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The Sungod's Journey Through the Netherworld

Reading the Ancient Egyptian Amduat

Andreas Schweizer, David Lorton, Erik Hornung

Publication Year: 2010

"The ancient Egyptian sources come alive, speaking to us without seeming alien to our modern ways of thinking. Andreas Schweizer invites us to join the nocturnal voyage of the solar barque and to immerse ourselves, with the 'Great Soul' of the sun, into the darkness surrounding us. Here in the illustrations and texts of the Amduat, threats hidden in the depths of our soul become visible as concrete images, an analysis of which remains ever worthwhile: even in the guise of the evil, ominous, or dark side of godhead with which Schweizer concerns himself. The netherworld into which we descend underlies our own world. Creative energies of dreadful intensity are active there, and only death, to which all must surrender, makes us truly alive by offering us regeneration from the depths."-Erik Hornung, from the Foreword

The Amduat (literally "that which is in the netherworld") tells the story of the nocturnal journey of Re, the Egyptian Sungod, through the netherworld from the time when the sun dies, after setting in the west, to its rebirth at sunrise in the east. In the middle of the night, in the profoundest depths of the netherworld, this resurrection is made possible by a mystical union of the sun with the mummified body of Osiris, god of the dead. This great mystery of the union between the freely moving soul of the Sungod, longing for the bright and boundless sky, with Osiris's corpse, which is irrevocably bound to the subterranean realm of the dead, evokes the renewal of all life and the restoration of totality.

In the Egyptian belief system, the pharaohs and in later times all blessed dead embarked on this same "night-sea journey" after death, ultimately becoming one with Re and living forever. The vision of the afterlife elaborated in the Amduat, dating from around 1500 B.C.E., has been influential for millennia, providing the model for an entire genre of Egyptian literature, the Books of the Afterlife, which in turn endured into the Greco-Roman era. Its themes and images persisted into gnostic and alchemical texts and made their way into early Christian portrayals of the beyond.

In The Sungod's Journey through the Netherworld, Andreas Schweizer guides the reader through the Amduat, offering a psychological interpretation of its principal textual and iconographic elements. He is concerned with themes that run deep and wide in human experience, drawing on Jungian archetypes to find similar expression in many cultures worldwide: sleep as death; resurrection as reawakening or rebirth; and salvation or redemption, whether from original sin (as for Christians) or from the total annihilation of death (as for the ancient Egyptians).

Published by: Cornell University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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Foreword to the German Edition

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pp. vii-viii

Around the year 1500 BC, an ancient Egyptian created an illustrated vision of the hereafter, the Amduat, that ranks among the great achieve-ments of humankind. In Egypt its impact endured for more than a mil-lennium: it served as the model for a whole literary genre, today known as the Books of the Afterlife or Books of the Netherworld, whose tradi-...

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pp. ix-x

More than ten years have passed since this book was published in Unterweltsbuch Amduat (Munich, 1994)?and this edition has long been out of print. It is therefore a great pleasure to me that Cornell University Press has been willing to publish this revised edition in English.In the meantime, I have become increasingly cognizant of the fact that ...

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Editor’s Note

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pp. xi-xiv

In this book, the following conventions have been followed in citations Parentheses () enclose words or brief explanations that have been Square brackets [] enclose words that have been restored in a lacuna.An ellipsis . . . indicates that a word or words in the original text have An ellipsis in square brackets [. . .] indicates the presence of a lacuna ...

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Immersion into Darkness

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pp. 1-14

At the end of a long, hot day, as the African sun approaches the west, the life of all creatures unfolds itself anew. Now sheltered by the cool evening breeze, the fi elds are plowed, hoed, planted, and watered. Everywhere in the villages, fi res are lit to cook the evening meal. In the gathering twi-light, people grow happier and louder. It is as though with their chatting, ...

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The Amduat—The Book of the Hidden Chamber

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pp. 15-22

At the very end of the Valley of the Kings, at the edge of the Theban Mountain that separates the endless desert from the fertile Nile valley, there is a tomb. Once carefully hidden, its entrance is not, as usual, at the base of the steep rock wall but rather some yards above the bottom of a deeply fi ssured gorge. Today, visitors who brave the heat and the dust use a ...

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The Title of the Amduat

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pp. 23-30

The many repetitions in this lengthy title betray the intense emotional involvement of its author. For him, it was existentially important to know the dramatic transfigurations that take place in the netherworld. The Egyptian verb rḫ “to know,” also means “to be familiar with” or “have knowledge of” for the purpose of having power over something. In this

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First Hour The Jubilation of the Baboons

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pp. 31-47

The magnifi cence of sunset now ended, the Sungod and his entourage descend in the night barque to an intermediate realm separating this world from the actual netherworld. This interstitial space embodies an interval of time after which the god will enter Osiris?s realm of the dead through the gate at the end of the fi rst nocturnal hour. Once again, there ...

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Second Hour

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pp. 48-61

The Sungod and his crew have reached the end of the intermediate realm of the fi rst hour. Sailing through the gate called ?He-who-devours-all,? they enter the waters of a truly fertile region of paradisiacal beauty. Those who dwell on the riverbanks greet them warmly with jubilation and re-joicing. Everywhere in the depiction of this second hour we see sym-...

