It took a few days before we got to writing about king Djer, the second king of the first dynasty. I had already begun to suspect that The Mrs had re-wrapped Mr Mummific after yet another of his artistic endeavours on his mummy wrappings with the marker.
This time Ta-Miu had walked in the room before him, and was now sitting in the chair across the table, so I was prepared for his silent appearance, and managed to stay calm.
“Pretty pictures,” Mummific informed me over my shoulder.
“Yes, aren’t they?” I flipped the page of a travel brochure.
Mummific walked to my side to see better. I let him have a better look and went to get some water. When I got back he had bent over the brochure so that his stump of a nose almost touched the paper. Obviously the mummification process had had its effect on his eyes. Or there was something extremely interesting in the page.
“Where is this?” he wanted to know.
“It’s a holiday resort by the Mediterranean,” I said, “Or the Great Green as you called it. The sea. This one is the sea to the north of Kemet.”
“Aha…” Mummific turned his head to see the blue sea and the beach, “What are those people doing? Are they ill?"
“Ill? What do you mean?” I looked at the people lying in the sun.
“Surely they have to be ill to lie in the sunlight like that. It is very hot! Maybe they have not had enough to drink and have fainted?” Mummific suggested, “Cannot say they have fainted because of hunger. Some of these people are quite well-to-do because they have afforded to eat that much…”
He wasn’t wrong in that. Some of the people on the beach sure did bring to mind seals. Or walruses.
“Oh well, they are not so fat that the Greenpeace people would drag them back to sea,” I tried an old joke, but without success, if Mummific’s expression were anything to go by. He stared at me with a totally blank look in his eyes. Perhaps trying modern jokes was not the wisest thing with a mummy that was a few thousand years old.
“They are having a holiday,” I explained, “They have traveled a long way to be able to relax on the beach, and paid for it as well. They wish to tan themselves.”
“Tan? Why?” Mummific looked surprised.
“They think brown skin looks nice.”
“Even the ladies?” Mummific turned a page and had a very thorough look at one of the women in the foreground, running in a bikini. Not sure if the keen observation was motivated by the skin color of the ample fillings of the said bikinis. “In our time the ladies wanted their skin to be light in color, and stayed out of the sun. The men went out and… tanned, as you say, while doing other things. But no one ever traveled anywhere to lie in the sun. Though we did travel.”
“We? Surely you don’t mean the peasants?”
“Well, they stayed put in their villages mostly. Unless we called them to work for the king when the inundation made it impossible to work the fields. You know, they built the pyramids, temples and such. But with traveling I mean us, the kings.”
Mummific straightened his back and took a slightly Napoleonic pose to show his status, and pointed at himself in the chest.
“And why did you travel? Where did you travel?” I wanted to know
“To conquer lands. To gather riches. One of the first kings to do so was Djer.”
“Where did he travel?”
Mummific was staring at the beach scene and mumbled something under his dry breath, still not quite believing his eyes.
“How inconvenient… Lying in the sand like that. Sand gets to unmentionable places for sure… Cannot imagine what the Mrs would say if I appeared home after lying in the sand, and having it fall all over the floor from between my wrappings… Not to say she could follow the trail and find me. Oh no, no sand for me, thank you.”
“Ahem. Djer? Where did he travel?” I hurried to ask before the thought of his Mrs would disturb his peace of mind any further.
Mummific was already nervously picking his wrappings to make sure no sand was falling out, which in itself was interesting, considering it was winter and there was snow outside. Any possible beach would have been frozen solid.
”Hmm? What? Oh, him. Yes. He traveled to the land of Setjet – to gain turquoise and copper. And Wawat as well. Or Kush, as it was also called. You can never trust the Kushites, so it was every king’s duty to attack them…”
“Oh, what do the Kushite pharaohs say to that? Like Shabaka or Taharqa?”
“I am not talking to them,” Mummific said, gritting his few remaining teeth, and continued mumbling to himself. I think I caught the words “senet” and “cheating”.
“So Djer was the son of Hor-Aha and Khenthap,” I remembered.
“Quite. His birth name was Iti,” Mummific said and sighed one last time, covering the amply filled bikinis in the travel brochure with a cloud of dust. Then he put the brochure down and turned to me, “He lived to a ripe old age. He ruled for over fourty years. And when he died, he did not go alone. Over three hundred of his courtiers were killed and buried around his tomb, so they could follow him to the afterlife,” Mummific reached for another magazine, “Most of them were his wives. And almost the same amount were buried around his funerary enclosure”
“Yes?” Mummific turned back to me.
“What? Oh, not you.”
“Who, then? As far as I know I am the only good Lord here…” he looked truly puzzled and swirled around, managing to look like an ancient ballet dancer. A very clumsy ballet dancer.
“He actually had that many people killed so they could follow him to the afterworld?”
“Yep. Yep yep yep,” Mummific nodded his head vigorously. ( I did not like the sounds that caused in his neck.)
Mummific had hear someone say “yep” on the TV a few days earlier and obviously liked the word. As a result I was beginning to dislike it.
“Well is he also chased around by his courtiers in the afterlife, like Aha is? Any more lions or other animals?”
“Actually, no. There was some initial quarrelling, when Aha’s officials came to meet the newcomers to explain they would have reached afterlife anyway, and there was no truth in the story that only the pharaoh could reach the afterlife, together with the people that were killed and buried with him. But the ladies realized they actually liked being in the afterlife, even if they arrived before their time. You must remember their lifetime would have been quite short anyway, what with the constant pregnancies and dangers of childbirth. Also if they had survived to an old age, they would have been forever old in the afterlife. Now, because they died young and attractive, they remain forever young. And if there is anything to be learned from my Mrs spending a fortune on Afterlife Cosmetics, staying forever young is what every woman wants. She died many years after me, and her looks are a touchy subject… The Afterlife Cosmetics actually have a room in my palace where they have a representative on call all the time… Coming to think of it, the company is beginning to be more influential than pharaohs soon… Probably because they own a substantial amount of our jewelry already, when our ladies have gone shopping for skin oils.”
Mummific stopped to ponder on this fact for a while, and looked slightly worried.
“I think we should bring up the matter on our next royal meeting,” he finally concluded.
“Ok, but how about Djer. What more do you know of him?”
“Hmm… What else… Of course we all know his lovely wife, Herneith. I wish my Great Royal Wife would be more like her. Herneith doesn't speak much, you see... She died before Djer and they buried her in her own separate tomb in Saqqara. A lesser queen, Ni-seret was given a stela of her own when she was buried with Djer."
"Oh, yes, one more thing. That darned historian Manetho wrote that Djer composed a writing on human anatomy, which would have been used thousands of years later. Now there is not a shred of evidence to back up this, Djer did not stop to investigate the intestines of the people he killed. Still, it doesn’t stop Djer from giving bad health advice to us.”
The idea of someone giving health advice to dead people was slightly mind-boggling. When I tried to bend my mind around the concept (with ill success), Mummific had disappeared again, taking Ta-Miu with him. Probably he was already busy arranging a meeting for the pharaohs on the dangers of the rising power of Afterlife Cosmetics.
I sighed and went to my computer to write down what information I had gathered of Djer. The facts-page is here.
I wish to thank Heidi Kontkanen for her kind permission to use her photographs.
There is an interesting article about human sacrifice and subsidiary burials by Rose Campbell here.
Clayton, Peter A. (1994), Chronicle of the Pharaohs, the Reign-by-reign Record if the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London
Dodson, Aidan and Hilton, Dyan (2004) (paperback edition 2010), The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London
Tyldesley, Joyce (2006), Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt, Thames & Hudson, London