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Ankh

An ankh.

The Ankh, also known as key of life, the key of the Nile or crux ansata, was the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic character that read "eternal life". 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
S34n
Aa1
 
or
 
S34
[1]

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:[2]

It is by Egyptologists called the symbol of life. It is also called the 'handled cross,' or crux ansata. It represents the male triad and the female unit, under a decent form. There are few symbols more commonly met with in Egyptian art. In some remarkable sculptures, where the sun's rays are represented as terminating in hands, the offerings which these bring are many a crux ansata, emblematic of the truth that a fruitful union is a gift from the deity.

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 ʿnḫ, although it may have been pronounced differently.

In their 2004 book The Quick and the Dead,[3] Andrew Hunt 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

text

A beekeeper holding an ankh and a beekeepers brush in one hand and a was in the other. Perhaps the ankh was a pipe for blowing smoke into the hive.

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.

A symbol similar to the ankh appears frequently in Minoan and Mycenaean sites. This is a combination of the sacral knot (symbol of holiness) with the double-edged axe (symbol of matriarchy)[4] but it can be better compared with the Egyptian tyet which is similar. This symbol can be recognized on the two famous figurines of the chthonian snake goddess discovered in the palace of Knossos. Both snake goddesses have a knot with a projecting loop cord between their breasts.[5] In the Linear B (Mycenean Greek) script, ankh is the phonetic sign za.[6]

The ankh also appeared frequently in coins from ancient Cyprus and Asia Minor (particularly the city of Mallus in Cilicia).[7] 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.[8]

References

Bibliography

  • Collier, Mark and Manley, Bill. How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs: Revised Edition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
  • Salaman, Clement and Van Oyen, Dorine and Wharton, William D. and Mahé, Jean-Pierre (translation) (2000). The Way of Hermes: New Translations of The Corpus Heremticum and The Definitions of Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius. Rochester: Inner Traditions. 
  • Three Initiates (1912). The Kybalion. Chicago: The Yogi Publication Society Masonic Temple. 

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 Hunt; Schwabe, Calvin W., The Quick and the Dead: Biomedical Theory in Ancient Egypt, First Edition. Leiden ; Boston : Brill : Styx, 2004. ISBN 9004123911
  4. F. Schachermeyer. "Die Minoische Kultur des alten Kreta"
  5. Cristopher L.C.E Witcombe. "Minoan snake goddess. 9:Snake charmers
  6. M. Ventris, J. Chadwick
  7. The Cambridge Ancient History, Cambridge University Press; AsiaMinorCoins.com
  8. "Egyptian Religion", David P. Silverman, p. 135, Oxford University Press US, 2003, ISBN 019521952X

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This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Ankh. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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