The Cannibal Hymn to Pharaoh Unis
(ca.2378 - 2348 BCE)

UNIS
the overpowering cannibalistic god and image of images
a few philosophical remarks ...


by Wim van den Dungen


 

the cartouche of "wnis"
Unis, Unas or Wenis

"For Pharaoh is the great power that overpowers the powers.
Pharaoh is a sacred image, the most sacred image 
of the sacred images of the great one.
Whom he finds in his way, him he devours bit by bit."
Cannibal Hymn - Pyr. 407a-c


Introduction

1 The pyramid of Pharaoh Unis.

1.1 The tomb of Pharaoh Unis.
1.2 The theo-literary testament of Unis and its spatial semantics.
1.3 Power : the medium of the gods and their authority.

2 The Cannibal Hymn to Pharaoh Unis.

2.1 Cannibalism in Predynastic Egypt ?
2.2 A philological remark.
2.3 The text of the Cannibal Hymn.

3 Philosophical remarks ...

3.1 Pharaoh as a god.
3.2 Slayer & eater of the gods : divine cannibalism.
3.3 Pharaoh Unis as "power of powers" & "image of images".
3.4 The phenomenology of the divine.

Bibliography


INTRODUCTION

The "Cannibal Text" (Frankfort) or "Cannibal Hymn" (Mercer, Faulkner) is an extraordinary literary document. It consists of two spells (Pyramid Texts 273 & 274) inscribed on the East gable of the antechamber of the tomb of Pharaoh Unis (Unas or Wenis, ca. 2378 - 2348 BCE, the last king of the Vth Dynasty (ca. 2487 - 2348 BCE) and his successor Pharaoh Teti (ca. 2348 - 2198 BCE), who initiated the VIth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom (ca. 2670 - 2205 BCE).

"The spells then drop out of the regular corpus, to reappear in the Middle Kingdom, when the Cannibal Hymn is included among the Pyramid Texts of the Middle Kingdom tombs of Senwosretankh at Lisht and of Siese at Dahshur. A reworked version appears as Coffin Text Spell 573, while a variety of phrases and themes from the hymn also recur in other Coffin Texts."
Eyre, 2002, p.11.

The major theme of this text, the praise of Pharaoh, allows us to classify it as a hymn. Its main metaphorical and dramatical mechanism, namely Pharoah eating the deities, puts its acute poetical power into evidence. Degustation (like the spitting and masturbating Atum) is used as a material metaphor of transcendence. Pharaoh's consumption of the gods makes him akin to the precreational order of Atum (manifesting as Re, the father of the king). Some deities and the natural order of creation are left behind.

As a metaphor of unity, the divine king holds the division of the balance in harmony. His power is precisely mastership over the chaotic waters ("Nun"), actualized every year by a "good Nile" (an inundation kept between the extremes of too much or too little water - cf. the Balance of Maat). In the kinglist on the Palermo Stone (Vth Dynasty), the name of the king figures above compartiments recording, for each regnal year, the height of the inundation. The authority of the king was defined by his ability to sustain good inundations. Some argue that on the Scorpion mace-head (ca. 3000 BCE), we see the king, helped by attendants, ritually excavate an irrigation canal.

"The institution of kingship was projected as the sole force which held the country together, and the dual nature of the monarchy was expressed in the king's regalia, in his titulary, and in royal rituals and festivals. This concept -the harmony of opposites, a totality embracing pared contrasts- chimed so effectively with the Egyptian world-view that the institution of kingship acquired what has been called a 'transcendent significance'. This helps to explain the centrality of the institution to Egyptian culture, and its longevity."
Wilkinson, 2001, p.185, quoting Frankfort, 1948.

In this exceptional hymn, synonymous parallelisms, in the form of resemblance, correspondence and similarity, are common, as well as a sixfold metrical scheme. The object of this song of praise, usually a deity, is Pharaoh, which is rather exceptional (although auto-deification is not unseen in Ancient Egypt). Although the confirmation of Pharaoh's excellence is consistent with the rest of the texts found in the tomb of Unis, and we indeed read how Pharaoh reigns over the deities and is feared by them, in the Cannibal Hymn a step further is taken : Pharaoh slays & eats the powers of the pantheon ! As "power of powers", he transcends every divinity of creation and is the eldest of the old. He is a god, who as a divine cannibal, metaphorically eating the other deities and gulping down their spirits ...

"Along with the Sumerians, the Egyptians deliver our earliest -through by no means primitive- evidence of human thought. It is thus appropriate to characterize Egyptian thought as the beginning of philosophy. As far back as the third millennium B.C., the Egyptians were concerned with questions that return in later European philosophy and that remain unanswered even today - questions about being and nonbeing, about the meaning of death, about the nature of the cosmos and man, about the essence of time, about the basis of human society and the legitimation of power."
Hornung, 1992, p.13.

What is of philosophical interest in these two utterances of the Pyramid Texts ?

  • the phenomenology of the Pharaonic principle ;

  • the deification of Pharaoh ;

  • the position of Pharaoh vis-à-vis the deities ;

  • the deities as natural differentials.


1 The Pyramid of Pharaoh Unis

view of the sarcophagus against the West wall of the burial-chamber 

1.1 The pyramid of Pharaoh Unis.

The pyramid of Unis at Saqqara is at the south-western corner of Pharaoh Djoser's enclosure (the Pharaoh who initiated the Old Kingdom). It is almost diagionally opposed to the pyramid of Pharaoh Userkaf (ca. 2487 - 2480 BCE), the founder of the Fifth Dynasty. 

The causeway to the pyramid of Unis was 750 m long and was equal to Pharaoh Khufu's. In its roof, a slit was left open, so a shaft of light could illuminate the gallery of brightly painted reliefs, of which only fragments survived. A wide array of scenes once covered the wall : boats transporting granite palm columns, craftsmen working gold & copper, harvesting scenes (grain, figs & honey), offering bearers, battles with enemies, bearded "Aziatics" ... Two boat graves (each 45 m long) lay side by side South of it. By the New Kingdom, the complex had fallen into ruins.

The antechamber of the pyramid tomb lies directly under the centre axis of the pyramid. In the East, a doorway opens to the uninscribed Ka-chamber with three recesses. The middle recess of this Ka-chapel (intended for sitting statues of Pharaoh Unis ?), lies exactly behind the false door of the mortuary temple.

The sitting statue is attested in the funerary domain from the Early Dynastic Period onwards. It is the three-dimensional realization of the picture of the Slab-stela, representing the enthroned tomb owner in front of an offering table, to which he is stretching out one hand. The stretched (mostly right) hand is shown resting on the thigh, the left hand often on the breast (but variants in gesture and garment exist). During the IVth Dynasty, the sitting statue is a formal part of the Giza cemetery. It was placed in a closed "serdab" (the Arabic for "cellar"). In this "inner" cult place -dedicated to the provision cult for the deceased- the Ka-statue is the "double" of the tomb owner, representing the latter as corporally intact, provided and able to receive provisions by way of the mummy enshrined in the sarcophagus, and by way of the Ka and/or Ba visiting the tomb and recognizing its own image in the Ka-statue.

the Unis Texts and the Pyramid Texts

The Unis Texts form the oldest extant corpus of religious texts written in Old Egyptian. They are king Unis' literary testament. Together with those in the tombs of his successors (Pharaohs Teti, Pepi I, Merenre & Pepi II), they constitute the oldest corpus of Ancient Egyptian religious, funerary & theological literature, in particular that of Heliopolis ("Iunu" in Egyptian, "On" in the Bible), called the Pyramid Texts. Heliopolis was situated to the north-east of the pharaonic and religious capital of the Old Kingdom, namely Memphis, and on the east bank of the Nile (now a Cairo suburb).

view of the sarcophagus against the West wall of the burial-chamber 

The inscriptions carved and filled with blue pigment on most walls of the tomb underneath the Pyramid of Unis contain the first historical account of the religion of the Old Kingdom. Although Heliopolitan in inspiration, it contains Hermopolitan and Osirian components as well.

On the ceiling, golden, pentagram-like stars were carved in relief on a sky-blue background. They represent the final goal of Pharaoh's journey to the sky of Re.

The tomb is made of Tura limestone, except for the West wall of the burial-chamber and the western halves of its North and South walls, opposite the ends of the sarcophagus, which are in albaster.

On the West wall, an elaborated panel design and a false door have been carved and painted.

The Pyramid Texts have their own particular problems and difficulties. They are a set of symbolical "heraldic"  spells which mainly deal with the promotion of Pharaoh's welfare in the afterlife. These spells were recited at various ceremonies, mostly religious and especially in connection with the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Pharaoh. These texts are to a large extent a composition, a compilation and joining of earlier texts which must have circulated orally or were written down on papyrus many centuries earlier. Some of these go back to the oral tradition of the Predynastic Period, for they suggest the political context of Egypt before its final unification (as Sethe pointed out). Others, although the archeological record is limited, were used in this-life rituals, and have initiatoric connotations. The relative rarity of corruptions is another important fact which makes their study rewarding.

"The Pyramid Texts were not the work of a single man or of a single age. They are entirely anonymous and of uncertain date. And they are religious literature which reflect more or less clearly the conditions of religious thought in ancient Egypt previous to the Seventh Dynasty - more like the Psalms than any other book of the Old Testament. None of them, however, seem to have been composed for use in temples, though they may have in time been arranged for the burial service of sovereigns, and as such, and in a definite order, been inscribed on the chamber-walls of the pyramids ..."
Mercer, 1956, p.2.

