Egyptian mythos as logos: Attempt at a redefinition of mythical thinking

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Egyptian mythos as logos: Attempt at a redefinition of mythical thinking
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  Decorum and experience  essays in ancient culture for John Baines   Edited by  Elizabeth Frood and  Angela McDonald    With the editorial assistance of  R. Gareth Roberts Griffith Institute, Oxford 2013  An offprint from  Copyright © jointly individual authors and the Griffith Institute, Oxford, 󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀳Published by the Griffith Institute, 󰀱 St John Street, Oxford, OX󰀱 󰀲LGISBN 󰀹󰀷󰀸-󰀰-󰀹󰀰󰀰󰀴󰀱󰀶-󰀹󰀲-󰀷British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication DataA catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Designed and produced by Chris Hulin, Oxford Book ProjectsPrinted and bound by Berforts Information Press, Eynsham, OxfordFront cover image: Ashmolean Museum AN󰀱󰀸󰀹󰀶-󰀱󰀹󰀰󰀸 E.󰀳󰀱󰀰. Ivory model of a dog from the Hierakonpolis ‘Main Deposit’ (photograph by David Gowers)Rear cover image: Ashmolean Museum AN󰀱󰀸󰀹󰀲.󰀱󰀱󰀷󰀱. Fragment of the ‘Battlefield Palette’ depicting bound captives (photograph by David Gowers)  The sensory world: art, religion, experience   󰀱󰀲󰀷 Egyptian mythos   as logos  : an attempt at a redefinition of ‘mythical thinking’ Katja Goebs Myth is a fundamental feature of Egyptian cultural expression. Its characters and episodes pervade both the written and the artistic record of essentially all periods for which these media are attested. John has been instrumental in furthering the Egyptological debate on myth by highlighting the importance of concepts such as orality, restricted knowledge, and the preference for some forms of knowledge codification over others (Baines 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀱; 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀶; 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀷a: 󰀱󰀴󰀰–󰀴󰀲). In this, as in many other areas of the subject, he is moreover one of only few Egyptologists to venture into more theory-based disciplines such as anthropology, and to apply their models to the Egyptian evidence (e.g. Baines 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀷b). It is a great pleasure, therefore, to be able to outline some thoughts on the foundational role of myth as a category of cultural discourse in a volume that recognizes John’s long and distinguished career. I suggest, in relating the Egyptian evidence to recent findings in the Cognitive Sciences, that myth not only plays an important role as the aforementioned central feature of cultural expres-sion, but equally as something that might be called a ‘cognitive tool’, one that transcends cultural and his-torical boundaries.My interest in this area was first sparked when I came across some studies and hypotheses in neuropsychology suggesting that an exaggeration of features particular to a species may have played an important role in this species’ evolution. Vilayanur   Ramachandran and Diane Rogers-Ramachandran (󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀰) of the Center for Brain and Cognition, UC San Diego, for example, hypoth-esize that the instinctive neural response to certain key characteristics of a species would have encouraged a preference for exaggerated versions of those same fea-tures. For example, a giraffe searching for a mate will respond strongly to the ‘most giraffe-esque’ features available, such as a long neck and large brown speckles. In this way, natural selection favours giraffes with the longest necks and largest speckles, leading in turn to an evolutionary outcome of ever longer necks and larger speckles in giraffes. Besides the effect of evolutionary streamlining, it is noteworthy that this phenomenon is based in a particularly pronounced example of catego-rization: the giraffe responds to a set of visual and other stimuli that are stored in its brain as typical markers of ‘giraffeness’, based on what might be called the ‘ideal giraffe’, or