Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Beginning of the Opening of the Mouth

The Opening of the Mouth, in its most elaborate form, first appeared in the Eighteenth Dynasty. At this time, the ceremonies may have lasted as long as four days , and it was performed in a chamber at the entrance to the tomb or on a spot outside the tomb, which had been made ceremonially pure . Participants in the ceremonies include the Lector (Kher-Heb) priest, the Sem priest, the Am-Khent priest, the Smer (who was probably a friend of the deceased), the Sa-Mer.f (who was either the son of the deceased or a chosen representative of the son), two women (one of whom represented the goddess Isis and the other of whom represented Nephthys), the Menhu (or slaughterer), as well as a group of people called the Heru-Shesu (the “Followers of Horus”) .

The Opening of the Mouth began with the placing of a statue of the deceased upon a heap of sand (which may have symbolized the primeval hill upon which the creator god appeared) that had been made ceremonially pure by the sprinkling of water. It seems to have been important for the statue to face south, although the significance of this is unknown .

The Kher-Heb priest, whose major function in the Opening of the Mouth was to read the ritual texts and to instruct the Sem priest on the proper actions to take, now ordered the Sem to don the “kniw” garment (which covered the Sem’s shoulders, breast and upper back) and to take a censer of burning incense and walk around the statue four times saying “Thou art pure O Osiris” .

The Sem next took four small “nemeset” vases filled with water and walked around the statue four times, emptying one vase of water upon the statue each time. The first time he did this he said, “Thou art pure. Thou art pure. Thy purifications are the purifications of Horus , and the purifications of Horus are thy purifications”. While emptying the second vase of water, the Sem priest repeated the same words except that Set was invoked, rather than Horus. The third and fourth vases were emptied in the name of Thoth and Geb respectively .

The Sem next took four “Dshrt” vases and repeated the same ritual that he had performed with the “nemeset” vases, after which he walked around the statue four times with a vase containing “Incense of the South” dissolved in the water. The Sem then circled the statue four more times with “Incense of the North” in his vase this time .

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Development of the Opening of the Mouth

            Exactly when the Opening of the Mouth first came into use is unknown, although it might have been as early as the Predynastic Period since a flint Pesh-en-kef, which dates to this period, has been found [1]

In the early Old Kingdom the Opening of the Mouth was still a relatively simple ceremony, which began with the sprinkling of water and the burning of incense for purification purposes. The statue[2] of the deceased was next anointed with seven kinds of unguents and the eyes were anointed with two different kinds of eye paint. Two garments were presented, after which there was a censing and sprinkling of water. The statue was then considered ready for the funerary meal, which usually consisted of several kinds of cakes and breads served with beer[3].

            In the Fifth Dynasty the Opening of the Mouth becomes far more complex and references are now made to Horus performing funerary rites for his father Osiris. Budge[4] was of the opinion that the earlier, and less complex, ceremony may have been favored by the theologians of Memphis, while the priests who drew up the texts for the pyramids of Unas, Teti, and Pepi II were under the influence of a cult not accepted at Memphis (quite possibly that of Osiris).

            During the latter part of the Old Kingdom the Opening of the Mouth was still far less complex than it would become in the New Kingdom, but many of the rituals used later had already made an appearance by this time. For instance, from the texts of Unas we learn that the ceremonies opened with several purification rituals, which were followed by the touching of the eyes and mouth with the Pesh-en-kef and then with the “Iron of the North” and the “Iron of the South”. After this there followed a series of rituals in which food was offered to the deceased and the statue was anointed and dressed[5].

            As mentioned earlier, the Middle Kingdom provides archaeologists with no real knowledge of the development of the Opening of the Mouth. That this is extremely unfortunate as there can be no doubt, especially when one considers the relative simplicity of the Old Kingdom ceremony as compared to the complex set of rituals with which we are confronted in the Eighteenth Dynasty. There must have been a great deal of change in this funeral ceremony during the Middle Kingdom, but no evidence of the changes is available to us.

[1] E. A. W. Budge, The Book of the Opening of the Mouth (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Truber & Co., 1909, vol. I, p. vii.

[2] In some cases the actual body of the deceased might be used instead of a statue.

[3] Budge, vol. 1, pp. 2-3.

[4] Budge, vol. I, pp. 4-5.

[5] E. A. W. Budge, The Egyptian Book of the Dead (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1967), pp. cxxxix-cxli.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Egyptian Opening of the Mouth Ceremony (Cont.)

