the golden feather of truth

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Monday, November 27, 2006
Last wednesday I went to see the Quest for Immortality Egyptian exhibit at the Portland Art Museum with Blondie. I wasn't going to go because I thought the whole thing was a blockbuster art-show shakedown. If I'm a member, I shouldn't have to pay again, etc. etc. But... she had an extra ticket and I do love me some ancient egyptians, so as you might imagine my principled stand evaporated almost instantly. The exhibit was quite nice, if crowded. I'm not sure that it is worth the non-member price of twenty bucks, though. But maybe I'm demanding a lot of twenty dollars.

One of the highlights for me was learning more about the goddess Ma'at, who rules over truth, justice and balance. I wasn't very familiar with her, but they had several very fine representations (including the one pictured here) and I became enchanted with her golden feather of truth. Ma'at administered the test you desperately needed to pass if you intended to get anywhere in the Egyptian afterlife. All internal organs were removed except for the heart, which was left in the body to be weighed against the feather of truth. If your heart was heavy (with evil deeds, for example) you were SOL.

Speaking of organ removal, I learned how they fit the big old liver into one of those smallish canopic jars -- think beef jerky/fruit roll-up -- they let it dry out a bit and then rolled it up and shoved it in! I also found it interesting that while the heart was left in the body (for feather measuring), the brain was yanked out through the nose and thrown away. Some days when my brain is giving me trouble, this seems like the only sensible approach.

Another highlight was the Tomb Room. (I think it had a different name, but I don't remember what it was. The Tomb Room would make a great theme bar!) They have recreated the tomb of Thutmose III, which was very cool and dark with paintings on all the walls floor to ceiling. I particularly liked the gold outlined stars on the ceiling. As we moved from room to room throughout the exhibit, there was a little boy and his dad right in front of me. That little boy wanted no part of the tomb room. It was much darker than the previous exhibit space, and he took about 3 steps in, then stopped dead in his tracks and demanded of his father "is this an elevator?" and refused to go any further. I'm not sure how he got through it, since I became distracted when Jeremy Irons started talking in my ear (no, I was not having auditory hallucinations, he was the narrator of the audio guide). The room was decorated entirely with illustrations about Ra's journey through the underworld each night from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. (Speaking of the EBotD, this was a book that gave me nightmares from grades 2-4. When I was that age we lived in a really small house. So small, that my dad kept a lot of his books on ancient egypt in the closet of the bedroom I shared with my sister, including the sinister sounding Book of the Dead. Much like Joey having to put Little Women in the freezer on Friends, I had to put a blanket over it so the Ancient Dead Egyptian Magic wouldn't do god knows what to me while I slept. Which reminds me of a similar story about Dad overestimating a 5 year old's readiness to watch Bela Lugosi's Dracula, and how I saw vampires in the wood grain of my bedroom door for a week of sleepless nights afterward. But I digress...)

The exhibit was great, and this is the only west-coast stop. I wouldn't say it is the finest egyptian exhibit I've been to, but the Tomb Room was unlike anything I'd seen before and gave a really great three dimensional sense of what things would look like, instead of just seeing them flat under some glass. They had some really fine representations of Osiris, too. I wish it weren't so expensive -- I can't help but think this is the sort of thing people should be able to see as easily as possible and not just if you have twenties falling out of your pocket or are fortunate enough to have a friend with an extra ticket. I know the cost of mounting these exhibitions is prohibitive, but... well, I don't know. There should be a better way.
7 comments on "the golden feather of truth"
  1. I believe that Joey kept The Shining in the freezer, but my main point is that now I know you have enjoyed this exhibit I think I will be going. I saw another Egyptian exhibit up in Seattle when I was like 7, so it has been long enough I would say...Go Egypt!

  2. I'm so glad you got to go! When I was a kid, one of my favorite things about visiting my grandparents was walking from their apartment to the Egyptian Museum to visit the bust of Nefertiti (the other exhibits too, but the bust was always my favorite part!). I have really been wanting to go back there lately. I think when my self-imposed exile from spending is over, a trip to Europe may be in order! For now, it's good to know I can at least visit PAM!

  3. BBD -- he had to put Little Women in the freezer at the end of the episode because Beth got really sick... But I totally agree -- Go Egypt!

    Martina -- I am so disappointed in you! Remember about 12 or 15 years ago I made you a velvet bag that was PERFECTLY SIZED for the bust of Nefertiti and gave it to you right before you went to Berlin??? Yet she still sits there in the Egyptian Museum and not in my living room. (if you could see me now, you would know that I am shaking my head sadly)
    On the other hand, if you're planning on going back, I could make another bag...

  4. An Egyptian curse on you! I think you may be correct about Little Women. Maybe. I guess in the grand scheme of life it ain't no big thing...

  5. to be perfectly fair (and it pains me to do so) he also put The Shining in the freezer.

  6. Thank you for letting me know this Shining factoid...I feel much better.

  7. I still have the Nefertiti bag (though it needs some repairs), but maybe if you made me a new one, I'd be more apt to travel...I don't know why, but this reminds me of the time you told me I was the only person you knew who would buy a coat just to get change for gum.


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