Monday, 8 December 2008

Karnak the Quintessential Sacred City - Sylvie Cauville-Colin

I was very lucky this week as the lecturer Sylvie Cauville-Colin very kindly gave me her entire presentation including her script. So below is her actual script. If anyone would like the entire presentation including all the slides please email me and I will send then a copy. BTW it is 22MB

It might be strange to hear me talk about Karnak, because I am from the future, the time of the fall of Egypt — as some ancient scholars used to say.
You all know that the past is buried under the foundations of the buildings.
But, I hope you will see that the future (I mean the Graeco-Roman period) provides the light necessary to help us study the remains of the buildings.
One can’t explain the offerings in Karnak, Luxor or Medinet Habu without the texts of the last pharaohs — whether they be Ptolemies or Caesars.

I want to share with you my personal understanding of Karnak
— with the help of Edfu and Dendara, and with the help of my favorite gods, Osiris and Hathor.
Karnak is certainly the largest and most important temple in Egypt, not the most beautiful but it is, above all, the most sacred,
as if the gods were still with us here, in the earth, in the walls, in the wind.
At the beginning of Egypt’s history, the political power was in the north, in the hands of the pharaohs and the priests of Memphis and Heliopolis.

All temples glorified the royal power, a human king in the New Kingdom, a god in the Ptolemaic time.
The purpose of the priests was political proclamation of the legitimate royal power, whether referring to a pharaoh in Karnak, or Horus in Edfu.
In Edfu, Horus is the son of Re and the heir of Osiris. He inherited his power from the three dynastic gods : Re-Horakhty from Heliopolis, Ptah from Memphis and Amun from Thebes.
In Edfu, the three gods of the three capital cities are presented all along the temple walls, from the hypostyle to the Heliopolitan coronation chapel whose name is the “throne of Re”.
Ptolemy gave wine to Re, myrrh to Ptah, and Maât to Amun.

The offerings were not for the three of them, but they were to be given back to Horus during the crowning ceremonies.

The king received milk during his baptism, and wine for his crowning, as well as myrrh and Maât — the symbol of his duty, honesty and integrity.
Even if Ptolemy is a khawaga, he is still a pharaoh, the heir of Menes.
He is blessed by Heliopolis, Memphis, Thebes.
There are many examples of the impact/domination of the three capital cities, in every temple.

For examples
The temple of Sethi the first at Abydos has seven chambers:
- the axial one for Amun, beneath Re-Horakhty from Heliopolis, one chapel for the king, between Ptah and the marvelous memphite chambers.
- Behind the first row of chambers, lies the Osiris complex which contains yet another royal chamber between those of Horus and Isis. Abydos is a temple for Osiris, of course, but Thebes, Heliopolis and Memphis have the best places — in a very subtle way.
All of this surrounding the pharaoh!

- My final example is in Karnak, during the period of decline: on the gate of the second pylon
Amun is dominant on the outside of the gate of Ptolemy the sixth , but in the recess of the door, one can see Ptah, Re and Osiris.

Very few temples were dedicated to Ptah with the exception of the temple in Karnak. My personal belief is that the temple of Ptah is actually an exact representation of the city of Memphis.
Built by Thutmosis the third, it was dedicated to Ptah and Hathor.
In the same period (Thutmosis III), the core of the temple is reserved for Amun. Great-Temple-of-Maât was his name, for Maât, for Thebes.
In the Akhmenu, Great-Temple was for Re-Horakhty from Heliopolis.
In light of what we know about Edfu, why not imagine that the coronation was celebrated in the three capital places, Memphis-Heliopolis-Thebes as early as the New Kingdom period.
The King received myrrh in the temple of Ptah (we can see this offering inside the temple)
maât in the Temple-of-Maât in Ipetsout,
and, wine in the heliopolitan enclosure of the Akhmenu.

What exactly is Akhmenu? The name means that the monument, menu, makes someone akh. Akh is a special spiritual state.
For example, the small osirian figure made in corn (nebou) turned to gold (nebou): Osiris is akh, like alchemy. Sakhou.
In the Akhmenu, King-Sokar became Amun and Re,
like a transmutation, an initiation rite - from the old king-god to the bright sun,
from Memphis to Heliopolis.
In the so-called Botanical Garden, the king was in a higher state of consciousness: I mean that he was able to see hidden qualities of the rare plant species.He had more knowledge than the common people, than the priests. It was a way to show his superiority, his difference.

