Papyrus Milbank

Unrolling the Book of the Dead Papyrus of Irtyuru

Book of the Dead Scroll of Irtyuru (200–100 BC) by UnknownInstitute for the Study of Ancient Cultures Museum

Unrolling the scroll

The papyrus of Irtyuru was originally made sometime around the second century BC, perhaps in the region near Memphis in Egypt. Because the papyrus was removed from its original tomb context, it is difficult to be more precise. In 1919 James Henry Breasted saw the papyrus for sale in the shop of an antiquities dealer in Cairo named Nicolas Tano. At the time, the scroll was still rolled up and flexible enough to be unrolled. It was over 33 feet long (1029 cm) and a foot high (30 cm)! When shown the first scenes of the papyrus, Breasted was stunned by its elegant appearance. He acquired funds from Elizabeth Milbank Anderson to purchase the papyrus for the Oriental Institute and designated it "Papyrus Milbank" in her honor. This exhibit will allow you to "unroll" this papyrus in order to explore its fascinating contents.

Book of the Dead Papyrus of Irtyuru (Papyrus Milbank) with Spells 1–15 (Ptolemaic Period, 332-30 BC) by UnknownInstitute for the Study of Ancient Cultures Museum

Papyrus Milbank

In order to preserve the papyrus and ensure its safe handling for storage, study, and display, Papyrus Milbank was sent to Hugo Ibscher in Berlin. Ibscher was a leading expert in the care and conservation of papyri. He carefully cut the papyrus into fifteen sections and mounted them under glass. If left rolled up, the papyrus would get more brittle as it dried out, at which point attempting to unroll the papyrus could result in damage or even destruction. Unrolling the papyrus was commensurate with late nineteenth and early twentieth century practices of scientific inquiry.

Spells of going forth in the day

In the upper right corner, Irtyuru's papyrus begins with a description of the text found on the papyrus, referring to the "spells of going forth in the day." This is often referred to as the "title" of the Book of the Dead. However, ancient Egyptians applied this description to many compositions and it often varied from manuscript to manuscript. The composite nature of the text is indicated in the description by the plural noun "spells"—demonstrating that the Book of the Dead was not a singular composition in the Egyptian mind. Irtyuru's papyrus starts: "Beginning of the spells of going forth in the day, of raising the spirits in the necropolis, which are recited on the day of burial (and when) entering after going forth, by Osiris Irtyuru, justified."

The funeral procession

The first illustration in Irtyuru's papyrus shows elements of a funeral procession, including his coffin between Isis and Nephthys being dragged on a boat behind a procession of priests.

Book of the Dead Papyrus of Irtyuru (Papyrus Milbank) (Ptolemaic Period, 332-30 BC)Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures Museum

Book of the Dead spell 15: Hymns to the sun

The first section of Irtyuru's papyrus contains what nineteenth century scholars designated as spells 1-14 and the beginning of spell 15. You can see that the long initial illustration continues above all of these spells and onto the second sheet. The second section of the papyrus ends with an illustration for spell 15, showing two goddesses reaching out to the rays of the sun and the sun god rising in the east while being adored by baboons. Spell 15 consists of hymns to the sun. Even though the illustration for spell 15 comes at the end of this section, the text moves from spell 15 to spell 17.

Book of the Dead spell 17: The theology of creation

Sheet 3 continues with Spell 17, a theological treatise about the nature of creation and the visible world. Passages written in red here mark exegesis—explanatory glosses on the religious meaning of the text. The phrases in red say "What does it mean?" and are followed by further elaborations. For example, one famous passage reads: "Yesterday is mine. I know tomorrow. What does it mean? Yesterday is Osiris; Tomorrow is Re."

Book of the Dead Papyrus of Irtyuru (Papyrus Milbank) with Spell 18–30 and 64 (Ptolemaic Period, 332-30 BC) by UnknownInstitute for the Study of Ancient Cultures Museum

Justification spells

Moving from the scenes of the funeral and the previous theological treatise, sheet 4 of Irtyuru's papyrus begins spells justifying the righteousness of the deceased before divine tribunals (Spells 18—19). You can see some of these tribunals as groups of gods in the illustrations on the right side of this sheet. In these spells, Irtyuru calls out to Thoth to justify him against any detractors before the gods.

