Stela of Taimhotep
Ancient Egyptians’ believed that there was life after the death of an individual. As such, how they got rid of the dead amongst them was considered very important. Consequently, there were several rituals and practices which were associated with burial and disposal of bodies of the dead. This essay, therefore, is a critique of the concept of afterlife in ancient Egypt in light of Stela of Taimhotep.
The speaker in the poem Stela of Taimhotep has made several allusions in the text that point to the concept of afterlife in ancient Egypt. First, she says that, “he (the husband) performed for me all the rites of an effective mummy.” (line 11). In ancient Egypt, several efforts were made to ensure that the dead had a comfortable afterlife. Among them was the preservation of the bodies of the dead through a process known as mummification. According to the beliefs of the Egyptians, death was only a temporary interruption of life and the bodies of the dead had to be preserved from decomposing for their life would continue as usual in the hereafter. This was therefore accompanied by funerary practices like reverence to gods and mummification (Okon 110).
In line 12, the speaker says that the husband ensured that “she is buried in a perfect burial.” This points to belief in the afterlife. If there was no belief in afterlife, then bodies of the dead would be dumped in forests and left to rot there. However, because ancient Egyptians believed that there was life after death, the dead were made comfortable in this life by ensuring that they had well prepared graves to act as permanent homes. In fact, because they also believed that the dead travelled with the sun during the day and returned to their well-stocked tombs in the evenings. Thus, these tombs were to be made comfortable for their sleep, among other needs that humans have just like when they are alive (Okon 111). The speaker further says that the husband “deposited my corpse in his tomb in the area of Rutiset.” (line 15). This shows an orderly process that is not only respected but also treated as part of the culture.
In lines 23 and 24, the speaker says that, “It is dire to dwell in for those who are there, those who sleep in cloth wrappings.” This indicates that the dead in the ancient Egypt were not buried naked. They were expected to continue with their normal lives, just like they lived normal lives while still on earth. As such, cloths were wrapped around them to continue providing them with the dignity that they had while on earth. Moreover, before wrapping them in these clothes, these corpses were washed clean, and their bodies made soft through some concoctions which acted as body oil to ensure that their bodies are preserved clean as those who are still alive (Lacovara & Baines, 8). To further buttress belief in the afterlife, the speaker says in line 27 that, “Their hearts miss their wives and their children.” This indicates that corpses, despite being dead, still have feelings of normal humans, thus they can also hate and miss their loved ones just like those who are still alive.
Ancient Egyptians buried their dead with artifacts such as furniture, food, clothing and other everyday items that aided their comfort in the afterlife. Included in these items were protective amulets, some funerary texts and magic spells that were meant to offer them protection while in the afterlife (Lacovara & Baines, 12). The speaker in Stela of Taimhotep says in lines 28 and 30 that, “The water of life that us for everyone therein, it is thirst for me…water is beside me…” This shows that the dead were treated respectfully and, just like normal humans, were expected to feel thirsty and hungry. Food and any items that would aid in comfort in terms of nutrition were provided in these circumstances. Moreover, they were also expected to be secure, and thus were provided with some armaments to aid in their security in their afterlife. Also, they believed that humans had ka which would leave the body at death. This ka needed nourishment in terms of food and water after death of an individual (Okon 114). Thus, the dead were buried together with this items in addition to relatives of the dead placing food items periodically next to the graves of the deceased.
Lacovara, Peter, and Baines, John. “Burial and the Dead in the Ancient Egyptian Society: Respect, Formalism, Neglect.” Journal of Social Archeology. Vol. 2, no. 1, 2002, pp. 5-36.
Okon, Etim. “Archeological Reflections on Ancient Egyptian Religion and Society.” European Scientific Journal. Vol. 8, no. 26, 2012, pp. 107-115.
“Stela of Taimhotep.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Ed. Martin Puncher. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. Print.