Monday, May 07, 2012

The Cannibal Hymn

I am still working on the snakes and it is taking longer than I expected. Every time I think I have them all I find another. Hopefully that post series will be done soon. In the meantime I thought I would share a piece of 5th dynasty writing from the tomb of Unas. Unas eventually be comes a deified human, perhaps because of this writing. Most Egyptian mythology shows gaining power of a god or thing as knowing their true or hidden name. Unas takes a very different approach to gaining the power of the gods.

Sky rains, stars Darken
The vaults quiver, Earth's bones tremble.
The Planets stand still
at seeing Unas rise in power.
A god who lives on his fathers
who feeds on his mothers!

Unas is the bull of heaven
who rages in his heart
who lives on the being of every god
who eats their entrails
their bodies are full of magic
from the Isle of Flame

Unas is he who eats men,
who feeds on gods
It is Khonsu, Slayer of Lords,
who cuts their throats for Unas
who tears their entrails our for him.
Unas eats their magic, he swallows their spirits.
Their big ones for his morning meal.
The middle ones for his evening meal.
The little ones for his night meal.

Unas has encompassed the two skies.
He has circled the two shores.
Unas is the great powe that overpowers the powers.
Unas is the divine hawk, the great hawk of hawks.
Those whom he finds on the way he devours whole.
Unas is god, oldest of old.
Thousands serve him. Hundreds offer to him.

Unas has arisen in heaven.
He is crowned as lord of light-land.
He has smashed bones and marrow.
He has seized the hears of the gods.
He has eaten the red crown, swallowed the white crown.
Unas feeds on the lungs of the wise.
Unas abhors licking the coils of the red crown
but delights in having their magic in his belly.

He has swallowed the knowledge of every god.
Unas; lifetime is forever, his limit is eternity.
Lo, their power is in Unas' belly.
Their spirits are before Unas as broth of the gods,
cooked for Unas from their bones.

This writing is only known from two places, the tomb of Unas and that of Teti I. Known as the Cannibal Hymn this piece of writing includes a lot of reference to traditional Ancient Egyptian religion and culture but is put together in a manner that would have likely been offensive to the Ancient Egyptians. The first would be the horror of actually cutting a human body. Even people who did this for medicine or embalming were ritualistically attacked to show the horror of cutting a human body. There are other points to be made about this but I think it might be beneficial to do this a stanza at a time.

Stanza 1:
The first three lines could be references to one of two things: Nun's destruction and rebirth of the universe or what is supposed to happen when Apep gains the upper hand over Ra. It is hard to say what Unas was getting at though it is perhaps references to Apep as the rest of the piece talk about destroying the gods.

Stanza 2:
Bull of heaven could be one of three gods: Horus, Osiris or Ra. Not quite sure which one as references later to Unas ruling over heaven does not single out any of these. However, the next line refers to a raging heart which usually refers, in Ancient Egypt, to revenge or thirst for revenge. This makes Horus the likely candidate for who Unas is because Horus is the god of revenge and vengeance. He then goes on to talk about magic from the Isle of Flame. The Isle of Flame is one of the names sometimes given to the area where the mound of creation was believed to exist

Stanza 3:
The most interesting thing to me in this stanza is that Khonsu is the slayer for Unas. Traditionally, Khonsu is a child god related to the moon and moon phases.The son of Mut and Min, Khonsu is supposed to be a kind and passive deity. This makes Unas' choice curious. Some have suggested it might be because Khonsu was a household or regional deity for Unas. In this stanza we also get a little bit of sense about how much an Egyptian might eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We see that breakfast is the big meal and dinner the smallest.

Stanza 4:
The two skies and two shores refer to mortal Earth and Nile and the Celestial Earth and Nile. The Celestial versions are those places in the Duat, i.e. land of the dead. We also see references in this stanza to titles of Horus... Great power that overpowers the powers in reference to overthrowing Set and Great hawk of hawks. Oldest of old though brings us back to Nun or Apep as the oldest of the deities. It is possible that Unas saw himself as some mix of Horus and a god of chaos. This stanza ends with a more traditional line of writings in tombs where the deceased is stating that people shall continue to serve and offer to them after death.

Stanza 5:
Lord of the Light-Land is pharaoh of the lands of both Egypt and Celestial Egypt. Taking the hearts of the gods is brought up here which is important to the overall piece. In Ancient Egypt the heart was seat of deeds and strength. Then Unas goes on to eating the red crown and white crown, the crowns of upper and lower Egypt. It might refer to him killing off or eating other pharaohs. Again reference to power in the eating of lungs of the wise. Lungs were thought to be needed to give both life and intelligence(read something close to common sense or wisdom here) and so this is a reiteration of eating the powers of others. It ends with Unas being delighted by the gain of power.

Stanza 6:
This stanza again has a traditional tomb statement. Line two is a common declaration for the dead to go on eternally. The hymn ends with god soup made from bones ans spirits.

This is an interesting way to immortality for an Egyptian. Though there are no references elsewhere to Unas actually being a cannibal it is possible something like megalomania might be applicable here. Interestingly enough the rest of the tomb text in Unas' tomb is fairly standard "god positive" text about helping defeat the evil in the Duat and helping Ra. Odd that this is slipped in. Some question whether this was something Unas wanted or if a scribe put it in his tomb. It is hard to say what the reason it.

Photograph of the Pyramid Texts in Unas' tomb.

For more on Unas and his texts I suggest checking out The Pyramid Texts Online which has wall by wall translations of the texts. I have not checked this site for accuracy. The text is found on the East wall of the Antechamber. This site gives a different translation of the cannibal hymn but the meanings are very similar. Since I don't know what reference was used for this translation I cannot say anything about the translation quality. Still it is an awesome site which lays out all the walls in a clickable map with translations.

No comments:

Post a Comment