Presentation of the Akh

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KV 62: The south wall in King Tut’s burial chamber

Overview:

This wall relief is located in KV62 in the Valley of the Kings. It is the south wall of the burial chamber of King Tutankhamen, built in the 18th dynasty. The other 3 walls encompassing the room show the journey and processes to get into the afterlife. This final mural welcomes the boy king into the afterlife and depicts him receiving the ankh. The Osiris myth surrounds this funerary ritual, presenting myth and lore into the mural. This south wall depicts layers of rituals and stories that all guide King Tut into the afterlife.

The Picture:

The south wall holds the sealed doorway in the to tomb. It is the wall that Carter broke through to initially enter the chamber, leaving a large hole. Luckily, he did not destroy the western side of this southern wall mural. The painting shows King Tutankhamen with two deities. Isis and Anubis, both carrying symbols of the Ankh, flank King Tut. Anubis, on the left, has his hand on the king’s shoulder. Isis, on the right, is feeding the King the Ankh symbol with her free hand. The painting as a whole resembles the art of the Amarna period during King Akhenaten’s rule. The revealing factor is the depiction of elongated eyes.

Meaning:

The mural depicts the two gods welcoming King tut into the afterlife.  The boy king finished his journey; he survived the tests, trials, setbacks, judgments, and proper preparations to reach this spot. King Tut’s ba reunited with his body to achieve the akh, becoming a transfigured spirit. Death, in the mind of the Egyptians, was inevitable. Only by passing through death can one reach the afterlife and achieve this transfigured state. By becoming akh, and attaining the afterlife, the deceased has effectively attained immortality.

Osiris:

The god Osiris is forever tied into the path’s of the deceased. When Seth chopped him to pieces, Isis and Anubis scoured all of Egypt for Osiris’ missing parts. Once all gathered, the jackal headed Anubis, the chief embalmer, mummified the corpse. Isis and her sister Nephthys them successfully resurrect Osiris. This eternal resurrection from death into this transfigured state is the sole desire of the deceased. The Akh is this state of existence that the dead aimed to reach. The pyramid texts of the old kingdom state that the dead is identified and related to Osiris, and thus, could experience rebirth and resurrection like the murdered god himself. All of the preparations of the body and adventures through the underworld are for the chance to achieve resurrection, like the famed Osiris. Once ritually consecrated, the deceased effectively becomes as Osiris and is then on referred to as Osiris (name of deceased).

Welcome to the Afterlife:

In this paining, King Tut survived and has become as Osiris. Anubis and Isis greet Tut such as they did Osiris. The gods are both described as Akh, and have to power to bestow the status of Akh to deserving others. To go into the afterlife, Tut must first receive the protection of the gods. Here, Anubis, by putting his hand on King Tut, transmits this protection. Isis then bestows the Akh on King Tut. By becoming Akh, Tut not only achieves effectiveness, but also some of the qualities of the gods. He by no means becomes their equal, but rather, receives some of their creative energy similar to that of the creation of the world. This energy, thus, gives Tut the means to rise from death (resurrecting like Osiris) to a new life, the afterlife.

Ankh:

In the mural, both gods hold an Ankh symbol and Isis holds one up to King Tut’s mouth. This hieroglyph is a sign for life. In Egypt, life is in the hands of the gods, noted in the creation myth. Thus, gods are often depicted with the Ankh in the hands of the gods. Here, Isis holds up the Ankh to Tutankhamen’s lips and nose so that he will inhale the breath of life, and become resurrected.

Ties to Greece:

In Egypt becoming akh and entering the afterlife is eternal. The deceased is resurrected into the afterlife, essentially achieving immortality. If the dead fails any of the tests, access to the afterlife is denied. If the body is not properly taken care of, the ba cannot be reunited with the body, prohibiting entrance to the afterlife. Without access to the afterlife, the dead does not become akh, and cannot be resurrected. The deceased simply fails to exist anymore. Immortality is lost. In Egypt, the dead either achieves immortality and reaches the afterlife, or they don’t.

In Greece, the soul’s presence in the underworld and the concept of immortality is not as simple. The concept of immortality slowly morphs through the ages. Homer states that the soul is the life force, and after death, it is just a nameless empty entity down in the underworld for eternity. It is true that they are down with Hades forever, but no form of akh can be achieved. Hesiod, on the other hand, tells a story of the isle of the blessed during the age of Heroes. If the deceased is worthy, they get to plow their lands in the underworld and yield beautiful crops, forever living out there days in bounty and prosper. Other than this, there is Erebus, a darkness ruled by Hades. It is not dangerous, but not appealing. If there is a proper burial, like the Egyptians must have, then the deceased can get to the dreary destination. During the classical period, there is a shift. The previously seen sad dark underworld turns into a rich opportunity for a prosperous afterlife. However, this is only offered to initiates in the Eleusinian mysteries and the Dionysian mysteries. If the deceased properly prepares, they can have some light in the dark of the underworld. The problem is that this shift does not grant immortality like the notion of Akh does. It is not until Plato that immortality comes up. He believes that the soul is immortal. He views death as a transmigration to get to another life where the soul enters another body. The Egyptians held a similar view that death was an inevitable and necessary step to pass through to get to the afterlife and achieve immortality. In Plato’s eye, the soul is immortal and improvable. The soul continues on for improvement until it achieves the final stage of enlightenment. The Egypt view of the afterlife and immortality is quite different from the Greeks, though similarities evolve throughout the course of Greek history.

Theory:

A few theoretical issues and speculation emerge from analyzing this southern wall mural in King Tut’s burial chamber. When looking at the mural, it is important to not look at each character individually, but the interactions between them. With functionalism, the whole picture of actions and relationships within this painting can be considered. Functionalism allows the viewer to see that Anubis is welcoming Tut into the afterlife, while Isis is giving him the breath of life. The combination of these two interactions is the process of King Tut achieving akh. Tainter’s idea of energy expenditure comes into play as well. Through the painting isn’t made of gold or ivory, it still shows one of the most powerful scenes, and, thus, is of tremendous worth. The Egyptians centered their whole lives on planning for the afterlife, so this mural of Anubis and Isis bestowing akh and resurrecting King Tut is of utmost importance.

Bibliography

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