The Weighing of the Heart, Book of the Dead (Chapter 30B)
Updated: Jan 10
This copy of the Book of the Dead belonged to Ani, a Theban scribe who died around 1250 BC during Dynasty 19 of the New Kingdom. As a scribe, he held an elevated position in society and could afford to have a sumptuous 24-meter-long copy of the Book of the Dead buried with him. This ‘book’, also known as ‘The Book of Going Forth By Day’ provided Ani with all the instructions and spells required to make sure he would safely reach the afterlife.
Supported by his wife, Tutu, Ani enters the Hall of Truth and is greeted by the gods responsible for deciding whether his soul will be granted access to the afterlife or suffer a terrible fate. He bows to the gods surrounding the scales, who are weighing his heart to see if it will be found in balance with the feather personifying Maat, truth and justice. These gods are reporting their findings to the company of 12 gods known as the Great Ennead that are sitting in judgement on their thrones.
This is a critical moment for Ani; if he fails this test his heart will be devoured by a terrifying beast and his soul would not be able to reach the afterlife. To make sure this doesn’t happen, Ani is reciting spell 30B, to ask his heart not to betray him to the gods and for it to be found in balance with Maat. This spell is destined to work, as Thoth, scribe of the God’s tells the Great Ennead that Ani has “been found true on the great balance”.
Type: Painted papyrus
Date: c. 1250 BC, Dynasty 19, reign of Ramesses II
Findspot: Tomb of Ani, Thebes
Size: Width 42cm (including modern frame); Length 67cm (including modern frame)
Current location: British Museum, London
Object number: EA10470,3
Reproduction Print Reference: DP11B
Ani and Tutu
Ani can be found in the bottom left with his wife Tutu. He is shown as a living man with braided hair and wearing fine white linen, bracelets, and a broad collar. He is bowing to the assembled gods in the pose used by officials to pay respect to their superiors.
Ani is speaking the words of Spell 30B of the Book of the Dead, also known as the Heart Scarab spell, designed to pacify his heart so it won’t speak against him:
“To be spoken by the Osiris Ani.
He says: O my heart which I had from my mother! O my heart which I had from my mother! O my heart of different ages! Do not stand up as a witness against me, do not be opposed to me in the tribunal, do not be hostile to me in the presence of the keeper of the balance, for you are my ka which was in my body, the protector who made my members hale. Go forth to the happy place whereto we speed, do not tell lies about me in the presence of the god; it is indeed well that you should hear!”
Though he is depicted as a living man, this is only one aspect of the deceased Ani, and we see another part of his soul in the form of a bird with the head of a man. This is Ani's ba, which can travel in and out of the tomb after death, and it perches on a shrine-shaped building, ready to be released if judgment is given in Ani's favour.
His copy of the Book of the Dead gives him several titles, including ‘True Scribe of the King’, ‘His Beloved Scribe Reckoning Divine Offerings of All the Gods’ and ‘Overseer of the Double Granary of the Lord of Tawer’. The role of a scribe was only available to the sons of the elite and Ani would have been trained from an early age in the art of reading and writing Egyptian hieroglyphs and hieratic scripts. He worked within grain administration, keeping accurate records, and writing reports and letters to ensure that the king’s granary stores were always full.
Beside Ani is Tutu, his wife and ‘Lady of the House’. She is shown with intricately braided hair with a floral band, a fine white linen gown, bracelets and a broad collar. In her hand, she holds a sekhem or sistrum, a sacred instrument that was used in religious ceremonies and dances. Its handle features the face and horns of the goddess Hathor.
This instrument gives a clue to her privileged position as ‘Chantress of Amun’, a title referring to her role as a singer and musician in the Temple of Amun in Thebes. In the morning she would sing to the statue of Amun in the temple to wake him and she would perform the same ritual at night to send him back to sleep. She would also have participated in religious festivals throughout the year, where the statue of the god would be toured for the public to see and seek favour.
