January-February 2013

Exhibition curators: dr Andrzej Ćwiek, mgr Szymon Ździebłowski

Exhibition partner: T. J. Marciniak, photographer  www.tjmarciniak.pl

An interactive exhibition with a reconstruction of ancient Egyptian bed and headrest. Come and see for yourself how the ancient Egyptians slept!

The word “sleep” can have a number of meanings. It can denote “slumber”, “sleep-dreaming”, or “illusion”, “imagining”. The ancient Egyptians slept. The day started at dawn, and in the evening, in the west,  the god of sun rode in his barge  into the Underworld, to emerge after twelve hours of the night’s journey on the eastern horizon the next morning. The  night was the time of sleep. The verb “to sleep”  was sedjer, and referred not just to sleeping as such but, as in modern languages, figuratively  to sexual relations (“sleep with someone”). Other terms meaning “to sleep” were kd.’t and a’a’ew. There was also the word bagi which meant “being tired”, “being weary”, “being sleepy”. All these terms had their use in eschatological  phraseology. “To be weary”, “to be sleepy”, “to fall asleep” meant “to die”. “Sleeping” was a euphemistic term for the state of afterdeath, with the dead lying in their tombs like in bed chambers and leaving them to communicate with the living and enjoy the offerings.

The ancient Egyptians dreamt. The word rsw.t, signifying “dream”, derives from the verb  rs, “to awaken”, which means that dreaming was perceived as a real, though unconscious, activity. The meanings of dreams were a subject of study and interpretation, as exemplified by the story of the biblical Joseph who explained the prophetic dreams of the pharaoh. Through dreams the gods contacted people and passed on important messages or responded to requests. During the Graeco-Roman period healing sleep (incubation) was offered in medical centres in the temples.

Modern Europe dreamt of Egypt, slowly discovering the secrets of the forgotten, exotic and fascinating land of the pharaohs. Napoleon’s Egyptian expedition and deciphering of the hieroglyphics by  J. F. Champollion  (1822) put down the basics of modern Egyptology that translates old Egyptian books of dreams into the modern idiom and unravels the technology of managing the construction of the pyramids that we wouldn’t have imagined even in our wildest dreams…

We still dream of Egypt– but often only of a holiday in Sharm el Sheikh, while the ancient Egyptians, who had built the first civilisation, the first state and the first society, could teach us a lot. We could make use of their wisdom if we don’t let the chance slip by…