Monday, December 8, 2008
Here on these steps it all ended for my father and a bigger mystery began. Someone came out of the shadows to silence his voice. He paid for his theories of the afterlife with his own life, died right here on these steps in front of the statue of the Old Kingdom Vizier.
What a contrast. A man of the ancient world stepping forward in confidence, affirming his belief in survival after death, while at his feet lay a man of the twenty-first century who expected oblivion… who was right in the end?
The striding figure of Mereruka seems beyond time and decay. The Hittite, Greek, Persian, Roman and British empires all came and went while the Vizier continues to move steadfastly through eternity.
People are wrong to imagine that cynical priests pretended to believe and merely went through the motions when they presented offerings and prayers and burnt incense in front of this door. They believed unshakeably in an afterlife. They lived in an age where humankind and gods, the living and the dead, and the forces of good and evil, existed side by side in two parts that held the universe together. In today’s age that denies god and laughs at the devil, people can't see both sides. But they need to believe in the light and the shadow and to hold both in their minds, not least the shadow. The shadow gives things shape and form. Without it there is just blinding, unrelieved glare like the sunlit desert outside.
My reaction to my fathers's death surprises me; I’ve studied death, tombs and mummies for the better part of my life. Yet now I discover that death - the first mystery - does not come any easier to me than to any other person, even though death is my stock in trade. Without death and the Egyptians’ love of life and determination to prolong it eternally, little of what I know and love about those distant days would have reached me. Death was the silent teacher and guide that led me through the wonders of Egypt. Why, then, has a lifetime's contemplation of the funerary habits of a long-dead people not prepared me better for this?
Death in your personal life is a different matter, it seems.