What about Karnak before the Middle Kingdom?
Most scholars believe that Amenemhat was responsible for establishing Karnak as a new religious capital. But, why did Amenemhat choose the Fayum as a capital and not Thebes?
The architectural program of Sesostris the first in Karnak was perfect (as the book of Luc Gabolde).
How was it possible if there was nothing before?
Only the heliopolitan priests could create something so perfect, so imposing.
Amun: who is he? One can hear him, but can’t see him,
he is the breath, the wind, the air, the ether.
He received a part of Ptah-Sokar, the fertilizing power of Min,
the strength of Montu the warrior, and the sun disk of Re.

Egyptian people gave a great value to words, because, for them, it is more than a pun, it is a part of god, the mind was life.
From the first king Menes who reigned in Mennefer (Memphis), from Menu / Min to Mentchou / Montu, the permanence men, Imen / Amun was in everything, and in every prayer,
Imen men em ikhet nebet = Amun is immanent in everything.

Monthu and Hathor were the most ancient gods of Thebes, the two of them were worshipped in the temple of Ptah in the Amun enclosure.
There, from the beginning of the New Kingdom to the last Ptolemy, Hathor was the first lady of Thebes (heryt-tep Ouaset).
In the other side of Karnak, in the temple of Khonsu, Hathor was the one who resides in Benenet.
Draw a straight line between the gate of Khonsu and the gate near the temple of Ptah, you will have a south-north axis, like the path of the Nile.
It is a route of the procession for the New Year. This line crosses through the hypostyle hall, from the south door to the north corner.

On the south wall, one can see the theogamy or holy birth in a very summarized manner: Khnum is modeling a form on his wheel pottery, Hathor is breast-feeding the small child.
On all of the walls, the king’s crowning is always facing north, towards the Ptah’s temple for the memphite coronation, in the hand of Hathor, daughter of Re.
In the north part of the hypostyle (on the east wall), is the great royal ritual of the New Year (with the ceremonial candle). Directly opposite that, on the west wall, we see fifteen Hathors in position for the numerous ceremonies of the coronation.

• South-north, royal and hathoric way.
• East-west, royal and hathoric way, too.
From the obelisk of Thutmosis III to Deir el-Bahari, there is a line which starts in bakhu/east to manu/west.

Bakh, which means
sacred bull Bucchis”,
is also a verb for “birth”.
From the birth to the death…

The name of the unic/lone/only obelisk is tekhen ouâty, which, later, will become a name for Harendotes (Hornedjitef), the son and heir of Osiris.
So the obelisk is like a figure of the king, Horus and pharaoh.
The west bank is the douat, the realm of the dead, the estate of Hathor,
the belly of the cow which the Re’s boat crosses from morning to night,
Hathor is the royal womb.

The part of the domain dedicated to Khonsu was called benenet.
But sometimes the name is written like benben, like the old stone which was worshipped in the temple of benben in Heliopolis, like the pyramidion on the top of the obelisk, or the obelisk itself — or himself, because he was the god Horus.
Ben/benben means also : to flow ; benben/benen : sexual activity ; benty : breast ; benen : ball, egg.
Something round or straight, it is the power of creation, the genesis.

Benenet, the name of the south-west part of Karnak, was the nucleus of the sacred land, where the first light emerged.
So, what was Karnak before the Middle Kingdom? That is the question. Now, there are no evidences. Till now, maybe, but we are just at the beginning of the excavations in Karnak: to think that we have excavated 10 per cent so far!
In the ground of Ipesout, urban pottery was found, and it was concluded that, in the old time, Karnak was only a very small town.
Is it really possible to imagine that there was nothing there before the Middle Kingdom? Then, a few years later, this wonderful place of legitimate power?
Anyway, I just want to share with you two “heretic” hypotheses:

What if the irst nucleus, the first sacred place, was not Ipetsout, but Benenet?
The power of Heliopolis, of Re, was unquestionable, no doubt.
The national temples, like Edfu or Dendara, were in the hand of Heliopolis and conceived with old texts kept in the library of Memphis-Heliopolis.
We must never forget that the conflict between Re and Osiris was the foundation of the egyptian religion.
And if Amun was not the first god of Karnak?
Osiris, from the beginning (till today) was the most popular, wasn’t he ?
And if he was there in Karnak before Amun ? And if the priests of Heliopolis decided to reduce the influence of Osiris and imagine a new god, like a puzzle: several pieces of different gods, under the power of Heliopolis.
Amun was quite an enigmatic and hidden god, for anybody.
And if so, where was the first temple of Osiris?

