by Alan H. Gardiner
On the last day of October  Professor Adolf Erman, the pioneer of modern Egyptian philology, attained his seventieth birthday. His pupils in various lands are celebrating the occasion in a special number of the Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache, but as one whose debt to the German scholar is particularly great I desire also to pay him some tribute in my own country. Now it was the intensive study of one particular papyrus containing a series of stories supposed to be told to Cheops, the builder of the Great Pyramid, which contributed more than all else to consolidate the foundations of our present knowledge of the Egyptian language. Professor Erman tells us that his edition of the Westcar Papyrus took him five years; he even devoted a special volume to its grammar. It is astonishing how well the translation which he published in 1890 has stood the test of time; in only a few details have his renderings or readings been questioned, although our progress both in lexicography and in grammar has been gigantic. For this reason any advance in the interpretation of the Westcar Papyrus seems rather an event, seems to register a step forward more significantly than would the novel translation of a passage in any other papyrus. I think to have found the solution of an old crux interpretum in the Westcar Papyrus; this solution I offer for Professor Erman’s consideration in token of much gratitude.
The stories told to Cheops by the three first princes, his sons, related to earlier times; the fourth son, Hardedef, now promises to bring before his father a living man able to perform the most miraculous feats. This was a certain Djedi, who in spite of his hundred and ten years enjoyed an enormous appetite, was able to replace a head that had been cut off, and had the power to compel a lion to walk tamely behind him. In addition to these accomplishments he knew the number of the ìpwt and of the wnt of Thoth, for which Cheops had been long looking, in order to make the like thereof for his own ‘horizon’, that is to say, for his own tomb (7, 5–8). The nature of the ìpwt and of the wnt mentioned in this passage presents a problem. The wnt is, from its determinative, a building or structure of some sort, and the resemblance of its name to the name of the city where Thoth was particularly worshipped, namely Wnw Hermopolis Magna, the modern Ashmunên, would seem to indicate that it was the primeval sanctuary of Thoth, or else his tomb. Professor Erman thought that the resemblance of wnt and Wnw was fortuitous; this is also a possibility, but in any case wnt seems likely to be some special building dedicated to Thoth. The Pharaoh is said to be seeking (), not the wntof Thoth, but theìpwt of the wnt of Thoth, whence it has been concluded, partly on other grounds to be examined later, that the ìpwt were no longer in their original wnt. This again is a possible view, but not a necessary one; since Cheops was anxious to make for his tomb something like the ìpwt of the wnt of Thoth, it is not unnatural that the writer should have said that the king was searching for these, and not for the wnt itself. There is no definite ground, in the passage before us, for asserting that the ìpwt had been removed from their originalwnt. I have no light to throw on the whereabouts of the wnt; it may be the name of the sanctuary of Hermopolis Magna, or it may be the name of an earlier sanctuary of Thoth in the Delta; or again it may be a purely mythical building. But that it was a building consecrated to Thoth, and that the ìpwt were its secret chambers and hence inseparable from it, I hope to be able to prove, or at least to make exceedingly probable.
In 7, 5.7 the word ìpwt appears to be determined with the sign of the bow , but in 9,2 we find not (7,7) nor (7,5) but , with the determinative of the cylinder seal which serves (inter alia) to determine the word htm ‘to seal up’ or ‘close’. On the strength of this determinative Professor Erman concluded that ìpt denoted a closed building or the instrument for closing a building (den Verschluss eines Gebäudes). Now the later passage mentioning ìpwt (9.1–5) reads as follows: ‘Then said king Cheops (namely to Djedi): What of the report, thou knowest the number of the ìpwt of the wnt of Thoth? And Djedi said: So please thee, I know not the number thereof, O Sovereign my lord, but I know the place where … . And His Majesty said: Where is that? And Djedi said: There is a box of flint in a room called ‘Revision’ in Heliopolis; (well,) in that box!’ In the following sentences Djedi declares that it is not he who will bring the box (<fdt) to the Pharaoh, but the eldest of the children who are in the womb of Reddjedet. This leads on to the well-known episode of the birth of the triplets destined to become the founders of the Fifth Dynasty.
