Ancient Egypt - the House of Life
List of sources in the principal modern study of the House of Life (Gardiner
- statue of chief physician Wedjahorresnet, now in the Gregorian Egyptian
Museum, the Vatican, part of the description of the life of Wedjahorresnet:
'His Majesty King Darius commanded me to return to Egypt ... to establish
the bureau of the House of Life [for the exercise of] healing, after being
ruined; the foreigners brought me from land to land and delivered me back
to Egypt as the Lord of the Two Lands had commanded. I did as His Majesty
had commanded me; I founded them with all their men of books, I provided them
with all their personnel consisting of nobles, not a poor man's son among
them. I placed them in the charge of every learned man, so that they [might
teach?] all their work. His Majesty commanded that they be given all good
things so that they might carry out all their work. I supplied them with all
their powers, with all their requirements which are in writing as they were
previously. His Majesty did this because he knows all the power of this art
to cause anyone sick to live, to establish the names of all gods in their
temples and in their offerings and the conduct of their festivals forever.'
- two royal decrees of Pepy II
found at Koptos, exempting the staff of
the temple of Min from supplying the 'requirements
of the House of Life'
- a block from a temple or chapel of king Sankhkara
Mentuhotep III at Tod bears the hieroglyphic inscription 'Khnum
foremost of the House of Life'
- the stela of the treasurer Mentuhotep from Abydos
(Cairo CG 20539, reign of Senusret
I) includes among his titles the phrase 'keeper of secrets of the House
- in the tomb-chapel of Iha, overseer of the private rooms of the king, at
Beni Hasan, the titles of Iha include the phrases 'overseer of writing in
the House of Life, a man to whom all sacred matters are revealed'
- a man named Keku is identified as 'scribe of the House of Life', alongside
a chief physician called Ameny, on a late Middle Kingdom stela from Abydos
(Cairo CG 20023)
- uncertain - a title read by some as 'captain of the House of Life', on a
late Middle Kingdom stela from Abydos (Leiden
no.49, V 67); the correct reading may be 'captain of the Treasury'
- hieroglyphic inscription 'House of Life' stamped onto mud bricks of a building
in the city of king Akhenaten at
Amarna (two rooms, Q 42.19 and 20 on the
excavation plan) 400 metres south of the great temple, 100 metres east of
the small Aten temple and the House of the King, in the central city
- among the hieroglyphic inscriptions in the tomb-chapel of Amenwahsu, scribe
of god's books in the Amun domain, at Thebes
(Theban Tomb 111, Dynasty 19), the title 'scribe of the House of Life' is
given once to Amenwahsu himself; he is also called 'one who outlines the inscriptions
of gods and goddesses in the House of Life'
- in the Theban tomb-chapel of Amenwahsu (see no. 9), the title 'scribe of
the House of Life' is given to two of his sons, Didia and Khamipet; on a stela
now in Tubingen, Khamipet is identified as 'scribe of god's books of the Lord
of the Two Lands and as 'one who outlines the inscriptions of all gods in
the House of Life' and 'god's father (a category of priest) of Ra-Atum in
the House of Life'
- title 'scribe of the House of Life' held by a man named Yuty, principal
individual in the hieroglyphic inscriptions on a stela now in Turin (Egyptian
- uncertain - a title possibly to be read 'deputy of the House of Life' but
more probably 'deputy of the Treasury', in a hieroglyphic rock inscription
on the island of Sehel (copied by de
Morgan 1894: 95 no.150bis)
- in the hieratic documents from the trial following a conspiracy against
king Ramesses III, two of the condemned
hold the title 'scribe of the House of Life'
- hieroglyphic inscription of Ramesses
IV at Abydos, recording the king investigating the records (?) 'of Thoth
who is in the House of Life; I have not left unseen any of them all, in order
to search out both great and small among the gods and goddesses, and I have
found ... the entire Group of Gods, and all your forms are more mysterious
than theirs' ('your' addressing the god of the dead, Osiris, principal god
- earlier of two hieroglyphic rock inscriptions of Ramesses
IV in Wadi Hammamat, the desert road from the Nile Valley to the Red Sea
at the latitude of Koptos; the king is
described as 'excellent of understanding like Thoth, he has entered the inscriptions
like the creator of them, he has seen the writings of the House of Life'
- later of two hieroglyphic rock inscriptions of Ramesses