This "eternalized" body of texts includes drama, hymns, litanies, glorifications, magical texts, offerings rituals, prayers, charms, divine offerings, the ascension of Pharaoh, the arrival of Pharaoh in heaven, Pharaoh settled in heaven, and miscellaneous texts. It is the oldest body of theology in the world, and precedes the textualization of the Vedas (ca. 1900 BCE).

"... from internal references in the Vedic literature we can now state with some certainty that the Rig-Veda was not composed, as maintained by many scholars under the spell of the Aryan invasion model, around 1200 BC, but at least more than eight centuries earlier. The hymn composers knew of an environment that simply ceased to exist around 1900 BC. What more concrete evidence could anyone wish for ?"
Feuerstein, Kak & Frawley, 1995, p.105.

In the ca. 650 years between ca. 3000 BCE (the beginning of the Dynastic Period) and ca. 2348 BCE (the death of Pharaoh Unis), the written language had considerably developed. But although words could be joined together in simple sentences and the latter in pragmatical groups (dealing with honors & gifts, offices, legacies, inventories, testaments, transfers, endowments, etc.), the additive, archaic quality of the literary style was pronounced.

In the Old Egyptian of the Pyramid Texts, the composition between semantic groups is loose. Subjectivity is still objectified. Pre-operatoric activity is limited by the immediate material context. Older structures were mingled with new ones and many traces of earlier periods were left over. The extent of this layeredness has been called in to reject the possibility of Ancient Egyptian philosophy. The language, which has the style of the "records" of the Old Kingdom, is often additive and offers little self-reflection (which starts with the literature of the First Intermediate Period). Didactic poetry (precepts) and lyrics in which personal emotions & experiences are highlighted are nearly absent.

Various types of parallelism occur : synonymous (doubling or by repetition), symmetrical, combined, grammatical, antithetic, of contrast, of constraint, of analogy, of purpose and of identity. Metrical schemes of two, three, four, five, six, seven or eight lines occur (the fourfold being the most popular). The play of words is the commonest literary feature and depends on the consonantal roots of the words. Alliteration, metathesis, metaphors, ellipses, anthropomorphisms and picturesque expressions are also found.

The contemporary school of egyptological literalism equates the earliest temporal layer of any text with its historical date of composition, mistrusting the presence of literary antecedents. In the case of the Pyramid Texts, they would agree to push the date of inception with a few centuries (the margin of error for this period being ca. 100 years) but try to avoid a Predynastic figure. Indeed, comparisons with the architectural language of the period, makes it likely that under Pharaoh Djoser (ca. 2654 - 2635 BCE), the Egyptians had the conceptual framework of the Pyramid Texts at their disposal. King Djoser, the "inventor of stone" and his Leonardo da Vinci, Imhotep, the "great seer" (or prophet) of Re at Iunu, "the Pillar", 40km northeast of Memphis (the Greek Heliopolis, the Coptic area of contemporary Cairo), layed the foundations of the Old Kingdom "canon" which ruled all aspects of the life of the Ancient Egyptian elite, including writing, art & religion.


The texts from the tomb of Unis are available online as well as
Sethe's standard edition of the Pyramid Texts (1910). This exclusively royal funerary corpus consists of a series of "utterances", so called because the expression "djed medu" ("Dd" = "words" ; "mdw" = "speech") or "words to be said", i.e. "to recite" is, as a rule, at the head of most. In Sethe's edition, 714 Utterances are given, whereas Faulkner (1969) brings the total to 759. 

Osirian faith & the Pyramid Texts

When, in order to assure for himself -through the magic of his great speech- his ultimate realization in the afterlife, Pharaoh Unis decided to adorn his tomb with sacred hieroglyphs, Osirian faith was already popular and its incorporation in the Pharaonic funerary rituals had already begun. So the name "Osiris" is inserted before Pharaoh's name wherever it stands at the head of the utterance. This is omitted in all cases when it occurs in the text (except in Utterances 25 & 38). Breasted (1912) concluded the editor must have been "Osirian", working hastily and mechanically.

"While there is some effort here to correlate the functions of Re and Osiris, it can hardly be called an attempt at harmonization of conflicting doctrines. This is practically unknown in the Pyramid Texts. (...) But the fact that both Re and Osiris appear as supreme king of the hereafter cannot be reconciled, and such mutually irreconcilable beliefs caused the Egyptian no more discomfort than was felt by any early civilization in the maintenance of a group of religious teachings side by side with others involving varying and totally inconsistent suppositions. Even Christianity itself has not escaped this experience."
Breasted, 1972, pp.163-164.

sample of Unis 478 - 486
South wall of the antechamber

Although historical traces of Osirian faith predating the Pyramid Texts are sparse, popular Osirian beliefs had, during the previous Dynasties, already slowly infiltrated the Solar state religion. Predynastic religion had identified Osiris with the fertile waters of the inundation, with soil and vegetation (cf. Orion and the Dog-Star in the South, the direction of the inundation). The ever-waning and ever-reviving life of Egypt's soil through the Nile was entrenched by the story of the murder & resurrection of Osiris and the triumph of his son Horus over Seth, the evil uncle. As a result, and despite its popular origin, Osirian faith entered into the most intimate relationship with the ideology of divine kingship, causing a fundamental tension to be resolved later, when Osiris, as god of the dead  and king of the netherworld, was increasingly seen as the nocturnal aspect of Re (cf. the New Kingdom Solar theology and Netherworld books).

So, although the religion of the state was a Solar faith focused on Pharaoh, the Pyramid Texts evidence an ambiguous relationship with Osiris, the god of the common people and popular beliefs. The Predynastic Osiris cult, probably local to the Delta, involved a forbidding, stern & repellent hereafter. Osiris was a Nile-god and a spirit of vegetable life, a harvest-god. But, as a king of Egypt, he had been killed by his brother Seth, recovered and restored by his wife Isis (with the help of the secret name of Re) and resurrected by his son Horus, who avenged his father by overcoming Seth in a battle presided by Thoth. When Osiris migrated up the Nile from the Delta, he was identified with the old mortuary jackal-god of the South, "the First of the Westeners" (Abydos, Assiut). His kingdom was conceived as situated below the western horizon, where it merged into the netherworld. He became the king of the dead below the Earth, the "Lord of the Duat", monarch of a subterranean kingdom. 

"... in the Solar faith we have a state theology, with all the splendor and the prestige of its royal patrons behind it ; while in that of Osiris we are confronted by a religion of the people, which made a strong appeal to the individual believer. (...) In the mergence of these two faiths we discern for the first time in history the age-old struggle between the state form of religion and the popular faith of the masses."
Breasted, 1972, pp.140-141.

According to Breasted, nothing in these primordial myths proved Osiris to have a celestial afterlife.
Indeed, the Pyramid Texts evidence survivals from a period when Osiris was even hostile to the Solar dead. There are exorcisms intended to retain Osiris to enter the Solar tomb with evil intent. However, the popularity of Osiris among the common people forced the theologians to incorporate him into the Solar creed. In this way, Heliopolitan Solar theology got slowly Osirianized. 

The resurrection of Osiris by Horus and the restoration of his body was affirmed to be Pharaoh's privilege. The Osirian hereafter was celestialized. Osiris was now called "Lord of the sky" (PT, §§ 964, 966a) and Pharaoh was announced to Osiris in the sky precisely in the same way as he had been announced to Re in the Solar theology. Hence, we find Pharaoh ascending to the sky and then descending among the dwellers in the netherworld (PT, § 1164), implying that the Duat became somehow accessible from the sky. In the Osirian cult, the netherworld became the lower region of the sky, in the vincinity of the horizon, below which it is also extended (Breasted). An important link between Re and Osiris was the former's death every day in the West, the place of the dead. The dead Pharaoh and the dying Sun corresponded well, as did the resurrection of Osiris (as king of the dead) and the dawning of the Sun (as the child Harpocrates, who is the father of the king of the living).

"The fact remains, then, that the celestial doctrines of the hereafter dominate the Pyramid Texts throughout, and the later subterranean kingdom of Osiris and Re's voyage through it are still entirely in the background in these royal mortuary teachings. Among the people Re is later, as it were, dragged into the Nether World to illumine there the subjects of Osiris in his mortuary kingdom, and this is one of the most convincing evidences of the power of Osiris among the lower classes. In the royal and state temple theology, Osiris is lifted to the sky, and while he is there Solarized, we have just shown he also tinctures the Solar teaching of the celestial kingdom of the dead with Osirian doctrines. The result was thus inevitable confusion, as the two faiths interpenetrated."
Breasted, 1972, pp.159-160.

The Pyramid Texts hence evidence the emergence of a composite mortuary doctrine. But what used to be viewed as a separate "Osirian" destiny of the king "has more recently been recognized as one aspect of his celestial cycle - the regenerative phase through which he passes before 'rising in the eastern side of sky like the Sun' (Pyr. 1465d-e)." (Allen, 1989, p.1).

1.2 The theo-literary testament of Unis and its spatiality.

spatial semantics

In Ancient Egyptian thought, measurements and spatial relationships between parts of a building were considered significant from a religious and ceremonial point of view. Spatial semantics played a role in the arrangement of texts on papyri & stelæ (cf. the Shabaka Stone). Surely identical considerations animated the architecture of Pharaoh's tomb ?