Burial in ancient Egypt was accompanied by ceremonies in which certain prayers were recited and rituals were enacted, the purpose being to assure the deceased the pleasure of eternal happiness in the afterlife. One of the most important of these ceremonies was the Opening of the Mouth,

From the Coffin Texts, Spell Two, we learn that the shade of the deceased was separated from his body after death[1]. It was necessary to reunite the deceased with his shade before he could enter the underworld This reunion was accomplished by means of the Opening of the Mouth[2]. Furthermore, the Opening of the Mouth also enabled the deceased to eat, drink and speak in the afterlife.

            Representations of the Opening of the Mouth are frequently encountered. Several papyri of the Eighteenth Dynasty or later have vignettes which depict portions of the ceremony, with the vignette of Chapter XXIII of the Book of the Dead from the Papyrus of Ani being unique in that the deceased is represented in a seated position during the performance of the Opening of the Mouth, while in every other representation of this ceremony the deceased is shown standing. The significance of this, if any, is unknown.

            Another representation of the Opening of the Mouth is to be found in the tomb of Ken-Amun, while in the tomb of Tutankhamen, Aye is shown opening the deceased’s mouth. The tomb of the Vizir Rekhmire (reign of Tuthmose III) contains representations of a large number of the rituals that make up the Opening of the Mouth. Perhaps the finest (artistically) representation of this ceremony is to be found in the tomb of Seti I (Nineteenth Dynasty).

            These representations are helpful in reconstructing the Opening of the Mouth, but it is the body of texts dealing with this ceremony, which is of the greatest help to anyone attempting to understand this funerary ritual. The earliest mention of the Opening of the Mouth is in the Fourth Dynasty tomb of Methen, but it is not until the appearance of the Pyramid Texts that any detailed description is available[3]. References to the Opening of the Mouth in the Middle Kingdom are rare, with what references there are providing little new information[4].

            From the New Kingdom come two detailed texts, one from the tomb of Rekhmire and one from the tomb of the Pharaoh, Seti I. From later periods several texts are known, including the coffin of Buthiamon (Dynasty XXI), the tomb chapel of Imeniritis (from the Saite Period), a papyrus from late Ptolemaic times and a papyrus from the Roman Period[5].

[1] “Geb has commanded, and the double lion has repeated, that you be given your soul which is in the earth (i. e. the tomb) and your shade which is in the hidden places.” See: R. O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts, vol. I, (Warminster: Aris & Phillips Ltd. 1973), p. 1.

[2] T. J. C. Baly, Notes on the Ritual of Opening the Mouth”, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 16, p. 174.

[3] Baly, p. 174.

[4] Baly, p. 174.

[5] Baly, p. 174.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

TheEgyptian Opening of the Mouth Ceremony

I recently found a printed copy of a paper I wrote in college (on a typewriter if you can believe it!) about the ancient Egyptian “Opening of the Mouth Ceremony”. I have re-typed it into my laptop and updated it. I will be uploading it in pieces to this blog over the course of the next couple of weeks.

For those who are not familiar with the Opening of the Mouth, it was a major part of an ancient Egyptian’s funeral services. It was designed to re-unite the soul of the deceased with his body (or a statue that could be used to take the place of the body). The Opening of the Mouth also gave the deceased the ability to breathe, eat and speak in the afterlife.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

There's an App for Everything

I decided to see what (free) apps existed for iPhones (or iPads) for those of us interested in archaeology. There are not many, but there are a few:

1) British Museum - The Book of the Dead: this app was created to promote a special exhibit the British Museum had on the Egyptian Book of the Dead in 2011. There is a short video that can be viewed on the topic. You can also answer a few reasonably easy questions to unlock a copy of the papyrus of Hunefer for viewing. Some of the vignettes (such as the weighing of the heart) in the papyrus are explained when you click on them. Overall, an app that is interesting but could have been so much more.

2) Louvre Top 100 - this app has some stunning photos of the major works of art housed in the Louvre Museum in Paris. Ninety-Six of the objects have nothing to do with the ancient Middle East. The four items that do are:

  • The Law Code of Hammurabi
  • The Mesha Stela (9th Century B. C., from Jordan)
  • The Dendera Zodiac - Egypt (about 50 B. C.)
  • The Seated Scribe - Egypt (Old Kingdom)

Each object has a photo and a short description. Hopefully someone will use this same format for an app that covers a major collection of Egyptian or Mesopotamian art.

3) The Brooklyn Museum - the app itself has nothing on it really. There is, however, a link to the museum's full website. The website has some good photos and descriptions of:

  • Egyptian Mummies
  • Assyrian Reliefs
  • Egyptian Sculptures

Overall, these apps have their moments, but could be better. Hopefully someone will fill this gap in the near future (do I smell a business opportunity here?).