Now Professor Erman rendered the words omitted in the above translation as ‘the place where they are’, and it must be admitted that in the absence of any evidence as to the nature of the íìpwt, this seems necessarily the right translation. Hence it was naturally concluded that the ìpwt were small enough to be contained within a box, and no surprise was felt when Mr Crum subsequently produced a Coptic word in close association with other words for ‘doors’, ‘bolts’, ‘keys’ (Zeitschr. f. äg. Spr., XXXVI, 147). Since that time ìpwt has been translated ‘locks’, and it is supposed that Cheops was searching for the locks of the wnt-sanctuary of Thoth, and that Djedi declared these to be in a flint box in the temple of Heliopolis.1
In opposition to this theory it must be noted, first of all, that the rendering ‘locks’ rests wholly on the determinative which has in 9,2 and nowhere else, either in the Westcar Papyrus or out of it; secondly, that the determinative accords ill with the meaning ‘locks’;2 and thirdly, that the determinative found in the passages 7, 5·7 is left without explanation. It is evident to me that the hieratic sign transcribed is really the equivalent of , though the proof of this fact is a little roundabout. Möller cites no early equivalent of , though I think that the obscure sign in Sinuhe R73 and another rather different form in Sinuhe B205 are examples from Twelfth Dynasty and rather later. From the Hyksos period, however, no instances are forthcoming unless it be the two in the Westcar Papyrus here cited. Now we have proof that in hieroglyphic of the New Kingdom and are constantly confounded (Zeitschr. f. äg. Spr., XLV, 127), and in my Notes on the Story of Sinuhe, 152, I have quoted an autobiographical stela of about the reign of Tuthmosis III where seems a pretty obvious quotation of Sinuhe R2–3 ‘He said: I was a follower who followed his lord, a servant of the royal harîm.’ The confusion of and must obviously be due to the similarity of these signs in hieratic, so that we may regard it as an acquired fact that before the reign of Tuthmosis III the hieratic forms of and looked very much alike. Now if the student will consult the Carnarvon Tablet, l.I, dating from at latest the beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty,4 he will there find nst ‘throne’ written with a sign almost identical with ; nst has a similar shape in Sinuhe B207. In view of these coincidences, it is impossible to doubt that and have to be read in Westcar 7, 5.7; in Westcar 9,2 is merely an erroneous substitution for the rarer sign. Our translations of the passages in question have to be remodelled accordingly.
Apart from the Westcar passages and the name ‘Southern Opet’ given to Luxor, the word is almost always used in reference to the royal harîm as a locality; see Zeitschr. f. äg. Spr., XLV, 127. It seems likely that the word signified properly a secret or privy chamber. Applying this rendering in 7,5–8, we find that the delight of Cheops at the prospect of seeing Djedi was due to the fact that the latter ‘knew the number of the secret chambers of the sanctuary of Thoth’, for Cheops himself ‘had spent (much) time in searching for the secret chambers of the sanctuary of Thoth in order to make the like thereof for his horizon’. And indeed, what ambition could have fired Cheops more than to possess in his own pyramid a replica of the mysterious chambers in the hoary sanctuary of the god of Wisdom? The temple of the Great Pyramid is utterly destroyed, but the inner chambers of the pyramid itself remain a marvel down to the present day. So much for the first passage; the second is a little more difficult to interpret. We have seen that the words are most easily rendered ‘(I know) the place where they are’, in which case, as the following question and answer reveal, the ìpwt of the sanctuary of Thoth would be in a flint box in a room of the temple of Heliopolis. This view of the meaning is, of course, incompatible with the sense ‘secret chambers’ which we now attribute to ìpwt. Let us re-examine the passage afresh, attempting a different translation. Cheops asks whether Djedi knows the number of the secret chambers of the sanctuary of Thoth. Djedi replies: So please thee, I know not the number thereof, O Sovereign my lord, but I know the place where it (scil. the number or the knowledge of the number) is. He then proceeds to say that ‘there is a box of flint in a room in Heliopolis called “(the room of) Revision”; in that box (the information will be found).’ According to this mode of understanding the passage, what was in the flint box is not the ìpwt, the secret chambers themselves, but a papyrus recording their number. Objectors to this view can make some capital out of the fact that the text bw nty st im, not bw nty sw im with the masculine pronoun sw which would be expected if the reference were to tnw ‘the number’. But possibly the vague neuter pronoun st ‘it’ may refer, not to the specific word tnw ‘number’, but to the required information generally. I admit there is some difficulty in taking this view, but an argument can now be adduced which makes it practically certain that this is the view to take. Insufficient weight has been attached to the name “Revision” given to the room in which the flint box was to be found. Now sipty is the regular word employed for ‘taking stock’ of the property of a temple, as Professor Erman himself has shown.5 For this reason, surely, the room in question must have been an archive, not a storehouse of any kind. I conclude, therefore, that the word ìpwt means ‘secret chambers’, and that Cheops was seeking for details concerning the secret chambers of the primeval sanctuary of Thoth, in order that he might copy the same when building his pyramid.
This article appeared in the
Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 11, 1925