The texts in the tomb of Unis do not provide us with a straightforward narrative of their ritual performance. The latter is never decontextualized, but was partly iconified in architecture and architectural decoration. Both antechamber and burial-chamber have as central theme the resurrection of the king and his ascent to heaven. Offering rituals, one of the instruments of resurrection, accompany the presentation of offerings. But, on the East gable of the burial-chamber, the king establishes his independence of food supply.

"Exploitation of a narrative coherence in representation of the ritual falls far behind symbolic and spatial ordering as a principle of decoration : the ordering of the ritual material is to a considerable extent defined by general principles of a largely symbolic nature, modified by the ad hoc resolutions necessary to fill the space available."
Eyre, 2002, p.44.

This symbolico-magical use betrays the deeper intention of the hieroglyphs : the wise has seen how the Ka of former Pharaohs had no longer been fed and they introduced written food offerings and voice-offerings as a magical  alternative (Sethe, 1908). The inscriptions served this magical purpose. To the subtle body of the Ka, the sacred script represented the subtle energies of what was represented. It "read" the sacred words and was "fed" even if the priests forgot to perform the offering ritual. If the script contained images of dangerous animals, the sign was crippled ...

reading a tomb ?

For Sethe (1908), the texts found in these pyramids were a free collection of magical utterances, which, by virtue of their presence, assisted Pharaoh de opere operato in his resurrection & ascension, dispensing with the need for daily priestly offerings to his Ka. The presence of texts of offering fed the subtle bodies of the deceased. Sacred words not only describe objects but embody their double (cf. the Lascaux pictures and the Eastern desert petroglyphs). Hence, once properly recited (by the dead), they became efficient (for all of eternity). These are the deified elements of Egyptian ante-rational epistemology : "Sia" (understanding), "Hu" (authorative speech) and "Heka" (efficient power or magic). These natural types of cognition in an Egyptian mode, form the core of the mental spirituality of the Egyptians. The hidden, secret, dark potential of hieroglyphs was evidenced by the sacrificial rituals found in mortuary literature. The Ba of the deceased read the words and manifested their meaning.

"We have already pointed out that the spells of the so-called sacrificial ritual, i.e. the texts used in the provision of supplies, were inscribed in a prominent place where they could be seen by the dead person resting in his sarcophagus. (...) In other words, texts were written down so that the dead themselves could 'proclaim the provision of supplies' ("nis dbHt-Htp") instead of this being done by unreliable priests. This was the nucleus around which the texts crystallized."
Morenz, 1996, p.229.

Schott (1945) & Ricke (1950) advanced the thesis that at the time of the funeral, these texts were recited in the various chambers, corridors and courts through which the procession passed on its way to the pyramid. But it was not easy to identify which spell was recited were ! For Spiegel (1953 & 1971) the texts were an integral part of the funerary ritual performed in the tomb and hence were recited in the area were they were inscribed. They reflected the royal burial ritual. This hypothesis was criticized. In 1960, Morenz wrote :

"This bold, learned and ingenious interpretation can properly be accessed only by one who has examined it in terms of the vast and diverse material. When this is done, it appears that quite serious objections may be levelled against numerous points in the argumentation and thus against the thesis as such."
Morenz, 1996, p.228-229.

Nevertheless, Altenmüller (1972) agrees with Schott & Ricke that these texts were recited in the mortuary temple, as well as in the pyramid, involving priests assuming the god-forms of Re, Horus, Seth and Thoth. Eyre (2002) suggests the training and initiation of these priests points to this-life rituals.

"The promise of divine assistance, resurrection, and safe passage to the afterlife is not, however, a concern purely of funerary ritual, and the markedly initiatory form of parts of the mortuary literature must be taken as a pointer to contemporary 'this-life' ritual that is otherwise lost from the archaeological record."
Eyre, 2002, p.72.


In "Reading a Pyramid",
Allen (1988) compared the location of the texts within the tomb of Unis with other Old Kingdom pyramids and tombs (cf. Morenz, 1960). He was able to establish a coherent model describing the funerary ideology of these royal tombs. The position of particular groups of texts within Unis' pyramid correspond with the placement of the same texts in other pyramids. Spells recited during the burial ritual were also eternalized as divine words on the walls, further complementing the symbolism of the general layout of the mortuary complex in general and the royal tomb in particular. Assmann (1983, 1989) notes :

"The Egyptian describes this function of the spoken word with the causative derivation of the phonetic root (i)Ax, thus arriving at s-Ax 'to transfigure')."
Assmann, 1989, p.137.

A combination of all these elements is likely. The overall Egyptian funerary mentality seems to favour an enduring canon of broad schemes adaptable to immediate circumstances. As each Pharaoh had his own titulary, he had his own burial ritual and mortuary complex, reflecting a variety of local (nomic) traditions at work around him. They existed by the grace of the "good Nile" he alone, being divine, could guarantee. His death was thus a major calamity, and could perturbate the agricultural cycle, leading to famine, conflicts and death. His burial provided him with a ladder between heaven and Earth, and so the first thing he would do, arriving in the Field of Offering, was to provide Egypt with a new king and a "good Nile".

The reciprocal function of the tomb has to be emphasized. The Ba returned and the Ka could be reanimated. The liberated "Akh" has freedom of movement and time. It is bright, light and radiant. While it stays in the sky, the spirits make their souls and doubles come down and unite with their statues. The destruction of a tomb, implies the end of its role as "interphase" with "the other side" of the false door.

"Allen's analysis of the sequence of spells in the pyramid of Unis defines the architecture as a material representation of the passage of the king through death to resurrection, exploiting themes familiar in the Underworld Books of the New Kingdom. From the darkness of the earth he passes to life in the light of the sky, progressing from the burial chamber as underworld (duat) through the antechamber as horizon (akht) where he becomes Akh, through the doorway leading to the corridor -ascending by ladder- to heaven (pet), or passing like the setting sun from the west to his rising from the mouth of the horizon in the east, or exploiting the image of the king passing from his sarcophagus -the womb of Nut- through her vulva to birth at the door of the horizon. (...) Allen's analysis focuses on the principle whereby the position of discrete units of ritual text asserts a functional identity between the theology of the text and the architectural symbolism of the pyramid substructure, and so the reality of the king's passage to resurrection".
Eyre, 2002, p.44-45 & 47.


The direction of the texts
was thus identical with the soul's path through the tomb, moving from the innermost parts of the burial-chamber (the "Duat" in the West), through the antechamber (the Eastern horizon or "Akhet"), to the outside of the pyramid via the second northern tunnel, flying to the Northern stars, reaching the Field of Offering.

  • the Duat (burial-chamber) : though a part of the world, but neither Earth or sky, the underworld is inaccessible to the living and outside normal human experience. It is separate from the sky and reached prior to it. This Field of Reeds is the realm of the deceased and the deities and the mystery of Osiris. Pharaoh has perpetuated offerings, and stands at the door of the horizon to emerge from the Duat and start his spiritualization ;

  • the Horizon (antechamber) : "Axt" ("Akhet"), translated as "horizon", is both the junction of sky and Earth and a place in the sky underneath this point (before eastern dawn and after western dusk), a secret interstitial zone reached and crossed by boat. It is a zone of transition and a "radiant place", the "land of the blessed". The horizon is the place of becoming effective, the locus of the becoming "Ax" ("Akh"), an effective spirit. Note (as did Allen, 1988), that the Cannibal Hymn, thematically belongs in its place (the East gable). It summarized Pharaoh's passage through the night sky to the Sun at dawn. The process of spiritualization ends with the emergence of the new light. In this hymn to Pharaoh, the king prepares the deities for his meal ;

  • the Imperishable Sky (northern tunnels) : the process of transfiguration (ultimate spiritualization) being completed, the Akh-spirit leaves the tomb and ascends to the northern stars.

1.3 Power : the medium of the deities and their authority.

Around the sceptre of authority, three meanings emerged : 

  1. the "âba"-sceptre ("abA") refers to authority (cf. the word for "stela") and resplendence (the word for "shine") ;

  2. "kherep" ("xrp") or "be at the head", "control" ;

  3. the "sekhem"-sceptre, from "sekhem" ("sxm") or "have power".

Every distinct & repetitive fundamental process of nature (a deity) possessed "sekhem" or "power".  A divine being's existence as an operational continuity-in-process (or soul, the "Ba") revealed its inner identity or name ("ren"). To know this name, was the only way to secure for oneself the "power" or "magic" ("heka") of the god or goddess at hand. With her powers, Isis made Re suffer to the point that he revealed his names to her (cf. the Cunning of Isis). This allowed Isis to create the "spiritual body" ("sAH"), a noble dignity in which Osiris could resurrect as "king of the dead".

Name, power, magic and soul were the categories which allowed something or someone to be defined. Gods and goddesses were called "the great one", because their power was profound, extended and unique. The distinction between lesser and higher (provincial versus national) deities paralleled the spatial distribution of their extraordinary power. Some powers were local, others superseded the boundaries of the nomes or even the division of Egypt in Two Lands.

