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Work Hypocephalus of Irethorrou

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Religious and funerary beliefs

Hypocéphale d'Irethorrou

© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
Religious and funerary beliefs

Etienne Marc

This odd disk, covered with strange images and texts, is known as "hypocephalus," a Greek word for "that which is below the head," in reference to the object's funerary function. This unusual religious pillow enabled the deceased to identify himself to the sun god by the flash of light it created.

Protection in the afterlife

This object was placed under the head of the mummified body, hence its name. It was either a separate element or was linked, like a cap, to the cartonnage that formed the mask of the mummy. Made of stuccoed canvas or metal, it "lit a flame under the head," in reference to one of the additional chapters of the Book of the Dead. The incantation on the disk, featuring mysterious forms of the creator god, provided the deceased with protection in the shadows of the afterlife.

The mysterious forms of the god

The hypocephalus is divided into two opposing halves, and each one is separated into several registers. The main half represents the secret form of the sun, depicted with four ram heads that reflect his omnipotence. The two texts on either side are incantations to various aspects of the god in his holy city of Heliopolis. He is also represented as a two-headed man in the upper register.

The unutterable name of the god, illustrated by three hieroglyphs

The other half is divided into three registers. The lower register portrays the nocturnal sun bark and the moon bark, represented as a baboon. The middle register contains a reference to the mysterious name of the god, evoked by three hieroglyphs: a ram, a water lily leaf, and a lion, which constitute three graphic references to the manifestation of the god with the unutterable name. The divine figures on this register allude to the eternal cycle of the sun, with unusual images that translate the complexity and mystery of the divine essence of the creator god.


Etienne M., "HEKA. Magie et envoûtement dans l'Egypte ancienne", catalogue exposition, Musée du Louvre, éd. RMN, Paris 2000.

Technical description

  • Hypocéphale d'Irethorrou

  • bronze

    D. : 14,60 cm.

  • N 3526

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    The Book of the Dead
    Room 319
    Vitrine 6 : Parure et protection de la momie

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