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Ancient Egyptian Institutions: The Mansion of Life
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Hut-ankh, the Mansion of Life

    Even less well understood than the House of Life, the pr-anx,[1] is the Hw.t-anx,[2] a term translated by Gardiner as "Mansion of Life."[3]

An abode of gods

    According to the Pyramid Texts, the goddess Mafdet, lived in the Mansion of Life:
[This] hand of mine, [which has come against you, is the hand of the Great Fetterer (i.e. Mafdet), who lives in the Mansion of Life [4]
Pyramidtexts from the pyramid of Pepi I, spell 384 [5]
    The Mansion of Life in the divine context was apparently a rarely used term for a divine abode, possibly a temple closely connected with the well-being of the king, or perhaps the pharaoh's home which he shared with the gods. Mentioned in the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts it is also known from Graeco-Roman times, when one of the epithets of Horus was "He of Behdet dwelling in the Mansion of Life", Horus of Behdet dwelling in the  mansion of life.gif. Hathor, at times written Hathor was said to be the "One who makes great the Mansion of Life," She makes great the Mansion of Life.gif.[3]

Royal living quarters

    Gardiner defined the Hw.t-anx as the living quarters of the king, especially the dining-hall. He reached his conclusion as to the essence of the Mansion of Life mostly on the basis of the titles certain Old Kingdom officials had in addition to Master-of-Largesse-in-the-Mansion-of-Life, the Hr.j-wDb-m-Hwt-anx.[6] Their duties revolved around the person of the king, above all the morning toilet which took place in the House of Morning, pr-dwA.t.[7]
Door lintel, tomb of Debeheni, Giza Sole companion (of the king), head of lector priests, keeper of the secret of the House of Morning, keeper of the diadem, adorner of Horus, master of largesse in the Mansion-of-Life, director of the palace, administrator of (the domain) Star-of-Horus, foremost of Heaven, Debeheni.
Rock tomb of Debeheni [8]
    On the basis of the sequence of the titles in the tomb of Debeheni and others Gardiner concluded that the Master-of-Largesse-in-the-Mansion-of-Life was involved in the breakfast meal which usually follows the morning toilet. In contrast to Maspero who had thought that the Mansion of Life in this title referred to the temple chapel where the king's statues were kept, he held that it was the place where the king and his family lived and especially where they had their meals together. He rejected the purely religious interpretation of titles such as Master of Largesse in the Mansion of Life.
    These Masters of Largesse were managers of domains, the most frequently mentioned being the royal palace. The fifth dynasty official Wepemnofret supervised a number of them:
Sole companion (of the king), Head of el Kab, keeper of the secret of the House of Morning, priest of Horus-Anubis, who resides before the house of the suite, estate manager of the people of Dep, estate manager of the (domain of the) Star-of-Horus, foremost of the heavens, director of the palace, master of largess in the Mansion of Life, Wepemnofret.
Mastaba of Wep-em-nefret, Chamber of offerings of Jby [9]
    Another official, Ty, was also supervisor of barbers:
The ... head of el Kab, director of the palace, keeper of the secret of the House of Morning, Master-of-Largesse-in-the-Mansion-of-Life, supervisor of the king's jewellery, supervisor of the king's intimates, supervisor of the king's barbers, beloved by his lord, supervisor of all the king's works, the venerable Ty.
Tomb of Ty [10]
while Niankhre was also the palace physician,[11] all of them people performing tasks which brought them into intimate contact with the king and whom the king trusted with his life.
    Serving the king's food was another position of importance and trust. According to Gardiner the Master-of-Largesse-in-the-Mansion-of-Life supplied the king's table in the Mansion of Life with victuals which were passed on to those present as king's largesse, just as the funerary offerings in the tombs presented by the king to the gods fed the ka of the deceased after the gods were satiated.
    The Mansion of Life was an Old Kingdom institution and mentioned very rarely later on. Gardiner [1] considered the Ptolemaic use of Hw.t-anx in the Famine Stela, which speaks of ancient books kept and consulted there–apparently identifying the House of Life in at least one aspect with the Mansion of Life– to have been, in all likelyhood, a scribal misunderstanding of the meaning of an archaic term.

Fortification of the royal ka

    Others think that Gardiner ignored the spiritual role of the Mansion of Life, asserting that it was the place where the king underwent a daily symbolic rebirth akin to that occurring during the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, that bulls were slaughtered there and offered to the king to strengthen his ka. The leftovers, as was the usage in temple sacrifices, would have been given to temples or people.[12]

Mansion of Life and House of Life

    Those who see the Mansion of Life as a place of spiritual renewal rather than a mundane refectory may well tend to identify it with the House of Life, accepting that names of institutions may change over the centuries, even if their essence will have changed but little. The Sekhmet priests, thought to have supervised the slaughtering of the bulls in the Old Kingdom Mansion of Life and, having become knowledgable about diseases of cattle, created the magic used for healing them.[12] They were still connected with the Late Period House of Life when it had the reputation of being a centre of healing, an art which was still largely a matter of knowing the correct magical spells.
    Religious texts were referred to in the latter part of the first millennium BCE as Souls, bA.w,[13] of Re, and they were kept as rolled up scrolls in temple libraries. The more significant libraries of the time were the Houses of Life, the term Lichtheim used to translate Hwt-anx in the Famine Stele:
I shall enter the House of Life, unroll the Souls of Re, I shall be guided by them."
The Famine Stele [14]

[1] transliteration pr-anx
[2] transliteration Hw.t-anx
[3] Gardiner 1938, pp.83-91
[4] Allen & Manuelian 2005, p.90, translate it as House of Life in a parallel passage in PT of Teti 263
[5] D. Topmann (ed.), Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Pyramidentexte => Pyramide Pepis I => Vorkammer => Ostwand => PT 384
[6] translit. Hr.j-wDb-m-Hw.t-anx
[7] transliterated pr-dwA.t
[8] Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Grabinschriften => Gisa => Central Field (PM III, 230-293) => Felsgrab des Debeheni => Türrolle =>  Titelreihe
[9] Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Grabinschriften => Gisa => Central Field (PM III, 230-293) => Mastaba des Wep-em-nefret => Opferkammer des Jby, Sohn des Wep-em-nefret => Ostwand => Texte
[10] Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Grabinschriften => Sakkara => nördlich der Stufenpyramide => Grab des Tjy => 1. Korridor => Durchgang von Pfeilerhalle => Ostseite => Personenbeischrift (linke Figur)
[11] Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Grabinschriften => Gisa => Cemetery G I S (PM III, 216-228) => Mastaba des Ni-anch-Re (LG 55) => Scheintür => linker Innenpfosten
[12] Gordon & Schwabe 2004, p.157
[13] transliteration bA.w
[14] Lichtheim 1980, p.96

James P. Allen, Peter Der Manuelian, The ancient Egyptian pyramid texts, Volume 23 of Writings from the ancient world, Society of Biblical Literature 2005
A. H. Gardiner, "The Mansion of Life and the Master of the King's Largess" in Journal of Egyptian Archaeology Vol. 24, London 1938, pp.83-91.
Andrew Hunt Gordon, Calvin W. Schwabe, The Quick and the Dead, Brill 2004
Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol.3, University of California Press 1980
Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website

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