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The Office of Chantress - TWO ANCIENT TITLES., ORGANIZATION OF THE CHANTRESSES., SOURCES

god served phyle egyptian

Two ancient Egyptian titles refer to women who chanted the ritual for gods and goddesses. They participated in the daily ritual and in special festival liturgies. In the daily ritual, singers “woke” the deity in the morning and sang the god to sleep in the evening. Their titles are heset , literally “singer,” and shemayet , literally “musician.” Since most of the evidence for “singers” and for “musicians” comes from titles on coffins, it is nearly impossible to determine the difference between the two titles. The title “singer” appeared earlier, first known from the Old Kingdom (2675–2170 B.C.E. ). The title “musician” is better documented from the New Kingdom (1539–1075 B.C.E. ). The titles nearly always associate the woman who holds it with a particular deity, including Isis, Mut, Osiris, Montu, and Amun. These titles are united in translation under the name “chantress.”

ORGANIZATION OF THE CHANTRESSES.

The women who served as chantresses generally came from the upper class, and even queens belonged to the most important group of chantresses: those who served the god Amun, king of the gods. The chantress accompanied her singing with a sistrum. This sacred rattle was closely associated with the goddess Hathor, whose symbol often appeared as decoration on it. Many representations of the queens and princesses show them holding the sistrum while they chant for the god. Queen Nefertiti was described as “one who pacifies the god with a sweet voice and whose two hands carry the sistra.” Organized into four groups known as phyle , the chantresses served in rotation at the temple over the course of the year. The role of chantress was an honored one in Egyptian society with the chief of each phyle reporting directly to the High Priest of the temple in which the phyle served. The chantress was less a professional musician than a priestess who recited or chanted the liturgy before the statues of the god.

SOURCES

Emily Teeter, “Female Musicians in Pharaonic Egypt,” in Rediscovering the Muses in Women’s Musical Traditions. Ed. Kimberly Marshall (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1993): 68–91.

Lana Troy, Patterns of Queenship in Ancient Egyptian Myth and History (Uppsala, Sweden: Uppsala Studies in Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Civilizations, 1986).

The Old Kingdom - HIGH POINT., KHAFRE., PEPI I., PEPI I KNEELING. [next] [back] The North-South Pyramid Complex: King Djoser's Complex at Saqqara - EVIDENCE., FIRST WELL -PRESERVED STONE BUILDING., SYMBOLIC, NON-FUNCTIONAL BUILDINGS., FUNCTIONAL BUILDINGS.

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