Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Heart (Ancient Egypt times)

Detail from book of the Dead papyrus of Kerqun, Egypt

The heart was important in ancient Egyptian culture
not only as a physical organ, but also as the centre of intellect, character and emotion.
The heart’s relationship with the pulse was recognised, but it was also established as the home of romantic love.
A separate hieroglyph was used for each of the different roles the heart played: haty referring to the physical heart,
ib to the spiritual.
The significance of the heart continued even after death,
as the key to securing a place in the afterlife. As the principal organ, only the heart could truly tell whether the deceased had led a virtuous life.
So, while the brain was removed during embalming,
the heart was carefully left in place.
In the presence of the gods, the heart was weighed against a feather, the symbol of Maat, meaning ‘what is right’. If the heart did not balance with Maat, then the deceased would be consumed by ‘the devourer’ - part crocodile, part lion and part hippopotamus.

Heart scarabs and amulets were often left with the body to ensure that the heart would give a good account of the deceased.


Book of the Dead papyrus of Kerqun, Ptolemaic, Egypt; © the Trustees of The British Museum. This sheet shows the ceremony of the judgement of the dead before Osiris, the central god of Egyptian funereal rituals and ruler of the Underworld. The heart of Kerqun, represented by the hieroglyph for heart, sits on the left pan of the scale to be weighed against a feather representing Maat. To the left of the scales waits the devourer, ready to consume the heart should it not balance with Maat. The judgement is proclaimed and recorded by the scribe Thoth, the ibis-headed god.

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