When I was in Egypt last summer I visited the Temple of Isis from Philae and I, like many others before me, was fascinated by the hieroglyphs on the walls. Early hieroglyphics date back as far as 3,300 BCE, and continued to be used up until the end of the fourth century CE, when non-Christian temples were closed and their monumental use was no longer necessary. Hieroglyphs are a complicated business and my intention is to interpret just a few hieroglyphs to give an idea of how it is accomplished. Many ancient Egyptian symbols were used as amulets of protection, or they were used to bring good fortune. Many of the same ancient Egyptian symbols were also used in religious and magical rituals for the living and also for the dead. Hieroglyphs were based on everyday objects along the Nile river which may not be as familiar to us today. As the famous Jean-François Champollion, the man who deciphered the Rosetta stone, commented; “It is a complex system, writing figurative, symbolic, and phonetic all at once, in the same text, the same phrase, I would almost say in the same word”.
When I visited the sanctuary of the Temple of Isis from Philae, I was struck by the maze of cramped corridors with walls covered with hieroglyphics. While I have photographs, they would be difficult if not impossible to understand. In this post I thought I would explore some of the sacred ancient Egyptian symbols that appear in this sanctuary. To do this, I am going to interpret the symbols surrounding Ptolemy II (the Egyptian Pharoah from 283-246 BC) depicted above. I have decided to take this approach as an introduction to the symbols of ancient Egypt instead of making a list with descriptions because the symbols themselves were rarely used in isolation in actual practice. I hope this approach will be more informative and less confusing but you will have to let me know.
The Rosetta Stone is a very famous historical artifact, almost everyone has heard of it and most people know it has something to do with language. It is a black basalt slab that provided scholars with their first key to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writing. Prior to this point Egyptian hieroglyphics were considered to be a pictorial form of writing without a real grammar and the Egyptians were considered by the English to be a backward people. Using the Rosetta Stone as a dictionary, scholars were able to translate other inscriptions and manuscripts written in hieroglyphics opening up three thousand years of remarkable Egyptian history. The stone was discovered in 1799 near el-Rashid, known as Rosetta in Egypt, by a French engineer of Napoleon's army, Captain François-Xavier Bouchard, built into the wall of an ancient Arab fort (Fort St Julien) which he'd been assigned to tear down.