ancient egypt: history and culture
Ancient Egyptian symbols: The ankh

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The ankh

    The ankh, anx ,[1] was an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph meaning life and, in the spiritual context, the symbol for the divine, eternal life. The gods were endowed with it and could bestow it upon the mortals.
Horus Netjeri-khet (Djoser) who is given might, duration of life, and joy for ever.
Rock inscription in Wadi Magharah, Sinai [2]
Faience amulet
Source Petrie Museum website
    The marshlands of life, where the gods dwelled, were the aim of the deceased travelling through the underworld
This Pepi is (on his way) to the marshland of life, the abode of Re in the watery region (of the heavens)
Pyramid Texts from the pyramid of Pepi I, PT 515 [3]

Amen-Re giving the breath of life to Thutmose II, Karnak- Amen-Re giving the breath of life to Thutmose II, Karnak
Excerpt. Photo courtesy Jon Bodsworth

    Eternal life was one of the Four kas, the boons the gods could bestow on mortals. They are often depicted grasping an ankh in one hand, holding it under a king's nose and thus giving him the breath of life, or showering him with ankh-symbols during a lustration ceremony. It is among the most common decorative motifs in temples and tombs, was a popular form for an amulet, and was frequently depicted in friezes on objects–generally at the foot end, which strengthened the belief of some that originally it had been a representation of sandal strap, but all such interpretations, like a belt buckle of Isis, a penis sheath, a bull's vertebra, a fisherman's loincloth, etc are speculative. The ankh was often combined with the was-sceptre and the djed.
 
    The ankh serves coptic Christianity as a cross, the so-called crux ansata (cross with handle).

Footnotes:
[1] MdC transliteration anx, Wb vol. 1, 193.3
[2] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website, I. Hafemann (ed.): Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften (accessed 12th June 2010) => Felsinschriften des Alten Reiches => Sinai => Sinai 01 - 25E Wadi Magharah => Sinai Nr. 02 => Sinai Nr. 02
[3] Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae, D. Topmann (ed.): Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften (accessed 12th June 2010) => Pyramidentexte => Pyramide Pepis I. => Ebener Eingang => nördl. der Fallsteine => Westwand => PT 515
 
Bibliography:
Lurker 1998, pp.124f
Shaw and Nicholson 1995, p.34
Agnieszka Muc, "Crux ansata" in Studies in Ancient Art and Civilization 12, Krakow 2008
 

 
© June 2010

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