Special Sub-Topic: Winged Hieroglyphs
|The verb 'attack' featured three birds of prey in a row, followed by a fist. The vulture started the word, but can you guess the identity of the other two?|
Two owls. The owl is, unusually, depicted facing the reader, perhaps because its huge eye are so characteristic. A number of owls lived in Egypt, notably the Pharaoh Eagle Owl, barn owl, little owl and Hume's tawny owl.
Sixty-three standard hieroglyphs of birds or parts occur in Sir Alan Gardiner's classic list, including the crow and black kite. Apart from whole feathery bodies, detached heads, wings and feet were used as hieroglyphs.
|Looking much like a sergeant inspecting the troops, the falcon that represented itself in the word for 'falcon' regally pinned an object under its wing. What was the bird clutching?|
A flail. The lanner falcon, or small peregrine falcon, with their unmistakable eye markings probably inspired the falcon form of the god Horus. The pharaoh assumed two Horus names when ascending the throne.
At the other end of the spectrum was the lapwing, a species of plover migrating from Europe, serving as a symbol of the people under the king's rule. From the 18th dynasty, the lapwing was portrayed with arms uplifted in adoration.
|A seated and shrouded ibis holding an ankh, the symbol of life, appeared in the name of the god Thoth, credited with inventing writing. His name was also linked to two similar words, both descriptive of Thoth's function. Take a guess.|
Eternal speech. The ibis is still a well-known symbol of river life. The Egyptians associated it with Thoth because its long beak reminded them of a writing instrument. Ibis species such as sacred, glossy, wattled and hermit strutted among the reeds. Hieroglyphs show the ibis proudly posing, standing on a fish just caught or atop a nome standard.
|When the Egyptians put together the word for elephant, they used the sign for stability, the sculptor's chisel used in creating enduring works of art. Before the hieroglyph of an actual elephant that completed the word, a small bird stood its ground at the largest land mammal's feet.|
Quail. The common quail was drawn as a fledgling. The wall painting in the 12th dynasty rock tomb of Khnumhotep II at Beni Hasen depicts a beautiful scene of birds occuring along the Nile: the turtle dove, hoopoe, red-backed shrike, masked shrike and redstart. Golden orioles were known to have been caught and caged.
|A swallow was seen as a bird of bad omen. Together with a harpoon, it featured as an element of what painful word?|
Suffering. The Egyptian word for sparrow was 'menet'. It is not known how swallows acquired their unpleasant reputation. One explanation is that the desert swallow was associated with Seth, god of the desert and of chaos.
|A pintail duck spread its wings to rise above the Nile, and was depicted in that form, appearing at the head of both a vulture and a quail. Those three birds made up the ancient equivalent of the modern 'time flies'. What span (or period) of time did they represent?|
Time since the birth of the world. In most Egyptian myths, the world came forth from primordial waters. Pintail ducks were often seen end-up in the water. Ducks were a favourite item on humans' menu. According to painting in 18th dynasty tombs, they were captured by hurling boomerangs at rising flocks. Sometimes cats were trained to retrieve the birds.
|Both the words 'son' and 'daughter' included the hieroglyph of a goose. What was the connection between new family members born into this world and the goose?|
A goose laid the primordial egg. The earth god Geb was portrayed with a goose sitting on his head. Called 'The Great Cackler', the goose lay the egg that hatched the sun at the beginning of time.
The Egyptian museum in Cairo houses the masterful painting known as 'Geese of Meidum'. Originally from the 4th dynasty tomb of Nefermaat and his wife Atet, six geese waggle happily along, of the species white-fronted, bean and red-breasted.
|Sensitive to the natural world around them, the Egyptians captured emotion by depicting a trussed duck. The feathered victim probably experienced the same emotion during its last moments.|
Fear. Wigeon ducks and mallards were found along the Nile, together with birds such as cranes, coots, herons, snipes and sandpipers.
|'Those who belong to the world of the dead' were identified with another bird of prey, often seen circling over the western desert where the tombs were. That bird was exclusively associated with the feminine.|
Vulture. Five types of vulture are found in Egypt. The Egyptian vulutre is white or buffy and a solitary scavenger. The bird served as the symbol of the feminine, as opposed to the scarab that respresented the masculine. The protective goddess Nekhebet was a vulture, sporting the white crown of Upper Egypt, while the goddess Mut used the symbol of a vulture to reinforce her claim as 'mother of all mothers'.
Just keep in mind that Isis was sometimes depicted with the wings of a kite.
|The guinea fowl hieroglyph was rarely depicted. Why was the bird so neglected? |
Indigenous to Nubia. The helmeted guinea fowl, numida meleagris, about the size of the domestic chicken, was indigenous to Nubia and apparently not common in Egypt. Highly gregarious, flocks could number in the hundreds.
Other birds rarely encountered in their hieroglyphic forms were the pink flamingo and the pelican. Not surprizingly, the pelican represented the phrase 'to make fat'.
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