THE ANCIENT EGYPTIAN AESTHETIC
is undeniably distinctive, yet certain natural or cosmic patterns are universal to humankind and are easily identified on ancient Egyptian artifacts. For example, the imagery of the sun (called ‘Re’ by the Egyptians) is universal, as are the ubiquitous bird and snake images, all of which are clearly recognizable in their iconography.
However, the deeper philosophical significance, variations of visual symbols (such as the falcon, ibis, duck or other particular species of birds) and the composite meaning when synthesized with other images is further understood by gaining an understanding of the Egyptian worldview. For in addition to textual data, their holistic ideology is thoroughly embedded in Egyptian symbolism.
Other core concepts that draw on the context of the natural environment, are the elements of change and continuity. Both of these principles were recognized, and feature prominently in the way Egyptian holistic philosophy is presented. In contrast to modern, western ideas of change bringing progress, ancient Egyptian ideology places change squarely within the context of continuity as demonstrated by natural laws. For instance, seasons change yet they also perpetually recur, providing stability, structure and a backdrop to our experience.
Drawing upon what is evident in nature, Egyptian holism reveals a mindset that sought to build a culture in harmony with the interdependent balance and interrelation of the kosmos which is clear to anyone who takes the time to study their underlying philosophy. The concept of cosmic harmony is quintessentially represented by the ntr/goddess Ma’at.
While changing cycles were recognized as evident in nature, the Egyptian worldview and orientation was toward aligning oneself with the enduring and eternal. This core attribute of ancient Egyptian wisdom persisted despite changes in politics, times of war or peace, different religious conceptions that emerged, during periods of stability or chaos, and is recorded in numerous ways.
Although change certainly occurred over the three millennia of ancient Egyptian history, it is a testament to this great nation that the cultural identity of Kemet also remained remarkably consistent and lasted for so long. Their essential alignment with the enduring and eternal over the transitory is testified to by the fact that Egyptian culture persisted and is well-documented for over 3,000 years! In addition, the magnificent and grandiose pyramids of Giza yet still standing themselves are approximately 4,500 years old, serving as ancient reminders of the greatness and glory of this unique culture, and a visible testament to their emphasis on the lasting over the transitory.
Regardless of the media used – that is, whether written on papyrus (the first paper), painted on wood coffins, carved in stone, recorded within pyramids, or found buried in tombs, the messages they left us reveal ancient yet eternal wisdom. This timeless worldview is rooted in the harmony evident in nature, which the Egyptians of old called Ma’at and from which modern man has yet much to learn. Studying the underlying philosophical significance of Egyptian ideology can help modern culture reconnect with nature in new ways, yet which are inspired by ancient wisdom
Insight into the Egyptian environment and how it informed their worldview is a necessary introduction to even the most elementary studies of Egyptology, as well as its various specialized branches.
However, if you’re specifically interested in studying the Egyptian holism, how it relates to ancient Greek thought and other holistic philosophies a unique approach is needed. Engaging with ancient Egyptian philosophy as a timeless holistic ideology requires further background theory and methodology as with any other discipline. In this way, rather than just reading about how the ancients related and conceived of their own environment in the past, conscious reflection provides stimulus for how such ancient wisdom can be applied in present time.
Practicing philosophy as a way of life is more than reading about theory, and requires us each to reflect upon our own ideas and overall worldview. For instance, how do we as modern people conceive and relate to our own natural environment? On a collective level, contemporary urban cultures are finally recognizing the need to engage with nature in a more balanced, respectful way. To that end we are slowly moving toward implementing more ‘green’ procedures, making more environmentally responsible products, etc. Here are two examples of Ancient Inspirations: Egyptian Reverence for Nature and a second short post here Egyptian Reverence for Nature II.