online: 19 december 2004
modified: 17, 18, 19 december 2004 4 january 2005

13 december 2004 afterlife as part of the present

http:// 15:20 Petrie Museum, University College London.

Seated at a table before a wall of glass cabinets containing hundreds or even thousands of stone tablets ('stelae') from ancient Egypt inscribed with words, pictures of human life as it then was. To be sitting here, confronted by these fragments of another culture, is itself miracle* enough...

...One of the tablets before me is labelled

'?Provenance' (= origin unknown) UC 10495
Stela of Shedsuhor, God's Father of Osiris.

Note: when i search the Petrie Museum website for this exhibit the wrong one appears - is the exhibit number incorrect?

A man walking by tells me that Osiris is or was the goddess of life and death (perhaps overseeing the transfer from life to afterlife?)...

...and there is a smell here that i don't recognise - is it a smell of long dead people and things?...

...As i focus on just one or two of these too-many exhibits, these pictures of a life (and a mode of portraying it) long gone, i wonder what would happen if for a moment i accept the Egyptian belief in gods and afterlife...?

...immediately i imagine Osiris and the people she conducts with her crook and in her tall hat (like a bishop's) watching me and all other inquisitors of their remains - and probably disapproving and perhaps seeking vengeance on us - now or when we meet them in afterlife...

or is Osiris a male god? (** )

and why are these inscribed figures always portrayed in side view, looking to the right or left but never facing the artist and the spectator, never advancing into our world or retreating, away from us, into the depths of the scene? it that these Egyptians believed that inscribed figures can only exist in 'flatland', that artworks and words exist as real beings but only within the limits of flat surface or stone body or whatever... and, if that is true, all constructed things comprise a world or worlds separate from life as we live it (in many dimensions)... would it be to co-inhabit with all written or drawn or otherwise composed works? ...for our written words and acts to live in another world with everyone else's?

perhaps i could explore if not answer these fantastic questions in a written meta fiction of some kind?

Two other exhibits that perhaps reveal an unembarrassed acceptance of sexuality in all its forms:

Memphis UC 35953
terracotta figure of a woman lying on a bed being entered by a man (from behind), while suckling a child.

Memphis UC 35954
limestone group showing a woman being entered by two men simultaneously, while caressing an immature individual wearing a youth-lock

*Is the presence of these artefacts of other cultures here and elsewhere in Europe a miracle of devoted collecting, preserving and understanding of what might otherwise be lost - or is it cultural robbery?

May i suggest that cultures from which these exhibits come be invited to take possession of European museums and their contents (as extensions of their embassies) on condition that they continue to employ the learned keepers of exhibits and to keep the museums and contents where they are, open to scholars and tourists? Would that be a just and wise solution to this inherited problem?

**Osiris is male.

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