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8 / Writing

Stela of Mentuwoser
Stela of Mentuwoser
Artist / Origin Egyptian artist, Abydos possibly, Northern Upper Egypt
Region: Africa
Date Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty, ca. 1954 BCE
Material Painted limestone
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions H: 41 1/16 in. (104.3 cm.), W: 19 9/16 in. (49.7 cm.)
Location The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Edward S. Harkness/Photo by Max Yawney

expert perspective

John CostelloProfessor of Linguistics, NYU

Additional Resources

Assmann, Jan. Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt. Translated by David Lorton. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005.

Betro, Maria. Hieroglyphics: The Language of Ancient Egypt. New York: Abbeville Press, 1996.

Malek, Jaromir. Egyptian Art (Art and Ideas). London: Phaidon, 1999.

Robins, Gay. Art of Ancient Egypt, revised edition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008.

Shaw, Ian, ed. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Silverman, David, ed. Ancient Egypt. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

“Stela of Mentuwoser.” In Collection Database. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site. http://www.metmuseum.org/works_of_art/collection_database.

Wilkinson, Richard H. Reading Egyptian Art: A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Egyptian Painting and Sculpture. London: Thames & Hudson, 1994.

Stela of Mentuwoser

» Egyptian artist, Abydos possibly, Northern Upper Egypt

The city of Abydos, on the west bank of the Nile in central Egypt, was a sacred site for the ancient Egyptians during the Middle Kingdom, which lasted from the mid-twenty-first through the mid-seventeenth century BCE.

The city was important to the cult of Osiris, the god of the dead, and played a special role in Egyptian funerary rituals. The dead were thought to take part in the annual festival of Osiris at Abydos, and archaeologists have discovered a large number of memorial stelae, or carved stone panels, there. This particular stela was carved in honor of a man named Mentuwoser, an official in charge of agricultural and livestock management, at the behest of Senwosret I (ca. 1971–1926 BCE); the king’s name appears at the top center, inside the cartouche.

Writing was closely tied to spiritual belief for the Egyptians, and while it was used for administrative business and record-keeping, its greatest significance lay in its magical properties. Text, especially hieroglyphs which were sometimes referred to as “words of god,” had the ability to bestow powers, protect against harm, and assist the dead. According to Egyptian belief, the permanent inscription of a person’s name was necessary for achieving immortality. The finely carved hieroglyphics taking up more than half the surface of Mentuwoser’s stela include lists of his good works and accomplishments, as well as prayers intended to guide him in the afterlife and give him access to the festival of Osiris.

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