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Work Sarcophagus of Dioscorides, a Greek Egyptian

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Religious and funerary beliefs

Sarcophagus of Dioscorides, a Greek Egyptian

© 2009 Musée du Louvre / Georges Poncet

Egyptian Antiquities
Religious and funerary beliefs

Author(s):
Etienne Marc

Dioscorides was a general under Ptolemy VI, and is well known from a number of Greek papyri. Despite being a member of the Greek élite that governed Egypt at the time, he chose to be buried according to local Egyptian custom. He had his dark stone sarcophagus finely engraved, at appropriate places on the body, with religious inscriptions taken from the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead.

A Greek, buried Egyptian-style

This sarcophagus is remarkable evidence of an Egyptian-style burial deliberately chosen by a Greek. Its owner has now been identified with certainty as the general Dioscorides, who held a high rank at the court of Ptolemy VI Philometor. He is mentioned several times in administrative documents written in Greek on papyrus. His fully carved sarcophagus is a work of remarkable quality. Autobiographical inscriptions are engraved on the sides of the wig and at chest height; his name, transcribed in Egyptian hieroglyphs, used to be read as "Tasikrates" from these inscriptions. The other texts, which are all of a religious nature, include hymns to the funerary gods, and chapters from the Book of the Dead arranged on the sarcophagus over the parts of the body concerned by each formula.

Chapters from the Book of the Dead all over the body

Chapters 18 and 19 of the Book of the Dead (concerning the triumph over one's enemies, as a prelude to receiving the "crown of justification") are inscribed at the head (below the image of a winged scarab) and on the band around the forehead. Chapter 162, "for creating a flame under the head of the deceased", is on the wig. The ba of Dioscorides is depicted on his breast, as a human-headed bird. The ba was a spiritual aspect of the individual, freed from his body after death, which could move between the tomb and the world of the living - provided it could always return to the body, which had therefore to be kept intact. On the lower register, the "four sons of Horus" guard the entrails and their containers (the canopic jars) around the image of a scarab (symbol of the rising sun). The text inscribed here is chapter 89: "to let a soul and its body come together."

A vignette underneath represents Dioscorides sitting opposite funerary deities, and standing to worship Osiris and another god. The inscription here is Chapter 72, for "coming forth by day and opening the tomb" to experience eternal life. This theme recurs at the foot of the sarcophagus, with the image of the god Anubis as a wild dog, and a representation of the tomb itself with the ba of the deceased flying out of it.

Ensuring survival and resurrection

The image inside the lid represents the naked body of the sky goddess Nut, arching over the deceased. Nut was the celestial counterpart of the deity inside the box: the goddess of the West (the Underworld). The deceased was thus placed between two worlds, like the sun on its daily course, which disappeared in the West, passed through the body of Nut during the night, and was born again in the East every morning. This assimilation to the sun guaranteed Dioscorides perpetual rebirth.

Bibliography

J.-L. de Cenival - Le livre pour sortir le jour - Le Livre des Morts des anciens égyptiens, musée d'Aquitaine et éditions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1992, p. 4.

Technical description

  • Sarcophagus of Dioscorides, a Greek Egyptian

    Ptolemaic Period, reign of Ptolemy VI Philometor (1st half of the 2nd century BC)

  • Graywacke weighing over half a ton

    H. 2.01 m; W. 0.68 m; D. 0.52 m

  • Purchase of the Clot Bey collection, 1852

    D 40

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Sarcophagi
    Room 14

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