Friday, April 2, 2010

Egypt 22: Dendera

The temple itself lies inside this huge mud brick wall behind what remains of the original gate.

By the time we reached Dendera, I was on overload.  We had been up late the previous evening visiting the Temple at Luxor, then up early and spent our morning at Abydos.

West had spent much of our time driving in the van giving us a historical overview of ancient Egypt along with the basics about some of the mythology that I have been sharing.  When our van pulled up in front of Dendera that afternoon, the pressure inside my brain of attempting to absorb so much information so fast was becoming acute. 

West had warned us that would happen.  And yet, as he says, the best way is to jump in with both feet and use a person's first trip merely as an introduction to Egypt and its complex history.  When he mentioned that to Melony and I before we boarded the plane in New York, it seemed to me that he was attempting to sell us another trip.  He may have been doing that, but he was right.  The bright side is now that I'm home, I realize that a lot more sunk in than I realized.

These Egyptian girls came in with us.  They are standing in front of entrance gate seen in the image above this.

This temple was different than Abydos in that it had a much more complicated interior.  So, instead of avidly attempting to photograph every aspect of the place, I spent most of my free time wandering around, soaking it all in, and following from one to another those things that caught my eye.  By that time, the images of gods and pharaohs that covered the walls, while striking artistic masterpieces, were beginning to look very much the same.

I had the feeling that any attempts to understand them and be able to decode them on my own in the short amount of time we had available to us would be futile.  That turned out to be not true and I now wish I had taken more photos of this site.

Dendera was built during the very end of the ancient Egyptian era, during the first century BC.  It is called the Ptolemaic period.  This temple is the one that has numerous astronomical inscriptions on the ceilings that are so accurately represented that scholars were able to identify the constellations being represented long before they were able to decode the hieroglyphs.  It is also here that the only known complete representation of the zodiac is to be found.  There is a story behind that that I'll talk about next time.  

This is the front of the temple. Notice how it is much more open than Abydos.  Notice also the identical columns on the inside that mirror those in front.  In all, there are 24 columns, 12 on each side. 

This is another one of those situations where scholars claim all of the astronomical knowledge necessary to create the celestial representations came from the Greeks.  Right.  More on that later, too.

Dendera is a temple of healing dedicated to the god Hathor.  We see Hathor's representation on the six columns visible above.   Notice, if you look carefully, that the features of her face in all of the visible columns seem to have been erased. 

Though I haven't mentioned it, we've seen this in all of the other temples we have visited so far.  (And in all of the temples we visited afterwards.)  No knows for sure why or when the defacement occurred.  Some have said that the Christians did it after they rose to power in Egypt.

West thinks not.  He figures the Christians would not have been so precise in their defacements.  He figures they would have smashed the figures to bits.  Instead, someone seems to have taken a great deal of time and effaced only certain aspects of some images while taking out all of others.  I'll show some more examples later.

Notice the bright colors that remain.  On the upper left we see a partially defaced figure.  Notice how they carefully defaced within the lines.  Then, in the upper right, notice the bright blue inscriptions on the ceiling.

In the meantime, the inside of this temple is much brighter than Abydos.  West thinks that, when this temple was constructed, its builders were aware that the era of Egyptian priesthood was about to end.  As a result, West believes that they covered the walls of this place with some of the secret ceremonial information that had only been passed down orally before.

The good news about this is that it was written down.  The bad news is that the inscriptions have been very hard to decode.  In older times, the hieroglyphics were known for brevity and concise description.

The later forms found in this temple incorporated more puns, plays on words and new combinations of letters had not been used before.  He says that those scholars who are fluent in older forms of hieroglyphs are at a complete loss to read the newer form of writing found here.

This is a closer view of the ceiling.  You can see more clearly how someone went to a great deal of trouble to partially deface the images of Hathor.  Notice also, how every square inch of the walls is covered with writing.

Hat-hor means house of Horus, according to West.  Hathor was considered to be the consort of Horus.  She was also considered to be a 'patroness' of healing.  And this was, indeed, a temple mostly devoted to healing.  Hathor, like so many of the 'gods' has many faces and many different representations.  We see the image here on the pillars, she also has been represented as the mother of Isis, even though Isis is generally considered to be much older.  We also saw images of Hathor as a cow and images of Hathor and Isis combined where she has a cow's horns with a disk between them.

A close up of the ceilings.  These images have recently been restored and cleaned of soot.  They were working on other parts of the ceiling while we were there.  Notice how in this image and the one before it, the area directly under her hair has been painted a bright red.

Hathor was also represented as a lioness in her earlier years.  As West recounts the story, "Re sends Hathor out to punish mankind for its rebellion.  As a raging lioness she does so thorough a job that in order to stop her from destroying mankind entirely, Re sends out Shu and Thoth to calm her.  Thoth induces her to drink wine and gets her drunk (which is why she was thereafter associated with wine) and is able to cast his magic spell over her. The raging lioness becomes Bastet, the domestic cat, and retires her ferocious aspect forever, which, however lives on in the form of the redoubtable Sekhmet, who is in turn associated with healing, but also with disease.  In her destructive role, Hathor has much in common with the bloodthirsty Kali of India."