IV in Wadi Hammamat (see no.15), including the following passage 'His
Majesty charged the scribe of the House of Life Ramesses-ashahebu, the scribe
of Pharaoh Hori, the priest of the temple of Min, Horus and Isis in Koptos
Usermaatranakht, to seek out the missions of the Place of Truth (the tomb
of the king, and the community of its craftsmen) in the mountain of bekhen-stone,
after they had been found to be exceedingly beautiful, being great monuments
- titles and name 'scribe of god's books in the House of Life, king's intimate
of the Lord of the Two Lands, overseer of works in the temple of Amun on the
west of Thebes, Ramessesnakht', in a hieroglyphic rock inscription on the island
of Sehel (copied by J de Morgan 1894:
93 no.130), Ramesside Period
- title 'scribe of the House of Life of the Lord of the Two Lands' held by
a man named Parenen, son of the principal individual in the hieroglyphic inscriptions
on a New Kingdom (about 1550-1069 BC) stela now in Vienna (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Egyptian Department,
stela 51); the other titles of Parenen are 'scribe of god's books of the Lord
of the Two Lands', 'festival-leader of Osiris', and 'first stablemaster, protector
of the one who is in the palace'
- title 'scribe of the House of Life' held by two men, named Amenwah and Iny,
in the hieroglyphic inscriptions on a New Kingdom stela now in Bologna (Civic
Museum, Egyptian Department, no.1942)
- damaged and uncertain - reference on a New Kingdom statue Cairo CG Statuen
- damaged and uncertain - reference in a New Kingdom inscription Leiden D
- in the hieratic reference compendium known in Egyptology as the Onomasticon
of Amenemipet, the man to whom the composition is ascribed bears the title
'scribe of god's books in the House of Life, skilled in his office'; in the
section of the compendium referring to titles, this title occurs between the
king's scribe and lector-priest who acts as Horus, and the series of priestly
titles; Ramesside Period or Dynasty 21
- in a hieratic incantation for good health, the god Horus who is in Shenut
is called 'lord of words, great one in the House of Life, founder in the House
of Books' (Papyrus Leiden 347, column 3, line 2), Ramesside Period
- a section in a series of hieratic incantations for good health bears the
title 'first formula of all water charms, of which the supervisors said -
do not reveal it to others, a true secret of the House of Life' (Papyrus Harris
= British Museum ESA 10042, column 6, line 10), Ramesside Period
- hieroglyphic inscription beside an image of the amulet of Isis in a shrine
'I am Isis the great, mother of the god, lady of the House of Life, amid the
Good House (the embalming tent)', on a coffin in Brussels, no.290, Dynasty
- 'contingent of the House of Life', in a hieroglyphic inscription on the
gateway of king Osorkon II at Bubastis, giving scenes of the sed,
the main kingship festival (Naville, Festival Hall, pl.8)
- hieroglyphic inscription on a statue of the chief physician Peftjauawyneit
(now Louver A93), recording the restoration of the Osiris temple at Abydos
under king Wahibra (Apries), including the following passage: 'I renewed the
House of Life after ruin, I established the sustenance of power and of things
of Osiris, I put all its regulations into order'
- demotic petition from year 9 of Darius I, on a papyrus now in Manchester
(Papyrus Rylands IX), in which a man named Petiese recalled how his great-greatgrandfather
in the reign of Psamtek I had imported a stone stela from Aswan to Teudjoi
to be inscribed with his good deeds, for which he 'caused the granite-workers,
the engravers, the scribes of the House of Life, and the draughtsmen to be
fetched' (column 7, line 16)
- in the same petition as no.28, Petiese recalls that his grandfather was
persuaded by his colleagues to accompany king Psamtek
II to Syria with the words 'you are a scribe of the House of Life, so
there is nothing they can ask you for which there is not a suitable answer'
(in other words, which you cannot answer) (column 14, line 21)
- hieroglyphic inscription on a magnificent quartzite statue of the Late Period,
now Louvre A94, identifying the man depicted Nakhthorheb as 'director of the
masters of heka (words of power) in the House of Life'; his main title is
- in a Late Period or Ptolemaic Period hieroglyphic rock inscription on the
island of Sehel, known as the Famine Stela, the narrative relates an episode
set in the court of king Djoser, in which his principal official Imhotep seeks
an explanation for seven years of famine, and asks 'that I may enter the Mansion