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Third Hour

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pp. 62-75

The third hour is dominated by the presence of Osiris. What we behold here is not his fl esh or corpse as in the dark depths of the sixth and sev-enth hours but the lively and inspiring presence that made him so popu-Outwitted, killed, and dismembered by his brother Seth, Osiris suf-fered a death like no one else?s. Isis, his sister and beloved, collected his ...

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Fourth Hour

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pp. 76-99

In the fourth hour of the night, we enter an entirely new region of the netherworld, one that is especially dark and dry. Its name is Rosetau, whose literal meaning in the ancient Egyptian language is ?act of towing.? The sun barque has run aground in the shallows and can no longer be rowed along the fl owing water. With arduous labor, the assisting deities ...

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Fifth Hour

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pp. 100-117

The fi fth hour of the night continues, in far greater depth, the theme of the fourth hour. The water is still shallow; the sun barque continues its journey, though with diffi culty. Re?s boat must be towed by the two groups of deities, seven males and seven females, above the cavern of Sokar in the lower register. That the goddesses precede their male coun-...

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Sixth Hour

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pp. 118-131

In the middle register, we encounter the central theme of this hour and, indeed, of this entire Book of the Netherworld. At the deepest point in the realm of the dead, the point where we reach the very edge of the pri-meval waters of Nun and their primordial darkness and where the do-main of Apopis threatens creation with chaos and nonbeing, there lies ...

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Seventh Hour

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pp. 132-149

Scarcely has new light been kindled by the union of the ba-soul with the corpse?that is, by the coniunctio of Re and Osiris?when the pow-ers of darkness threaten to extinguish it in this, the seventh hour of the night. No less an enemy than Apopis obstructs the sun barque and those it conveys. This scene would have struck terror in the hearts of the an-...

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Eight Hour

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pp. 150-157

The most diffi cult part of Re?s journey is over. The sun barque has safely passed the deepest point of midnight, and thanks to the creative magical powers of Isis and Seth, Apopis is defeated. In the caverns, or vaults, of the eighth hour, fi ve in the upper register and fi ve in the lower register, the mysterious gods and the blessed dead are provided with new cloth-...

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Ninth Hour

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pp. 158-163

The Sungod and his helpers rest in the peace of this ninth nocturnal hour. In anticipation of activity to come, the sun barque?s crewmen hold their oars at the ready. The accompanying text speaks of their life-giving role, for their rowing is a source of life. Those who dwell on the river-banks drink the refreshing water that splashes up from the strokes of the ...

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Tenth Hour

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pp. 164-171

The upper register of the tenth nocturnal hour makes renewed reference to the ambivalence of every creative act. As in the Land of Sokar (fourth hour), we encounter the motif of the healing of the Sungod?s injured eye. Though the Living Scarab depicted at the beginning of the upper register points to the coming birth, every birth brings vulnerability and death. ...

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Eleventh Hour

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pp. 172-183

All is fi lled with anticipation of the birth of the solar child in the morn-ing. A new era will begin. The cosmos has once again been renewed in the depths of the night. The fi rst god in the upper register, called ?Lord of (djet-)time,? presides over this hour of the night. He has two heads, with a sun disk between them, and he holds the hieroglyphic signs for life and ...

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Twelfth Hour

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pp. 184-194

For one last time, the Sungod tarries in the netherworld. The name of the place heralds the end of the nocturnal journey: ?Cavern of the end of the primeval darkness.? Those who dwell on the riverbanks rejoice and acclaim Re; but despite this all-pervasive jubilation, there is no forgetting that here, too, even after the rebirth of the Great Ba-Soul, Apopis must be ...

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Closure: The Five Stages of Renewal

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pp. 195-210

We have tarried long over these often mysterious and always fascinating images of the netherworld. We have stood astounded before the cultural testimony of the Theban royal tombs, which speak to us, even after mil-lennia. In many who visit these tombs, there grows a true and abiding love for the divine world of the Egyptians. Though the foreignness of this ...

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pp. 211-212

The collapse of the old worldview had a catastrophic effect, causing great social turmoil. In compensation for this, a new style of literature arose and Individual, intellectually outstanding personalities broke free of the hitherto dominant ideology of the pharaohs and created a new, independent way of Coffi n Texts. Beginning with Senwosret II (1897?1878), a profound change in ...


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pp. 213-220


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pp. 221-224

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Illustration Credits

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pp. 225-226

Every effort has been made to trace and credit all known copyright or reproduction right holders; the publishers apologize for any errors or omissions Pages 10, 18, 37, 54, 68, 155. From E. Hornung, Das Tal der K?nige: Die Ruhest?tte der Pharaonen (Zurich: Artemis, 1983). Reproduced by permission of Erik Page 15. From E. Hornung, The Valley of the Kings: Horizon of Eternity. Translated ...


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pp. 227-232

E-ISBN-13: 9780801459283
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801448751

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1