pictures of dancing new dan­ces appear with particular names given to them, which some­times are written on the pictures.

The reason which M. Montet brings forth for his as­sumption that dancers were not accompanied by musicians, is not convincing. It is true, that from the pictures origina­ting in the Old Kingdom it cannot be judged whether the dance was accompanied by music or not, but from the pic­tures of other periods, representing women dancers accom­panied by music, one can assume that the same conditions prevailed also in the Old Kingdom, except in the ceremonial funeral dances.

We also know, that nudity was not so rare and so exci­ting a phenomenon to the ancient Egyptians as it would be to us to-day. That women danced at banquets adorned with jewels and girdles concealing nothing is attested by pictures fig. 13, 45, 48. The dancers wore short skirts not to exhibit their bodies, but in order that their legs should have comp­lete freedom of movement, which would not be possible, if they were dressed in the usual women's dress, the long nar­row robe. It is also possible to assume that dances, even in the oldest times, were not confined to the gestures depicted on pictures of tombs of the Old Kingdom. The artists select­ed these postures either out of incapacity to paint other dancing postures more difficult to draw, requiring quick perception (see fig. 13, 40), or drew the pictures from pat­terns, or copied old models out of indolence instead of arti­stically creating new ones.

Watch the video: Εξόδιος Ακολουθία Ηγούμενου Μονής Δοχειαρίου Γέροντος Γρηγορίου (July 2022).


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