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Ankh
Ankh Symbol
The ankh (key of life, the key of the Nile, crux ansata) was the Egyptian hieroglyphic character that read "eternal life", a triliteral sign for the consonants ˁ-n-. Egyptian gods are often portrayed carrying it by its loop, or bearing one in each hand, arms crossed over their chest.

Origins

Ankh
in hieroglyphs
S34-n:Aa1 ! or S34


The origin of the symbol remains a mystery to Egyptologists, and no single hypothesis has been widely accepted. One of the earliest suggestions is that of Thomas Inman, first published in 1869:

E. A. Wallis Budge postulated that the symbol originated as the belt-buckle of the mother goddess Isis , an idea joined by Wolfhart Westendorf with the notion that both the ankh and the knot of Isis were used as ties on ceremonial girdles . Sir Alan Gardiner speculated that it represented a sandal strap, with the loop going around the ankle . The word for sandal strap was also spelled , although it may have been pronounced differently.

In their 2004 book The Quick and the Dead, Andrew H. Gordon and Calvin W. Schwabe speculated that the ankh, djed, and was symbols have a biological basis derived from ancient cattle culture (linked to the Egyptian belief that semen was created in the spine), thus:
  • the Ankh, symbol of life, thoracic vertebra of a bull (seen in cross section)
  • the Djed, symbol of stability, base on sacrum of a bull's spine
  • the Was, symbol of power and dominion, a staff featuring the head and tail of the god Set, "great of strength"


Egyptian academics, in particular those at the University of Cairo, aver that the ankh has been over-interpreted and that it is representative of the pivotal role of the Nile in the country . The oval head is said to represent the Nile delta, with the vertical mark representing the path of the river and the East and West arms representing the two sides of the country and their unification .

History

The ankh appears frequently in Egyptian tomb paintings and other art, often at the fingertips of a god or goddess in images that represent the deities of the afterlife conferring the gift of life on the dead person's mummy; this is thought to symbolize the act of conception . Additionally, an ankh was often carried by Egyptians as an amulet, either alone, or in connection with two other hieroglyphs that mean "strength" and "health" (see explication of Djed and Was, above). Mirrors of beaten metal were also often made in the shape of an ankh, either for decorative reasons or to symbolize a perceived view into another world .

The ankh was almost never drawn in silver; as a sun-symbol, the Egyptians almost invariably crafted important examples of it (for tombs or other purposes) from the metal they most associated with the sun, gold. A similar metal such as copper, burnished to a high sheen, was also sometimes used.

The ankh also appeared frequently in coins from ancient Cyprusmarker. In some cases, especially with the early coinage of King Euelthon of Salamis, the letter ku, from the Cypriot syllabary, appeared within the circle ankh, representing Ku(prion) (Cypriots). To this day, the ankh is also used to represent the planet Venus (the namesake of which, the goddess Venus or Aphrodite, was chiefly worshipped on the island) and the metal Copper (the heavy mining of which gave Cyprus its name).

David P. Silverman notes the striking example of how the depiction of the Ancient Egyptian Ankh was preserved by the Copts in their representation of the Christian cross.

See also



Notes

  1. Collier, Mark and Manley, Bill. How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs: Revised Edition pg 23. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
  2. Inman, Thomas. Ancient Pagan and Modern Christian Symbolism, Second Edition. New York: J. W. Bouton, 706 Broadway. Published 1875. Page 44. ISBN 978-1-4209-2987-4.
  3. Gordon, Andrew H & Schwabe, Calvin W. The Quick and the Dead: Biomedical Theory in Ancient Egypt, First Edition. Boston: Brill. Published 2004
  4. The Cambridge Ancient History, Cambridge University Press
  5. "Egyptian Religion", David P. Silverman, p. 135, Oxford University Press US, 2003, ISBN 019521952X


References

  • Collier, Mark and Manley, Bill. How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs: Revised Edition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.


External links




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