The focus of the scene is the balance scales in the centre surrounded by gods. In the left pan is Ani's heart, and this is being weighed against the feather in the right pan representing Maat, the divine personification of truth and rightful order. The crossbar of the balance hangs from another Maat feather peg attached to the upright support, on the top of which squats a small baboon. This is a form of the god Thoth that is associated in the afterlife with the judgment of the dead.
The jackal-headed god of the dead and embalming Anubis kneels to the right of the scales. He is wearing a strapped vest with a fish-scale pattern, an archaic and unfashionable garment in the New Kingdom and used to show the great antiquity of the old god. Anubis is acting as Guardian of the Scales, and he is holding the cord of the right-hand pan and steadying the plumb bob of the balance. The writing above him cautions the onlookers to pay attention to what he is doing:
“Words spoken by He who is in the Embalming Chamber: Pay attention to the decision of truthfulness and of the plummet of the balance according to its stance.”
Three Personifications of Fate
Three personifications of fate are found to the right of the scales to witness the weighing and reinforce the importance of this moment in Ani’s journey to the afterlife. To the left of the scales stands Shay, a male god with a curved beard that represented the idea of destiny or fortune.
Above Shay is a small shrine with a block on it with a woman’s head. This is Meshkenet, a goddess personified by a birthing brick that Egyptian women stood on to give birth. She was an important household deity and was considered an aspect of fate because it was the first place a person touched the ground when born. Meshkenet is also depicted in female form in the pair of goddesses beside Shay, along with Renenutet, the divine nurse associated with the harvest and fertility.
Thoth, the scribe of the gods, is depicted again in this scene standing to the right of the balance in the form of an ibis-headed man. He wears a white sash across his chest, the typical garb of a lector priest and holds a scribal palette and a reed brush, ready to note down the results of the ceremony.
The hieroglyphics records Thoth’s declaration to the Great Ennead having witnessed the weighing:
“Words spoken by Thoth, Judge of the truth, to the Great Ennead which is in the presence of Osiris: Hear this word of very truth. I have judged the heart of the deceased, and his soul stands as a witness for him. His deeds are righteous in the great balance, and no sin has been found in him. He did not diminish the offerings in the temples, he did not destroy what had been made, he did not go about with deceitful speech while he was on earth."
On a reed mat behind Thoth sits Ammit, or ‘she who swallows the dead’, a monster ready to spring forward to consume Ani's heart if he fails to pass the test. This creature has the head of a crocodile, the forepart of a lion, and the hindquarters of a hippopotamus and wears a tricoloured nemes headdress, a wig cover used in Egyptian art to signify divinity.
The Great Ennead
At the top of the scene, the god Re joins 11 other deities to create a version of the Heliopolitan Ennead (missing Osiris and Seth). This great company of gods are waiting to deliver judgment on Ani and are formally seated on thrones, holding was-sceptres symbolising power and good fortune.
From right to left, the Ennead contains: Re in the Midst of his Barque; Atum; Shu; Tefnut, Mistress of Heaven; Geb; Nut, Mistress of the Sky; Isis; Nephthys; Horus, The Great God; Hathor, Mistress of the West; Hu (Authoritative Utterance) and Sia (Perception).
After hearing the reports from Thoth, the Great Ennead give a speech in one voice summarising their judgement of Ani:
“Words spoken by the Great Ennead to Thoth who is in Hermopolis: This utterance of yours is true. The vindicated Osiris Ani is straightforward, he has no sin, there is no accusation against him before us, Ammit shall not be permitted to have power over him. Let there be given to him the offerings which are issued in the presence of Osiris, and may a grant of land be established in the Field of Offerings as for the Followers of Horus.”
The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day: The Complete Papyrus of Ani Featuring Integrated Text and Full-Color Images (2015)
The papyrus of Ani; a reproduction in facsimile by E. A. W. Budge in three volumes: Vol. 1 - introductory analysis, Vol. 2 - transcription and translation, Vol. 3 - facsimile reproduction