a ‘giraffe  prototype ’. By way of illustration, the authors point to the inherent recognizability of carica-tures, which play on exactly this trait of our brains. A conglomerate of the most characteristic  features of a person in a caricature is often even more easily recog-nizable than an actual photo of them (Ramachandran and Rogers-Ramachandran 󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀰: 󰀱󰀸). And this same cognitive principle, it would seem, can be discerned in most media of human representation – both verbal and  visual.In particular, we see it in the widespread use of icons (defined here as – mostly religious – images of highly symbolic value; cf. Panofsky 󰀱󰀹󰀵󰀵: 󰀲󰀹 with n. 󰀱) in the religious visual arts, where representations of deities or saints commonly combine characteristic items of dress, and/or symbols evoking a particularly noteworthy function or episode in their lives. Egyptian iconogra-phy offers abundant evidence in the representation of its many deities, who are distinguished by character-istic symbols worn on, or in lieu  of, their heads. This system not only allows the viewer to identify the deity in question on a basic level, but to discern allusions even to particular episodes or aspects of their life and power. An oft-cited example is the goddess Hathor, who may variously appear in human or cow-form, but equally as a lioness, serpent, hippopotamus, or tree-nymph (e.g. Hornung 󰀱󰀹󰀸󰀲: 󰀱󰀱󰀰–󰀱󰀴). Different forms of appearance, or added symbols, may distinguish local forms of deities, or those within temples from the ones carried in procession.In citing the work of Roland Tefnin (e.g. 󰀱󰀹󰀸󰀴), I have often pointed to the functioning of Egyptian crowns and other elements of dress as ‘hieroglyphs’ within iconographic ‘sentences’ that can thus be ‘read’ (e.g. Goebs 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀲; 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀸: 󰀳󰀶󰀹–󰀷󰀰; in press). This underscores the significance of the much-discussed interrelation of Egyptian image and text (discernible from some of the earliest attestations of writing, Baines 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀷a; 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀷c), for the domain of royal and divine iconography. As semioticians (e.g. Danesi and Perron 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀹: 󰀷󰀲-󰀱󰀰󰀱) have amply demonstrated, icons, just like written words, are signs , or signifiers , conveying meaning (the signi- fied  ). In this context, cognitive scientists’ findings that a person’s memory is better if an object or occurrence is encoded both verbally and visually (Dual Coding Hypothesis; cf. Paivio 󰀱󰀹󰀶󰀹; 󰀱󰀹󰀸󰀶) are important, as is the evidence suggesting that the nature of visual images  Katja Goebs 󰀱󰀲󰀸   The sensory world: art, religion, experience in the mind is much more ambiguous, or flexible, than that of verbal representations. The psychologist of art Rudolf Arnheim even argued (󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀷: 󰀲󰀳󰀲) that the visual medium must be seen as superior to the verbal, because it offers ‘structural equivalents to all characteristics of objects, events, relations … representing shapes in two-dimensional and three-dimensional space, as compared with the one-dimensional sequence of verbal language’, and pointed to examples for the figurative quality of even the most theoretical speech. In itself, he found language ‘woefully deficient’, able to express only  very few elements of thought. For the remainder, it has to refer to imagery in some other medium (Arnheim 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀷: 󰀲󰀴󰀰).Thus we enter the realm of figurative language and metaphor, which, as the object of semiotic investiga-tion, was championed in particular by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (e.g. 