Ancient Egyptians had a strong belief in preserving the body for the afterlife in hopes of achieving immortality. Part of this preservation was to protect and identify the body by painting or carving pictures, hieroglyphics, and symbols on the coffin. One very good example of this is represented by the ‘Mummy of Irethorrou in Coffin. ’ This coffin, made of wood with polychrome, is adorned with hieroglyphics, symbols, and a portrait of the Egyptian priest. It was found in a cemetery in Akhmim, and dates back circa 500 BCE.
The inside of the coffin, where the mummy lays, also has a carved outline of Irethorrou’s profile standing on some sort of platform. The portrait of the priest is painted with traditional Egyptian accessories such as, a headdress and false beard, both representing royalty. Irethorrou’s ‘governmental’ position also reflects the design of his coffin, a lot more simple as compared to that of a pharaoh. Although this coffin may not be specially decorated, it still possesses the key characteristics of an Egyptian coffin.
Ancient Egyptians obviously regarded the coffin as more than just a case for their dead. Adorned with hieroglyphics and symbols, they utilized coffins for protection, both physically and spiritually. They intertwined its practical function with its religious importance because of their strong belief in the afterlife. Egyptians believed that even after death, the body must be preserved and well-kept for its ‘new life. ’ In order to maintain the body, they placed it in a coffin and inscribed spells and symbols that would protect it from any physical or spiritual harm.
The coffin itself had to be well-built. The coffin of Irethorrou is made of a very strong kind of wood that fits his status as a leader in Egyptian religion as a priest. With all these details and special customs that ancient Egyptians had for preparing the dead for new life, it’s evident that their faith in their religion was very strong. This shows just how focal religion was during the everyday life of an Egyptian. In this one object, so much information about Egyptian culture and beliefs could be found. Take the hieroglyphics, for one example.
Writing is the sole foundation to any civilization and Egyptians used their form of writing on coffins to protect the body and its ka during its journey to the afterlife. Acting as spells, coffin hieroglyphs would protect the ka against any dangers that it may encounter during its journey so that it could return to its body. The inscriptions on Irethorrou’s coffin are also accompanied by carvings of a four-legged animal, a winged scarab, and the god, Anubis. For the Egyptians, scarab beetles symbolized rebirth of the ka. Just like the god of the rising sun, Khepri, scarabs existed through self-creation.
One beetle was able to produce another by ejecting its egg into a ball of dung, then burying it into the ground so that life would rise from the dirt. Anubis, the god of the Dead, was also believed to contribute to the resurrection of the ka by protecting the body, just like the coffin hieroglyphs (Crystalinks) . One of the prominent features of Irethorrou’s coffin is the portrait that was carved over what should be his face. Unlike the inscriptions and symbols that protected both the body and spirit, this portrait was utilized mainly as a guide for the ka.
Portraits were always placed on coffins to ensure the return of the ka to its appropriate ‘owner. ’ Irethorrou’s portrait is seen with the traditional Egyptian headdress and false beard, as well as eyeliner. These accessories that can be found painted on the picture of any Egyptian with high status additionally helped to identify whose body rests in a coffin. Without any identification, ancient Egyptians believed that the ka would continue wandering the world, unable to go back to its body to reach eternal life. Another portrait of Irethorrou in full profile can also be found inside the coffin, where the mummy lays.
This furthers the Egyptians assurance that the ka would be able to return to the body. Aside from functioning as recognition of a body, these representations of the dead also provided an identity in the afterlife. The portrait of Irethorrou also depicts the blunt, traditional non-expressive representation that Egyptian artists used when creating a work of art dedicated to those with higher status. Irethorrou’s coffin portrayal looks straight forward with a blank expression. His limbs cannot be seen, but the silhouette of the entire coffin gives an idea of where his arms and legs should be.
This serious appearance was very important to Egyptians when illustrating a person of royalty, just like the headdress and false beard. It was a characteristic that was strictly limited to authoritative figures, and not used to depict the general population. Representing leaders, or those with higher status, as serious was very important to Egyptians because it illustrates someone who would ensure stability. The coffin of Irethorrou is a very good example of traditional Egyptian art because it shows how important religion and the afterlife was to the Egyptians.
Aside from committing to their religion, they also believed that continuing into eternal life was a reward to look forward to after death. Each component of Irethorrou’s coffin, from the hieroglyphics to the portrait, had an important role in the afterlife. The hieroglyphics and symbols were not carved onto the coffin just for decoration, rather they served to protect the body and spirit during its journey to a new life. The portrait, as well, was not created to please the eye, but to please Irethorrou so that his ka may not suffer continually looking for its body, and instead go on into eternal life.
Whether combining all these aspects, or analyzing them individually, one could easily sense how strong Egyptians’ faith was in their beliefs. The creators of Irethorrou’s coffin believed that in return for assisting Irethorrou in his journey to the afterlife, they would also be rewarded when their time came to prepare for eternal life. They found it meaningful to do good in this life, so that their next life would be good to them as well. Works Cited “Egyptian Afterlife Ceremonies, Sarcophagi, Burial Masks”. Crystalinks. November 24, 2009 .