(With thanks to Per Reshut www.facebook.com/PerReshut)
Nemy's Middle Kingdom coffin has a naive charm about it.
Nemy wasn't as well off as some, but when she died, around 1800 B.C., her shakily-painted decorations still did the same job as the much finer artwork made for her wealthier countrymen.
Despite their startled appearance, the Udjat Eyes painted on her coffin gave Nemy the confidence that each morning, she would be able to look through the coffin to watch the sunrise and join the sun god Ra on its daily journey across the sky.
The Udjat Eye (the 'Eye of Ra') is a stylized, symbolic eye often found on ancient Egyptian coffins and sarcophagi.
On Middle Kingdom coffins the Udjat eyes were painted on the outer panel of the coffin, with the coffin then placed in the tomb with the eyes facing east. Inside the coffin, the mummy was often placed so that the deceased could look through the coffin using the Udjat eyes to see the dawn.
Clearly though, not all coffins were made equal. Nemy's 12th Dynasty example pictured above was clearly made for a middle-class customer; the decorations not as elaborate or well-painted as those found on those of the king's executive team or the temples' high priests.
However, despite the obvious lesser quality of the decoration, symbolically, it still did the job that Nemy hoped it would carry out for eternity.
Nemy was fortunate that she wasn't born any earlier. In the Middle Kingdom, elaborate Coffin Texts were still a fairly new innovation. Up until the First Intermediate Period, the spells designed to ensure the deceased's well-being in the afterlife were a royal prerogative. They were known as the Pyramid Texts, inscribed as they were inside Old Kingdom pyramids. The sacred text would provide them with the magical knowledge and magic spells to overcome obstacles presented in the terrifying journey through the underworld.
Any texts on coffins at this stage consisted of a single row, wrapping around all four sides of the rectangular box. This was usually an Offering Formula that promised the gift of some afterlife essentials to the deceased by the king and a god.
In the First Intermediate Period, with a lack of royal influence coming from the palace, regional centres like the central Egyptian city of Asyut, became hotbeds of innovation. At this time some of the Pyramid Texts were copied from within the Pyramids and supplemented by brand new spells. This new collection of writings are today known as the Coffin Texts.
While the new Coffin Texts made the afterlife accessible to many more members of Egypt's upper class, they also faced a new hurdle: the Weighing of the Heart. Here the deceased's heart, which carried the burden of all of their earthly deeds, was weighed against the feather of truth. If the scales balanced, then the deceased was brought before Osiris, god of the Underworld, and welcomed into the afterlife. Naturally the Coffin Texts provided a handy guide to navigating the Hall of Judgement, and the scales were also pictured as balanced. It seems that every wealthy individual had a spotless record.
Nemy lived during the Middle Kingdom in the central Egyptian city of Asyut, which was the most important centre for coffin production during the First Intermediate Period and the Middle Kingdom. Today her coffin is part of the collection of the Egyptian Museum in Turin. (Inventory number: S.08918)
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