Book of the Dead Papyrus of Irtyuru (Papyrus Milbank) (Ptolemaic Period, 332-30 BC)Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures Museum

Protection spells

Protection from venomous, aggressive, or noxious creatures was important to the ancient Egyptians in both daily life and in the afterlife. The fifth section of Irtyuru's papyrus is inscribed with a collection of spells (33–42) meant to ward off dangerous forces. In the illustrations, you can see Irtyuru symbolically dispatching these forces using a harpoon. In the final illustration, he thrusts his lance into a hieroglyph for the word "slaughter," thereby magically repelling any generic harm that may come his way.

Book of the Dead Papyrus Irtyuru (Papyrus Milbank) (Ptolemaic Period, 332-30 BC)Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures Museum

Transformation spells

Repelling dangers required power. Irtyuru hoped to acquire divine powers in the sixth section of his papyrus, which was inscribed with transformation spells (74–88). The spells offered the promise of transforming into various entities and their associated powers, such as divine falcons, the phoenix of creation, and gods such as Sobek, the crocodile god, and Ptah, who creates through thought and speech. The illustrations above the spells depicts the forms into which the spell allowed Irtyuru to transform.

Going out in the day

The illustrations here show Irtyuru's soul, what the Egyptians called the "ba," as a human-headed bird. Bird imagery helped to symbolize the soul's ability for free movement. These spells (89, 91–92) are important for how ancient Egyptians conceptualized afterlife existence. The soul could leave the tomb during the day, join with the sun god across the sky, and return to the tomb at night to unite with the corpse. The mummified body was each person's Osirian form. "Going out in the day" in the so-called title of the Book of the Dead is a reference to the soul's journey out of the tomb at dawn.

Book of the Dead Papyrus of Irtyuru (Papyrus Milbank) (Ptolemaic Period, 332-30 BC)Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures Museum

Toward heaven

With the ability to manifest in divine forms and leave the tomb, Irtyuru hoped to join the gods in their heavenly abode. The following spells, shown on sheet 6, ensure Irtyuru's company among the gods and their provisions through offerings. Sheet 6 of his papyrus ends with spells 108 and 109, spells for knowing the gods of the western and eastern horizons respectively. As part of the sun's cycle of rising and setting, these deities ushered and protected the sun god and his entourage as they passed in and out of the underworld. With these spells, Irtyuru hoped to be an illuminated spirit traveling in the solar bark.

Book of the Dead Papyrus of Irtyuru (Papyrus Milbank) (Ptolemaic Period, 332-30 BC)Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures Museum

Field of reeds

Here you see Irtyuru in the "field of reeds," an afterlife location filled with agricultural fields where food offerings are grown for the gods and spirits who have passed the judgement. As you can see, in the field of reeds the grain grows abnormally high and cool breezes allow Irtyuru to sail the canals of the Nile. This image and associated hieroglyphic texts are often cited to show how the Egyptians believed that the afterlife was a continuation of life on earth. However, the field of reeds is only one of many afterlife locations and the ancient conception of the next world was multifaceted with various ways in which continued existence manifested itself.

Book of the Dead Papyrus of Irtyuru (Papyrus Milbank) with Spell 125 (Ptolemaic Period, 332-30 BC) by UnknownInstitute for the Study of Ancient Cultures Museum

Negative confession

In order to reach a blessed state in the afterlife, Irtyuru had to go through a judgement before Osiris. The texts and images associated with this tribunal was designated as Book of the Dead spell 125 by nineteenth century scholars. The spell begins, as show here, with a so-called negative confession. A divine figure with a feather on their head stand atop the columns for the confessional. Underneath, Irtyuru calls out to each deity by name, and in the bottom column, he states that he has not committed some kind of sin. For example,"O far-strider who came forth from Heliopolis, I have not committed sins."

Book of the Dead Papyrus of Irtyuru (Papyrus Milbank) (Ptolemaic Period, 332-30 BC)Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures Museum

The judgment

The culmination of Irtyuru's transition to a blessed afterlife was the judgment before Osiris and the seated gods of the tribunal. The tenth sheet of his papyrus depicts the judgment as a dramatic illustration for spell 125. Maat, the goddess of righteousness, leads Irtyuru, who raises his hands, into the hall of Osiris. Irtyuru's heart, the seat of his memories, is weighed on a balance against a feather symbolizing righteousness. The gods Horus and Anubis help balance the scales while Thoth records the judgment. Such scenes always depicted a positive outcome, helping to magically ensure the successful rejuvenation in the next world.

