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Please can someone help me understand this relief. I want to know:

  1. What the symbols are
  2. What they symbolise
  3. What the hieroglyphs say.

I am very intrigued by the two Wadjet-papyrus staffs and what they symbolise. Are they only symbols of political power? Or do they have a deeper religious significance?


The image is the central section on the east wall of the Osiris chapel in the Temple of Seti I at Abydos.

There is a high resolution image of the drawing made by Amice Calverley, and published in the third volume of her description of the Temple of Seti I at Abydos, available from the Ancient Egypt Foundation.

The third volume of her description is also available on their website.

Seti I is shown on the left as Osiris (Egyptian wsir) and carries the usual symbols of authority - the crook and the flail. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this image is the composite crown that SETI is wearing. This, together with the ram's horns, shows that the deceased King was being given the attributes of the god Amun-Ra in addition to those of Osiris.

Thoth is actually dressed as priest in this instance. He is standing before Seti and holding the Ankh or "Key of Life" to the nose of the deceased King, so giving him life in the afterlife.

In his other hand, Thoth is holding the lily and papyrus 'wands' of Upper and Lower Egypt (in this case, you can see the heads of the plants more clearly in the drawing than the photograph). Gods and goddesses are often portrayed carrying these, and they had a particluar significance in Egyptian 'magic'.

Around the wands are twined Uraeuses which in turn wear the Red Deshret crown of Lower Egypt and the white (actually painted yellow) Hedjet crown of Upper Egypt, once again symbolising the unified kingdom of Egypt.

The objects between Seti and Thoth appear to be Nemset libation vessels placed on stands and topped with lotus flowers. The Nemset was a kind of vase with a spout that was used to sprinkle water or other liquids during purification rites. These appear not infrequently in temple and tomb reliefs, and are often inscribed with hieroglyphic texts. There is certainly a border on the vessels here, but I can't make out any inscription inside it.

There are some particularly nice examples in the temple complex at Abydos that allow us to observe more detail.

For example, one in the Inner Osiris Hall of the temple of Seti I:


There are even reliefs showing Nemset vessels in use, as for example this relief in the second hypostyle hall:

Nemset in use

Even with the high resolution image, the detail of the hieroglyphs is difficult to make out on a mobile phone screen, so transliteration & translation is probably out of the question from me for now (not to mention the time involved).

I know that translations were published by Alan Gardiner (probably through the Egypt Exploration Society). They may also have been included in Breasted's Ancient Records of Egypt, and possibly even now be available online.

However, I did a quick Google search, and found that the hieroglyphs have been transcribed, transliterated and translated into French on the abydossethy.net website.

(A brief review of their site suggests that they have done this with most, if not all, of the surviving texts from the Temple of Seti at Abydos).

  • 1
    Masterful. Thank you again. May I ask, what are the three objects between Thoth and Seti? – Johan88 May 19 '18 at 0:32
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    @Johan88 I've added some details about the Nemset vessels, and also a link to an online French transcription/transliteration/translation of the hieroglyphs. Hope that's useful. – sempaiscuba May 19 '18 at 5:05
  • that is amazingly helpful. Thank you so very much, Sir. Much obliged. – Johan88 May 19 '18 at 5:42
  • Any idea what the staff being Seti is - between him and the Horus name Serekh? Upon a staff: a head in profile wearing Nemes head cloth and Postiche false beard, upon which is a Ka (kȝ (D28)) hieroglyph, above which is a nḫb (M22) nkhb hieroglyph. Any idea what that is and what is symbolises? Is it a common symbol or particular just for this relief? – Johan88 May 21 '18 at 6:02
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    @Johan88 I have a really poor signal, and can't load the image atm (I think they're trying to discourage phone use). The staff you describe doesn't sound familiar (although it has been some years since I looked in detail at the subject). The head sounds like it could be the tp hieroglyph, in which case what you're describing might be related to tp rsy ("the South"). Sorry I can't help more. – sempaiscuba May 21 '18 at 12:31

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