With the advent of the Dynasties, Pharaoh assimilated the powers of the sacred feminine, which had been of immense importance in the Predynastic age (cf. Hassan, 1992). The feminine remained intimately linked with rituals of transition (especially with those of instoration, either of Pharaoh or a Dynasty), but the "power" of Pharaoh was beyond dispute. His was a natural, charismatic authority, which enabled him to unite divisions. At first, this was thought to derive from the age-old figure of Horus, the sky god "par excellence", who dwelled in Pharaoh and who was Predynastic of origin. Next, Pharaoh was a "power" in his own right, a god who was the son of the creator, Re. In the Cannibal Hymn we hear of Pharaoh Unis as the power of powers, overpowering the powers ...


2 The Cannibal Hymn to Pharaoh Unis.


2.1 Cannibalism in Ancient Egypt ?

Siculus Diodorus, born in Agyrium in Sicily in the latter half of the first century BCE, relates in his history that Osiris forbade the Egyptians to eat each other. After having learned the arts of agriculture, it would seem that the habit of killing and eating one another ceased. According to him, the primitive Egyptians from time to time resorted to cannibalism ... 

"There us no archaeological evidence to confirm traditions of cannibalism in Predynastic times."
Trigger, Kemp, O'Connor & Lloyd, 1994, p.31.

In tombs of predynastic inhabitants, bodies were found which have been buried whole. Plutarch and Egyptian inscriptions support the idea that Osiris had been a great king who was not buried according to the African custom of the period. His head, flesh, bones, heart and other organs of his body were collected and rejoined. This reconstituted body was swathed in linen smeared with sweet-smelling ungruents and sprinkled with preservative spices.

"It is clear from the frequency of the repetition of these statements, that, before his time, it was not customary to treat the bodies of the dead in this fashion, and that the rejoining of the limbs of the dead before burial was unusual."
Budge, 1973, volume I, p.168. 

Although there is no evidence to be obtained from the remains of Predynastic graves to support the case of cannibalism as a tradition, it is likely the Egyptians and their ancestors at some time or other in their prehistory indulged in it. If Osiris stopped the practice of Egyptians eating Egyptians, it is very likely they continued to sacrifice those conquered in battle (strangers and foreigners), and even, when famine reigned, returned to cannibalism, which was widespread among African tribes. In common practice with many African tribes, their customs in dealing with vanquished enemies, foreigners & strangers were indeed savage and intended to terrify them.

Although in the Cannibal Hymn, the practice is used metaphorically, its description fits the actual activity rather well. As we know a lot of Predynastic and Early Dynastic elements were incorporated in the Pyramid Texts, it is not unlikely our hymn refers to this loathsome practice.

Although archaeological evidence shows that in Predynastic & Dynastic times, cannibalism never became a traditional practice, the danger of its return was always lurking (and did reemerge during periods of national catastrophes like famine  - cf. at the end of the Old Kingdom and even in our times, namely among the Russians in Nazi prisoncamps).

"In the Terrible Famine ("al-Shiddat ull-Uzmma", literally "The Greatest Crisis") of AH 447 (AD 1059), which lasted unbroken for seven years, horses, asses, dogs, and cats were consumed before people at last began to eat each other. Passer-by were caught in the streets by hooks let down from windows, drawn up, killed, and cooked. Human flesh was sold in public."
Hassan, 1993, p.164.

It is interesting to note that Osirian faith rejected cannibalism (although human sacrifice was regarded as a symbol of the "great sacrifice" of Osiris and a successful effort to avenge his death). In the Cannibal Hymn, Osiris as such is not mentioned.

If we speculate that during the funerary rituals in the tomb, the mummy, before being slid through the narrow Western passage-way between antechamber and burial-chamber to enter the latter, was positioned in the middle of the antechamber facing the East (had the mummy entered the antechamber facing North and turned with its head West ?), then we may start to understand the ceremonial hermeneutics at hand and add them to the other layers under investigation.

The Cannibal Hymn initiates the confrontation of Pharaoh (c.q. the mummy) with the Eastern gods of the Ka-chapel. It ends with all gods being gulped down by Pharaoh ! The antechamber is the place of the transformation of the soul into a spirit, and the hymn underlines this. Although, on first reading, it seems to lie outside the progression, it details Pharaoh's passage through the night sky to ultimate resurrection with the Sun at dawn.

2.2 A philological remark :

In the tomb of Pharaoh Unis, the Cannibal Hymn was inscribed on the East wall of the antechamber which separates the antechamber from the Ka-chapel (which is devoid of inscriptions). Its position there is significant : Pharaoh is stronger than the divine pantheon. The divinities are eaten up by Pharaoh and thus the "power of powers" is able to rise.

 

To translate the Cannibal Hymn, good use was made of :

  • the standard edition of the hieroglyphs of the Pyramid Texts (or Pyr) by Sethe, K. : Die Altägyptischen Pyramidentexte, Darmstadt - Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1908/1960 (4 volumes), available online ;

  • the English translation of Mercer, S.A.B. : The Pyramid Texts, Longmans, Green and C° - New York, 1952 (4 volumes) ;

  • the English translation of Faulkner, R.O. in : The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, Oxford University Press - Oxford, 1969 ;

  • the French compendium published by Jacq, Chr. : La tradition primordiale de l'Egypte anciennne selon les Textes des Pyramides, Grasset - Paris, 1998 ;

  • the online version of the Pyramid Texts.


The CANNIBAL HYMN
hieroglyphs


East Gable of antechamber
spells 276 - 273 (from right to left, signs facing right)

The Cannibal Hymn covers Utterances 273 & 274 (Sethe, §§ 393 - 414 or Unis 496 - 525). Evidence teaches these two sayings form a literary whole. In the tomb of Teti, the Cannibal Hymn was also inscribed on the East wall of the antechamber. Although the variant spelling of the Teti-text is taken into account, only the hieroglyphs of Unas are given. They have been digitally enhanced using the standard notation of Sethe.


Utterance 273

The sky rains down.
The stars darken.
The celestial vaults stagger.
The bones of Aker
(1) tremble.
The decans are stilled against them,
at seeing Pharaoh rise as a Ba
(2).
A god who lives on his fathers and feeds on his mothers.

Pharaoh is Lord of Wisdom whose mother knows not his name.
Pharaoh's glory is in the sky, his might is in the horizon.
Like his father, Atum, his begetter.
Though his son, Pharaoh is mightier than he.

Pharaoh's Kas are behind him.
His guardian forces
(3) are under his feet.
His gods are over him.
His Uraeus-serpents are on his brow.
Pharaoh's guiding-serpent is on his forehead :
she who sees the Ba (of the enemy as) good for burning.
Pharaoh's neck is on his trunk.

Pharaoh is the Bull of the Sky,
who shatters at will,
who lives on the being of every god, 
who eats their entrails,
even of those who come with their bodies 
full of magic from the Island of Flame
(4).

Pharaoh is one equipped, 
who assembles his Akhs.
Pharaoh appears as this Great One,
Lord of those with (helping) hands.
He sits with his back to Geb,
for it is Pharaoh who weighs what he says, 
together with Him-whose-name-is-hidden
(5),
on this day of slaying the oldest ones.


Pharaoh is Lord of Offerings, who knots the cord,
and who himself prepares his meal.
Pharaoh is he who eats men and lives on gods,
Lord of Porters, who dispatches written messages.

It is 'Grasper-of-the-top-knot', who is Kehau,
who lassoes them for Pharaoh.
It is 'Serpent Raised-head' who guards them for him and restrains them for him.
It is 'He-upon-the-willows' who binds them for him.
It is Courser
, slayer of Lords, who will cut their throats for Pharaoh,
and will extract for him what is in their bodies,
for he is the messenger whom Pharaoh sends to restrain.
It is Shezmu (6) who will cut them up for Pharaoh,
and cooks meals of them in his dinner-pots.


Utterance 274

It is Pharaoh who eats their magic and gulps down their Akhs.
Their big ones are for his morning meal,
their middle-sized ones are for his evening meal,
their little ones are for his night meal,
their old men and their old women are for his incense-burning.
It is the Great Ones in the North of the sky
(7) who light the fire for him
to the cauldrons containing them,
with the thighs of their eldest (as fuel).

Those who are in the sky serve Pharaoh,
And the butcher's blocks are wiped over for him,
with the feet of their women.

He has revolved around the whole of the two skies.
He has circled the two banks
(8).
For Pharaoh is the great power that overpowers the powers.
Pharaoh is a sacred image, the most sacred image 
of the sacred images of the Great One.
Whom he finds in his way, him he devours bit by bit
(9).

Pharaoh's place is at the head of all the noble ones
(10) who are in the horizon.
For Pharaoh is a god, older than the oldest.
Thousands revolve around him, hundreds offer to him.
There is given to him a warrant as a great power by Orion
(11),
the father of the gods.


Pharaoh has risen again in the sky.
He is crowned as Lord of the Horizon.
He has smashed the back-bones,
and has seized the hearts of the gods.
He has eaten the Red Crown
(12).
He has swallowed the Green One
(13).
Pharaoh feeds on the lungs of the wise.
And likes to live on hearts and their magic.


Pharaoh abhors against licking the coils of the Red Crown.
But delights to have their magic in his belly.
Pharaoh's dignities will not be taken away from him.
For he has swallowed the knowledge of every god.
Pharaoh's lifetime is eternal repetition. 
His limit is everlastingness.
In this his dignity of : 
'If-he-likes-he-does. If-he-dislikes-he-does-not.'
He who is at the limits of the horizon,
for ever and ever.


