Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Egyptian Book of the Dead

James Wasserman
Chronical Books
San Francisco, CA
ISBN 978-0-8118-6489-3

This large Chronicle book is the complete papyrus of Ani in the collection of the British Museum with a preface by Carol A. R. Andrews and an introduction by Dr. Ogden Goelet. The translations of the papyrus are by Dr. Raymond Faulkner and while it is true the book is large it is also thankfully a carryable book complete including all 37 pages Sir Wallace Budge cut the original papyrus into dismembering the text in a desire for aesthetics.

I have long seen the beauty in the well-known images but to have the complete document is more than about pretty pictures. Ani's book of the dead's wonderful images are not accompanied by equally impressive texts, the painter is finer than the scribe. The book's foreword and introduction were very useful in putting the papyrus into context.

Ani's Book of the dead opens with an introductory Hymn to the sun god Re including an image of Ani and his wife in adoration in front of a table of offerings. This is followed with a similar vignette of Ani and his wife only, this time, the hymn is to Osiris.

Perhaps my favorite image of Ani's Book of the Dead is the field of offerings though there are so many wonderful vignettes. Dr. Faulkner's translations of the papyrus are excellent as in example chapter 77 for being transformed into a falcon of gold begins:

     " I have appeared as a great falcon, having come forth from the egg; I have flown up and alighted as a falcon of four cubits along its back, who's wings are of green stone of Upper Egypt; I have gone up from the coffer into the Night bark, I have brought my heart from the eastern mountains, I have alighted in the Day-bark, there are brought to me those of ancient times bowing down, and they give me worship when I appear, having been reassembled as a fair falcon of gold upon the pointed stone."

The papyrus of Ani ends and is followed by a four-page map key to the papyrus. In the next section, we are on to the chapters in the Theban recension not found in the papyrus. This section is definitely not for the average reader as informative as it is it also at times difficult to read as the spells become more and more abstract.

In the final section, we are on to a commentary by Dr. Ogden Goelet of  New York University who lays down the developments in religious texts leading up to the creation of the book of the dead as well as it's development up to the Roman period.

The concepts of gods and magic are dealt with excellent clarity with their being a strong division between what in our modern world is termed religion dealing with the minds view of monotheism and what we perceive to be ancient Egypt's polytheistic values. In the final commentary by Dr. Goelet, he explains the vignettes in Ani's Book of the Dead beautifully.

The Egyptian Book of the Dead is certainly not for kids though it would still be an interesting pictorial addition till the day they delve into the incredibly complex composition that is also probably not textually enjoyable to readers of any age unless the desire of the reader is to take on a challenging read in the study of this historically important document.

I began reading Ani's book of the dead in the middle of May and found something deep and so here I am relieved 7 months later to have read this incredible document certainly this book is an enhancement to the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

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