󰀱󰀹󰀸󰀰). The authors demon-strated the ‘bodily basis of meaning, imagination, and reason’ in a wide range of contexts (Johnson 󰀱󰀹󰀸󰀷), and developed a model according to which certain (usually related) literal expressions can be clustered together under a unifying image schema  that is based in a physi-cal or sensorial experience of the world. An example is [A󰁦󰁦󰁥󰁣󰁴󰁩󰁯󰁮 󰁩󰁳 W󰁡󰁲󰁭󰁴󰁨], which might entail expres-sions such as ‘he gave her a warm smile’, ‘she greeted him  warmly  ’, or ‘she looked  hot   to him’ (Lakoff and Johnson 󰀱󰀹󰀸󰀰: e.g. 󰀷󰀷–󰀱󰀱󰀴; Johnson 󰀱󰀹󰀸󰀷: esp. 󰀶󰀵–󰀱󰀳󰀸).If metaphors are predominantly a product of the embodied mind, it is not surprising that many of them may appear universal. Zoltán Kövecses (󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀵) has argued that more fundamental metaphors (called  primary   by Lakoff and Johnson) are more likely to be universal, while complex ( secondary  ) metaphors tend to be culturally specific. However, most metaphors consist of verbal descriptions of, or word plays on, concrete objects/persons or physical experiences, and/or their visual representation in what might be called icons . After all, metaphor formation is the process of understanding and describing one domain (a source) in terms of another (a target) (e.g. Kövecses 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀵: 󰀲󰀶; Feldman 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀸: 󰀱󰀹󰀴). In the cases envisaged here, the source will be a concrete object, image, or sensory experience, and the target may be an abstract concept. The Egyptians expressed violence  in terms of the colour red  , for example: thus, an aggressive form of Horus may be ‘red–eyed’ ( dSr jrty : PT 󰀲󰀴󰀶 §§󰀲󰀵󰀳a–b), evoking both the physical characteristic of blood-shot eyes in someone who is agitated, and the often bloody connotations of the colour red (see Grapow 󰀱󰀹󰀲󰀴: 󰀵󰀶; Goebs 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀸, 󰀱󰀵󰀶, 󰀱󰀶󰀸 with n. 󰀴󰀱󰀵, 󰀲󰀰󰀲 ff for earlier litera-ture). At the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, a  friendly   attitude is described by (s)HD Hr  , literally ‘with bright(ened) ’ or ‘ shining face ’, which makes use of the positive connotations of light versus darkness. Both expressions fit into universal metaphorical complexes, or image schemata : [R󰁥󰁤󰁮󰁥󰁳󰁳 󰁩󰁮 󰁴󰁨󰁥 󰁦󰁡󰁣󰁥 … 󰁳󰁴󰁡󰁮󰁤󰁳 󰁦󰁯󰁲 󰁡󰁮󰁧󰁥󰁲] and [H󰁡󰁰󰁰󰁩󰁮󰁥󰁳󰁳 󰁩󰁳 󰁬󰁩󰁧󰁨󰁴/󰁢󰁲󰁩󰁧󰁨󰁴] (cf. Kövecses 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀵: 󰀳󰀶–󰀴󰀱).Metaphor, like icons , and frequently based on them, often refers to characteristic features  associated with a persona / object / situation / or sensory experience that are easily recognizable and hence in some way idealized  , or  prototyped (this terminology in Egyptology: Gold-wasser 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀲: 󰀹󰀱–󰀱󰀱󰀰) .  Such metaphors may render the object in question literally ‘visible’ to the ‘mental eye’ or allow connection of its perception with broadly similar experiences (cf. Katz et al.  󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀸: 󰀳–󰀴󰀳). Strikingly, cogni-tive science, in experimental studies of brain function, has been able to demonstrate that physical, neural, equivalents of metaphors can be located in the human brain. In the 󰀱󰀹󰀳󰀰s, Wilder Penfield demonstrated that particular, episodic, memories (i.e. memories of past events) can be retrieved when certain areas of the cerebral cortex are electrically stimulated (survey in O’Shea 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀵: 󰀸󰀴ff, 󰀸󰀹). Recently, Christoph Koch and team (California Institute of Technology) have proven that specific areas of the brain become active when sub- jects view images, or imagine situations, for which they already have an established ‘storage area’. For example, when  Affection  was envisaged, both the areas storing such abstract entities (here the emotion domain ) and those storing the physical experience of ‘warmth’ (the temperature domain ) became active, proving the cited image cluster   [A󰁦󰁦󰁥󰁣󰁴󰁩󰁯󰁮 󰁩󰁳 W󰁡󰁲󰁭󰁴󰁨] to be a veritably ‘embodied’, primary conceptual metaphor (Gallese and Lakoff 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀵; also Kövecses 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀵: 󰀲󰀳–󰀲󰀴).Moreover, scientists have been able to identify neural equivalents for items as specific as a particular person. Koch’s team was able to locate a specific set of neurons encoding, for example, the actress Jennifer Aniston in one subject. This encoding comprised both visual and verbal information about this actress, but did not respond to representations of other blonde actresses. Koch (󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀱) speaks, poignantly, of ‘the cellular sub-strate of the Platonic ideal of Jennifer Aniston’ (also Quian Quiroga et al.  󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀵). Even more importantly for our purposes, however, other neurons were found to encode superordinate categories , such as ‘animals’ or ‘faces in general’. Together, these various levels of encoding form a ‘semantic network’ (Sowa 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀲).Such experiments demonstrate that the distinction between superordinate   categories  and their exemplars ( types  and tokens ) is deeply embedded in the brain. The importance of such categorization for human existence lies in the facilitation of memory storage: categorized memories are (more easily) accessed instantly, provid-ing a certain cognitive economy (Ramachandran and  Egyptian mythos  as logos : an attempt at a redefinition of ‘mythical thinking’ The sensory world: art, religion, experience   󰀱󰀲󰀹 Blakeslee 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀸: 󰀱󰀷󰀰). Collins and Quillian (󰀱󰀹󰀶󰀹; 󰀱󰀹󰀷󰀲) could prove that retrieval of general (i.e. superordi-nate) concepts from semantic (i.e. long-term, explicit) memory is faster than that of specific, subordinate , ones. In addition, relevant information not explicitly stored in the brain can be processed by making infer-ences about a situation based on memories of past, similar, experiences, or – more commonly – by access-ing information concerning  prototypical, superordinate categories , with which the current event is naturally classified.Significantly, some of the processes leading to, and results of, such categorization in the neural networks of the brain find explicit linguistic and artistic formulation in the worldwide use of analogies  (Gloy and Bachmann 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀰), metaphors , and icons . They flow from the brain’s inherent ability and tendency to classify, and hence group together, all experience by means of broad, easily recognizable   characteristics (cf. Rosch’s Theory of     proto-types   and basic-level categories ; Rosch 󰀱󰀹󰀷󰀳; 󰀱󰀹󰀷󰀸; Rosch, Simpson, and Miller   󰀱󰀹󰀷󰀶; also Lakoff 󰀱󰀹󰀸󰀷: e.g. 󰀳󰀹 ff). In Egyptology, scholars such as Orly Goldwasser (󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀵; 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀲), Arlette David (󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀰), and Racheli Shalomi-Hen (󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀰) have highlighted the all-pervasive categoriza-tion in the determinative system.It is my contention that myth, and in particular myth-ical    icons  (meaning individual mythical figures or small groupings thereof) may have had a similar function as classifiers in thought and representation. Elsewhere (Goebs 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀲: 󰀳󰀹 ff) I have highlighted the important role of relationships between actors in determining which mytheme  (Sternberg 󰀱󰀹󰀸󰀵) or mythical group-ing   or  constellation  (Assmann 󰀱󰀹󰀸󰀲: 󰀴󰀰–󰀴󰀱) is used in a given context. Such relationships usually override the more flexible identity of the characters involved: in a ritual context, for example, Horus, who has lost his eye according to a central episode of his myth, may appear as the person presenting rather than receiving the ‘Eye of Horus’. The latter role is taken over by Osiris – the  prototypical   [󰁧󰁯󰁤 󰁩󰁮 󰁮󰁥󰁥󰁤], who requires assistance in order to be resurrected (Goebs 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀲: 󰀴󰀶 ff). Such rela-tionships between characters, or between a character and a