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Papyrus of the month - The Amduat

written by Enrico Pozzi

The Amduat

written by Enrico Pozzi

What is the Amduat?

The Amduat is a cosmographic and scientific treatise that describes the Egyptian Netherworld’s features. In other words, the Amduat constitutes an ontological model to grasp the physical reality of What is in the Netherworld through a multimodal composition of text and image.

More precisely, the Amduat is not just a funerary composition but represents the king’s knowledge of the Sun-god Re’s path during the Twelve Hours of the night.

A cosmography of the Netherworld

Papyrus Cat. 1776

The manuscript was procured from western Thebes in Upper Egypt, and it can be dated to the 21st Dynasty (1076-944 BC), more precisely during the reign of Amenemope (1002-933 BC).

The recto of Turin papyrus Cat. 1776 presents the most complete version of the Amduat within Museo Egizio’s papyri collection. The manuscript presents on the left the last four hours (9th-12th Hours) of the Langfassung (or Long version) and on the right 97 columns of text reporting the Kurzfassung (or Short version) which synthesise the Sun-god’s journey from the First to the Seventh Hours of the night (the Eighth Hour is missing).

What are the origins of the Amduat?

The so-called Treatise of the Hidden Chamber is a cultural product of the 18th Dynasty funerary beliefs (1539-1292 BC) that decorates the New Kingdom royal burial chambers (1539-1077 BC) in the Valley of the Kings, western Thebes. The decoration of Thutmosis III sarcophagus chamber (KV 34) represents the best formal expression of this cosmography. The series of pictures in his hypogeous describe the Netherworld’s reality in three modes or languages: visual, linguistic and architectural. The creative power and the performativity of the written speech create the connection that binds the treatise with the architectural context of the funerary complex. Through this operation, the Netherworld (cfr. the Duat) is projected inside the burial chambers and, the other way around, the corpse of the king is able to participate in the success of the regeneration of the solar hypostasis during the night.

Papyrus Turin Cat. 1776

In the Third Intermediate Period (1076-664 BC), and more precisely during the theocratic regime of the 21st Dynasty (1076-945 BC), versions of the Amduat were copied on papyri and sarcophagi belonging to the Theban priests and members of their families. But of course, the new writing supports were much smaller than the walls of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, and Theban scribes were forced to choose and re-elaborate only specific excerpts from the original corpus of the treatise.

Museo Egizio’s papyri collection preserves eighteen Amduat manuscripts belonging to the Third Intermediate Period, among which Turin papyrus Cat. 1776 represents the most significant example.

For more information on the papyri see TPOP.

Ninth Hour

In the 21st Dynasty funerary manuscripts, it is quite rare to find episodes and scenes belonging to the Ninth Hour of the night because the scribes usually prefer to display different aspects of the Sun’s nocturnal journey. Nevertheless, the Ninth Hour gives us precious details about the description of the Netherworld’s landscape. For example, the bottom register’s last episode displays Horus alongside eight deities who protect the god’s garden and the gloss of the text, written in red ink, describes their function in relation to the context in which they are represented:

"These are the gods of the fields of this place, Lords of life, bearing djamut-sceptres. […] They are those who cause all the trees and all the plants of this place to grow."

Tenth Hour

The Tenth Hour presents some significant concepts and displays the regenerative characteristics of the Netherworld.

In the top register, the scribe presents the healing process of the Sun-god’s eyes. In the second scene, the left eye, called "The double-coiled", emerges from two snakes that are between two deities - one bearing the Red crown and the other bearing the White crown (symbols of Upper and Lower Egypt), whereas the right eye, called "The wrapped (staff?)", comes out from the top of the hieroglyphic sign for “god”. In the next scene, eight deities, representing the goddess Sekhmet’s unpredictable nature (both destructive and healing), head towards the mummy-shaped canine-headed god "Flesh, who carries his eye" to examine, heal and protect the Sun-god’s eye he bears in his hands

Re says to them: "Power to your forms, you powerful ones, that you may inspect the eye (cfr. of Horus) for him, that you may make firm for him his prime (eye) which is in the arms of 'Flesh, who carries his eye'”.

In the bottom register, we see the Netherworld’s more merciful nature in which Horus’ hypostasis uses magic spells to assist several drowned corpses who share the same destiny as Osiris (cfr. the death of Osiris in the Nile). This scene shows how the divine intervention of Horus can intercede for those who do not have the required funeral ritual arrangements as they have died an unfortunate or violent death, or their bodies are missing or have drowned.

Words spoken by Horus to the drowned, to the upturned, to those stretched out, who are in the Nun and belong to the Netherworld (cfr. the Duat). "Air to your Ba-souls, that they not be constricted! Rowing to your arms, without their being held back! You prepare your way in the Nun with your legs, without your knees being hindered!"

Eleventh Hour

The Eleventh Hour displays a predominantly apotropaic characteristic, particularly in the bottom register, whereas the top register refers to the dual concept of time, both "flowing" and "static".

In fact, in the bottom register Horus’ hypostasis orders the destruction and annihilation of the hostile forces that interfere with establishing the natural order (Cfr. the Maat principle). In the first scene, the serpent "He who burns millions", one lion-headed goddess and four anthropomorphic fire-spitting and knife-wielding goddesses slaughter Re’s enemies over their fire-pits, while in the second scene, five anthropomorphic deities punish Osiris’ enemies in the western desert.

Orders given by the person of this great god (cfr. Horus) to slaughter those who beat his father Osiris. […] "Punishment for your corpses by (the knife) 'Punisher”' annihilation to your bA-souls, trampling down your shadows, severing for your heads!"

Twelfth Hour

The Twelfth Hour describes the end of the Sun-god Re’s nocturnal journey through the Netherworld. This last hour of the night displays the triumph of Re over his nemesis, the serpent Apophis, and represents the message of the Amduat in concrete and eschatological terms: the rebirth of the sun disk at dawn.

In the middle register, in order to complete the Sun’s rejuvenation process, twelve gods and twelve goddesses tow the solar barque through the entire body of the life-regenerating serpent "Life of the Gods".

He (cfr. Re) enters its tail (cfr. of the serpent “Life of the Gods”), and he comes out from its mouth, born in his manifestation of Khepri.

On the register’s far right-hand side, we see the accomplishment of this deed: a beetle known as Khepri, the Sun-god in his renewed form, exits the Netherworld by travelling through the outstretched arms of the air-god Shu to be reborn as the sun disk at dawn. In the top and bottom registers, many deities witness the end of the Sun-god’s journey, praising the Great God and protecting him from the danger of his nemesis, the serpent Apophis.

"Live, Foremost of his darkness! Live, Great one, Foremost of his darkness! Lord of life, Ruler of the West, Osiris, Foremost of the Westerners, in life – another time - Foremost of the Netherworld (cfr. the Duat)!"

Museo Egizio