of a Scarab
in ancient Egyptian
has the phonetic
value of (k)hpr
(the adopted pronounciaton is Kheper
, with vowels
added). It acts as an ideogram
for the following words:
Further, while not acting as an ideogram in this context, Kheper adds its phonetic value to the name of the god Khepri, the first stage of the sun god - that of the sun just risen. The word also has phonetic associations with:
The Scarab, or dung-beatle, hieroglyph has gained a somewhat misunderstood status in a modern context, being misinterpreted in all sorts of fun ways - most recently in the Hollywood film The Mummy (which we all knew was going to be terrible, but went to see anyway) as a flesh eating torture device/home protection tool.
The Scarab is an important symbol in both the Egpyian language and theology - it many respects the Scarab is symbolic of the entire Egyptian religious system and cosmology. As an ideogram it is seen frequently on ritual garb as a broach/amulet, throughout the Egypian Book of the Dead and as a focal piece on sarcophagi.
The symbolic importance comes from the activity of dung-beatle and its interpretation by the Egyptians. The dung-beatle spends a substantial part of its life rolling balls of dung as a nest for its eggs. The original dung-beatle then dies, and a new beatle hatches out of the rolled dung. The Egyptians, ignorant of the eggs part, saw the creation of the dung ball as a burial ritual - the dung itself as a repository for the beatle's spirit from which the beatle rises from again.
Thus, the Scarab became associated with the process of self-generation (or sometimes regeneration), the ball of dung itself became variously associated with the disk of the sun (which died every night and was reborn anew every morning as Khepri), the subterranean world (the waiting stage for the sun between lives, during the night) and also a protective device in the form of an amulet that was placed over the heart after death to carry both the spirit and magical formulas into the next life.
Gardiner, A.H. Egyptian Grammar London, 1969.
Betro, Maria HieroglyphicsNew York, 1995.