Legible Two

Burial Chamber

Pyramid Texts – what about them?  The first set anyway.

The really big pyramids at Giza are from the 4th dynasty.  There are no texts inside them.  The first major pyramid is earlier than that – the step Pyramid of Djoser – at Saqqara and there are no texts in it, though it seems to have some kind of relation to at least the first pyramid texts which are in a pyramid about 300 years and two dynasties later but right next to the step Pyramid of Djoser. 

So there are no texts in any pyramids until the pyramid of Unis, the last king of the 5th dynasty, at Saqqara, close to the step pyramid.  So what is that first set of texts like in a smaller pyramid after the gigantic uninscribed pyramids at Giza?  They are inscribed in hieroglyphics inside the inmost chambers of the tomb inside the pyramid.  So let’s start with an impressionistic look from the inside of the pyramid out.  In the case of the pyramid of Unis (a king whose name is also transcribed as Unas or Wenis or Ounas), the inner chambers are intact so all of the texts are available and can be associated with specific walls in the internal layout of the tomb.

So, from the inside out in the pyramid of Unis:  First, there are abstract blue patterns on the white alabaster of in the inmost chamber, the burial chamber, a small room.  The patterns represent the wood-frame and reed-mat enclosures that traditionally surrounded ritual events from long before the pyramids.  There are no pictorial scenes on the walls, only the simplified images that make up the hieroglyphics that form the words in the text columns of spells.  The place where the body of Unis presumably rested was inside of a featureless box of black stone (basalt or greywacke).  The ceiling above that is gabled and set with a grid of simple painted stars that are mostly blue. 

     Journeying from the inside of the burial outward, we have blue on white and the blue pigments of the hieroglyphics of the spell texts that:

  1. Closest to the featureless stone box that would have presumably enclosed the mummy of the king – protective spells
  2. Then the writing out of offerings and the resurrection spells
  3. And then things get complicated, sure, you the king (or whoever would benefit from such spells) are not exactly dead, but where are you?  The second and third person spells have reassembled you and activated you, but now it is up to you to enact the rest of your post-mortem empowerment.  The structure of the spells changes as one goes from the generic second and third person sentences of the burial and passage to the first-person spells in the antechamber outside the burial (but still deep in the pyramid) that allow you (in the first person)  to journey from the dark early hours of the sun’s trip through the underworld (the Duat proper) toward the rising-into-morning part of your first-person journey (toward the Akhet, the horizon where dawn appears after the regenerative underworld hours of the sun’s journey where the sun has turned and is heading upward).
  4. Still in the first-person on the walls of the antechamber, the spells speak of leaving the Akhet.
  5. And beyond that, in the corridor, the first-person spells for joining the gods in the sky.

This blue in the inner chambers presumably has some relation to the use of blue in the inner chambers of the step pyramid (the first of the big pyramids) right next door.  The step pyramid is the pyramid closest to the pyramid of Unis.  It was built three centuries before that of Unis.  In the intervening centuries the great pyramids of Giza and the pyramids at Abusir had been built.  The first king of the 5th dynasty, Userkaf, built his sun temple inside the enclosure of the step pyramid, back at Saqqara.  Unis, the last king of the 5th dynasty, built his pyramid for his burial just outside the enclosure of the step pyramid.

The blue that fills the depths of the step pyramid and the inner chambers of Unis’ burial at least suggests the blue stars and blue walls of the various underworld-communicating or soul-state transformative rooms in the step pyramid, whatever the imagined mechanisms of resurrection might have been in that earlier construction, though apparently what was involved in the afterlife for Unis was structured differently than whatever was supposed to be going on with the king for whom the step pyramid was built.  For example, the gods are not invoked verbally in the step pyramid, but they are addressed in many different ways in the texts that fill the burial chamber and its surroundings in the pyramid of Unis.  They are invoked to defend Unis and threatened if they fail to treat Unis well in his journeys through the underworld following the course of the sun at night or rising with the sun or joining the imperishable stars.  Indeed things get pretty technical with the metal doors in the sky and the various magical boat transfers involved.  The gods are specifically warned not to mess with those trickier moments in Unis’ cosmic transfers and transformations.

            Strangely, the pyramid texts of Unis may be both the first to be written in a pyramid and the last to refer to whatever special meaning the color blue in the burial chamber may have had since he was the last king of the 5th dynasty and the pyramid texts of the next dynasty seem to be more green than blue, perhaps reflecting yet another shift in how the king related to the mechanisms of the cosmos: