Egyptian Royal Tombs
of the New Kingdom

In the American Museum of Natural History of New York City, in the Africa section of the Anthropological part of the museum, there is a cut-away model of an Egyptian Royal Tomb of the New Kingdom (XVIII, XIX, & XX Dynasties, c. 1575-1087 BC). Such tombs were carved into the cliffs of the Valley of the Kings, across the river from the contemporary Egyptian capital at Thebes (Ipet or Opet to the Egyptians, the modern Luxor and Karnak). The Greeks evocatively called the tombs , "hypogea," i.e. the "[things] under the earth" (Latin singular, hypogeum, Greek singular ).

The museum model, however, bears little resemblance to any actual tombs, except for having a succession of corridors and chambers. No attempt was made to reproduce the plan of any particular tomb, or even a general plan that demonstrates the common features of the tombs. If there were no common features to these tombs, that would be understandable. But quite the opposite is true. The tombs, for all their individuality, share a basically identical plan, which evolves slowly. The model tomb may owe more to Hollywood than to Egyptology [note]. Since so much about Egypt anymore seems derived from fiction, imagination, mythology, and even politics, it is not surprising that such inattention to history and detail should have occurred: It is of a piece with the items in the museum gift shop that show children, or even adults, how to write their names in hieroglyphics, without bothering to inform them that the glyphs identified as vowels were actually consonants -- since the Egyptians didn't write vowels, as is usually still the case in modern Arabic and Hebrew. This has only been well understood for over a century -- see The Pronunciation of Ancient Egyptian.

Although the royal tombs of Valley of the Kings are fascinating and numinous objects, it is rare to find any explanation of their structure. The first discussion I ever saw of the pattern and individual parts of the tombs was in an appendix of John Romer's Valley of the Kings [William Morrow and Company, 1981, pp. 279-281]. At the time I saw the model in the Museum, it didn't seem quite right; but I had to go back to Romer's book, which I vaguely remembered, to see just how arbitrary the model was. Before finding Romer, I had read many books about Egypt without ever seeing a general discussion of the tomb plans. Usually, books showed a few plans, typically the same ones, made some general comments about the tombs straightening out after Akhenaton, and that was that. Pretty much the same tombs are shown from Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt's Tutankhamen [New York Graphic Society] in 1963 to the The Penguin Guide to Ancient Egypt [Penguin Books], by William J. Murnane, in 1983. Romer's own book is no exception.

In Desroches-Noblecourt, besides that of Tutankhamon himself, we see the tombs of Thutmose III, Amenhotep II, Thutmose IV, Akhenaton (from Amarna), Haremhab, Seti I, and Ramesses IV. In the Penguin Guide the emphasis was probably on tombs that could easily be visited by tourists at the time: Thutmose III, Amenhotep II, Tutankhamon, Haremhab, Seti I, Merenptah, Ramesses III, Ramesses VI, and Ramesses IX. Romer had a few extra tomb plans in his book, including the known part of tomb KV 5, which later turned out to have large unexplored parts, but no unusual royal tombs. Reading books about Egypt from about 1962 to 1994, I never saw a plan of the tomb of Ramesses II, Amenhotep III, or even Seti II. The latter was often mentioned because Howard Carter used it as a laboratory for the objects brought out of Tutankhamon's tomb. Romer's book actually showed part of a plate from the great French Description of Egypt that showed a small, roughly accurate, plan of the tomb of Amenhotep III (p. 42); but no corresponding modern plan was provided. At the same time, Romer's fine book about the tomb workers' village at Deir el-Medina, Ancient Lives [Holt, Rienhard and Winston, 1984], really has nothing about the tombs; and in the otherwise wonderful companion television series, also called Ancient Lives [ITV Studios Ltd., 1984, Athena, Acorn Media Group Inc., 2009], he often talks about or visits an individual tomb without even mentioning whose tomb it is.

This was all very frustrating and often seemed very peculiar. Didn't anyone know what the tomb of Ramesses II looked like? Finally, the situation was remedied. Now we have The Complete Valley of the Kings, by Nicholas Reeves & Richard H. Wilkinson [Thames and Hudson, 1996], actually shows all the tombs, usually with 3-D cut-away diagrams as well as with flat plans. The book also uses much material, and is clearly part of the same publishing project, as Reeves' The Complete Tutankhamun [Thames and Hudson, 1990]. Reeves and Wilkinson also discuss the evolution of the tombs, though in a different fashion than Romer's brief appendix. On the other hand, both of Reeves's books come disturbingly close to the format of coffee table art books, with illustration overwhelming text.

Now I suspect that the good information that has recently become available about the tombs is the result of the "Theban Mapping Project." Accurate surveys simply did not exist for most of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, but the mapping and surveying project of Kent R. Weeks, at the American University of Cairo, has now provided such information. This also led to the sensational rediscovery of tomb KV 5. The story of all this, including information about the Mapping Project, can be found in Weeks's The Lost Tomb [William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1998].

There is another recent good coffee-table-art-book-like book, the Guide to the Valley of the Kings, by Alberto Siliotti [Barnes & Noble Books, 1996]. This book is a little less and a little more than it might seem: Less because it does not cover all the tombs of the Valley, as Reeves and Wilkinson do, but more because it actually goes outside the Valley and covers the Valley of the Queens, the mortuary temples, and various private and noble tombs in the Theban hills. Indeed, Siliotti's book is the only one I have seen with an actual map of the Valley of the Queens.

Siliotti's book is more lavishly illustrated than Reeves and Wilkinson, with many large photographs of the walls of the tombs. This is nice in itself. The book also has a feature missing in Reeves and Wilkinson: showing elevations as well as plans of the tombs. There also are three dimensional exploded drawings, but these are not quite of the quality of Reeves and Wilkinson. All of these details are priceless when we get to the tomb of Nefertari (QV 66) in the Valley of the Queens. The favorite queen of Ramesses II (strangely put in the "Twentieth" Dynasty in the section heading), Nefertari was honored with an exquisite tomb, which now stands as one of the best preserved of all the tombs of Ancient Egypt. Recently restored and reopened, the tomb is nevertheless a fragile object to which admission is limited. But Siliotti's treatment leaves the reader nearly with the sense of having been there, not only using two very large and elaborate three dimensional drawings, but indicating in the drawings where the many photographed details are to be found. There is also an extended, discursive textual description, so that the whole section on Nefertari covers fourteen large format pages. Such a section all but pays for the price of the book in its own right.

The section on the private and noble tombs of the Theban hills continues the profuse illustration and explanation, giving a much better idea of the tombs than the other thorough treatment I have seen, in The Penguin Guide to Ancient Egypt. Since the photographs are all in color, it also conveys a better sense, in one respect, of the Tomb of Menna than even the Manchester Metropolitan University's site on the Tomb of Menna [a virtual reality tour, which may not still be on line; my link has gone dead], which uses old black and white pictures.