mythical object, location, or situation, are, in a hermeneutic process, shaped by the most characteristic aspects  of a mythical figure, while also influencing what is perceived as such. It is these characteristic aspects  that predestine a mythical figure or object to be employed in a particular context, and that can be condensed to form a mythical     prototype  in line with Rosch’s theory (for the subjectivity inherent in this process see e.g. Lakoff 󰀱󰀹󰀸󰀷: 󰀴󰀰–󰀴󰀶; Goldwasser 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀲: 󰀲󰀸–󰀲󰀹). Their visual equivalent finds expression in religious icons . Thus, on a general level, the god Horus represents the  prototype  of a [󰁰󰁥󰁲󰁳󰁯󰁮 󰁷󰁨󰁯 󰁯󰁶󰁥󰁲󰁣󰁯󰁭󰁥󰁳 (󰁰󰁨󰁹󰁳󰁩󰁣󰁡󰁬 󰁡󰁮󰁤 󰁳󰁯󰁣󰁩󰁡󰁬) 󰁡󰁤󰁶󰁥󰁲󰁳󰁩󰁴󰁹], with the latter personified by his nemesis, Seth (te Velde 󰀱󰀹󰀷󰀷). Various episodes within his myth illustrate this role of the god (Broze 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀶). These may be viewed as subcategories  of the  primary theme  (or cat-egory  ), which find expression in distinct divine forms and iconography. Horus as a child, for example, who escapes the threats on his life by Seth, receives distinc-tive features and names, such as  ¡rw pA Xrd   ‘Horus the Child’. By the late New Kingdom, this mythical subcat-egory   evolves into a deity in its own right, better known by his Greek name Harpokrates (Leitz et al  . 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀲–󰀳/󰀵: 󰀲󰀸󰀱-󰀲; Sandri 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀶). In art, it can be expressed in the icon  ‘Horus on the crocodiles’.That Egyptology and other disciplines recognize a separate category   of [󰁣󰁨󰁩󰁬󰁤 󰁤󰁥󰁩󰁴󰁩󰁥󰁳], which share certain iconographical and functional features (Budde 󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀰; Jung and Kerény 󰀱󰀹󰀵󰀱), is significant in this context and supports the arguments advanced for mythical clas-sification . Sung Hwan Yoo (󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀱) has discovered patterns in the use of mythical (familial) groupings around child deities, which he ascribes to two divine    prototypes : the [H󰁯󰁲󰁵󰁳 󰁣󰁨󰁩󰁬󰁤], standing a triadic familial relationship with his parents, Isis and Osiris, and the [󰁳󰁯󰁬󰁡󰁲 (better: 󰁣󰁯󰁳󰁭󰁩󰁣) 󰁣󰁨󰁩󰁬󰁤], with mostly secondary and highly flexible familial relationships. Yet, representatives of both  prototypes  can merge, with Horus/Harpokrates taking on solar features, and cosmic child deities such as Khonsu, Nefertem, and Ihy being represented in terms of Horian myth and iconography, since they all belong to the superordinate category   [󰁣󰁨󰁩󰁬󰁤 󰁤󰁥󰁩󰁴󰁩󰁥󰁳].Another aspect of Horus is  ¡rw-wr/¡rw-smsw  ,  ‘Horus the Elder (Haroëris)’, who successfully chal-lenges his father’s murderer when claiming the throne and defeats him both in battle and in court. Also he belongs to the category [󰁰󰁥󰁲󰁳󰁯󰁮 󰁷󰁨󰁯 󰁯󰁶󰁥󰁲󰁣󰁯󰁭󰁥󰁳 󰁡󰁤󰁶󰁥󰁲󰁳󰁩󰁴󰁹], but has a different set of subtypes . Many of these display violent characteristics, others empha-size legitimate inheritance from Osiris (e.g. ‘Horus Son of Osiris’) – visually encoded (primarily) by means of icons and epithets evoking royalty, such as Double Crown and royal titles. There exists, of course, conti-nuity between these various subtypes  and especially in later periods their iconography and epithets may overlap. Thus, the epithets:  sA-Ast   ,  ‘Son of Isis (Harsiese)’ and  sA-Wsjr   ,  ‘Son of Osiris’ often seem to be employed interchangeably for the younger and older types and may hence refer to a more general level of mythical cat-egory  . Yet, they also fulfill slightly different functions in certain contexts (Forgeau 󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀰: esp. 󰀱󰀲󰀸–󰀳󰀰). Figure 󰀱 illustrates some of the relationships discussed.The context (functional, situational, formal) and intended effect generally determines the level of  pro-totype  specificity in a given case (illustrative example in Arnheim 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀷: 󰀲󰀳󰀸). Thus, various subtypes  of the
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