December 6, 2012
“Interactions Between the Dead and the Living”
For centuries, civilizations have been plagued by questions surrounding death: What happens to people after they die? Where do they go? What role do they play? In many cultures, the realm of the dead is quite removed and distinct from the realm of the living; however, the Ancient Egyptians believed that these two worlds were deeply intertwined. Through a study of both primary and secondary sources, it is evident that the dead played a significant role in the lives of the living and vice versa. This essay will discuss the influence of the dead in the world of the living, illuminate the impact the living had on the dead, and explain the manner and means by which the living and the dead communicated.
The ancient Egyptians believed that the dead could intervene in daily affairs of the living (Taylor 2001, 42). Evidence of this belief can be found in the letters that the living wrote to the dead. As with most day to day writing, these letters were not written in hieroglyphs, but rather in hieratic script. The letters were written on the back of funerary stela, linen, papyrus and ostraca. Most however, were written on pottery bowls and were likely filled with a food offering in hopes that it would attract the spirit of the dead- the same might be assumed for the linen (Taylor 2001, 42). It was assumed that the dead would eat the food and then read the letter. Every letter follows a traditional tripartite format; the deceased is first reminded of the good that the author has done on their behalf, then the injury or problem is stated, and, finally, there is a request for intercession (McDowell 1999, 106). The tripartite construction of the letter is standard whether the author is asking for help or demanding the deceased to stop causing trouble.
Sometimes the author would petition their ancestors or deceased loved ones to work on their behalf to solve a problem...