I recently viewed an exhibit of artifacts from ancient Egypt. This week I'll share some of the words I found there.
ankh – a figure resembling a cross, with a loop or ring forming a handle instead of the upper arm. used in ancient Egyptian art as a symbol of life.
– Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code
caduceus (pl. caducei) – a herald's wand, often with serpents twined around it (used as a symbol of the medical profession)
sistrum – an ancient percussion instrument (still used in Nubia) of metal rods or loops attached to a metal frame.
The entry on the caduceus reminded me of an article --Deadly Tiny and Ready For Its Close-up, August 25, 2004, Corante Tech News:
" The quivering strings of flesh -- now known as guinea worms -- may have been the fiery serpents that the Bible describes plaguing the Israelites in the desert. They certainly plagued much of Asia and Africa. They couldn't be yanked out at one go, since they would snap in two and the remnant inside the body would die and cause a fatal infection. The universal cure for guinea worm was to rest for a week, slowly winding the worm turn by turn onto a stick to keep it alive until it had crawled free. Someone figured out this cure, someone forgotten now for perhaps thousands of years. But it may be that that person's invention was remembered in the symbol of medicine, known as the caduceus: two serpents wound around a staff."
By the way -- we must remember to distinguish the caduceus from the staff of Asclepius. See, for example:
Years ago I had the opportunity to write a piece about the caduceus.
The Caduceus and the Aesculapian Staff (symbol of the medical profession).
The single serpent of the Aesculapian wand is not to be confused with the two serpents comprising the caduceus, or ‘Herald’s wand’, used by Hercules or Hermes (Mercury) to open doors between the Gods and men.
It appears that the snake symbolised many qualities.
The President of the Royal College of Physicians of London carries a silver caduceus on ceremonial occasions. It was given, as part of the Presidential insignia, to the College,3,4 together with the Statutes and the crimson velvet edged with gold cushion, by John Caius, (1510-1573), President in 1555, 1562, and 1571 The College caduceus bears a head adorned with the College arms supported by four serpents, reputed to have magical powers of rejuvenation and healing because they shed and regrew their skin every year. In John Caius’s own coat of arms are two serpents, referred to in the College of Arms, one representing wisdom, the other grace. A caduceus is to be found in Caius College, Cambridge where it supports scholarship.
Historically, the caduceus was carried for the President by a college servant, the Bedell, called the caduceator in the College Statutes. The caduceator was “to be an honest man, inaccessible to bribery.” Today the Bedell carries the Mace, a symbol of authority and formally a weapon of war, while the President carries the caduceus at all formal occasions to
“ the authority of the President should be exercised with gentleness and mercy, in contrast to the ways those who were accustomed to rule at one time who used an iron staff. But the snakes, symbols of prudence, teach that one should rule and act with prudence.”
scarab – a large dung beetle, sacred in ancient Egypt; also, an ancient Egyptian gem in the form of a scarab beetle
– We're Deer. We're Queer. Get Used to It. Plenty Magazine, Oct. 25, 2006
At least one museum refers to its volunteers, in the Egyptian section, as its "shabtis".
– Hiroshi Obayashi, Death and Afterlife: Perspectives of World Religions
faience – glazed ceramic ware
[a toponym: originally denoting pottery made at Faenza, Italy (French name Faïence)]
– Anita Diamant, The Red Tent
Unlike the tin-glazed earthenware of the European Middle Ages and Renaissance, Egyptian faience is not clay but a ceramic consisting almost entirely of quartz … . Egypt produced small-scale masterpieces of faience from about 3500 B.C. until the first century A.D. … The copper-based blues and greens … often recall life in the marshes and along banks of the Nile … . The palette of faience expanded over the millennia to include carnelian reds, lemon yellows, and rich cobalt blues and violets - each color with its own symbolic meaning.
– Magazine Antiques, Sept. 1998
natron – a mineral salt, consisting of hydrated sodium carbonate [baking soda]; used to dessicate bodies for mummification
[another toponym: named for the wadi Natrun, where the salt was found]
– Joy Masoff, Oh, Yuck: The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty
Rosetta Stone – a key to some previously unattainable understanding
– CNN, Feb. 24, 1996
– The Jewish Week, Dec. 30, 2005
– British Museum, The Rosetta Stone