Another pleasure of Siliotti's book is that it contains only one picture of a mummy. The Egyptians did not spend their time looking at dead people. Indeed, since bodies returned from the embalmer elaborately wrapped, the Egyptians saw much less of the dead than we do. Siliotti does not mar the beauty of the tombs with out of place, juxtaposed dead faces.

Of course, as I now write (Spring 2013), the Theban Mapping Project site, linked above, contains just about every view and perspective imaginable for all the tombs of the Valley of the Kings. One hardly needs the books anymore, and I suppose that the day will come when many will have forgotten books altogether and you can curl up in bed with your iPad, visiting all the tombs of the Valley in virtual reality.

Nevertheless, even with all modern resources, mysteries remain about the royal tombs. The Egyptians never did say what each part of the tombs was really for; and we find ourselves in the embarrassing position of having a complete set of tomb furniture, from Tutankhamon's tomb, without knowing how this should be distributed in a complete royal tomb; for Tutankhamon's tomb, hurriedly prepared for the premature death of the king at the age of only about 18, is, as Romer says, a "hole in the ground," compared to a proper royal tomb. Tutankhamon's tomb was clearly not originally intended to be a royal tomb at all. The speculation is that the elderly Aye, some uncertain relative or in-law of the royal family, and the successor to Tutankhamon, had been given, when the prospect of his becoming king was remote, the privilege of preparing a tomb in the Valley of the Kings. His tomb was then pressed into service for Tutankhamon. The tomb that may have been begun for Tutankhamon, over the hills in the "Western Valley" parallel to the Valley of the Kings, where Amenhotep III was buried, was then taken over by Aye. Although Aye's reign was short and little progress was made on it, that tomb nevertheless is far larger than Tutankhamon's and is clearly of royal design.

The purpose of this page, then, is not to reproduce the information that is given much more accurately at the Theban Mapping Project, but to consider what the design of the tombs means in terms of Egyptian religious belief and expectations. What did the Egyptians think this was, or what it was for, as, for instance, the King walked down into the tomb inspecting what was going to be his "House of Eternity." There were no tourists in these places at the time. It was serious business, and we can expect that every aspect of the place was for a reason.

To get some idea of the complete elements of an Egyptian royal tomb, the tomb of Thutmose IV is a good place to start. Although Thutmose's reign was short and his tomb is incomplete, the incompleteness only involves the decoration. The rooms of the tomb have themselves all been completely cut, but no extra flourishes have been added, as might have happened in a longer reign. The tomb is also significant in that it displays for the first time all (or nearly) the elements that will continue to occur in royal tombs until the end of the XX Dynasty. The names of the rooms and corridors are a combination of modern designations, usually descriptive ("the Well"), and ancient names ("the god's first passage"), as these are known from the documents, ostraca, and graffiti left by the actual scribes and workmen who were responsible for building the tombs (discussed the most completely by Romer).

The dates given for Thutmose IV (as for the New Kingdom itself above) are from Sir Alan Gardiner's great history of Egypt, Egypt of the Pharaohs [Oxford University Press, 1966] and, secondarily, from Reeves & Wilkinson.

The plan is somewhat schematic, consistent with the purpose of the examination here, and should not be taken as a scale map of the tomb -- the full 3-D experience of the tomb is available at the Theban Mapping Project. There were, of course, no gilt shrines found in Thutmose IV's tomb, but these are included for comparison with Tutankhamon's tomb below, where they were found. The "pall" is a cloth canopy hung on a frame between the first and second shrines. Both shrines and pall are clearly indicated, but not named, on the surviving papyrus plan of the tomb of Ramesses IV. It was not clear what they were until their discovery in Tutankhamon's tomb.

The most striking thing about Thutmose IV's tomb are the two right angle turns by which the tomb comes around into a U shape. This is reminiscent of the Pyramids of Amenemhet III (1842-1797) of the XII Dynasty, at Hawara, and of Khendjer (c.1747) of the XIII Dynasty, at Saqqara [cf. I.E.S. Edwards, the Pyramids of Egypt, Pelican, 1961]. However, the similarity of plans, although often commented upon, may be completely coincidental: In those pyramids there is clearly only one burial chamber, and the whole way into that chamber consists of corridors that are multiplied merely to deceive tomb robbers.

The burial itself in the pyramids frequently would not have been distributed into different rooms. Before deception was desired, earlier pyramids sometimes just consisted of a single corridor leading directly to the burial chamber (e.g. Khafre of the IV Dynasty and Sahure of the V Dynasty). Extra chambers (as in Khafre and especially in the complicated Great Pyramid of Khafre's predecessor Khufu) often seem to occur only because of changes of plan. However, some regularity was achieved in V and VI Dynasty pyramids, where the entrance corridor leads to an antechamber, on whose right (west) is the burial chamber, and on whose left (east) is a room with niches, facing the false door on the mortuary temple on the east face of the pyramid. The room with niches resembles additional chambers that occasionally occur, as in the pyramid of Menkaure in the IV dynasty, and that suggest a storage as well as a ritual function. Most pyramids, in addition, have a subsidiary pyramid or tomb that seems to have been provided for the king's Ka, , the peculiar "double" of the Egyptian theory of the soul. Now it is proposed that even the three rooms in the Great Pyramid reflect ritual functions that persist and are simply reflected in a more economical form in the V/VI Dynasty pattern. The newest ideas in this respect may be found in another Thames and Hudson product, The Complete Pyramids, Solving the Ancient Mysteries, by Mark Lehner [Thames and Hudson, 1997], which does for the pyramids, with an exhaustive catalogue, what Reeves & Wilkinson did for the Valley of the Kings. Lehner is also the kind of person of whom too little is seen in academic and political debates about Egypt: a professional Egyptologist -- in this case a Visiting Assistant Professor of Egyptian Archaeology at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago and the director of the Giza Plateau Mapping Project in Egypt since 1984.

Whatever may eventually be deduced about the meaning and development of pyramid burials, New Kingdom tombs like that of Thutmose IV consist of more rooms, of clearer meaning or function, whose layout and pattern of development persist for centuries. Unlike the XII Dynasty pyramids, serious attempts at deception become clearly impossible where robbers are not going to be deceived by plaster or rubble instead of native limestone walls or floors. The typical comment that a room in a New Kingdom tomb may represent a "false burial chamber" cannot be taken seriously: No robber, even one unfamiliar with the tombs (unlikely), would be deceived by a "burial chamber" with no sarcophagus and with an obviously excavated, even if blocked, exit. Internal deception was possible in pyramids where all internal walls, above ground, will be artificial. The only hope of concealment for New Kingdom tombs was in the concealment of the entrance itself, which was why Thutmose I located his tomb in the Valley of the Kings in the first place [note]. In the XX Dynasty even that effort was abandoned after the Valley had become crowded with tombs, though the concealment of the entrance actually did work for one tomb: Tutankhamon's. Therefore, none of the parts of these tombs can be explained or dismissed as "false" burial chambers.

Apart from Thutmose IV, other XVIII Dynasty tombs contained only one right turn (Thutmose III and Amenhotep II), or turned in the other direction, into a dogleg (Amenhotep III). Haremhab eliminated the turns, and this has often been said to be due to the solar theology of Akhenaton (which Haremhab otherwise detested). As Reeves and Wilkinson point out, however, Akhenaton's tomb at Amarna doesn't necessarily exhibit the innovations it is usually credited with: It basically looks like an unfinished traditional tomb, complete (except for an expected corridor, "the god's fourth passage") to the first large room, the "Chariot Hall," which has been pressed into service as the burial chamber. The one excavation out of that room is, indeed, at right angles to the axis of the tomb. Otherwise the tomb displays other major off-axis developments, two complete "suites," one for the premature death of the princess Meketaten, the other, unfinished, for the Queen Mother Tiye. Those literally tangential developments may be why less effort could be spared for further conventional development along the main axis of the tomb. The overall effect, then, is not of the straightening out of the tomb, but of stunting, and of lateral development -- little of which is found later, as we shall see.

Given the basic impression of Thutmose IV's tomb, whose elements will shortly be examined in detail, it may be compared with that of Tutankhamon. (This plan is also somewhat schematic, but it is roughly to the same scale as the plan of Thutmose IV's tomb. A full size model of Tutankhamon's tomb used to be featured, with considerable detail except for the burial chamber, at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada -- though the model appeared to have adobe walls and a dirt floor sprinkled with straw, rather than the cut, solid limestone of the original. Unfortunately, the hotel now has opted for other kinds of exhibits, like artifacts from the Titanic; and the model tomb is no longer there, despite the Egyptian theme of the hotel and what must surely be continuing interest in Ancient Egypt in general and Tutankhamon in particular.) There are few similarities, and it has been a major problem of deduction both to match up the equipment of Tutankhamon's tomb with where it would have gone in a complete royal tomb and to imagine what essential ritual functions, if any, the actual parts of Tutankhamon's tomb were expected to perform. The most complete interpretation of the latter I have seen is in Desroches-Noblecourt. Her basic ideas about the tomb are shown in a diagram (#149) on page 246 of her book, reproduced in purple on the plan here.

The theme of fours is conspicuous in Egyptian religious practice, and Desroches-Noblecourt evidently does not think it accidental that Tutankhamon's tomb contains four chambers. The burial chamber, with a ritual if not an actual orientation towards the West, is the "chamber of departure towards the funeral destinies," as she says. The internment of the body certainly is the beginning of the sojourn of the dead, and the Egyptians saw the dead as departing "into the West." The room called the "Treasury" is then interpreted to have a ritual orientation towards the North as the "chamber of reconstitution of the body." Since the most conspicuous object in the Treasury was a great gilt sledge holding the shrine containing the canopic chest, which holds the king's viscera [note], this could well suggest the problem of reassembling the king's living body.

That task, indeed, has a very important place in Egyptian mythology. After the goddess Isis had retrieved her husband Osiris's murdered body from Byblos, their common brother, Seth, the original murderer, stole the body, cut it into pieces, and tossed them in the Nile. Isis then had to retrieve the parts of the body before Osiris could be restored to life. Her search through the Delta, which is in the North of Egypt, seems to parallel the "sacred pilgrimage" to cities of the Delta that Desroches-Noblecourt relates as one of ritual acts of the funeral, as many of the other objects in the Treasury seem to be accessories for that pilgrimage:

For the sovereign to be reborn it was necessary that a symbolic pilgrimage be made to the holy cities of the delta, where since the most ancient times Egyptian kings had always gone, among which was Buto their necropolis. The principal halts of the journey corresponded almost exactly to the four cardinal points of the delta where these cities were situated... Sais, to the west, represented the necropolis where the body was buried; Buto to the north, with its famous canal, was an essential stage of the transformations within the aquatic world of the primordial abyss, evoking the water surrounding the unborn child; and Mendes to the east whose name could be written with the two pillars of Osiris, the djed pillars, evoking the concept of air. There, said the old texts, the gods Shu and Tefenet were reunited, or again, according to the 17th chapter of The Book of the Dead, that was where the souls of Osiris and Re had joined. Finally, the southern-most city which completed the cycle of Heliopolis, the city of the sun, symbolizing the fourth [sic] element, fire, where the heavenly body arose in youth glory between the two hills on the horizon. [Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, 1963, p. 238-9, bolface added]

As these four cities parallel the four rooms of the tomb itself, we seem to have a nice series of parallel symbols. If Sais (), , in the West, was significant for its necropolis, then Sais, like the burial chamber, can represent the departure into the West. Buto (), , itself the northernmost city, then represents the site of the actual "reconstitution of the body." What followed Isis's reassembly of Osiris's body was its revivification. Mendes (), , in the East, where the sun rises, would then seem to be the locus for that, with the associations, especially with Osiris, that Desroches-Noblecourt mentions. In the tomb, the small "Annex" is then associated with this ritual stage, the "chamber of rebirth." The ritual pilgrimage then ends at Heliopolis (), (rendered in Greek and in Hebrew -- both Ôn), in the South, where the king, having been reborn, reassumes his throne, as Desroches-Noblecourt views the "Antechamber" of the tomb as the "chamber of eternal royalty."

Note that while Desroches-Noblecourt says that Mendes is written with two djed pillars, associated with Osiris, it seems to be Busiris (), , that is actually so written. Nevertheless, alternative writings abound in Egyptian; and when she says that Mendes "could" be written with two pillars, this may mean that such is another version of the name that she has seen. On the other hand, I don't know how the djed pillar or Osiris, or however many of them, would be "evoking the concept of air."

This ritual systematization sounds good to me -- although I am not familiar with the evidence for such a pilgrimage route in the Delta -- but the assertion of Desroches-Noblecourt that the four cities (and four chambers) also correspond to the "four elements," earth, air, fire, and water, is seriously anachronistic:  the "four elements" do not occur before the Greek philosopher Empedocles; and, as we see from India and China, this is not the only way to construct a theory of elements. Desroches-Noblecourt supplies hieroglyphs for the elements on her map [op.cit. p.239], but since the Egyptians had no such systematic theory, this is a kind of fantasy exercise. Of course, I like such things, so I have reproduced her glyphs on the map here. The Egyptians, of course, do not need to be thinking of the elements to have the four sacred cities, and even to have them correspond to the cardinal directions. That they actually don't make a very good compass rose reminds me of the similar situation with the four sacred mountains of the Navajo, which also only poorly represent the directions with which they are associated..