of Life, and unroll the 'Souls of Ra' (sacred books) and lead my action according
to them': here in archaising style, 'House of Life' is replaced by the Old
Kingdom institution 'Mansion of Life', though that seems to have been connected
with food supply management, and not to be related to the House of Life -
by the time of this inscription, there was no longer an administrative branch
called 'Mansion of Life', and therefore a contemporary reader would have identified
the institution here readily as the House of Life
- in a Late Period or Ptolemaic Period hieroglyphic inscription on a stela,
the narrative relates an episode set in the reign of king Ramesses
II, concerning a foreign princess called Bentresh (so-called 'Bentresh
Stela'); when princess Bentresh falls ill, and an envoy comes from her country
to seek help, Ramesses summons the 'personnel of the House of Life and the officials
of the Residence'
- a hieratic papyrus from Abydos, now in the British Museum (ESA 10051+10090),
records rituals, including one book to be written down on the first month
of Flood, day 20, with the following instructions: 'you must not divulge it;
whoever divulges it is to die of a sudden death and instant severing; you
must keep far away from it; by it one lives or dies. It is to be read (only)
by a scribe of the institution whose name is in the House of Life'. Column
6, line 5 to Column 7, line 7 give an elaborate description of the House of
Life to be made in Abydos, illustrated by a diagram.
- a Ptolemaic Period funerary composition known from numerous sources, and
perhaps with the ancient name 'Book of Traversing Eternity', includes the
passage 'your heka (words of power) are effective around the House of Books;
your provisions come into existence from the House of Life'
- a version of the passage cited in no.34 on a damaged hieroglyphic stela
found at Hawara reads '.. of the chamber
of books, you are transfigured from the House of Life, your name is pronounced
by the personnel of the House of Life in the reading of its transfigurations'
(the word sakhu 'transfigurations' refers to funerary compositions, ritual
writings for immortalising a person); on the same stela, an Appeal to the
Living (to recite funerary formulae for the dead person) includes the invocation
to 'all [scribes?] of the House of Life'
- a hieratic papyrus of the Late Dynastic Period to early Ptolemaic Period
records the ritual for overthrowing Aapep, embodiment of evil, and includes
the note 'this is a secret book in the House of Life, not to be seen by any
eye, the secret book of the Overthrow of Aapep' (Papyrus Bremner Rhind column
29, line 16)
- hieroglyphic inscription on a stela dated after year 21 of Ptolemy IV, from
Mendes, recording the identification of a new sacred ram of the creator-god
as worshipped at Mendes; 'His Majesty sent to the temples of Upper and Lower
Egypt to fetch the [personnel] of the House of Life, being the pure-priests
of the provinces and the priests of [...], and of the learned men who are
in their cities; when the personnel of the House of Life saw it (= the ram),
they recognised its markings according to the festival-book'
- Ptolemaic Period bilingual decrees in Greek and Egyptian tend to open with
a formulaic phrase as follows: 'on this day a decree: the temple overseers
and priests, the priests who enter into the holy place to adorn the gods with
their clothing, together with the scribes of god's books and the personnel
of the House of Life and the other pure-priests who come from the two sacred
halves of Upper and Lower Egypt'; in demotic the 'personnel of the House of
Life' is rendered 'scribes of the House of Life', and in Greek the word is
hierogrammateis 'sacred writing scribes'
- on line 34 of the Decree of Canopus, a bilingual decree from the reign of
Ptolemy III, orders for the dead
princess Berenice the singing on specific days 'of hymns outlined by the personnel
of the House of Life, given to the overseer of instruction of the singers,
and a copy written on a roll (i.e. book) of the House of Life'; the Greek
version does not mention the House of Life, and simply uses instead the word
- on line 32 of the Decree of Canopus (see no.39), the crown placed on the
statue of the dead princess Berenice comprises symbols that give a cryptographic
rendering of her name 'in its forms in the writings of the House of Life'
- on line 37 of the Decree of Canopus (see no.39), it is specified that the
words of the decree are to be 'carved on a block of stone or metal in writing
of the House of Life, writing of letters, writing of the Far Islands' i.e.
