art · culture

The Scribe – Egyptian Keepers of Culture and Subjects of Timeless Art

I’ve started this post multiple times (and even accidentally posted it once or twice) but I struggled with putting this into words.

Until now.

A couple of years ago, I went to Virginia Museum of Fine Art (VMFA), my favorite local museum. I always try to spend a little more time in the permanent collection, so that I can be really familiar with the contents of the museum. On this particular visit, I focused more of my time on the Egyptian collection. I was struck by one particular piece.

Statue of Seated Scribe, Sema-tawy-tefnakht is more than 2500 years old, and appears just as wise and intuitive today as it probably did when it was first sculpted. The scribe looks toward the horizon, with a soft smile on his face and hands resting comfortably on his thighs as he holds a roll of papyrus. He appears to know a lot but, instead of it filling him with arrogance and an unapproachable energy, his face seems to invite you to ask questions that he will gladly answer. The piece is sculpted from alabaster, and still features the original text at the base, no doubt describing who he is and his role in the kingdom.

I loved, too, the plaque posted next to the Statue of Seated Scribe. The museum notes that being a scribe was often a hereditary role, with fathers preparing their sons for positions as bureaucrats for future pharoahs. It also touches on the significance of Thoth, the patron deity of scribes. Thoth himself was a scribe within Egyptian mythology, recording the judgments of human souls who had entered the afterlife.

What’s significant about this piece to me is the power held by a scribe. In the spiritual realm, it was believed that all information about whether a person would live in peace or eternal torment was captured by the scribe. It’s true, in a sense, that the “scribes” of today – journalists, novelists, memoirists, and the like – function much the same. We as writers keep the records of the actions of others, whether they be good, bad or neutral.

Another thing that really impacted me was the fact that this role was more than a job: it was an inheritance. Being the male child of a scribe meant that you were born into a legacy of being a gatekeeper of the empire’s history and secrets. This made me think of the children being born to us today: how many parents are preparing their children for their legacy? As a mom, I understand how overwhelmed we all are right now, with many schools being closed due to COVID. But what little things are we doing daily to prepare our children for the heavy roles they will have in the future, as responsible citizens, future artists and patrons, the builders and organizers of society, and possibly parents themselves?

It’s a lot to consider. I’ve been toying around with these ideas for years, which is why I knew I had to write this post. I’m just glad I finally got the words for it.

Anyways, that’s it for today. I’m looking forward to tomorrow, when I share with you all my amazing body balm recipe that is great for muscle and nerve pain. Take care, and I’ll talk to you soon.

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