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The Lamentations of Isis and Nephtys

26 October 2015 by Paula

Egyptian papyrus from our collection

Egyptian papyrus from our collection

Marion Servat-Fredericq,  Project Assistant Curator Antiquities tells us about a recent visit to World Museum:

‘Dr Andrea Kucharek, an Egyptologist at Heidelberg University in Germany, visited World Museum recently to take a closer look at an Egyptian papyrus from our collection (Papyrus Mayer M11190). Dr Kucharek is currently working on the publication of this papyrus which bears a religious text from the Ptolemaic Period (332 –30 BC) known as “The Lamentations of Isis and Nephtys”. Papyrus M11190 is the last page of the whole manuscript. One of the four remaining pages is held in the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford, and three others are in the British Museum in London. Dr Kucharek recently travelled to Oxford, London and, at last, Liverpool to study the papyrus in its entirety. It was very interesting to listen to Dr Kucharek share her knowledge of the papyrus that she is about to publish and a fantastic opportunity for me to learn more about this object.

Osiris ruler of the underworld attended by Isis and Nephtys

Osiris ruler of the underworld attended by Isis and Nephtys

“The Lamentations of Isis and Nephtys” are a series of religious liturgies or songs addressed to the god of the dead Osiris by his two sisters Isis and Nephtys. The lamentations form part of the ritual of the Osiris mysteries which was performed in temples on particular occasions to celebrate the life of Osiris and his resurrection after death. On the copies of the Lamentations which have survived, a postscript at the end of the songs usually gives instructions about the performance of the ritual. The instructions tell us that two women impersonated Isis and Nephtys during the ceremony: “[they] shall be made to sit on the ground at the main portal of the Hall of Appearings. On their arms shall be written the names of Isis and Nephthys. Jars of faience filled with water shall be placed in their right hands, offering loaves made in Memphis in their left hands, and their faces shall be bowed.” (translation by Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature: The Late Period, III, p. 120).

Papyrus M11190 belonged to a man named Pawerem, son of Kiki, a well-known individual of the period who owned several other liturgical papyri. Many private individuals liked to be buried with copies of the Lamentations, as by doing so, they believed they were equipped with the necessary means to be reborn in the Afterlife like Osiris. The most peculiar thing about this last page of the whole papyrus is that, when the scribe finished writing the Lamentations, he copied the end of the text again, possibly in an attempt to fill in the remaining blank space on the sheet. The papyrus will feature in our new Ancient Egypt galleries.’

The Ancient world gallery, which displays highlights from our ancient Egyptian, ancient Greek, Anglo-Saxon and Roman collections, is now closed until autumn 2016. It is closed to the public as the building works have now begun on an exciting new project to develop our ancient Egypt gallery.

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