Lo, their Ba is in Pharaoh's belly.
Their Akhs are in Pharaoh's possession,
as the surplus of his meal out of the gods.
Which is cooked for Pharaoh from their bones.

Lo, their Ba is in Pharaoh's possession.
Their shadows are removed from their owners,
while Pharaoh is this one who ever rises and lasting lasts. 

The doers of ill deeds have no power to destroy,
the chosen seat of Pharaoh,
among the living in this land.
For ever and ever.


 Notes :

(01) AKER : is an Earth-god who presides over the juncture of the horizons. The socket holding the mast of the ferryboat is identified with Aker, who's motif consists of the foreparts of two lions, or two human heads, juxtaposed so that they face away from each other. Aker opens the gate of the Earth for Pharaoh to pass into the netherworld. He stands for the idea of enclosure. As a plural, Akeru, are the Earth-gods to be avoided. There is a general hope for everyone to escape the grasp of these gods. He had to be appeased. The horizon (Akhet) is the place of transformation of the soul (Ba) into a spirit (Akh). The antechamber of the tomb is were this transformation was enacted (during the funerary rituals and by the deceased in his or her noble body, the sah) and recorded (on the walls).
(02) BA (soul), KA (double), AB (heart), AKH (spirit) : subtle parts of the human constitution (cf. Discourse of a Man with his Ba and Amduat).
(03) HEMUSET : the feminine counterpart of the Ka, guardian forces.
(04) ISLAND OF FLAME : Isle of Fire or "iw-n-sisi", a region in the kingdom of Osiris where the beatified dead obtained their food, and linked with the regeneration of Re & Pharaoh in the Solar Boat travelling through the hours of the Duat, the Netherworld (cf. Amduat). Non-royals hoped a place in the kingdom of Osiris, in his "Field of Reeds".
(05) HIM-WHOSE-NAME-IS-HIDDEN : "imn-rn.f" : "he who's name is hidden", an epithet of Amun.
(06) KEHAU - HE-UPON-THE-WILLOWS - KHONSU - SHEZMU : the first two gods catch and bind Pharaoh's victims with willow branches. Khonsu, or "wanderer" was a Moon-god prominent at Thebes. In the New Kingdom his role changed. No longer a bloodthirsty god, he is regarded as the child of Amun and Mut. Shezmu is a bloodthirsty god of wine and ungruent-oil presses. Here he acts as butcher who cuts the deities up and cooks them. At the time of the construction of the Step Pyramid (ca. 2654 - 2635 BCE), Shezmu had already a priesthood.
(07) THE GREAT ONE IN THE NORTH OF THE SKY : the circumpolar stars which are the terminus of Pharaoh's ascension, especially the Pole Star (Alpha Draconis). This "Field of Offering" is the home of Re, the Ennead and Pharaoh.
(08) THE TWO BANKS : the two sides of the Nile, i.e. Egypt.
(09) The crucial passage of the Cannibal Hymn. Pharaoh is the ultimate power & image.
(10) NOBLE ONES : or Sahu ("sAHw") : the noble dead or spiritual bodies of the souls (cf. Discourse of a Man with his Ba). 
(11) ORION : at culmination, once every 24 hours, the three stars in Orion's belt passed above the southern ventilation shaft in the burial-chamber of the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Orion (or Osiris) traversed the sky with Sirius (or Isis). Sothis or Sirius (the Dog-star), heralded the annual inundation of the Nile by its appearance at dawn in July (cf. its "heliacal rising"). The Greek "Sothis" is derived from the Egyptian "sepdet". As the agricultural calendar began with the rise of the Nile, she is also called "bringer of the New Year". Sothis gave birth to the morning star and was the guide of Pharaoh in the celestial realms. Hence, besides the Northern imperishable circumpolar stars, Southern Orion (Osiris) and Sothis (Sirius - Isis) were the two most important stars in the firmament.
(12) RED CROWN : refers to the sovereignty of Lower Egypt, the Delta, the North.
(13) THE GREEN ONE : for Faulkner it is a reference to the conquest of Lower Egypt and to Wadjet (cf. Lichtheim), the tutelary serpent-goddess of the North. For Sethe it is the name of a crown.


The Cannibal Hymn to Pharaoh
(ca.2350 BCE)

The form of this hymn is fivefold : 

  1. INTRODUCTION : Pharaoh's arrival in heaven is described in vivid colours. The heavens tremble when this extraordinary being rises. He is a divine soul, an extraordinary power who lives on his ancestors. Firm, crowned and with his gods over him, he burns his enemies, seeks his glory and claims his superiority over Atum-Re, his father and the creative principle of creation.

  2. PREPARING THE DIVINE MEAL : Pharaoh is the Bull of the sky who does what he wills. Although it is explicitly stated Pharaoh lives on the (coming into) being of every god, a series of deities escaped his dinner-pots. Geb, Amun and those who were about him (mentioned in the INTRODUCTION) and those who prepared the divine meal were probably exempt, although this is not explicitly stated, on the contrary. 

  3. THE DIVINE MEAL : The cannibal scene is a metaphor for what happens to Pharaoh when entering heaven in the afterlife, namely, the realization of his own principle qua principle : subjugating all other principle to the sole principle of his incarnated divinity : the continuity & tenacity of what he wills, namely pharaonic unification & order.

  4. AFTER THE MEAL : This section contains the actual hymn to Pharaoh. Clearly after his divine meal Pharaoh is more powerful than before and his true essence is revealed. He has become a "great power", overpowering the powers. The figure or image of his divine status as a "great one" is exhalted to its optimum optimorum : Pharaoh is the image of images. He has entered eternal repetition and everlastingness and finally seized the ultimate power encircled by all possibe horizons.

  5. CONFIRMATION : By this divine act of eating his own divine kind, Pharaoh added to his divinity. He gained a divine surplus. Because of their power in him he eternally rises and lasts for ever. Henceforward, Pharaoh reigns the heavens as well as his chosen seat on Earth.

INTRODUCTION

The sky rains down.
The stars darken.
The celestial vaults stagger.
The bones of Aker tremble.
The decans are stilled against them,
at seeing King Unis rise as a Ba.
A god who lives on his fathers
and feeds on his mothers.

Pharaoh is Lord of Wisdom
whose mother knows not his name.
Pharaoh's glory is in the sky,
his might is in the horizon.
Like his father, Atum, his begetter.
Though his son, Pharaoh is mightier than he.

Pharaoh's Kas are behind him.
His guardian forces are under his feet.
His gods are over him.
His Uraeus-serpents are on his brow.
Pharaoh's guiding-serpent is on his forehead :
she who sees the Ba
(of the enemy as) good for burning.
Pharaoh's neck is on his trunk.

PREPARING THE DIVINE MEAL

Pharaoh is the Bull of the Sky,
who shatters at will,
who lives on the being of every god, 
who eats their entrails,
even of those who come with their bodies 
full of magic from the Island of Fire.

Pharaoh is one equipped, 
who assembles his Akhs.
Pharaoh appears as this Great One,
Lord of those with (helping) hands.
He sits with his back to Geb,
for it is Pharaoh who weighs what he says, 
together with Him-whose-name-is-hidden,
on this day of slaying the oldest ones.

Pharaoh is Lord of Offerings,
who knots the cord,
and who himself prepares his meal.
Pharaoh is he who eats men and lives on gods,
Lord of Porters, 
who dispatches written messages.

It is 'Grasper-of-the-top-knot', who is Kehau,
who lassoes them for Pharaoh.
It is 'Serpent Raised-head' 
who guards them for him
and restrains them for him.
It is 'He-upon-the-willows' 
who binds them for him.
It is Courser, slayer of Lords,
who will cut their throats for Pharaoh,
and will extract for him what is in their bodies,
for he is the messenger,
whom Pharaoh sends to restrain.
It is Shezmu who will cut them up for Pharaoh,
and cooks meals of them in his dinner-pots.

THE DIVINE MEAL

It is Pharaoh who eats their magic
and gulps down their Akhs.
Their big ones are for his morning meal,
their middle-sized ones are for his evening meal,
their little ones are for his night meal,
their old men and their old women
are for his incense-burning.
It is the Great Ones in the North of the sky,
who light the fire for him
to the cauldrons containing them,
with the thighs of their eldest (as fuel).

Those who are in the sky serve Pharaoh,
and the butcher's blocks are wiped over for him,
with the feet of their women.

AFTER THE MEAL
Hymn to Pharaoh

He has revolved around
the whole of the two skies.
He has circled the two banks.
For Pharaoh is the great power
that overpowers the powers.
Pharaoh is a sacred image,
the most sacred image 
of the sacred images of the Great One.
Whom he finds in his way,
him he devours bit by bit.

Pharaoh's place is at the head
of all the noble ones who are in the horizon.
For Pharaoh is a god, older than the oldest.
Thousands revolve around him, 
hundreds offer to him.
There is given to him a warrant
as a great power by Orion,
the father of the gods.

Pharaoh has risen again in the sky.
He is crowned as Lord of the Horizon.
He has smashed the back-bones,
and has seized the hearts of the gods.
He has eaten the Red Crown.
He has swallowed the Green One.
Pharaoh feeds on the lungs of the wise.
And likes to live on hearts and their magic.
Pharaoh abhors against licking
the coils of the Red Crown.
But delights to have their magic in his belly.