How these ritual assignments correspond to full-sized royal tombs poses some problems. As related by Reeves, Howard Carter originally thought that Tutankhamon's entire tomb was simply a version of the burial chamber in other tombs. Carter thought that the "Antechamber" of Tutankhamon's tomb corresponded to the pillared hall area of the burial chamber in a tomb like Thutmose IV's, which Carter believed was the "Chariot Hall" referred to in the ancient records. Since Tutankhamon's own chariots were in the Antechamber, that room certainly should be considered the "Chariot Hall." Similarly, Carter thought that the canopic furniture in a proper tomb would be placed in the somewhat sunken "crypt" area of the burial chamber, while the objects of the "annex" belonged in the four storage rooms that characteristically open off of the burial chamber.

Now it appears, however, according to Romer, Reeves, and Wilkinson, that the "Chariot Hall" was actually the first large chamber in the regular tombs, not any part of the burial chamber. This also makes a lot more sense: The Egyptians went to a lot of trouble to build a wall and seal a door between the Antechamber and burial chamber in Tutankhamon's tomb, which hardly seems necessary if they were supposed to be part of the same room. There may be a similar mistake over the canopic furniture. Although in some tombs there is a sunken area in the "crypt" that has been interpreted as a receptacle for the canopic shrine, in other tombs (e.g. KV 55, which contained a body that may be Akhenaton) actual canopic jars have been found in alcoves or rooms off of the burial chamber. Most importantly, in the unfinished tomb of Aye, there is a unique representation of the four Sons of Horus over the door into the only room excavated off of the burial chamber. That is an unmistakable signal that the room was intended to contain that which the four Sons of Horus protect, the viscera.

We are thus strongly motivated to suspect that one of the rooms off of the burial chamber should contain the canopic furniture. In regular tombs, however, there are usually no less than four rooms off of the burial chamber. This is interesting in itself. If the Treasury of Tutankhamon represents the "reconstitution of the body" through the symbolic pilgrimage in the North, then a set of four similar chambers could easily correspond to the four destinations of the pilgrimage. If one of those was intended to receive the canopic shrine, we would need to decide which one. We might suspect it would be one of the two rooms off the "crypt" area. As it happens, one of those rooms (the one to the left when approaching the sarcophagus) is substantially enlarged in the tombs of Amenhotep III and Seti I, with minor enlargements in Amenhotep II and Haremhab. This seems unmistakable, except for the theory that the enlarged room in Amenhotep III's tomb was intended to receive the burial of Queen Tiye. Now, the only credible cases of subsidiary burials seem to involve predeceased children. Why it should be thought necessary or proper to bury Queen Tiye in Amenhotep III's tomb is mysterious. Instead, Akhenaton, her son, seems to have planned to have her buried at Amarna; but she was then apparently buried in her own tomb, KV 55, from which she was retrieved and included in the great mummy cache in Amenhotep II's tomb (leaving Akhenaton behind, if that is him). Furthermore, it does not seem to have been proposed that the enlarged room in Seti I's tomb was intended for a subsidiary burial.

Taking this all into account, I think we should say that the noted chamber was intended for the canopic furniture. The other three of the traditional four rooms off the burial chamber then present the difficulty. Romer lists various names for them, "the Treasury of the End," "Resting place of the gods," "Ushabiti Place," and others. Without an in situ burial, it may be impossible to ever know which room was supposed to be which. However, some ushabiti (or shabti) figures were found in the front left room (i.e. on the same side as the canopic room) in the tomb of Thutmose IV, so perhaps that was the "ushabiti place." Otherwise, it is hard to know, even from Tutankhamon's materials, what would even go in the "resting place of the gods."

With the tomb of Ramesses II, a major change in the design of the burial chamber takes place. Instead of six columns approaching the "crypt" from the entrance of the burial chamber, eight columns now symmetrically flank the "crypt" along the front and back on the room. Only one of the four side rooms now opens into the "crypt" but, disturbing, it is actually smaller than the others, and in subsequent tombs it joins the other three in small, inconspicuous, corner positions off the burial chamber. Immediately after Ramesses II, however, in the tomb of Merenptah, we find a continuation of the axis of the tomb into largish chambers beyond the burial chamber. That there are four of them is suggestive (even as there were four large rooms beyond the burial chamber of Ramesses II, though not on axis). This provision is evident in all subsequent tombs that were sufficiently completed to reach that stage, mainly those of Ramesses III, Twosret-Setnakht, and Ramesses VI. Since the conventional orientation of the tombs, at least until Ramesses III, was that the entrance to the tomb was a ritual "south" while the interior was in a ritual "north," these spaces beyond the burial chamber would have been the "northernmost" parts of the tomb. The appropriate place, we might think for the canopic furniture and the "reconstitution of the body." Thus, the demotion of the original (if the considerations above were correct) canopic room, after Ramesses II, corresponds to the transfer of ritual canopic function to a new chamber whose position and orientation were made possible by the new burial chamber design. The existence of four rooms beyond the burial chamber in Ramesses II, Merenptah, and Ramesses III may indicate an intention to reduplicate the function of the original four side rooms to the burial chamber.

This leaves the question of the "Annex" and its contents in Tutankhamon's tomb. To approach that we should have a closer look at the structure of the rest of the regular tombs first, having already looked in some detail at the burial chamber. Overall, the tomb may be divided into three parts: The Inner Tomb, which means the burial chamber and its side rooms, however elaborate; the Middle Tomb; and the Outer Tomb [note]. These three may be distinguished by reference to the turns that the tomb takes in the XVIII and XIX Dynasties, i.e. it is at the boundaries of the Outer Tomb and Middle Tomb, or Middle Tomb and Inner Tomb, that the turns occur. That is evident from an overhead plan. From the side, an Upper Tomb and a Lower Tomb may be distinguished, as we shall see. In the plans that are shown here for the parts of the tombs, the articulation of the various tombs may be inferred from the blue notes on entrances and exits. That mainly concerns the Middle Tomb, though it has already been seen that there is one exception, in Amenhotep III, to the regular entrance to the Inner Tomb.

In the Outer Tomb, six parts may be distinguished: four passages, the "Well," and the optional "well room." The four passages originally consisted of two deep stairs and two sloping corridors. The outer stair might not now be considered part of the tomb proper, since it merely led up to the sealed entrance of the tomb; but the Egyptians saw it as already part of the tomb and named it the "god's first passage," or the "god's first passage of the sun's path." All the corridors, indeed, were thought to represent the passage of the sun god through the twelve caverns of the underworld in the hours of the night, prior to his rebirth at dawn -- the precedent for the rebirth of the king. Consequently, when decorated, they at first held excerpts from the Amduat, the book of "That Which is in the Underworld," or the later "Book of Gates." (Note that these were not the same as the familiar "Book of the Dead.") As the emphasis slowly shifted with time from the association with the underworld to an association with Rê himself, another work, the "Litany of Rê" made its appearance.

