O you who live upon the earth, greetings! My name is Ni-ankh-Snefru, but since that’s quite the mouthful, everybody calls me Fefi. If you have visited the Museum before, you may have heard of me:
Egyptian, False Door of Ni-ankh-Snefru (Called Fefi) (large detail), circa 2321–2278 B.C.E., white limestone with traces of paint, H. 63 1/2 x W. 44 1/2 x D. 4 1/2 in., Purchased with funds from the North Carolina State Art Society (Robert F. Phifer Bequest) and funds from the bequest of Elsie M. Kramer, the bequest of W. R. Valentiner, and Mrs. William Gage Brady, by exchange
I’m the nobleman who owned the False Door
now displayed in the Egyptian galleries
. While this false door (a sculpture representing a door, which linked this world and the next) was originally the focal point in my tomb chapel and allowed my ka (life force) to magically partake of offerings of bread and beer, I have decided to use its inscriptions to show you how to read a few hieroglyphic signs. The hieroglyphs carved on my door are perfect for that—they are large and legible.
There are few things you should know before I actually start. First of all, the symbols used to write the ancient Egyptian language are called HIEROGLYPHS (not hieroglyphics). Second, the ancient Egyptian writing system uses both phonograms and ideograms, which means that the hieroglyphs represent either a sound or an idea (and sometimes both!). You should also know that Egyptians very seldom wrote vowels, mostly just consonants (a bit like Hebrew and Arabic), and because of that we don’t know exactly how the words were pronounced (although the pronunciation of some words is known from Coptic, the language of Christian Egypt). Egyptologists will add the letter “e” between consonants to facilitate pronunciation. It’s merely a convention. Nobody speaks Egyptian anymore.
If you’re interested in hieroglyphs and the fabulous artifacts in the Egyptian collection, watch for my upcoming posts. I’ll share my knowledge of what Egyptologists know of ancient Egyptian and hieroglyphs.