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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Seated Scribe

The Seated Scribe

Seated Scribe

This sculpture of the Seated Scribe represents a figure of an Egyptian scribe at work over 4,000 years ago. It is a painted limestone statue with the eyes inlaid with rock crystal, magnesite, copper-arsenic alloy, and nipples made of wood. The man is dressed in a white kilt stretched to his knees, and he is holding a half rolled papyrus. His face has realistic features, and his hands, fingers, and fingernails are all carefully modelled. The papyrus scroll is laid out on his lap, and his right hand is in the writing position and is some distant time in the past he was holding a reed-brush, that now missing.

The scribe sits in a cross-legged position that would have been his normal posture for his work. The eyes of the sculpture are modelled in detail using pieces of red-veined white magnesite which were elaborately inlaid with pieces of polished truncated rock crystal. The back side of the crystal was covered with a layer of material which at the same time gives the colour to the iris and serves as an adhesive. Two copper clips hold each eye in their place. His facial expression is alert as he looks to the viewer waiting for the words for him to record.

This sculpture was discovered in 1850 at Saqqara, an ancient burial ground in Egypt, serving as the necropolis for the Ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis. Many pharaohs would have their servants depicted in some form of image or sculpture so that when they went to the afterlife, they would able to use their skills to help them in their second life. This scribe was one of the very few Ancient Egyptians who knew how to read and write and was highly regarded and well-paid. Scribes were used for a multitude of things involving everyday Egyptian life, they would be used as tax collectors and were in charge of organising people for building, mining, trade and war. Scribes were also used to work on projects like pyramid building and helped with communication between the rulers and the Egyptian people.

Scribes in Ancient Egypt

One of the essential professionals in ancient Egypt was a person educated in the arts of writing and arithmetic. Sons of scribes were brought up in the same tradition, sent to school, and inherited their fathers’ positions upon entering the civil service.

Much of what is known about ancient Egypt is due to the activities of its scribes and the officials. Monumental buildings were erected under their supervision, they documented administrative and economic affairs and stories from Egypt and foreign lands survive due to scribes putting them in writing.

Scribes were considered part of the royal court, did not have to pay taxes, and were exempt from the heavy manual labour. The scribes worked with the painters and arts who decorated building works with scenes, images and hieroglyphic text.

Reflections

  • Is this the most well known Egyptian Scribe?
  • Scribes were civil servants who kept records and wrote letters and legal documents. How different is a modern civil servant from an Ancient Egyptian Scribe?

The Seated Scribe

  • Title:               Seated Scribe or Squatting Scribe
  • Date:              2600s BC
  • Material:         Limestone, Quartz, Copper
  • Find site:          Serapeum of Saqqara, 1850
  • Dimensions:   53.7 cm (21.1 in) × 44 cm (17 in) × 35 cm (14 in)
  • Museums:      Louvre

Explore the Louvre

Proverbs by Egyptian Scribes

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For every joy, there is a price to be paid.

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Our senses serve to affirm, not to know.

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Beliefs must be examined in order to discover the original thought.

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The man who knows how to lead one towards what he has known may one day be saved by that very brother.

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Grain must return to the earth, die, and decompose for new growth to begin.

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Always watch and follow nature.

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By knowing one reaches belief. By doing one gains conviction. When you know, dare.

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Listen to your conviction, even if they seem absurd to your reason.

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The best and shortest road towards knowledge of truth is Nature.

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Every man is rich in excuses to safeguard his prejudices, his instincts, and his opinions.

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Love is one thing, knowledge is another.

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Peace is the fruit of activity, not of sleep.

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One foot isn’t enough to walk with.

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Experience will show you, a Master can only point the way.

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Organization is impossible unless those who know the laws of harmony lay the foundation.

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True sages are those who give what they have, without meanness and without secret!

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Know the world in yourself. Never look for yourself in the world, for this would be to project your illusion.

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The only thing that is humiliating is helplessness.

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Understanding develops by degrees.

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People bring about their own undoing through their tongues.

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Judge by cause, not by effect.

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The first thing necessary in teaching is a master; the second is a pupil capable of carrying on the tradition.

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The way of knowledge is narrow.

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True teaching is not an accumulation of knowledge; it is an awaking of consciousness which goes through successive stages.

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An answer if profitable in proportion to the intensity of the quest.

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The only active force that arises out of possession is fear of losing the object of possession.

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For knowledge… you should know that peace is an indispensable condition of getting it.

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In every vital activity it is the path that matters.

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All is within yourself. Know your most inward self and look for what corresponds with it in nature.

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Maat, who links universal to terrestrial, the divine with the human is incomprehensible to the cerebral intelligence.

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Growth in consciousness doesn’t depend on the will of the intellect or its possibilities but on the intensity of the inner urge.

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A man can’t be judge of his neighbor’ intelligence. His own vital experience is never his neighbor’s.

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Every man must act in the rhythm of his time… such is wisdom.

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There grows no wheat where there is no grain.

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Knowledge is not necessarily wisdom.

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Social good is what brings peace to family and society.

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Routine and prejudice distort vision. Each man thinks his own horizon is the limit of the world.

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Man must learn to increase his sense of responsibility and of the fact that everything he does will have its consequences.

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“Our senses serve to affirm, not to know.”
– Egyptian Proverbs

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Photo Credit: 1) Rama [CC BY-SA 3.0 fr (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/fr/deed.en)]

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