The Egyptian technique of stone cutting was from the top down, whether in quarries or tombs, and it was at the ceiling that the dimensions of rooms and corridors were drawn. Also, a stair was not originally simply cut in the floor of a descending corridor. Instead, a regular room was cut and then the stair was dropped straight down out of the floor. At the entrance to the tomb, this meant the stair was cut straight down from the surface of the ground, although it might then press in under the cliff somewhat, providing some overhang for the sealed door to the next passage. This technique, according to Reeves and Wilkinson, was meant to provide some working space and leverage for the project of lowering the sarcophagus down the steep stairs. (Visitors to the tombs will also notice that the stone cutters left surfaces that were not to be decorated, like floors, many ceilings, and some walls, very roughly cut -- no need for polished floors for the dead.)

The stair of the "god's third passage" was thus originally a room with the stair in its floor. As the stairs later became ramps, and as the descent of the passages leveled out by the XX Dynasty, the "god's third passage" was revealed as having a ritual as well as a practical meaning; for the flat spaces of the original room were preserved, even when they had been reduced to no more than long niches in part of the walls of the third passage. These were called the "sanctuaries in which the gods of East and West repose," and we must suppose that statues, which ultimately must have been rather small (the niches were not large in the XX Dynasty), or other symbolic items were deposited, first in the room and later in the niches. "East and West" refer to the ritual orientation of the passage, East on the Left when facing out of the tomb (as the Egyptians saw it), West on the Right. Tutankhamon's tomb doesn't offer much help about what these "gods" might have been, since there is no analogous structure and no identifiable group of protective "gods of East and West" in his tomb.

A noteworthy elaboration of the "sanctuaries" even after they had become niches is in the tomb of Ramesses III: Eight small side chambers were cut off of the "third passage." These contained unusual secular scenes, including a famous pair of harpists in one. Since this tomb stood open in Roman times and subsequently, travelers in many centuries marveled at the figures. How this all fitted together with the "gods of East and West" is anybody's guess.

The fourth passage eventually acquired two niches at the end, called the "doorkeepers'" niches. It is tempting to associate these with the two magnificent black statues of Tutankhamon that conspicuously stood guard outside his burial chamber, though those statues would not have fit into any of the niches and it is hard to imagine them simply standing on the edge of the Well in earlier tombs. So other "doorkeepers" may have been involved, though we may never know.

The "Well" itself is a feature that has excited considerable interest and comment. Of great importance, as is now realized, is its practical value to catch water in the rare but devastating flash floods that can occur in the area. A number of tombs have suffered tragically from inattention to this function today:  The discoverer of the tomb of Seti I, Belzoni, filled up the well with rubble, which meant that the next flood went straight down to the burial chamber. Since the floor of the burial chamber was excavated out of the shale that underlines the limestone of most of the Valley, it soaked up the water, expanded, and began cracking the walls and columns of the burial chamber. This damage has come close to ruining the tomb, and has rendered it unstable enough that, as I understand, it is now closed to tourists. In the XX Dynasty, when tombs were excavated higher up the ridges and involved shallower descents, rendering them relatively safe from water damage, the wells were eliminated. The tombs of that sort, which historically stood open from ancient times to modern, like that of Ramesses III and Ramesses VI, suffered nothing like the damage that the tomb of Seti I has just in the course of a century. This would seem to indicate that the principal function of the Well was practical.

Another practical function of the Well has been suggested. The Well can have served as a sounding shaft to find the bottom of the limestone strata and thus dictate the overall depth of the tomb. When we see the tomb of Seti I descend just to the shale at the burial chamber, it is not hard to imagine the plan being set when the Well was cut. The tombs of the later period, higher up the cliffs with shallower descent, had no more need for the sounding than for the rain trap. This is a sensible and intriguing suggestion, but it does not preclude the other practical and ritual functions of the Well. Also, it raises the question what the Egyptians were doing when they sank a tunnel behind the tomb of Seti I that continued so far into the shale, crumbling and dangerous as it is, that excavators have never reached the end of it. But this tunnel represents a unique mystery whatever it is that we think of the Well.

The Egyptians called the Well the hall of "waiting" or "hindering." Since the far door was sealed and plastered over at the top of a rather high wall, the Well interposes an obstacle that would certainly "hinder" tomb robbers, whatever their knowledge of the tomb. Since it is hard to imagine the tomb robbers "waiting" for anything, that term may refer to another, ritual meaning, for the Well. After all, the basic form of many Egyptian tombs, of whatever period, was a simple shaft with a burial chamber cut off the bottom of it. In three XVIII Dynasty tombs (Amenhotep II, Thutmose IV, and Amenhotep III), such a chamber is even provided. It is difficult to imagine that anything would actually have been put in the room, exposed and vulnerable as it would be both to water damage and to robbers. The disappearance of a room with a merely pro forma ritual function, as, later, of the shaft of the Well itself, is reasonable; but the function of such a room, as symbolic of the whole tomb, provides a ritual locus for rebirth. The "Ba" soul in earlier representations flies up the shaft of the tomb and out into the world. All that is added in the royal tomb is the king's trip through the underworld, the four entering or, as the Egyptians also saw them, exiting passages. The "Hall of Waiting," with or without the well itself or the lower well room, typically shows scenes of the king meeting the gods -- one of the motifs of the burial chamber in Tutankhamon's tomb -- and this is often shown when decoration has not been completed elsewhere in the tomb, as in that of Thutmose IV. This would indicate some importance to the function of such a part of the tomb. Such a function can continue, even when the well shaft doesn't get cut and the well room long abandoned.

This brings us, through the sealed door, to the Middle Tomb. The first room is almost always the second largest in the tomb, after the burial chamber, if not the burial chamber itself in unfinished tombs (e.g Aye). As the "Chariot Hall" or "Hall of Repelling Rebels," it contains the equipment needed for the king to live an ordinary life and perform his kingly duties once reborn, i.e. actual chariots, beds, clothing, etc. Romer says, "One tomb has a frieze of beheaded enemies on the walls of this room" [Valley of the Kings, p. 280], but he doesn't say which tomb. Hence Desroches-Noblecourt's idea of it as the "chamber of eternal royalty." One might call it the "living room" of the tomb, the opposite of the burial chamber with its uniquely funereal equipment. It then may be significant that the rest of the tomb is accessed through the stair or ramp dropped from the floor. If the spirit of the king comes up from the crypt, entering the Chariot Hall is like rising into the upper world. It is at that point that we might divide the whole tomb into the Upper Tomb and the Lower Tomb. The Lower Tomb is about death and rebirth; the Upper Tomb is about the new life and access to the world (the Chariot Hall and the Outer Tomb, both the shaft of the Well and the outer passages). Significantly, the wall of the Chariot Hall above the passage down (the "another god's first passage"), often displays an "Osiris shrine," which Reeves and Wilkinson take to signal an emphasis on Osiris below as the emphasis had been on Rê above (with a dramatic example of the Osiris shrine from the tomb of Ramesses III, p. 159). Although no such "living rooms" exist in Old and Middle Kingdom pyramids, the Chariot Hall has taken on a ritual function far different from and much at odds with it being merely a "false" burial chamber: There is nothing about the Chariot Hall to deceive tomb robbers that they had already found the burial chamber.

