Wednesday 9 July 2014

A Plea from the Heart

PACHI is honoured to have received a communication from the akh of the Justified before Osiris, Sekhemka who has been in the news recently:
Tonight as Ra journeys below the western horizon, the ka of Sekhemka , justified before Osiris, will find no repose. As has been these two past centuries. Abandoned by his Ka-servants, alone in his tomb, forced to wander for sustenance among the land of the living by day. The offerings ceased, his name forgotten, his House of the Living was covered by the sands of the Western Desert, until with the passage of time sons of Seth violated its portals, laid them bare, laid impious hands on its contents and took my shadow to unknown sunless islands beyond the Keftiw. There I have long been exposed to the stares and violations of the godless.

On the morrow the wicked will bargain for Sekhmet’s shadow, as in a fishmarket, like a slave. I who was the Inspector of the Scribes in the royal court, sole companion of the Lord of the Two Lands, Life, Prosperity, Health be unto him forever, brought to this by the iniquitous.
May Egypt's gods have mercy on me, that I may live by their benevolence. Whichever god decreed this exile, have mercy, bring me home! Surely you will let me see the place in which my heart dwells? What is more important than that my ka find repose in the land in which I was born? Let me come back to Egypt! See the residence in which I lived! Kiss the ground at the great portals, mingle with the people! Once again to find repose along the great river, among its green fruit groves and fragrant herbs. Come to my aid! May the Great God pity me, may he act so as to make retribution to one whom he punished. May his heart ache for one whom he forced to stay abroad. If he is truly appeased today, may he hearken to the prayer of one far away. May he return one whom he made roam the earth to the place from which he allowed him to be carried off! As for any man who shall lay his hands on the property of this akh and further violate me in his impurity, he shall be judged for it by the great god. Let his neck be wrung like that of a bird and his lifeless corpse burn in the fires that consume unclean things and the breath of Seth scatter his ashes for ever in the stony desolation of the empty desert.

I think we tend to forget that, in the case of Ancient Egypt, many of the eagerly collected trophies (portable antiquities) which find themselves in foreign hands had for their original users deep religious significance, not to mention were intimately connected in their minds with their future fate. Sekhemka's 'shadow' (stature in his likeness) was (is) the house for his ka-soul. Only the maintenance of offering to this statue according to the prescribed rite (hardly likely to have been continuing in Castle Ashby or Northampton) prevented the akh-soul (a combination of the ba and ka) from experiencing a second death. By removing him from his tomb, looters killed Sekhemka, who, in the eyes of his culture, now wanders the earth as a homeless living dead. Perhaps some of my less culturally-sensitive readers are scoffing at such notions, but in what way does this tomb-statue differ from a Hopi mask, Native American kachinas, sacred artefacts, African fetishes, Jewish Torah scrolls, Australian tjuringa stones or the sacred objects of any other culture (including our own)?

Once upon a time some artefact collectors, wanting to create a good impression, wrote a "Code of Ethics" (most of which they pinched from me) which said they'd not touch such items. Let us see tomorrow afternoon how "ethical" collectors will be faced with a trophy item as unprecedented as Sekhemka's soul. How many millions is a dead man's soul worth?

UPDATE 10th July 2014
In the perfect illustration of the lack of cultural sensitivity among collectors, we find that in no-kid-left-behind-land, there are some who do not understand plain English. The above text by the akh of Sekhemka is of course not merely a "heartfelt plea that tombs not be disturbed to satisfy collectors".  (Now all we need is for the "challenged by formal education" sidekick to add his next ad hominem to the Cultural Property Obfuscater blog for the picture of total oikery to complete itself.)  There is of course no "mummy's curse" here (Cf. Deuteronomy 32:35).

1 comment:

Paul Barford said...

Incidentally, the question of how death and the afterlife were seen in the fifth dynasty is an interesting one. My text ('voicing the concerns of Sekhemka') was a pastiche of two authentic ones, the tale of Sinuhe (a brilliant piece of work set in the Middle Kingdom and probably written about then) and the equally brilliant (so-called) 'Autobiography of Harkhuf' from his tomb near Aswan. In reality we know rather little about popular ideas about the afterlife in the Old Kingdom from the written documents. I've never really got to grips with the Pyramid Texts (which refer only to the Pharaoh anyway) and most of what we know comes from the various editions of the so-called "Book of the Dead" which are much later.

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