And now, the birthplace of Osiris is just next to the temple of Khonsu.
The current name is Temple of Opet.
Who knows what it means?
The different meanings of Opet (Ipetsout, Temple of Opet, Opet of the south, the feast of Opet) are rather confusing, and even more so for the average tourists.
Ipet is the goddess of the temple, like Ouaset, in broad outline, a form of Hathor.
In the graeco-roman period, Ipetouret is not the same, she is Nut, Osiris’ mother.
Per-Ipet-ouret is a Temple of Nut, for Osiris.
In few months, we will witness the rebirth of Osiris, thanks to the restoration and to the generous assistance, the evergetism, of Mme Guichard.

There is more about the life of Osiris in the ptolemaic texts than in the New Kingdom texts. It is said that the five children of Geb and Nut (Osiris, Horus the great, Seth, Isis and Nephthys) were born during the five day period that we call the epagomenal days which follow the three-hundred-sixty-day. Their respective birthplaces were: Thebes, Qous, Ombos, Dendara and Diospolis.
Five places, five days, the most dangerous days…

The osirian chapels of Dendara provide the most complete documentation about his birth and his death.
For instance, Amun-Re said to Osiris: Your mother gave birth to you in Thebes.
After his death, Osiris was embalmed in Memphis, and buried in Heliopolis.
So in Karnak, where is the Necropolis of Osiris? In the north-east.
Where was he born? In the south-west.
That sounds strange, doesn’t it? It is the exact opposite of all we know, that the sun rises in the east, and he sets in the west.
The texts of Dendara say exactly, he lay (htp) next to (r-gs) the Great-Temple of Heliopolis. The cemetery of Osiris is located next to the Great-Temple of the Akhmenu, that is exactly what is written in the osirian texts of Dendara.

Another text from the ptolemaic period, in the temple of Khonsu, tell us that Osiris appeared as a light next to Benenet (wbn m Òww r-gs bnnt). And it is true!
So he was born and lay next to (r-gs) the temple, in Karnak (the nucleus), and another in Heliopolis, as if by magic, also in Karnak in the heliopolitan temple of Akhmenu.
Karnak is a miniature of Egypt: Osiris was born in the south = in Thebes, next to the nucleus of creation, mummified in Memphis and buried next to the Great-Temple of Heliopolis.
Unfortunately, I won’t have enough time to say much about the Temple of Osiris. But, the expression “Re-Amun is called Osiris” shows the final reconciliation between them.
The Temple of Osiris is the result of two thousand years of theological reflection.

Re, Amun, Ptah, Osiris, Hathor: all great gods, all in Karnak, for such a long time. What for?
We find the answer in the prayers to Amun.
For example, the well known hymn in the temple of Hibis goes:
Amun, you are the sky, you are the earth, you are the douat, you are the flood, you are the air between them.
And in the Leiden hymn to Amun:
It is a trinity of the gods: Amun, Re, Ptah. The only one whose name is hidden is Amun; his head is Re, his body is Ptah. Their cities will remain for ever, Thebes, Heliopolis and Memphis, for ever.
The spirit (ba) of Amun is in the sky, his temple is in Thebes for his statues, the necropolis is for his mummy who is in the douat.
The sky of Thebes is Heliopolis.

Well, now, we see Karnak from an other perspective.
Heliopolis in the east, Memphis in the north, Thebes in the south.
Two axes with Hathor-Nut and the pharaohs:
- One path for the coronation of the New Year with Hathor.
- One for the life of the king, from his birth to his death.
The head of Amun is in Heliopolis, his foot in the west bank and he is revived by the flooding of the Nile-Osiris.
Amun is the Hidden one, and is everything, made of four gods:
Re, Ptah, Osiris and Hathor,
he is the fifth element, the quintessential god.
And Karnak is a miniature model of Egypt and a microcosm of egyptian theology, a sacred place for the essential god and royalty.

I am aware of the heretic nature of my particular point of view,
I don’t want to talk you into my hypothesis, but, may be, you will think further…
I hope that my presentation has not disturbed your own ideas and beliefs.
I want to thank the moudir Mansour Boraik and Ibrahim Soliman, who were kind enough to welcome me to their New Kingdom.
And thank you all for your patience and attention.

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