Here, from the Temple of Karnak, is one of the very few inscriptions I could read almost all of on the spot; a few minutes with my dictionary filled in the blanks (read this post if you’re confused about how we came to such a pass).
The figure on the throne on the right represents the god Amun-Ra, with an ankh, the symbol of life, in each hand. Even if we didn’t know it was Amun-Ra because he is always depicted wearing this hat, we would be able to figure it out from the inscription, which is in two parts. The first, directly above him, identifies him (reading from top to bottom, left to right): “Amun-Ra, king of the gods.” The second part, in the column on the left, says, “he gives him [the king] all stability and dominion.”
The seated figure on the left represents King Thutmose III. Note that he is King Thutmose, not Pharaoh Thutmose. The word “pharaoh” comes from the Egyptian for “great house,” a metonymic term for the king (similar to “the White House” used as a term for the President of the United States). However, “pharaoh” was not used as a title until the 10th century B.C., five hundred years after the 18th-dynasty Thutmose. (“Pharaoh” did first appear as a noun referring to the king in the 18th dynasty, but not, alas, until the reign of the heretic king Akhenaten, Thutmose III’s great-great-grandson (and father of your favorite boy-king and mine, Tutankhamun).)
The short version: we’re stuck with “king.”
His inscription, top to bottom and right to left, reads “The good god, Lord of the Two Lands, Lord Who Does Things, King of Upper and Lower Egypt Menkheperre Setepenre, Son of [the sun-god] Ra Tuthmose Neferkheperu, given all life like Ra forever.”
“Lord Who Does Things” seems suspiciously vague to me. What things? Things punishable in modern Egypt by prison with hard labor?
Menhkeperre Setepenre is Thutmose’s prenomen, which is a king’s most important official name and usually contains the name of Ra (or Amun, more or less interchangeable with him, sort of like Julia Stiles and Kate Hudson). Menkheperre means “lasting is the manifestation of Ra.” Previous kings had tended to use not Setepenre but Merenre, which means “beloved by Ra.” Thutmose broke with tradition and named himself Setepenre, “chosen by Ra.” This indicates to me that he was the kind of guy who, if he isn’t the center of attention at a dinner party, spends the evening making subtle digs about the furniture.
Thutmose Neferkheperu is the king’s nomen, the name he was given at birth. Thutmose means “Thoth [god of wisdom and writing] is born,” which confuses me; didn’t everybody assume Thoth was born? In which case wouldn’t it be better to be named something like “Thoth admires my triceps”? Neferkheperu means “beautiful of forms,” which I would comment on if I understood what the hell it meant.
(In addition to the prenomen and the nomen, a king usually had three more names; one represented him as the earthly manifestation of the god Horus, one represented his relationship with the vulture goddess of Upper Egypt and the cobra goddess of Lower Egypt, and one expressed a wish that he might be eternal. But the prenomen and the nomen are the ones you tend to find graven in stone.)
Okay, I was going to say that in the next post we’d discuss ideograms, phonograms, and determinatives in the above inscriptions, but as I read over what I have written I feel that it may be arrant enough pedantry for now. Don’t worry; we’ll get into ideograms, phonograms, and determinatives soon. We’ll just have a palate cleanser or two first.
My God, I started this blog with posts about orgies, and now I’m discussing royal titularies and dynastic succession as it relates to language change.
I recognize that this is very, very, very bad.
But I can’t stop myself.