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.
Philae, in Egyptian mythology the neighboring island of the burying-places of Osiris (island of Bigeh), was held in high reverence both by the Egyptians to the north and the Nubians to the south. Philae was dedicated preeminently to Isis, sister-wife to Osiris, and patroness of the Ptolemaic rule. Although Isis was the major deity honored on Philae, the location of the island on the frontier between Egypt and Nubia meant that cults of Nubia were also featured on the island, represented by significant cult buildings. It was deemed profane for any but priests to dwell there. Temples to Isis began in the 30th dynasty and continued through the Ptolmaic Dynasties into Roman times. Isis is a very important figure in the ancient world. She is associated with funeral rites but as the enchantress who resurrected Osiris and gave birth to Horus she is also the giver of life, a healer and protector of kings. She was known as “Mother of God” (meaning mother of the pharaoh and was represented with a throne on her head). During the Roman period her cult spread throughout Greece and the Roman Empire. There was even a temple dedicated to her in London. Partially to completely flooded by the old dam's construction in 1902, the Philae complex was dismantled and relocated to Agilkia island, as part of a wider UNESCO project related to the 1960s construction of the Aswan High Dam. The relocation of these structures was done in a manner to mimic the original island of Philae.