Books of the Dead
Egypt, New Kingdom, 1550–1069 BCE The Library of Trinity College Dublin holds many surprises and one of them is a small but fascinating collection of Egyptian papyri, gifted to College in 1838, which includes some notable Books of the Dead. These scrolls were commissioned by individuals in preparation for their dangerous journey through the underworld to eternal life. They contain spells, incantations and illustrations to help these individuals attest to a virtuous life when challenged at the various gateways along the way, and to soothe the hostile creatures they would encounter.
This detail is from the most beautifully decorated example in the collection, measuring an impressive 175 x 35 cm. Here the owner of the book, together with his wife, faces the Everlasting Devourer – a fantastical beast with the hindquarters of a hippopotamus, the body of a leopard, the head of a crocodile and the power to end their journey in one snap of his jaws. Emerging from the papyrus behind the Devourer is the goddess Hathor in her bovine form; the female counterpart to the sun god Ra, she is often represented as a cow with a sun disc between her horns. As a more benevolent deity, Hathor had the power to pass through the boundary separating the living from the Duat – the realm of the dead. The name of the book's owner has not been recorded in the hieroglyphic text, however, the quality of the exquisite vignettes indicates that he was a wealthy individual.
Shelfmark: TCD MS 1661/1
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