The Pyramid Texts of UNAS

by Wim van den Dungen


Burial-Chamber l Passage-way l Antechamber l Corridor

introduction l English text l plan of the tomb l commentary


XIV

Serdab

THE HOUSE OF OSIRIS


Sethe's Edition l Translation l Central Plan


In the East of the antechamber, a doorway opens to the undecorated and uninscribed tomb-chapel with three recesses. Egyptologists are not sure about the role of this triple chamber, the so-called "serdab" or "cellar". Two views persist. Either the serdab was used to install the Ka and Ba statues of the king (Spiegel, 1971), or it symbolised the "House of Osiris", the place to perform the rites of death & resurrection of Osiris (Mathieu, 1997).

In the funerary domain, the sitting statue is attested from the Early Dynastic Period onwards. It is the three-dimensional realization of the picture of the Slab-stela, representing the enthroned tomb owner in front of an offering table, to which he is stretching out one hand. The stretched (mostly right) hand is shown resting on the thigh, the left hand often on the breast (but variants in gesture and garment exist). During the IVth Dynasty, the sitting statue is a formal part of the Giza cemetery. It was placed in a closed "serdab" (the Arabic for "cellar"). In this "inner" cult place, the Ka-statue is the "double" of the tomb owner, representing the latter as corporally intact, provided and able to receive provisions (a) by way of the mummy enshrined in the sarcophagus, and (b) through the offerings made to the Ka. A pleased Ka gratifies the Ba, who then visits the place and recognizes his or her own image in the Ka-statue empowered by its Ka. It is also in this context interesting to note how the East Wall of the wordless chamber parallels the sanctuary of the mortuary temple, with its false door on its West Wall. Indeed, the middle recess of this tomb-chapel lies exactly behind the false door of the sanctuary above.

Only in the pyramid of Teti, who reigned after Unas, are the walls of the opening to the serdab not uninscribed. They refer to the resuscitation of Osiris, the re-membering of his body, being clothed and anointed. Mathieu (1997) brought together textual evidence from a wide range of sources to support the thesis the serdab was the "House of Osiris". The fact of it being not inscribed would have given it an additional "potential", playing the role of place of regeneration. To support this hypothesis, a comparison between the distribution of texts in the pyramids of Unas, Teti, Pepi I, Merenre & Pepi II becomes necessary. The West Wall of the burial-chambers of Pepi I, Merenre & Pepi II is inscribed, whereas that of Unas and Teti is not. A significant part of these texts deal with precisely the themes found in the opening between the tomb-chapel and the antechamber in the pyramid of Teti, namely the resuscitation, remembering and reclothing of the king as an awakened Osiris ... This points to an Osirian theme.

Naydler (2005) brings the evidence together by suggesting that after Unas and Teti, the most esoteric (read : Osirian) texts (concerned with initiatory rites of death and rebirth), were inscribed in the areas left uninscribed in their pyramids, namely the West Gable directly above the sarcopagus.

In this context, let us also consider the architectonic connection with the pyramid-complex and its Ka-service. Suspending the funerary interpretation of the pyramid-complex implies that the latter becomes a mortuary temple only after the burial of the king. Before that crucial moment, the pyramid complex may have serviced royal rituals like the Sed festival.

In the mortuary temple, the sem-priests would daily renew the vitality of the Ka of the divine king through (voice) offerings and rituals. This activity could continue for centuries after his burial. At the end of the funerary rituals, the vital connection between the spiritual principles of the divine king (Akh) and his movement up and dawn the ladder (Ba) had been realized. In the ongoing service for the deceased, the priest addressed his Ka by offerings. The "subtle" or vital energy released by these physical things fed this Ka and attracted the Ba into the ritual cycle via the mummy (the consecrated body) and the "sah" (the ritual body).

If the sarcophagus (with the mummy) is seen as the Western "entry"-point of the dying god (Nut swallowing the Sun), then the serdab is the "exit"-point of the Ba joining the royal Ka and be gratified by its plenty. The Eastern end of the tomb joins its Western end (cf. the Oroboros-serpent). The serdab leads to the sanctuary above. Maybe the three statues represented king Unas (in the middle), his Ka (North - cf. Offering Liturgy) and his Ba (South - cf. Duat Voyage) ? In this hypothesis, the serdab joins the burial-chamber, situating the antechamber at the heart of the architecture, separating the horizon from the workings of day (mortuary temple) and night (serdab and sarcophagus-room). The wordless chamber is thus a direct stairway to the Ka-magic of the rituals performed above. This is the way and privilege of the Osirian King, who comes and goes as he pleases.


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initiated : 18 VI 2006 - 14 XII 2010 - version n°2

© Wim van den Dungen
Antwerp, 2006 - 2017.