Pharaoh's dignities
will not be taken away from him.
For he has swallowed
the knowledge of every god.
Pharaoh's lifetime is eternal repetition. 
His limit is everlastingness.
In this his dignity of : 
'If-he-likes-he-does.
If-he-dislikes-he-does-not.'
He who is at the limits of the horizon,
for ever and ever.

CONFIRMATION

Lo, their Ba is in Pharaoh's belly.
Their Akhs are in Pharaoh's possession,
as the surplus of his meal out of the gods.
Which is cooked for Pharaoh from their bones.

Lo, their Ba is in Pharaoh's possession.
Their shadows are removed from their owners,
while Pharaoh is this one
who ever rises and lasting lasts. 

The doers of ill deeds 
have no power to destroy,
the chosen seat of Pharaoh,
among the living in this land.
For ever and ever.


3 Philosophical Remarks ...


In this exceptional hymn to Pharaoh, written more than 4000 years ago, we encounter a pre-rational discourse on an Egyptian phenomenology of the divine. As this communication is ante-rational (i.e. does not make use of context-independent abstractions but of authorative speech) and is described in verbal, poetical terms only, the first letter of words like "divine", "god", "gods", "goddesses" & "pantheon" are not capitalized.

Nevertheless, the extreme, radical and comprehensive features of the pre-rational process at hand remain unmistaken, and point to a highly evolved position taken regarding the fundamental dialectical tension between a finite being (part of creation) and the infinite (or unconditional) which it does not fail to eventually meet. The fact that we have to accept the Ancient Egyptian pre-rational paradigm of existence as given, does not reduce the actuality of the vision of Unis. For when the process is applied to contemporary axioms regarding the cosmos and the place of humanity therein, we are baffled by the seemingly Nietzschean boldness of the choices proposed by Unis and Teti (who also added this hymn to his literary testament). And so, although the overall complexity of the Pyramid Texts evidence a pre-rational cognitive texture, the literary qualities of the Cannibal Hymn excell and touch the proto-rational mode of cognition, although still heavely overlayed with metaphor and allegory (close to direct enactment of the original, founding myths).

"To appreciate the true intellectual content of ancient thought, we have to look behind the images for the concepts those images are meant to convey."
Allen, 1988, p.ix.

3.1 Pharaoh as a god.

In this discourse, the notions "god" and "goddess" function as indicators of the principles of nature, its differentials as grasped by the ante-rational mind. So the fact that Pharaoh Unis is also a human, points to the concept (albeit concrete, practical, local and contextual) of the "perfect(ed)" human being. This is the prototype of humanity inscribed in the various processes of nature, which exist in and through a continuous living interaction with life in all its modes and variations. In Ancient Egypt, this prototype incarnated as the male person of Pharaoh and the concrete but sacred history of his development.

"Thus, we might characterize the ancient Egyptian sense of history with the phrase 'history as celebration'. The description has provoked some controversy, since, as a shorthand expression, it cannot do justice to all aspects of the Egyptian view. Of concern here, however, is the basic tone sounded again and again in ancient Egypt, the ceremonial character of history, which exists in many other cultures as well, even to the present day."
Hornung, 1992, p.157.

The so-called "own-form" of Pharaoh was the leading concept in Ancient Egypt's view on the place of humanity in the order of creation. This concrete form may be read as a proto-rational, iconical prefiguration of later abstract ideas, such as the Messiah of Judaism, the "mystical body" of Jesus Christ (the "son of God"), the Judeo-Christo-Islamic notion of prophetic lineage, or the ideal of the "perfect man" in Sufism and Taoism.

"I sit before him, I open his boxes, I break open his edicts, I seal his dispatches, I send out his messengers, who do not grow weary, and I do what he says to me."
Pyramid Texts, Utterance 309 : W 600 - 602 / §§ 490 - 491.

Pharaoh Unis serves as secretary to his father, Atum-Re. In this role he is as Thoth, the divine word, for he sits before Re, prepares his boxes, dispatches his messages, etc. In all other Unis Texts, the same message is repeated : Pharaoh Unis is a god who controls the other deities and who is feared by the latter. The Cannibal Hymn makes vividly clear why : Pharaoh Unis is a cannibalistic god ! 

The Pharaonic form is the over-arching, proto-rational concept of Ancient Egyptian religion (the foundation of Egyptian civilization). It was formed in several steps. The Egyptian way initiated the ante-rational study of nature and her multiple processes. These operate in contrary directions and always exist on the  brink of oblivion, fighting the return of chaos ("Nun"), conceived as the absence of existence, division and movement, and rejecting evil ("isefet"). Nature is not composed of things, but of beings ... The Egyptian deities personified the result of this proto-rational study of nature (first giving rise to provincial deities, a few "national" ones and finally a hidden god, one and millions - cf. Aten & Amun) and explained the way these various aspects of the natural order ("Maat" or "mAat") co-existed and were maintained for "ten million, hundred thousand millions of years". Through the person of Pharaoh, the human order was conceived as an integral part of the natural one. However, these speculations remained versed in practical, proto-rational thought. Pharaoh maintained the world and ruled the waters.

"And none of the Egyptian sources is the record of scientific or philosophical speculation for its own sake. All serve some practical end, whether the worship of god or the attempt to secure a successful afterlife for the dead. Yet there is at the base a fundamental sameness between the Egyptian record and our own more familiar tradition. Like later philosophers and scientists, the Egyptian thinkers must have speculated, discussed, and passed on their concepts to subsequent generations."
Allen, 1988, p.56, my italics.

In Egypt, everything depended on the harmonization of all natural (read : divine) powers. In the Old Kingdom, this "human order" revolved around Pharaoh, the apex of civilization. Only from the Middle Kingdom onward, could (wealthy) Egyptians place "Osiris" before their names ... However, this did not hinder the return of a deified Pharaoh in the New Kingdom (Amenhotep III and IV -Akhenaten-, Ramesses II).

The expression : "Unas pa neter" ("wnis-pi-nTr") : "Unis is god", underlines Pharaoh was more than just one of the divine beings possessing divine power ("sekhem"). On top of being very powerful, like Horus and the deities (who dwell in and around Pharaoh as they do in their statues), the latter was conceived as a precosmic being, one of the preexistent and fundamental elements and forces of nature, i.e. a precreational god in his own right. Pharaoh was worshipped as an incarnation of Re ("hem-en-neter" or "Hm-n-Ntr"), the principle of creation : light.

The move from Horus the Old (Early Dynastic) and Horus, son of Osiris (from IVth Dynasty onwards), was seamless, as if the Ancient Egyptians themselves were not aware of the fundamental distinction between Pharaoh as one possessed with divine power versus Pharaoh as god (namely the son of the principle of creation, Re). Indeed, in the mythical and pre-rational mind, "very powerful" and the principle of power itself are not distinguished (which makes, in the context of the Cannibal Hymn, expressions as "power of powers" and "image of images" so extremely interesting in the context of the cognitive transcendence achieved by the proto-concept in the proto-rational mode of cognition).

Like the Egyptian gods and goddesses, who were the elements and forces "immanent" in the phenomena of nature, Pharaoh was a divine being, who -by offering justice and truth to his father Re- guaranteed the order of existence in general and the unity of the Two Lands in particular. He represented the institutionalized principle which guaranteed the completion and continuity of existence. Unlike the deities, Pharaoh existed in a mortal living body, which had caught his constituting elements in its net. So Pharaoh was a living paradox. As long as he was in a physical body, Pharaoh's soul ("Ba") and spirit ("Ahk") were imprisoned. When it died, these higher foci of consciousness escaped and could only return in an august, noble and enduring "spiritual body" (or "sAH"), created as a result of the funerary rituals. Unlike the deities constituting the natural order and gathered by Maat, Pharaoh is linked with precreation, and the first time of creation (cf. Heliopolitan theology).

HIGHEST
SUBTLEST
ETERNAL
realm of the deities

akh
(spirit)

the essence is luminous, divine and abides in the soul-body as it pleases
khab
 (spirit-body)

the light of the stars is perpetual and house of the essence of Pharaoh

HIGHER
SUBTLE
TRANSITIONAL
realm of the beatified souls
ba
(soul)
witness at judgement, beatified by Osiris, freely existing in its own body
gratified by the offerings to the ka
sah
(soul-body)
liberated as the result of mummification and
funerary rituals

LOWER
GROSS
TEMPORAL
the magical cycles of the netherworld and the unity of the Two Lands

ib
(heart or ego)

restored and weighed - only the truth is light enough to balance the feather
ka
(vitality - ego-body)
free to move the double remains near the mummy fed by offerings

khat
(corpse)

the mummy does not decay - mummy and tomb are a symbolization of eternal existence

As early as the Middle Kingdom, non-royals could assume the form of Osiris, and a fundamental prerogative of Pharaoh was made available to the nomarchs (the rulers of the 42 provinces or nomes), their families and wealthy administrators. For by placing "Osiris" before their names, the deceased expressed the hope of their forthcoming deification in the afterlife in the kingdom of Osiris (cf. Coffin Texts).

