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Comparison of Afterlife in Ancient Egyptian and Ancient Mesopotamian Myths

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Comparison of Afterlife in ancient Egyptian and ancient Mesopotamian Myths

Both ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt have the rich cultural and historical backgrounds that are not only the basis of our society today, but they also contain enormous amounts of knowledge we have yet to learn. Many of the things used today originated from these ancient cities, for example the 365 day calendar, the alphabets and the profound influence of architecture. (Chadwick 3) Because the time of civilization was close for the two countries, there are many similarities in the aspects of culture, religion, and social structures. However, because of the differences in environment and geography these two regions have very different views on ideas such as the afterlife or underworld. Through the myths like Ishtar's Descent into the Underworld from Mesopotamia and the pyramid and coffin text, it is shown that in both cultures there is an idea of life after death, but the view of these lives are extremely unalike. The differences and similarities on afterlife in ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt are influenced by the varying society, geography and religious beliefs.

The views of afterlife are extremely different for these regions and that is reflected in the writing of myths or books. In the myth The Descent of Ishtar to the underworld from Mesopotamia many example of pessimistic outlook for afterlife are displayed. "Ishtar daughter of Sin was determined to go" to the land of no return, and her descent presented the underworld as a dark and dismal place. For the Gidims in the underworld "Where dust is their food, clay their bread. They see no light, they dwell in the darkness". (Dalley 155) This quote from the myths clearly displayed the sadness in the afterlife in the eyes of the people in Mesopotamia and it is repeated in a number of other myths such as Nergal and Ereshkigal, and the Epic of Gilgamesh. (Dalley 168). On the other hand, the afterlife for Egyptians is just a continuation of life where they can be immortal. The dividing of the soul into ka, ba, and akh, represents three different meanings and functions of the soul. (Chadwick 140) The akh is especially important because the akh of the dead can still affect the living and they might be reborn as circumpolar stars that never sets representing eternal life. (Chadwick 140) The texts in the pyramids are spells to ensure the immortally of the deceased king. In the Spell of Resurrection Teti " shall approach the sky like Orion and your ba will be watchful like Sothis" this quote from the text shows that Teti the king; although dead, but he can now be immortal because "For you are indeed one of the gods" (Simpson 253) The text also shows the reader that the king is still honoured " Like unto the Neith-crown on the head of the King of Lower Egypt. Like unto the crowns of Upper Egypt upon the head of her King. Like unto the braids on the heads of the Bedouin." (Simpson 253) Hence, after the kings pass away in Egypt they are immortal and are still honoured by the people. From the examples in different text for both regions it is clear that Egyptians have a very optimistic view of the life after death, while the people from Mesopotamia see the afterlife as a bleak and dark world.

Different aspects of the society are also contributing factors in each region's views on afterlife. Firstly, it's similar that hell was not conceptualized for both culture. However the journey to the underworld is simple for the people in Mesopotamia while complicated for the people in Egypt. In Mesopotamia myths such as The Descent of Ishtar to the Underworld, she descents into the underworld having to pass through the seven guarded doors and through these door one of her articles is removed from them. For instance, gate one is the crown, gate two are the earrings, gate three is the necklace and so on. (Dalley 155) This can be represented as the stripping away people's status, families or their ties with the mankind. Unlike Mesopotamia the transformation into the afterlife is slightly more difficult. To demonstrate, in the Egyptian, the Book of the dead contains spells that are used to help the deceased pass the Duat gate and achieve immortality. First, in the Hall of two Truths the deceased would weight his heart against the feather or statue of maat, in front a jury of 42 gods lead by Orisis. (Chadwick 163) The heart represents all the deeds done by the deceased and if the person has behaved properly they would let into the afterlife or they will be eaten and torn by Ammit. Then, the deceased have to reply to a list of sins that include religion, sex, fairness, killing, ethics, and crimes. The reply of the people would be "I have not deprived an Orphan. I have not killed" and in the end they have to say that "I am pure, I am pure, I am pure, I am pure!" (Simpson) Due to an evaluation to enter the afterlife, people in the living seem to abide the law and follow the order more in society. Furthermore, unlike the ancient Egyptians, it seems that the people in Mesopotamia do not plan for their afterlife. For example, there are a small number of tombs or pyramids built, and there are no indications of food or water



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