The Middle Tomb exhibits the greatest changes in the course of the development of XVIII, XIX, and XX Dynasty tombs. Most significantly is the fact that in the proto-typical tomb of the whole New Kingdom style, the tomb of Thutmose III (according to Romer), only the Chariot Hall and the stair from its floor even exist: The stair falls directly to the burial chamber. What comes next is to Romer the most interesting thing about the development of the tombs: the tomb of Amenhotep II adds a short corridor to the stair, "another god's second passage," and then the tomb of Thutmose IV adds another stair, "another god's third passage," and an extra room, the "Hall of Truth," which duplicates the motif of the Well Room in showing the king meeting the gods. Indeed, only the Well Room and the Hall of Truth are decorated in the tomb of Thutmose IV itself. This development emphasizes the isomorphism between the Chariot Hall and the outer world: The way into the Lower Tomb is elaborated into a duplication of the way into the tomb itself. After the progression from Thutmose III to Amenhotep II to Thutmose IV, it is almost surprising not to find "another god's fourth passage" added before the Hall of Truth in the tomb of Amenhotep III.

Apart from this dramatic development, the Middle Tomb witnesses the long term rethinking about the orientation of the tomb. The Chariot Hall consistently has a lateral entrance until Haremhab, and then an axial entrance with him and thereafter. The stair of the "another god's first passage," although axial, is at first always offset from the center of the room. When the center of the room is itself opened up by the duplication of the traditional two pillars in the tomb of Seti I, we then immediately find, in the tomb Ramesses II, that the stair is moved to the center, making the axis of the tomb a straight, symmetrical shot all the way from the entrance to the Hall of Truth. This has always been assumed to have occurred under the influence of solar theology, whether that of Akhenaton or otherwise; but this only achieved consistency with Merenptah, since the burial chamber of Ramesses II is off axis, indeed most unusually via a right turn, from the Hall of Truth. The Hall of Truth is the locus of the most complete rotations of axis: The burial chamber of Thutmose IV is from a turn off to the left, that of Ramesses II from a turn off to the right, and that of Amenhotep III, and all others, straight ahead.

The rotations of axis in the Chariot Hall may, of course, be interpreted differently. If we see the Chariot Hall as a unit in the Upper Tomb with the Outer Tomb, then it is the exit that is at first lateral, then becoming axial, although displaced, in Haremhab, and then finally fully axial in Ramesses II. How the Egyptians may have thought about this is unclear. If the two pillars mark the axis of the room, then it is the exit, not the entrance, that moves in Haremhab. On the other hand, if the offset stair of the exit is distinctive and defines the axis, we may see the pillars as themselves rearranged in Haremhab. Since the result there is rather crowded and awkward, the development to four pillars in Seti I seems natural, which then suggests the complete scheme of greater symmetry by relocating the stair. That same process, however, seems to render the room less significant: The floor space is now in the same situation as it was in the "gods's third passage" before being reduced to mere niches. Since that never happened, even to the end of the XX Dynasty, the space of the Chariot Hall must of been of a ritual importance that could not be dispensed with. It does not seem at that stage, however, that the ramp ever would have been filled in, as the stair may have been at first, to produce a uniform floor for the room as a whole.

This finally brings us back to the problem of the "Annex" of Tutankhamon's tomb. An off axis, blind chamber by the Chariot Hall, which is what Tutankhamon's Annex is, does not strongly suggest anything we have seen so far. If the Annex is really just one of the four subsidiary rooms to the burial chamber, unusually placed, that solves the problem. Why it was not then actually cut off of the burial chamber in Tutankhamon's tomb is then mysterious. Geometrically, a room that fills the bill is the well room, which was cut in the successive tombs from Amenhotep II to Amenhotep III, the only complete tombs immediately before Tutankhamon. What would have served this purpose in Thutmose III's tomb is then a question; and, as previously considered, it seems incredible that the well room, with all its shortcomings, could have been used for the kinds of materials that are found in Tutankhamon's Annex.

A better possibility occurs soon after Tutankhamon. In the tomb of Seti I, a large room suddenly appears off the Chariot Hall, with no further connections, just like Tutankhamon's Annex. This has appeared out of nowhere, but it seems to be important, is durable, and is hardly the kind of thing, again, to have been intended as a "false" burial chamber. In Seti I's tomb, this room continues beyond the main axis of the Chariot Hall. When the main axis of the tomb is made symmetrical in Ramesses II's tomb, this new chamber is moved off to the side of the Chariot Hall, where it remains through Merenptah, Amenmesses, and Ramesses III. Since all the other later tombs are incomplete (and the room is only partially cut in Amenmesses' incomplete tomb), the absence of the room later may just be an artifact of their incompleteness.

If Seti I's extra room is ritually identical with Tutankhamon's Annex, we must then ask why it wasn't there earlier and, if it has some important ritual function, like Desroches-Noblecourt's idea of the "chamber of rebirth," which room fulfilled that function earlier. One candidate could be the "Hall of Truth," which, as a duplicate of the Well, might have taken on the ritual function of the well room. Calling this room the "Hall of Truth" is heavy with significance, since "Truth" (mu39a) is determined for the dead at the time of Judgment. Since few events are of greater importance in the hereafter than the Judgment, this makes comparison even more difficult when neither the Hall of Truth nor the well room exist in Thutmose III's tomb; and as essentially an enlarged corridor, it is hard to imagine the Hall of Truth stuffed with the paraphernalia of Tutankhamon's Annex. That puts us back to the side rooms of the burial chamber once again. And there we may be stuck, having run out of evidence and possibilities.

So, in the end, the purpose of not all the traditional rooms in a complete royal tomb can be inferred, and the distribution of Tutankhamon's tomb furnishing in a complete tomb cannot be entirely inferred either. As so often in history, the silence of the past leaves us hopeless and frustrated.

