Ancient Egypt: History and culture
Ancient Egypt: The stela of Irtisen
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The stela of Irtisen

1 The living Horus, who unites both lands, the Lord of Diadems, who unites both lands, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Son of Ra, Mentuhotep, ever living; 2 his true servant, who is in the inmost recess of his heart, and makes his pleasure all the day long, the devout unto the great god, Iritisen.
3 Proscynem to Osiris, Lord of Mendes, Khent Ament, Lord of Abydos, in all his places,that he may give a 4 funereal meal of bread and drink, thousands of loaves, liquors, oxen, geese, linen, clothes, all good and pure things, loaves without number, beer, spirits, cakes of 5 the Lord of Abydos, white cream of the sacred cow on which the manes like to feed, for the devout unto Osiris 6 and Anubis, Lord of the Burying Grounds, the Chief of the artists, Iritisen.
- -Mentuhotep I (c. 2066-2040 BCE)
-Iritisen: Artist living during the 11th dynasty under Mentuhotep I.
-Proscynem: Homage. An offering
Hesat -white cream: cf. milk offerings
-sacred cow: Hesat, a celestial cow-goddess worshipped in the region of Atfieh.
-manes: Latin: spirits of the ancestors. Here Akhu (Ax.w).
-Burying Grounds: lit. sacred land (tA Dsr)
-Chief of the artists: Maspero dropped scribe, sculptor. Irtisen's full title may have been chief of artists, scribes (and) sculptors (as suggested by M. Tilgner as a possible interpretation [1]), or he himself may have been a scribe and sculptor supervising artisans.
7 I know the mystery of the divine Word, the ordinances of the religious feasts, every rite of which they are fraught, I never strayed from them; 8 I, indeed, am an artist, wise in his art, a man standing above (all men) by his learning.
I know what belongs to sinking waters,
9 the weighings done for the reckoning of accounts, how to produce the form of issuing forth and coming in, so that a member may go to his place.
-I know the mystery of the divine Word...: Irtisen was not just an artist, but also a scribe and priest.
-I know what belongs to sinking waters...: an obscure passage. M. Tilgner suggested: I know the grid lines, the canon of proportions, the making of a (low) relief (and) the making of a (high) relief as it comes out and enters [2]. The French Rosette website proposes: I know the art of square grids, the canon of proportions, how to make a relief, adjust the tenon in the mortise for the member to be in its place [3]. Tilgner thinks the passage is all about making reliefs, while the Rosette interpretation attributes to Irtisen also the knowledge of making statues.
I know the walking of an image of man, 10 the carriage of a woman, the two arms of Horus, the twelve circles of the blasphemers, the contemplating the eye without a second that affrights the wicked, 11 the poising of arm to bring the hippopotamus low, the coming of the runner.
I know the making of amulets,
12 that we go without any fire giving its flame, or without our being washed away by water!
-I know the walking of an image of man...: Egyptian art had quite strict conventions artists had to adhere to. Funerary art had also important spiritual aspects.
-the two arms of Horus...: Tilgner: the standings (position) of a bird tied up (?) (and) the race of attack (= at the double?) of the one who is smiting a (single) captive.
-the twelve circles of the blasphemers ...: Knowledge of what to expect in the Afterlife and how to counteract dangers was not common. The deceased had to be prepared for the coming ordeal by enabling him to react and furnishing him with the necessary magic.
-bring the hippopotamus low: The hippo was a destructive creature both in this and in the next life.
-I know the making of amulets ...: According to Bernadette Letellier: I know how to make paints and materials which melt without the fire burning them, and which do not dissolve in water.
13 Lo! there is no man excels by it but I alone and my eldest legitimate son: god has decreed him 14 to be excellent in it; and I have seen the perfections of his hands in his work of chief-artist in every kind of precious stones, from gold and silver 15 even to ivory and ebony!
Funereal meal of bread and liquors! Thousands of wine, loaves, oxen, geese, linen, clothes, all good and pure things, to the devout Iritisen-the-wise, son of the lady Ad.
-I alone and my eldest legitimate son: The eldest son was not just the executor of his father's will but also inherited his profession, his knowledge and often his office.
-to be excellent in it: According to B. Letellier: to become an initiate (i.e. in the art)
-I have seen the perfections of his hands in his work of chief-artist: In Irtisen's eyes his son was good enough to become chief-artist. Artistic work was unsigned in ancient Egypt. This does not mean that artists were not judged and their creations appreciated.
-devout: Rosette website: blessed
Funereal meal of bread and liquor, thousands of loaves, liquors, oxen, geese, all good and pure things, to the pious Iritisen, his pious wife who loves him, Hapu.
His son, his eldest, who loves him, Usertesen
His son, who loves him, Mentuhotep
His son, who loves him, Si-Mentu
His daughter, who loves him, Qim
Her son, who loves her, Temnen.

G. Maspero, The Stela of Iritisen
S. Birch, ed. Records of the Past, Series 1, vol.10, 1878

Irtisen, second from the left, is holding a staff and the pat sceptre.
-Usertesen: Nowadays read as Senusret. Senusret, as the eldest son, is depicted sacrificing a goose to his father, Mentuhotep is assisting him, carrying the thigh of an ox.
-His daughter, who loves him: According to Maspero, Qim and her brother Si-Mentu had married and produced a child, Temnen.


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Offsite links(Opening in a new window)
I do not assume any responsibility for the availability or content of these websites
Irtisen[1] Archives of the AEL, week 129
Irtisen[2] Archives of the AEL, week 134
Irtisen[3] Stèle C14 - Chef des artisans Irtysen. Go to lines 8 and 9
Die Kunstschaffenden und die Rolle der Kunst im alten ÄgyptenDie Kunstschaffenden und die Rolle der Kunst im alten Ägypten
Estelas funerarias en el Imperio medioEstela funerarias en el Imperio medio
IrtisenIrtisen (in German)
IrtisenHieroglyphic text of the stela

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© January 2005
Minor changes: January 2007