The Nefertum Chapel of Sety I at Abydos

Below is an introduction by Geoffrey Graham to the Nefertum Chapel inscriptions, which is edited from Geoff's original posts to the AEL list.


From: Graham <geoffrey.graham@yale.edu>
To: Ancient Egyptian Language List <AEgyptian-L@rostau.demon.co.uk>
Subject: AEL Background on the Nefertum Chapel

I have made some new texts available for those of you who wish to try your hand at reading something completely different.

I thought that it might be nice for a change if we were to read some texts in something more like their original context, so that we could see the traditional blend of text and art which occurs in Egyptian temples.

The images are from drawings in Auguste Mariette's _Abydos: description des fouilles executees sur l'emplacement de cette ville_, vol. I, Paris, 1869. The copyright is obviously expired, and this book is so rare that it is not readily available just anywhere.

The subject is reliefs from the Chapel to Nefertum in the Sokar Complex of the Temple of Sety I at Abydos. I have put up approximately half of the reliefs from that location in the temple for your perusal. I hope that people will enjoy the interesting iconography and the use of standard temple inscription formulae.

I am sorry that the images are somewhat imperfect, but they were scanned from copies of copies, the best that I could do for now. I hope to put up other images in the future with higher quality. Anyway, this will be more like what Egyptologists really do... we have to suffer through obscured writings, lacunae, and oddly formed signs. I hope it will be amusing as well as challenging work.

Each image is identified by a letter of the alphabet. I figure that those who wish to read the texts should begin with letter A, and proceed in alphabetical order. There are two parts to scene E (E1 and E2). These separate images would have fit together into a single scene. The just would not fit easily in one image.

Background

This chapel is one of the chapels of the Sokar Complex of Sety I at his Abydos temple. This means that the chapel was more than likely especially used during the Sokar Feast for part of the rites associated therewith. Therefore, the God Sokar is just about as prominent as Nefertum, the owner of the chapel. Nefertum's relationship to Sokar is as the devoted son who helps in the resurrection of his father just as Horus/Anubis/Wepwawet does for Osiris/Andjety/Khentamenthes.

The familial relationship works on the lines of the Memphite triad which comprised Ptah, Sekhmet, and Nefertum, however the mortuary versions of Ptah and Sekhmet were Generally Sokar and Hathor. Sokar was undoubtedly originally a distinct deity of the Memphite necropolis: r3-sT3.w "Giza" (like the name of this List's server "Rostau" though I would have spelled if "Rosetjau") and pD.w "Saqqara", the modern name of which is believed to come from that of Sokar. There is a possibility that he was actually transplanted to the Memphite region from Busiris or some other Delta location. He represented the fertility that lies at the bottom of the underworld as well as the minerals and vegetal produce of the earth. He was carried on a boat known as the Henu-barque which had the form of a the crescent moon. His stellar manifestation was that of Orion.

Ptah was the main deity of the city of Memphis, but was soon identified with Sokar in the composite god Ptah-Sokar. Sometime later in the Old Kingdom, after the ascendence of Osiris as the principal mortuary god from Heliopolis, this god was grafted on too, and the composite Ptah-Sokar-Osiris was formed.

The Sokar Feast was celebrated every year at the setting (disappearance from the night sky) of the constellation Orion, which was a symbolic death of Ptah-Sokar-Osiris. The rites center around the preparation of his body, actually a corn Osiris which would later sprout after watering, and its placement into a tomb, but the culmination of the ceremonies involved the resurrection of the god in the form of the full moon rising on the lotus of Nefertum. This is why these scenes show Nefertum holding the Eye-of-Horus, which was the full moon in Egyptian thought.

Ptah-Sokar-Osiris was aided by many gods during these proceedings. The principal actors on his behalf were Sekhmet (and various others of her avatars such as Hathor, Wedjoyet, Neith, etc.), Nefertum, and Thoth. Other deities who form part of the background for this cult are Nun, Tatjenen, and various manifestations of the underworld sungod. This is because Orion (Ptah-Sokar-Osiris) had to return to the uncreated world to be regenerated.

Much of the imagery of this chapel will seem very enigmatic to most of you. The Sokar cult was a specifically Memphite phenomenon, and therefore was somewhat different from the standard Egyptian religion which we know from Heliopolitan and Theban traditions. This chapel, however was built in Abydos, way up the river from Memphis in Upper Egypt. This was probably so that the mortuary religions of Upper and Lower Egypt could be celebrated together in this comprehensive temple of Sety I's.

[See below for the links]

I particularly want to Thank Stephen Fryer for all his help. He scanned the images, emailed them back to me, and then he helped me verify that the page was up and running.

Have fun!

Yours, Geoff Graham
sokar@minerva.cis.yale.edu

A. North Wall, Upper Register, Middle
B. East Wall, Right Door Jamb
C. South Wall, Upper Register, Left End
D. North Wall, Upper Register, Left End
E1. North Wall, Lower Register, Left End
E2. North Wall, Lower Register, Middle
F. South Wall, Upper Register, Right End

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