The interesting part is that the defacers left some of the images of Hathor, like this one, completely intact. West thinks that they were, in effect, de-commissioning the temple.  Or, de-commissioning the image.  It's an interesting theory.  We'll never know for sure. 

Look at the face above carefully.  Scholars have noted the strangeness of this face.  There is no official explanation about why this representation of Hathor should look like this.   West said that he was mystified, too, until he happened to have a mid-wife along on one of his trips.  She looked at this face and recognized it immediately.

She said that we are looking at a woman's uterus.  Notice the fallopian tubes where the ears should be.  Notice also the triangular shape of the head, just like a uterus.  Notice also the symbolism of the uterus sitting on top of the tall columns.  The lower part of the uterus goes into the cervix and where the vagina should be is a column representing... 

The union of opposites.  The cord (her hair) around her head represents, according to the lady, the muscle that gives orgasm as well as pushing the baby, into the birth canal.  Remember the under side of her 'hair' being painted bright red, like a muscle, in the previous pictures.  Made me wonder. 

This for me was just another example of the amount of knowledge the ancients had.  In this case, their knowledge of anatomy was dead on.  Of course the scholars claim that whatever knowledge they did have of anatomy came from the Greeks but we'll find a temple made by Hatshepsut in which this same face is found, only that temple was built 1,500 years earlier.  Hmm.

I had my camera white balance set for florescent in the photo above.  Unfortunately, there are now many different colors of florescent lights, which is clearly illustrated here.  The green is from one of those spiral bulbs that fit into an incandescent socket.

This temple also had a feature not seen in other temples.  These 'crypts' are long underground chambers found at the back and sides of the temple.  One of the underground 'crypts' is open.  Here is a view from one end to the other.

It is essentially 3 separate chambers reached by having to force oneself through a tiny square tunnel and down into a hole that opens into the chambers where the green light is above.  My tall frame barely fit around the tight corners of the passage way. 

But, when I managed to get myself in, I found some of the best examples of relief sculpture I saw anywhere in Egypt.  It's hard to see, but notice how the images on the walls in the photo above are all carved by taking stone away.  The amount of work to make these reliefs, each one perfectly carved, is beyond my comprehension.  As one can see, the spaces are narrow, maybe 40 inches across.  When two or more people share the same space the air gets heavy and hot. 

The narrow opening is not large enough by any stretch of the imagination to get a body through.  So, why they call these crypts is a mystery to me.  What they were used for is probably a mystery to the scholars, too.

  Notice this image of Horus, perfectly rendered.  Each feather perfect.  There was something about the way this bird was carved that moved me deeply.  Why, I wondered, did they choose these 'basements' if you will as the place to exhibit the very best of their art?

This picture does not begin to do the sculpture justice.  As I have said before and will say again.  It really needs to be seen in person.  

As West says, all of our art today is about recognition for the artist.  It's that way in all forms of our art.  Our sports, our politics, business ventures.  Yet, here, these brilliant, genius artists created masterpieces that they knew would be hidden away from everyone except for a very select few.  They created these masterpieces for the sake of the creation.  One wonders if we are looking at yet one more subtle symbol of the self-mastery idea discussed previously. 

By extension, could they be telling us that our mission in life, all of us, is to take the raw materials in front of us and create through our mastery of ourselves and our materials, works of amazing art for the sheer joy of doing so?   West thinks so.

West, when it was time for him to show us around, brought us back down into the 'crypts'.  Seemingly oblivious to the heat and stale air, he pointed out this image that some have said is proof the ancient Egyptians had cathode ray tubes.  West claims it's not a cathode ray tube at all. 

In his book, the Traveler's key to Ancient Egypt, he says of the above image, "The splendid but enigmatic reliefs of the crypt are cosmogonical and depict the serpent (dualizing principle underlying all creation: in Genesis, the separation of heaven and earth) borne aloft by the lotus, the symbol of creation as a manifestation of consciousness."

Draw your own conclusions.  For what it's worth, from the free on line dictionary: cosmogony [kɒzˈmɒgənɪ]n pl -nies
1. (Philosophy) the study of the origin and development of the universe or of a particular system in the universe, such as the solar system
2. (Philosophy) a theory of such an origin or evolution

Once out of the crypts, we headed for the roof up this stairway that turns to the left and spirals up.  Notice the 12 steps.  The number 12 keeps coming up. West says the spiral is symbolic of the cycles of birth and rebirth.  (He has his reasons for that, which we'll see if I can fit into the next post.)

Melony took this image and I include it here because it was hand held for a quarter of a second, which shows how steady her hand is, but mostly I wanted you to see the steps, that tell their own story about how old and well used they are.

Next time, we'll talk about the image of the zodiac found here and the cycles of precession.

Continue on to Post 23: Dendera II by clicking here.


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