In the Old Kingdom, Pharaoh had been the sole monarch of the living and the pyramideon of civilization. He alone was the guardian of national stability (centered around Memphis). His spiritual development had been the only one available, namely that of "the best of the best", c.q. the son of Re of Heliopolis who daily offered truth & righteousness to make creation endure. With the collapse of the Old Kingdom, and the decline of the centralizing Pharaonic ideal, the popular Osiris became the "king of the dead" and also, for the common Egyptian (cf. Papyrus of Ani), a path to emancipation in the afterlife (the "justified" deceased was transformed into a deity, a glorious dead in the realm of Osiris). Pharaoh remained an exclusive being (headed to the sky of Re). But every justified Egyptian could subsist in the afterlife, as a citizen of the netherworld of Osiris. In this way, the afterlife "in the sky" was envisioned as a simile of the best of our present life "on Earth" ...

This "democratization" (Wilson) or "demotization" (Assmann) of deification, puts Ancient Egyptian henotheism (Müller) into evidence. A multitude of gods and goddesses exist. Nature is conceived as the ordered, organized totality of these beings, interacting as do members of a family or company of kindred spirits. Practical speculations allow us to isolated local deities (at the base of the pyramid), i.e. those attributed to the nomes, and (in the middle section) national divinities like Ptah, Thoth, Osiris or Re, with Pharaoh crowning the whole at the top. Pharaoh and the national deities acted as "principles", delegating "power" to the more local, provincial expression of natural (c.q. divine) order. In the Old Kingdom, the region around Memphis was the royal residence, and hence the focal point of Egyptian civilization. At that time, four major national cults prevailed : Atum-Re of Heliopolis, Ptah of Memphis (in Lower Egypt), Thoth of Hermopolis (Middle Egypt) and Osiris (attested in both Lower -Bubastis- and Upper Egypt -Abydos-). 

In Ptah, we recognize the principle of materiality, the solidification of the imaginal intent. In Thoth, the verbal principle and the power of the spoken & written word, the practical organisation of thought. In Atum-Re, the creative principle itself, the life-giving activity of light, self-generation, consciousness and the Solar cycle of birth, culmination, death (dusk) and resurrection (night). In Osiris NN, the spiritual itinerary of every Egyptian. Just as Pharaoh ruled life, so was Osiris the principle of continuity (tenacity), but then in the afterlife. His greatest spiritual realization, helped by his wife & sister Isis, was the magic of resurrection in the "sah", the body of resurrection which granted Osiris eternal life (in the netherworld). Because of this defeat of death, he was seen as the most trustworthy deity of the afterlife (for only the king was by nature divine and so headed towards the imperishables). Because his murder was avenged by his son Horus, who took over the throne of Egypt usurped by Seth, he was the ancestor of every Pharaoh. And as his kingdom was one of plenty, dance and happiness, no Egyptain could refuse ...

So regarding the horizon of contact with the divine, at least four elements seem valid :

  1. cultic : the actual religious actions, expressions and manifestations of religiosity (in the temples of the nomes, in state cults and in private homes), intimately connected with the economical, social & political conditions at hand = "BODY" - material principle ;

  2. nomic : what is said about the divine, its laws = "WORD" - verbal principle ;

  3. cosmic/social : the field of action of the divine = "CREATION" - creative principle ;

  4. mystic/personal : the direct experience of the divine in piety = "MAGIC" - tenacity principle.

Pharaoh brought these four points of contact together. He was therefore the great witness, the observer of nature from outside nature. All ritual action was performed by Pharaoh himself or in his name. All offerings were done by him or in his name. He was the high priest who delegated "power". In the Old Kingdom (and also thereafter), Pharoah was a paradoxical figure, for he was a "god on Earth", an "Akh" effectively at work in the lowest plane of existence (the deities never sent their spirits, but only their souls and doubles). The other gods & goddesses abided in the other world, and were present in their temples and images in a symbolical, intermediate fashion only. Ritual offerings and voice-offerings (prayers) were necessary to keep the Ka or "double" (psychomotoric charge of etheric, vital matter) present in the statue (cf. the Ritual of Opening the Mouth) and to gratify the Ba or "soul" of the deity at hand. Because religious activity only happened between deities (the temples did not mediate but were places of divine indwelling) Pharaoh was the sole cultic mediator, who spoke the "great speech". The overt declaration of the mystical approach of the divine was the exclusive prerogative of Pharaoh or as the Pyramid Texts claim :

"Men hide, the gods fly away."

Pyramid Texts, utterance 302 (§ 459).

Moreover, as Pharaoh was the apex or "pyramideon" of the pyramidal structure of the state, and because of his presence, order prevailed and the unity of the Two Lands was assured. As the unique son of the principle of life, his offerings returned to his father Re what the latter had given to Egypt by creating the world. Pharaoh offered truth or "Maat" (the voice-offering of the great speech) to the source of truth (Re), and by doing so banned chaos "isefet" to the deep darkness of the primordial ocean (cf. the cultless Nun or "nwwn"). 

So regarding Pharaoh, this proto-rational structure emerged : 

  1. manifestation of Horus : Pharaoh is an exceptional witnessing power, as his "serekh" (or "proclaimer") is constantly overshadowed by the divine power of Horus, who is above all and oversees all (as the great eye) ;

  2. incarnation of the divine : Pharaoh is a god, a divine principle incarnate, a principle of transcendence, the uniter of the Two Lands and apex of an absolute, ceremonial theocracy ;

  3. son of Re : Pharaoh is the "son of Re", the preexistent creative principle of eternal repetition ("neheh"), and hence participator in his father's work ;

  4. Osiris Pharaoh : Pharaoh, before taking off to the sky, resurrects as did Osiris ;

  5. Horus, son of Osiris : the throne of Horus is the throne of Pharaoh, which justifies Pharaoh.

By deifying Pharaoh, the Ancient Egyptians incorporated the proto-concept of the ideal human factor in the natural, divine order of beings. At first, only one, exceptional person could attain such an integration, c.q. the "great house" of Pharaoh. He was the only "god on earth", far removed from the common humanity of the people. This integration was thus elitist and dictatorial. The exceptional human lost his humanity precisely because of this exceptionality. Finally, every deceased was called "Osiris NN", and deification became the trade of priesthood. Pharaoh remained the only god alife on Earth. He was of Re, whereas we are of Osiris.

The gods and goddesses may be compared with self-realized beings, who never slip out of themselves, but who remained firmly rooted in the principle which they represent. Their form or model was "natural". Its elements always belonged to the processes of mineral, vegetal, animal and astral life (the cycles of Sun and Moon being fundamental here). These beings moved and changed permanently (as do the planets) but nevertheless remained loyal to their fundamental motoric etinerary (they rise, culminate, set and resurrect). Substantiality (albeit not abstract) is indicated : the gods and goddesses remained the same throughout the change and their experiences taught them how to realize this objective with increasing practical efficiency. The family relationships between them are ruled by Maat, truth and justice. She came into being when the cosmos was created, and does not belong to precreation. The order of the natural universe belongs to the universe. It does not transcend it. This makes Maat immanent in all things and thus most likely to be offered by the sole god in creation (Pharaoh) to his own father (Atum-Re).

As differential and dynamical principles of existence (part of creation), they can also be compared with concrete concepts or stable mental symbolizations of specific natural processes, observed over a very long period of time :

  1. the creative principle : the world was created by light, a metaphor of conscious awareness ;

  2. the verbal principle : through speech, all things emerged out of the primordial chaos ;

  3. the tenacity (or continuity) principle : all things are sustained thanks to the ritual activity of Pharaoh and his representatives ;

  4. the material (or magical) principle : all creative intent solidifies, gains a concrete material shape and is inherently protected against corruption, inertia and counter-forces. Being an architecture, the universe makes sense. 

3.2 Slayer and eater of the gods : divine cannibalism.

In more than one passage, we read how Pharaoh Unis controls the gods & goddesses of the pantheon. They are fearful when they see Pharaoh rise towards the sky ...

The Cannibal Hymn commences with the description of what happens when Pharaoh appears as a powerful Ba : sky and the earth tremble and quiver ! Pharaoh's soul is indeed extraordinary. It is the soul of a god who lives and feeds on those who gave birth to him without knowing his name (i.e. his true, preexistent spiritual identity). His glory is in the sky and his power is on Earth. It extends in all directions. On his head, Pharaoh wears his crown with its deadly serpent, and under his feet are his Kas and servants. Although son of Atum, Pharaoh is mightier than the creative principle itself ! Indeed, if he is part of the precreational order, then he is the only Akh who incarnates on Earth ... Pharaoh was a principle in his own right, and represents the tenacity & continuity of the Dynastic or Royal Oath. Moreover, he knows how to synthesize all principles. His "cartouche" is a royal, Solar circuit or Sed-run. He incarnates the Dual Kingdom by assimilating all its parts in a symbolized, ritual fashion. He is the only Akh on Earth and the only Akh in the sky that has been on Earth. Pharaoh is hence the best of mediators, the image of images.

The god Unis lives on the being of every deity and eats their magic. He is the "Bull of the sky" who exercises the rights of the victorious tribal chief in heaven. We learn that Pharaoh has many spirits, not just one. He assembles them and appears as great and one. The oldest gods are slain. Others are lassoed, restrained, bound, killed and prepared for Pharaoh's evening pots (lit by the circumpolar stars and fueled by the thighs of the oldest gods) ! He eats them, i.e. gulps down their magic and spirits ...

