Minneapolis Institute of Arts World Myths and Legends in Art Art by Theme
Art by Culture Compare and Contrast
View All Art

Model Boat with Figures


Model Boat with Figures
Model Boat with Figures
2133-1786 B.C.
Polychromed wood
The William Hood Dunwoody Fund

Key Ideas
Discussion Questions

After the great god Osiris was murdered by his brother Set, his grieving widow Isis managed to find almost all of the remains of his body and bandaged them together. This was the first mummy. In this form Osiris traveled to the Underworld to become king over it and judge of the dead. It was believed that his body (or at least his head) was buried at Abydos, a city on the Nile in Upper Egypt, which became the center of his cult worship.

When a high-ranking Egyptian died, his or her body was mummified and placed in a tomb. However, the deceased's ka (the person's double, both physically and spiritually) was released at death. It was crucial that the deceased's ka arrived safely at Abydos, the place where the passage between the land of the living and the land of the dead could be entered.1 To help the ka to accomplish this journey up or down the Nile, a model boat complete with oarsmen was put in the tomb, because it had the magical power to transport the ka.

It was a perilous journey, but assuming that all the funereal rituals had been performed correctly, the ka would make it through the passage and be brought to the Hall of Judgement. Here Osiris, sitting on a throne, presided over the other nine great judges (who were all important gods). The deceased first had to convince the judges that he was free of sin (and the gods could not be deceived!) Then the heart of the deceased was weighed against an ostrich feather, the symbol of Mayet, god of Truth and Justice. If the heart weighed exactly the same, this was proof that the deceased was worthy to join the gods in the afterlife.2 (If not, the deceased was thrown to Ameheit the devourer, a hybrid monster — part lion, part hippopotamus and part crocodile.) Once Osiris announced the verdict, the deceased would live in eternal happiness in the Great Oasis.

1 Local tradition held that the sun ended its daily course at Abydos and entered the Underworld through a gap in the mountains near the city. The ka would also enter here. Return to Text
2 The Book of the Dead was a compilation of funerary texts which ancient Egyptian scribes composed for the benefit of the dead: spells and incantations, prayers, hymns and litanies, magical formulae, and names and words of great power. E. A. Wallis Budge translated into English and analyzed the most perfectly preserved example (the Papyrus of Ani, 1500-1350 B.C.) and published it in several editions, the first in 1895. See E.A. Wallis Budge, The Book of the Dead (New York: Bell Publishing Co., 1960). Return to Text

Key Ideas Story Background Discussion Questions


Art by Culture | Art by Theme | View all Art | Compare & Contrast
Home | What is Myth? | Glossary | Further Reading | How to use this site | Downloadable Curriculum