One thing can be said about the royal tombs, however. They are not merely homes in the hereafter for the kings, as are the private tombs of commoners and nobility. Scenes of family life or secular activities are almost entirely missing. Instead the tombs are cosmological vehicles of rebirth and deification as much as "houses of eternity." As the king is supposed to become Osiris in a far more intimate way than commoners, he is equipped with his very own Underworld. And as the king is supposed to become Rê in a way entirely unavailable to commoners, he is equipped with his very own passage of the sun, whether this is thought of as the way through the underworld or through the heavens: with the latter portrayed especially on the ceilings of the tombs of Seti I and Ramesses VI.

Little could the Egyptians have known that three thousand years later barbarians, from foreign lands they didn't even know about, would be puzzling over their practices, beliefs, and ritual architecture. They might have been so mortified that they wouldn't have wanted to explain it all anyway.

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Model tomb in the American Museum of Natural History

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Egyptian Royal Tombs of the New Kingdom, Note 1

On Monday 13 January 2003, I received the following e-mail from an employee of the American Museum of Natural History:

It has come to our attention that your website displays some incorrect information about our collections. The American Museum of Natural History does not have a cut-away model of an Egyptian Royal Tomb of the New Kingdom. This exhibit is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art located on the opposite side of Central Park.

We are often confused with the Met because of our parallel histories and locations. But please correct all instances of this information on your website as soon as possible so as not to mislead visitors. We do have an African Peoples hall as part of our Anthropological collections, but Egyptian artifacts are only a very small part.

Unfortunately, not only do I know the difference between the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but as luck would have it I had just visited the American Museum the previous day, 12 January 2003, and had made a point of passing by the tomb exhibit to see if any changes had been made. None had. The Museum is a very big and confusing place, and the Egyptian tomb is tucked away in an obscure blind hallway. I'm not surprised that even museum employees might not be aware of all the contents of the place. But the Egyptian exhibit is definitely there. Anyone having trouble finding it should leave the Hall of African Peoples by the north exit and turn left at the first opportunity.

It would be nice if they could fix up the tomb model, but then the money that any museum has for redoing exhibits is very limited.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, a pleasant walk across Central Park from the American Museum, does contain one of the greatest collections of Egyptian artifacts in the world. Many hours can be profitably spent wandering through its many halls and exhibits, including a small but complete Egyptian temple (the temple of Dendur, donated by Egypt in thanks for American aid in saving the temples of Nubia, like Dendur, from the waters of the Aswan High Dam -- the temple has turned up in several movies, such as When Harry Met Sally). I can't say that I've noticed any mistakes or misrepresentations at the Met.

Revisiting the American Museum of Natural History on 22 June 2010, the exhibit of the Egyptian tomb is unchanged, as seen at right, except that one of the lights was out (on a previous visit, all the lights had been out). The blind hallway where this is located had many people in it when I first looked in, none when I walked by later.

I do wish that the Museum would undertake to correct the deficiencies and misrepresentations in this exhibit. After the exchange of 2003, someone in the Museum, at least, is aware of the critique on this webpage. It may be that the unimportance of the exhibit, and the obsurity of the location (neglect?), mean that its problems do no rise to the level of a positive embarrassment for the Museum. Or the money may just not be there -- although in the period since 2003, money must have been around at some point. There are certainly underemployed Egyptologists who would be happy to adivse and/or supervise upgrading the exhibit. The Museum certainly doesn't need me for such a service.

Returning to the Museum on 18 June 2013, the exhibit again is unchanged. The hallway was crowded with visitors, and it became even more crowded when museum staff members emerged from the doors at the end of the hall and wheeled carts out through the crowd. The location is thus not something that is hidden from the ordinary comings and goings of the staff. They must not be among those whom we might imagine would be aware of the problems with the exhibit.

On 18 May 2016 the exhibit is still unchanged, and the same light seems to be out that was already out years ago. This bespeaks complete neglect. I expect that nothing will be done about the exhibit unless a wealthy benefactor takes an interest and financies a reconstruction. Otherwise, the neglect will continue for something that is so small and so easily overlooked to start with. Since even staff of the museum think all the Egypt stuff is across the Park at the Metropolitan Museum, there is no interest in improvement at the museum itself.

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Egyptian Royal Tombs of the New Kingdom, Note 2

I recently [2011] viewed a show on a cable channel where the Tomb of Hatsepsut, KV 20, was said to be the oldest tomb in the Valley. Now, John Romer had indeed suggested that this was the oldest tomb in the Valley precisely because he thought that it was the original tomb of Thutmose I, which Hatshepsut enlarged and then into which she introduced her own burial.

We know from the tomb of Ineni, the architect of Thutmose I, that:

I saw to the digging out of the hill-sepulchre of His Majesty privily, none seeing and hearing. [Sir Alan Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs, Oxford, 1966, p.179]

This tomb was therefore traditionally taken to be the original tomb in the Valley, the first one with a hidden entrance, which was also placed at the bottom of a chasm so as to be buried even more in subsequent flash floods. The tomb now identified as that of Thutmose I, KV 38, was regarded by Romer as built by Thutmose III, more in the fashion of his own tomb, in order to relocate his grandfather away from any association with Hatshepsut. Alan Gardiner already had remarked that the "yellow quartzite sarcophagus... was apparently placed there later by his grandson Thutmosis III" [ibid.].

Now, KV 20 has very little decoration and is cut in so peculiar, meandering, and even crude a style that descending to the burial chamber is a challenging and dangerous task. All this was long thought to be an idiosyncrasy due to Hatshepsut, but it really makes more sense as an experimental project such as we might actually expect in the day of Thutmose I. What perplexed me about the cable show is that Thutmose I was never even mentioned, despite talking-head contributions from Kent Weeks and Zahi Hawass. If KV 20 was not the tomb of Thutmose I, and KV 38 was not the oldest tomb in the Valley, where had Thutmose I been buried until KV 38 was built? This question was not even raised, and Thutmose I not even mentioned, on the show. I find this very peculiar, and it seems to me a misrepresentation of the science and history of the Valley nearly as serious as the distortion of the history of the theory of external galaxies that I have seen on other cable shows.

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Egyptian Royal Tombs of the New Kingdom, Note 3

In The Book of the Dead, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child [2006], the story revolves around an Egyptian tomb in the basement of the "New York Museum of Natural History" on Central Park West. This is a thinly fictionalized version of the American Museum of Natural History and it figures in many of Preston and Child's books. The fictional tomb had been sealed off in the 1930's and was mostly forgotten even by the staff.

This is curiously like the situation addressed by this webpage:  the obscure and almost hidden model of an Egyptian tomb in the American Museum of Natural history, which otherwise does not feature exhibits on Egyptian (or any) history (dealing with humans only on anthropological terms), and of whose existence staff members are unaware. Did Preston and Child get the idea for their book from this webpage? I wonder.