"Pharaohs, O'Connor suggests, also apparently shared in the possession of negative and highly dangerous powers that could be put to 'good use' in maintaining order and protecting social order from intrusive chaotic forces which threaten that order and well-being at every level, from the individual through the state to the cosmos. It is Pharaoh also that authorizes executions and, like a Bamileke chief, mediates between principles of violence and legitimacy and who therefore is a figure of avoidance as well as ambivalence. Such features may characterize sacred kingship more widely than Egypt, but the focus is very distinctively on the king's body as autochthonous container and a conduit for the dispersal of substances."

Rowlands, in :
O'Connor & Reid, 2003, p.53.


This insistence on the age of the slain deities affirms Pharaoh assimilated his ancestors and thus historical time. He has entered cyclic eternity, the eternal repetition of the creational cycle within the vastness of everlastingness (Atum, floating in Nun, hatching, in the first time, out of the primordial egg). He is even mightier than Atum-Re, his own father and creator god, for he has been on Earth. The only time when Pharaoh's great speech is weighed in company with another deity is when Amun is mentioned by his epithet : "imen-renef", "him whose name is hidden" (§ 399a). This is remarkable, given that only in the Middle Kingdom, Amun will become "the king of the gods". Remoteness as the essence of the divine is hence testified ca.2.300 BCE.

The cannibal scene is a strong poetical image of Pharaonic syncretism, or the assimilation of divine principles (concepts) by Pharaoh. Indeed, the slain gods are fused together by the heat of the fire of his melting-pot and reborn in Pharaoh. He lives on this very process, and thanks to Pharaoh, these diverse deities are his own and allowed to act under tenacious royal unity. We may read Pharaoh as the driving force behind the unifying force of mediation and channeling (between terrestial and celestial), expressed (in the context of his visit to the sky) as a tendency to limit the number of deities to a few major ones. Moreover, Pharaoh stood at the beginning of creation, and oversaw the whole of the divine field : he was a god, older than the oldest. The henotheist condition of one supreme deity is hence in place.

3.3 Pharaoh Unis as "power of powers" & "image of images".

After Pharaoh ate the deities, our hymn enters its exhalting stage. Pharaoh Unis is more than a god, for he overpowers the deities and his figure is the ultimate locus of divine manifestation :

"Unis pa sekhem ur sekhem em sekhemu.
Unis pa âshem âshem âshemu ur."
"For Pharaoh is the great power that overpowers the powers.
Pharaoh is a sacred image, the most sacred image of the sacred images of the great one."
Cannibal Hymn, § 407a & b.

This expression is a double superlative. Pharaoh overpowers the powers and is the image of images. In hieroglyphic writing, image and power act together. In the divine sphere, the image (statue, representation, figure) of the god is the place for the Ka of the god to dwell in. Present in its image or statue (its mouth opened so it could speak), the deity interacts -during the cult- with Pharaoh or his representatives. The deities are powerful sacred images, but Pharaoh overpowers their power and is the sacred image of sacred images. From Orion he receives a warrant as a great power. The "image" suggested here is that of a hawk, allowing for the alternative translation : "Hawk of Hawk, the Great Hawk of the Hawks". The "hawk" was indeed another name for male gods (a female god is indicated by an erect cobra). Since Predynastic times, Horus was the oldest and greatest god, the spirit of that which is above (cf. Pharaoh as the "Follower of Horus").

The principle behind this formidable power & image is Pharaoh's stability, continuity & tenacity. Both his dignities and chosen seat withstand all evil deeds. The limit of his power and image is everlastingness (Nun itself). Pharaoh ever rises and lasting lasts (in the eternal repetition of himself to be compared with the continuous creation of the Ennead by Atum in the "zep tepy", the first time). The Cannibal Hymn ends by confirming the general idea of the text : the soul and spirits of the deities are eaten to assure the everlasting endurance of Pharaoh in the sky and "in this land". He is a unique "Akh" among the "Akhu". He is both on Earth as in the sky.

Although the text repeats Pharaoh lives off the deities, and actually states he "lived on the being of every god", it is likely that those gods & goddesses, as well as the Kas which were over him when he appeared as the Bull of the sky, were exempt. The father of Pharaoh (Atum-Re) was downgraded (Pharaoh is mightier) but apparently not eaten. Obviously, all those preoccupied with the preparations of the divine meal itself escaped the cut and pot too. Earth-god Geb is placed behind Pharaoh. Orion, called "the father of the gods" (probably Osiris) gave him a warrant. Pharaoh considered that he was able to judge himself and award himself heavenly bliss. But he did weigh his words in the company of the hidden Amun. All these divinities did not stand in Pharaoh's way. Only Orion and the Hidden were conceived as Pharaoh's fellow super-powers.

3.4 The phenomenology of the divine.

The natural order ("maat") emerged out of the chaos ("Nun") of the primodial ocean of pre-creation, "before anything came into existence". This ever-emergent order was establised upon the risen land, the primordial hill (mount) composed of elements which co-exist in a state of constant interaction and over which a radiant Sun poured its self-begotten light (Re as the final manifestation of Atum when the Ennead is completed). The life-force animating these elements could be strong or weak. Strong elements reigned with an extraordinary power at their disposal. Such a powerful being was called a "neter", a "god". The more powerful a deity was, the more universal its (magical) field of action and the more exhalted the rank of its name and soul.

"Les dieux sont, pour les Égyptiens, des puissances qui expliquent le monde mais ne demandent pas, elles, à être élucidées parce qu'elles véhiculent une information en un langage qu'il est possible de comprendre de manière directe : celui du mythe. Chaque mythe ne révèle ni n'interprète qu'une partie de la réalité, mais la totalité des dieux et de leurs relations les uns avec les autres révèle et interprète la réalité complète du monde."
Hornung, 1986, p.238.

Already in Early Dynastic times, "minor" deities of "local" importance (cf. tribal, totem-gods & goddesses) and "major" or "national" gods can be distinguished. The Late & Terminal Predynastic, if not earlier, saw the consolidation of both Lunar Hathor (as the "great sorceress" of the sacred feminine rooted in the Neolithic and Upper Paleaolithic) and Solar Horus (as the overseeing, witnessing male sky-god). With Pharaoh assimilating the sacred feminine, but not completely, the king became divine because he is a "Follower of Horus". This tendency to assimilate the divine feminine moved hand in hand with the emergence of Pharaonic power, prestige and tenacity. The cult of the overseeing Horus got associated with the power of the encompassing, self-created (autogenetic) Sun-god Atum-Re, and surely by the IVth Dynasty, if not earlier, the Solarization of Pharaoh was a fact.

The son of Atum-Re is "mightier" than his father. With this statement, the divinity of Pharaoh outrankes the gods & goddesses, restricted to the domain of existence and creation. Atum-Re is the first of the gods. This bisexual and auto-erotical god is the sole, self-begotten, autogenetic (fugal) creator of differentiated beings, who -in the "first time"- eternally split into Shu (space, order) and Tefnut (moist, life). Pharaoh, his son, incarnated in a physical body returns to his father. And because of his terrestrial voyage, Pharaoh becomes higher than his father, the last of the gods (in sapiental literature and in Ptahhotep in particular, the theme of the son outranking his father is common - cf. the phrase "son of man").

Of all the deities called in, only the Hidden one (and perhaps Osiris) are Pharaoh's equal. In the procession of the gods, on the day of the divine meal, Pharaoh sat before Geb to weigh his own words. Thoth is not invoked, for Pharaoh can do this by himself. Nevertheless, this weighing took place together with, in the company of the Hidden (Amun ?) ... Elsewhere in the Pyramid Texts we read :

"They tell Re that you have come, O Pharaoh, as the son of Geb upon the throne of Amun."
Faulkner, 1969, p.234, Utterance 579, § 1540a-b, in Pepi.

The stages of this process of Pharaonic deification can be summarized as follows :

  1. Pharaoh realizes he possesses "power" and attributes this to his sacred (feminine) origin and the overseeing, witnessing capacities of the male sky-god Horus ;

  2. Pharaoh affirms that he is a natural principle in his own right, incarnating continuity, tenacity and sole rulership on Earth as "Follower of Horus" ;

  3. Pharaoh is worshipped as the unique "son of Re" ;

  4. In the afterlife, Pharaoh's divine meal is composed of the souls, spirits, magic & power of the deities ;

  5. Because Pharaoh had his divine meal, he becomes a super-power knowing, except for the Hidden dimension of divinity, no equal.

This development indicates the final goal of Pharaoh is not the crown of creation (the "summum ens" of the monadic principle of creation), but strives to move beyond the cosmic frame and break its ultimate barrier (between presence and absence). Pharaoh is mightier than Atum-Re, his father, because, although his origin is without time, i.e. before time (and space), he returns from a place no deity visits, i.e. the Earth. Pharaoh is not content with the order of creation, but eventually tries to encompass existence as well as preexistence (as does the great magician).

To Pharaoh belongs everything, and so his principle transcends the boundaries of creation and roots Pharaonic rule in the primordial chaos itself ; Pharaoh is part of the eternal repetition in everlastingness. By transcending the natural order, the "great power" is realized, and the "image of images" is established for ever and ever (i.e. in eternity-in-everlastingness - cf. Amduat).


initiated : 15 VI 2002 - last update : 11 V 2009 - version n°4

© Wim van den Dungen
Antwerp, 2002 - 2014.