Egyptian scripts

Hor’s Book of the Dead is a fine example of hieroglyphic writing.

The word hieroglyph, ‘writing of the gods’, comes from the Greek hieros (holy) and gluphein (to carve).

Ancient Egyptian funeral practices made abundant use of magical texts that were thought to ensure the deceased’s passage to eternity. The dead were buried with a papyrus scroll, a ‘guide to the afterlife’. The Bodmer papyrus dates from the 4th-3rd century BC.

Hieroglyphic writing underwent little change before the 4th century AD.

(Explanation of the vignette of chapter 148 of Hor’s Book of the Dead. To enjoy a peaceful second life, the deceased could not count on his moral behaviour on earth. He had to find ways to overcome the dangers he would encounter. The Bodmer papyrus depicts a series of fifteen doors that the deceased had to go through to reach the porch where ‘the seven cows and their bull give bread and beer to the blessed and feed the dead’.)

The writing on the ostracon (limestone fragment) owned by the Bodmer collection is in hieratic script – a much faster form of hieroglyphic writing. The ‘document’ is a school text with excerpts of the Satire on Trades (2000 BC), a popular text with the Ancient Egyptians.

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Invention of the alphabet

Livre des Morts d’Hor, Thèbes, Egypte, IVe-IIIe siècle av. J.-C., PB CV

Hor’s Book of the Dead, Thebes, Egypt, 4th-3rd century BC