in hieroglyphic script, in demotic script, and in the script of the Aegean
- Greek; other bilingual decrees use the term 'writing of god's words' for
- a hieroglyphic inscription on a stela from Armant records that the Buchis
bull, sacred bull of the local god Mont, born in year 19 of king Ptolemy VI,
was installed in year 24 at Thebes in the presence of the god Amenipet and
of the king himself, who had travelled for this ceremony 'with his entourage,
the priests, the pure-priests, the personnel of the House of Life, and all
the multitude of the entire <land>'
- the hieroglyphic inscriptions on a Ptolemaic Period stela (Louvre C 232)
record that it was dedicated by a man called Imhotep, with the titles king's
scribe, priest of Mehyt-amid-Abydos, and 'priest of Thoth amid the House of
Life'; the Appeal to the Living (to recite funerary formulae for the dead
person) begins 'Every pure-priest who enters god's words, who is skilled in
writing, and enlightened in the House of Life, who finds the [inscriptions?]
of the gods, who enters the documents of the House of Books, who interprets
the mysteries of the Souls of Ra (= sacred books), who is skilled in the work
of the ancestors, who opens the heart to what is on the wall, who carves chapels
and interprets mysteries when coming to Rosetau (= the cemetery), everyone
who enters the sacred land'
- the hieroglyphic inscriptions on a Ptolemaic Period stela (now in Vienna)
record that it was dedicated by the same Imhotep, with the same title 'priest
of Thoth amid the House of Life', as in no.43
- the hieroglyphic inscriptions on a Ptolemaic Period stela from Akhmim (Cairo
CG 22070) record the owner as a man named Ahmose, with the titles 'robing-priest,
who is in the chamber, hesek-priest, dancer, chief lector of Min, shaven-priest,
overseer of the desert(-cemetery), overseer of pure-priests of Sekhmet, priest
of Thoth amid the House of Life'
- the hieroglyphic inscriptions on a Ptolemaic Period stela from Akhmim (Cairo
CG 22017) record the owner as a man named Horwennefer, with titles including
'keeper of secrets of god's words', 'learned in every chest of the House of
Life which is in the Min temple', and 'overseer if teaching of the children
of priests, pure-priests and those with entry', and 'scribe of god's books'
- the hieroglyphic inscriptions on a Ptolemaic Period stela from Akhmim (Florence
Archaeological Museum, Egyptian Department, no.7641) record the owner as a
man named Pahat, with the titles 'robing-priest, scribe of the House of Life'
- the hieroglyphic inscriptions on a Ptolemaic Period stela (British Museum
ESA 808) record the owner as a man named Wennefer with the titles 'hesek-priest,
who is in the chamber, king's scribe of the House of Life'
- the hieroglyphic inscriptions on a Ptolemaic Period stela (formerly in Hartwell
House) record the owner as a woman whose father Padiiset held titles including
'servant of the great god of the House of Life (= Thoth?)', ' overseer of
pure-priests of Sekhmet', 'scribe of god's books'
- a hieroglyphic inscription on one of the walls of the Ptolemaic temple of
Horus at Edfu records that a procession 'proceeds to the hall of the House
of Life', where 'every ceremony of the House of Life is performed' and 'the
interpretation of the naming is made in evening time' (Chassinat, Edfou V,
135, 44-45); for another part of the festival, there is similarly a 'procession
to the hall of the House of Life, and the mission is carried out by the priest'
- the hieroglyphic inscriptions in the chamber identified as the House of
