Egypt – Star Gazing In Dendera

The art and architecture of the ancient Egyptians is amazing enough. That they could also map the sky, nearly as well as it is done in the 21st century, is simply astounding!

A bas relief – the Zodiac of Dendera – that was found in the Temple of Hathor proves this beyond a doubt. This 8 feet square, sandstone ceiling panel from 50 BC, is reputed to be the worlds first horoscope that charts the movements of the stars and depicts the zodiac constellations, quite like we do today! And it comes replete with theories of encoded messages and ‘end of world’ prophecies.

Dendera, Egypt
The Dendera Zodiac Ceiling – Musee Louvre, Paris

If you want to see it though, you will have to plan a trip to Paris. For it was crudely pried out from the chapel of Osiris and transported to France in 1821. It now resides in the Louvre. In its place, is a plaster cast covered in soot. Its details indistinguishable.

It is disappointing that so many of Egypt’s priceless artefacts – the ceiling mural from the tomb of Seti I, the bust of Nefertiti, the Rosetta stone, the Funeral Texts from the valley of the kings and so many, many more – lie outside her shores. Meanwhile the debate over whether they are safer in western museums or should be returned to where they rightfully belong, rages on.

Thankfully there is a lot more in Dendera that could not possibly be carted away. The beautifully illustrated rectangular zodiac ceiling in the vestibule with the 24 Hathor columns is another gem. Hidden for years under the soot of ancient lamp black is the fantastic ceiling relief depicting a celestial chart with the signs of the zodiac in sequence, and another that illustrates the journey of the sun through the body of (sky Goddess) Nut. Astronomical precision and mythological imagery at its very best!

Temple of Hathor - Dendera, Egypt
Deities of the stars adoring the ‘Eye of Horus’! The right eye of Horus represents the Sun and indicates resurrection and protection
Goddess Nut swallowing the sun in Dendera
Goddess Nut swallowing the sun. The ‘delivery’ of the sun at dawn in the form of a scarab between her legs is depicted in the lower half of the ceiling panel (not shown)

It is by her mouth that the majesty of this god
— that is to say, Ra — enters within the Duat.
Look at the picture, the disc which is at her mouth. […]
After in the western horizon his majesty [Ra] sets,
they [the stars] enter into her mouth in the place
of her head in the west. […]
It is within her that they travel in the day,
when they do not shine and are not seen.
~ “Book of Nut”

It never occurred to me to ask where he parks his barge or the dead souls travelling with him!