Preston, who once worked at the Museum, may have encountered the nearly hidden exhibit as I did and gotten the idea that way; but I especially wonder when one of the characters in the book asserts, "Most of these New Kingdom tombs had three parts -- an outer, middle, and inner tomb..." [Grand Central Publishing, 2007, p.61]. Now what source on Egypt divides New Kingdom Royal tombs into outer, middle, and inner tomb? Only one that I know of:  this webpage. Unless some sources have picked up this idea, or developed it independently, since this page was first posted in 1997, Preston and Child have used this page for their Egyptian research, adopted the division, and perhaps, as noted, gotten the idea for the forgotten tomb from here.

More power to them. As is common for fictional books, they give no sources for their information on Egyptian history. I certainly would have appreciated a mention, just to draw people's attention to the Friesian site; but I doubt I could elicit an acknowledgement now, since, as is common for successful movies and books, many lawyers are ready with lawsuits for "stealing" ideas. It's not like that in this case, but how are they to know?

Preston and Child do take some poetic liberties. The structure of the tombs described on this page is for Royal tombs alone. The tomb featured in The Book of the Dead is not a Royal tomb and would not have anything like the layout used. Nor were there private tombs in the Valley of the Kings, nor any tombs not cut into the rock. The "tomb of Senef" in the book is not consistent with any of this. Preston and Child do try and provide a cover explanation, that this "Senef" was an uncle of Thutmose IV and served as Regent in his minority. This earned him a tomb in the Valley. There may be a historical precedent for this, that Aye, who probably was something like a Regent for Tutankhamon, may have been granted a tomb in the Valley, which ended up used for Tutankhamon himself. But then, the theory about Aye serves precisely to explain why Tutankhamon's tomb is manifestly not in design a Royal tomb at all. So it provides no support for "Senef" having a tomb of Royal pattern. Such a thing is unheard of.

Some museums do have actual tombs in them. The Metropolitan Museum and the Field Museum in Chicago both have small, private Old Kingdom tombs installed. What surprises me is that no one has reproduced a proper Royal tomb in a museum. Belzoni, after opening the tomb of Seti I, measuring it and taking rubbings of the decorations, reproduced the whole thing back in London. With the sensation that Egyptian exhibits have often produced, it is inexplicable to me that nothing of the sort has been done recently.

In an unrelated area, Preston and Child feature a quote from Aeschylus in Greek in the book [p.531, referenced p.604]:   Whoever provided or processed this quote apparently does not know any Greek and has copied it rather carelessly. Breathings and accents are missing, and the final word transcribes as "ppsnpsn," something that is not a Greek word and, without vowels, could not be a word in most languages (there are Caucasian languages very deficient in vowels, but not this deficient). In fact, what it looks like to me is that the Greek text was scanned and then processed with an optical character recognition program. But it was then not proofread for errors. What do editors do these days to let something like this get by?

The actual Aeschylus quote, from the Agamemnon (part one of the Oresteia triology) goes like this:   The Loeb Classical Library translates it, "Ah me, I am struck down, a deep and deadly blow!" [Aeschylus II, Oresteia, Agamemnon, Libation-Bearers, Eumenides, translated by Alan H. Soammerstein, LCL 146, Harvard, 2008, line 1343, p.164-165]. This is what Agamemnon cries out as he is first stabbed by his wife, Clytaemnestra. In The Book of the Dead, Diogenes Pendergast cries out as he has been stabbed by Constance Greene, whose motives are somewhat better than Clytaemnestra's. If Preston and Child want us to admire their use of Aeschylus, and want us to go see what Diogenes and Agamemnon actually say (it is not translated in their book, or even attributed to Agamemnon), they might have had a bit more care to transcribe the Greek accurately. I notice that they have managed to faithfully reproduce Greek in some of their other books [note].

In the Greek sentence, , ómoi, sounds a bit like "oh my," and pretty much means the same thing. Liddell & Scott supplies "woe's me" and Latin hei mihi [An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, seventh edition, Oxford Clarendon, 1889, 1964, p.905].

The verb is the first person perfect passive of , pléssô, "I strike, smite," which gets us the form , péplêgmai, "I have been struck." I have been struck a , plêgén, "blow, stroke," a feminine noun in the accusative case, obviously from the same root as the verb (as "struck" and "stroke" in English). The full noun phrase, however, is , with "stroke" modified by kairían, an adjective in the accusative feminine, meaning "at the right place" or "in a vital part." But the phrase is finished off with , ésô, "to within, into." So the whole sentence can be, "I have been struck a stroke in a vital part within." This happens rather more decisively with Agamemnon, who is killed, than with Diogenes Pendergast, who is not.

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Dialects of Greek

The Pronunciation of Greek

Tense and Aspect in Greek

Philosophy of Science, Linguistics

Egyptian Royal Tombs of the New Kingdom, Note to Note 3

Well, even when Preston and Child do a better job with their Greek, it still isn't always quite right. Thus, in The Cabinet of Curiosities [2002, Warner Books, 2003], they quote the last words of Socrates in Plato's Phaedo, "Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt?" [pp.607-608]. The Loeb Classical Library Greek text and translation of this is, "Crito, we owe a cock to Aesculapius," , "Pay it and do not neglect it" [118a, Plato: Euthyphro Apology Crito Phaedo Phaedrus, translated by Harold North Fowler, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1914, 1966, pp.402-403]. Both of these translations take some liberties. Both fail to translate éphê, "he said" (this is a quote). Preston and Child say "I owe" when "we owe" is correct. Neither translates álla, "but," at the beginning of the second clause, which otherwise simply says, "Pay and [do] not neglect." It is not a question in Greek, as Preston and Child have it, and words like "the debt" and, in the Loeb version, "it" have been freely supplied from nowhere. Much of this, of course, reflects preferences in English usage (as in leaving out the article with the name of the god) or is a matter of taste, as is the more Latinized version of the name of the god in the Loeb edition.

In their transcription of the Greek, Preston and Child leave out éphê and begin the text with a lower case letter, both of which are reasonable, but then, although they get all the letters correct, in pleasing contrast to The Book of the Dead, their text is otherwise peppered with little mistakes, leaving off the iota subscripts entirely and messing up the breathings and accents. . . I have put all the mistakes in red, whether they involve omissions or substitutions. The breathings generally have been replaced with accents, except for ô, the vocative particle, and opheílomen, "we owe." Otherwise the breathings have been replaced with grave or acute accents, randomly; and the circumflex on Asklêpiô has been replaced with a rough breathing, something that would never occur in such a position.

Thus the editing here is careless and cannot have been done by anyone with any knowledge of Greek. One learns about accents and breathings in the first week of a Greek course. The result is not mutilated the way that the quote from The Book of the Dead is, but it does show a similar lack of concern for getting things right. As Karl Sagan said about a mistake in Star Wars, any "impecunious" graduate student from Classics would have been happy to straighten them out.

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