Books of the Ptolemaic Period Edfu temple include one reference to Osiris
as lord of Abydos and 'he who initiated the House of Life in the work of its
- in one hieroglyphic inscription in the Ptolemaic Period Edfu temple, the
goddess Seshat ('Writing') is called 'lady of plans, lady of writings, foremost
of the House of Life'; in the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak the same goddess is
said to be 'amid the House of Life'
- the god Khnum is said
to be 'foremost of the House of Life' in hieroglyphic inscriptions in Edfu
and Esna temples, Ptolemaic and Roman Periods
- seven builder-gods are said to be 'foremost of the House of Life' in hieroglyphic
inscriptions in Edfu temple, Ptolemaic Period, in one instance with the words
'we equip the House of Life with sacred [things?]'
- a demotic literary tale, the First Tale of Setne Khamwase, records that
one main character in the story had 'no pursuit on earth except walking on
the cemetery hill of Memphis, reading the writings that were in the tombs
of the Pharaohs and on the stelae of (= written by) the scribes of the House
- in a later part of the Tale cited in no.55, Setne goes to the 'cemetery
hill of Koptos with the priests of Isis and the high-priest of Isis; they
spent three days and three nights searching in all the tombs that were on
the cemetery hill of Koptos, turning over the stelae of the scribes of the
House of Life, and reading the writings that were upon them'
- in the First Tale of Setne cited in no.55, at the birth of the son of Setne
it is said that ' he was listed in a document of the House of Life' (compare
no.33 for name-lists in the House of Life
- a demotic literary tale, the Second Tale of Setne Khamwase, records that
'the child Siosiri began to learn words of power (?) with the scribes of the
House of Life in [the temple of Ptah?]'
- in the Second Tale of Setne cited in no.58, 'scribes of the House of Life'
are accused of sorcery
- in the Bohairic Coptic version of the episode in the Book of Genesis, in
the Bible, chapter 41, 8, 24, the title used for the men unable to interpret
the dream of Pharaoh is sphransh, which Battiscombe Gunn considered an abbreviated
late form of the old title sesh-per-ankh 'scribe of the House of Life'
Additional examples in Gardiner
Hieratic papyrus Cairo CG 58027, copy of a ritual to protect Pharaoh in the
night: column 3, line 14 the book 'must not be seen by any eye except that of
the king himself, the chief lector, or the keeper of antyu-gum in the House
of Life'; column 4, line 1 reference to 'the great and secret ointment of the
House of Life'
Ptolemaic Period hieroglyphic inscription on a block from the temple of Mont
at Tod, epithet of the god Khnum
'lord of the House of Life, who is amid Esna'
Dynasty 21 coffins from the second cache of burials at Deir el-Bahri, examples
of Isis and Nephthys as 'mistress of the House of Life'
Ptolemaic Period hieroglyphic inscription at the temple of Horus of Edfu, attributing
the decoration of the temple walls to the 'great artists of the House of Life'
(Chassinat, Edfou VII, 12, 2)
Demotic ostraca in Berlin: no.12980, from Elephantine, mention of a 'scribe
of the House of Life'; no.6540 reference to a House of Life
Ptolemaic Period stela in the British Museum: the title written in hieroglyphs
'protector of the place of the living Apis-bull' is rendered in demotic 'scribe
of the House of Life'
Two instances of the title 'scribe of the House of Life' in Griffith, Demotic
Graffiti of the Dodecaschoenus, I, 304
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