Book of the Dead Papyrus Irtyuru (Papyrus Milbank) (Ptolemaic Period, 332-30 BC)Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures Museum

Entering the next world

Having successfully passed the judgment, Irtyuru joined the company of the gods and traveled with them. Several spells on sheet 11 detail these movements. Spell 129, whose illustration shows a phoenix in a boat, ends by expressing Irtyuru's freedom of movement: "This spell which is in writing: How pure is a man with it! Allowing him to go forth to any place he desires."

Book of the Dead Papyrus of Irtyuru (Papyrus Milbank) (Ptolemaic Period, 332-30 BC)Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures Museum

Joining the gods

Irtyuru joined the entourage of the sun god. Spells at the beginning of sheet 12 were focused on the solar boat in which this retinue traveled the sky and underworld. The dangers of the underworld await, the gates of which begin at the end of this sheet, where the doorways and guardians stand at the ready.

Book of the Dead Papyrus of Irtyuru (Papyrus Milbank) with spells 145–148 (Ptolemaic Period, 332-30 BC) by UnknownInstitute for the Study of Ancient Cultures Museum

Descent into the netherworld

The spells on the thirteenth sheet of Iryturu's papyrus (spells 145–148) provided him with the necessary esoteric knowledge to pass through the gates of the netherworld. Illustrations for spell 145, the spell for the gateways to the field of reeds (shown in spell 110 earlier in the papyrus), show each portal with an associated guardian who kept the uninitiated out of the sacred space of the solar cycle. Irtyuru, however, is one of the initiated, and he is shown worshiping Osiris-Sokar in the illustration for spell 148, which the text describes as a "book for venerating the blessed spirit before Re."

Book of the Dead Papyrus of Irtyuru (Papyrus Milbank) with Spells 148–154 (Ptolemaic Period, 332-30 BC) by UnknownInstitute for the Study of Ancient Cultures Museum

Traversing the realms

The second half of the illustration for spell 148 showed seven celestial cows with their associated bull, forming a type of ogdoad (or group of eight). Personification of four steering oars were associated with the cardinal directions: eastern, western, northern, and southern sections of the sky. As Irtyuru journeyed with the sun, he would visit mystical landscapes beyond the earthly realm. Such landscapes are symbolized and numbered in spell 149, where the illustrations show the guardian figures holding knives associated with each landscape.

Book of the Dead Papyrus of Irtyuru (Papyrus Milbank) with Spell 162 (Ptolemaic Period, 332-30 BC) by UnknownInstitute for the Study of Ancient Cultures Museum

Rejuvenation

The last sheet of Irtyuru's papyrus begins with vignettes associated with mummification, including images of protective amulets. Spell 161, a spell for "opening the sky" followed, illustrated by four images of Thoth holding the four supports of heaven. This spell focuses on the sun god Re's victory over death and emergence into the sky. This transition is described in the phrase "as Re live, the turtle dies" written in hieroglyphs between the figures of Thoth. Finally, spell 162, illustrated with the golden cow of heaven, rejuvenated Irtyuru by filling him with warmth. The final rubric instructs that the spell be "placed at the throat of the blessed." With the spells on this papyrus, Irtyuru intended to be reborn into an eternal existence with the gods.

Credits: Story

Papyrus Milbank: The Book of the Dead of Irtyuru, an online exhibit produced for Google Arts & Culture, was curated, designed, and arranged by Foy Scalf with photographs by Bryce Lowry and objects from the collection of the Oriental Institute Museum.

This online exhibit is a satellite exhibit associated with the special exhibition Book of the Dead: Becoming God in Ancient Egypt, October 3rd, 2017 – March 31st, 2018. The associated catalog may be viewed and downloaded online from the Oriental Institute website:

https://oi.uchicago.edu/research/publications/oimp/oimp-39-book-dead

A digital version of the Book of the Dead: Becoming God in Ancient Egypt exhibit is available on the Oriental Institute's Google Arts & Culture page.

https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/curation/u/0/edit/kgLyHi8MwqOxJQ?partnerId=32937375&fromCms#

© Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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