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Video transcript

we're in the British Museum in London in a room that is filled with ancient Egyptian mummies and as a result it's also filled with modern children and tourists it's a great room there's great stuff here we're looking at a fragment of a scroll which is largely ignored if the papyrus scroll and papyrus is a reed that grows in the Nile Delta that was made into a kind of paper like substance and actually was probably the single most important surface for writing right up into the medieval we're looking at a written text of something that we call The Book of the Dead which the ancient Egyptians had other names for but which was an ancient text that had spells and prayers and incantations things that the Dead needed in the afterlife this is a tradition that goes all the way back to the Old Kingdom writing that we call Pyramid Texts these were sets of instructions for the afterlife and then later we have coffin texts writing on coffins and then even later in the New Kingdom we have Scrolls like this that we call the books of the Dead sometimes the texts were written on papyrus like the one we're looking at sometimes they were written on shrouds that the dead were buried in so these were really important texts that were originally just for Kings in the Old Kingdom but came to be used by people who were not just part of the royal family but still people of high rank and that's what we're looking at here this text was found in the tomb of someone named who never a scribe scribe had a priestly status so we are dealing here with somebody who is literate who occupied a very high station in Egyptian culture and we actually see representations of the man who had died was buried with this text and we look on the left edge of this scroll at the top you can see a crouching figure in white who nifer who is speaking to a line of pouching deities gods professing the good life that he lived that he's earned a place in the afterlife well what we have below is a scene of judgment whether who never has lived a good life and deserves to live into the afterlife and we see who never again this time standing on the far left and we can recognize him because he's wearing the same white robe and he's being led by the hand by a god with a jackal head Anubis a god that's associated with the dead with mummification with cemeteries and he's carrying in his left hand and on a symbol of eternal life and that's exactly what who nifer is after if we continue to move toward the right we see that jackal-headed God again Anubis this time crouching and adjusting a scale making sure that it is exactly balanced and the left side we see the heart of the dead so the heart is on one side of the scale on the other side of the feather the feather belongs to my two we also see at the very top of the scale we can see a feather coming out of her head now my aunt is a deity associated with divine order with living an ethical ordered life and in this case that the feather is lower the feather is heavier Huna fir has lived an ethical life and therefore he's brought into the afterlife so he won't be devoured by that evil looking beast next to Anubis that's almond who has the head of a crocodile the body of a lion and the hindquarters of a hippopotamus he's waiting to devour hoon effers heart should he be found to have not lived an ethical life not lived according to Maya the Egyptians believed that only if you live the ethical life only if you pass this test would you be able to have access to the afterlife it's not like their Christian conception where you have an afterlife for everybody no matter if they were blessed or sinful that is you either go to heaven or you go to here you only go to the afterlife if you have been found to be ethical the next figure that we see is another deity this time with the head of an Ibis of a bird this is Thoth who is recording the Proceedings of what happens to Hoonah fur and in this case reporting that he has succeeded and will move on to the afterlife I love the representation of Thoth he is so upright and his arm is stretched out rendered in such a way that we trust him he's going to get this right next you see who never yet again this time being introduced to one of the supreme gods in the Egyptian pantheon Osiris and he's being introduced to Osiris by Osiris his son Horus Horus is easy to remember whose Horus is associated with a falcon and here has a Falcons head Horus is the son of Osiris and holds in his left hand and ankh which we saw earlier and again that's a symbol of eternal life he is introducing him to Osiris as you said who is in this fabulous enclosure speaks to the importance of this deity he's enthroned he carries symbols of Egypt and he sits behind a lotus blossom a symbol of eternal life and on top of that lotus blossom Horus is for children who represent the four cardinal points north south east and west the children of Horus are responsible for caring for the internal organs that would be placed in canopic jars so they have a critical responsibility for keeping the dead preserved we see Horus again but symbolized as an eye now remember Horus is represented as a falcon as a bird and so here even though he's the symbol of the eye he has talents instead of hands and those carry an ostrich feather also a symbol of eternal life the representation of the eye of horus has to do with another ancient Egyptian myth the battle between Horus and Seth but that's another story now behind Osiris we see two smaller standing female figures one of whom is this of Cyrus's wife other is her sister Nephthys who is a guardian of the afterlife and sister of Anubis though figure who we saw in the very beginning leading une affaire into judgment notice the white platform that those figures are standing on that represents Natron the natural assaults that are deposited in the Nile and they were used by the ancient Egyptians to dry out all of the mummies that are in this room so that they could be preserved actually the word preservation is really key to thinking about Egyptian culture generally because this is a culture whose forms whose representations in art remain remarkably the same for thousands of years even though there are periods of instability or even just before this we had the are marna period where we saw a very different way of representing the human figure what we see here these forms look very familiar to us because this is the typical way the ancient Egyptians represented the human figure even though this is a painting from the New Kingdom these forms would have been recognizable to Egyptians thousands of years earlier in the Old Kingdom and we see that mixture that we see very often in ancient Egyptian art of words of hieroglyphs of writing and images left the mix in our modern culture we really make a distinction between written language and the visual arts and here in ancient Egypt there really is this closer relationship this greater sense of integration
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