#843: Meresamun the Chicagoan

October 30th, 2017

From: eteeter@********.edu

To: 1001chicago@gmail.com

Questions for Meresamun:

What did your music sound like? Was it more like chanting? Were there duos or trios?

I know that you worked in Thebes. Where did you and your family live? 

Did you know any of the other people who worked at Karnak that we know from their mummies-like Paankhenan (Art Institute) or Djedmaatesankh (Royal Ontario Museum)?

Amun loves her, that’s what the name means.

Meresamun worked as a singer-priestess in the wind god’s temple at Karnak in Thebes twenty-eight hundred years ago. She was about 30 when she died, a woman of wealth and status who pacified Amun, king of the gods, three times a day, one month out of every four.

Today, she lives under glass in Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Teeter and I wonder about her.

What was your life like when you were not working in the temple? Did you have a lot of household servants, or did you help with cooking?

The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago is a historical jumble sale, a museum of what museums used to be like. Glass cases and stands are crammed with artifacts, each of which would get its own room with interactive display and Morgan Freeman-narrated movie explaining its role in ancient life if it were part of a smaller collection.

Here, the history is so massive, the collection so stunning and the dang rooms so small, the cases crowd. Here, a glass box of a dozen amphorae. Here, a pharaoh statue as tall as the room. Here, a Persian bull head so crushingly massive, the floors had to be specially reinforced.

Here, Meresamun.

How old were you when you started working as a temple singer, and did you (as we have suspected) work your way up through promotions or seniority to the final title of “singer in the interior of the temples”?

Dr. Teeter is Dr. Emily Teeter, an Oriental Institute egyptologist who has studied Meresamun for years and who was kind enough to share some of the questions she would have for the woman who would become an artifact.

The singer-priestess’ corpse is undersold, given the beauty of the find. Purchased in 1920 from collectors or grave-robbers, the terminology up to your politics, nothing is known of her burial conditions, family situation or tomb. Her gorgeous, color-drenched coffin was scooped from her grave the way she was scooped from life and her brain scooped out her ethmoid sinus as part of the mummification process.

Did you have any say in the appearance of your coffin?

What was the cause of your death? If you were ill for some time, did you help prepare for your funeral?

Were you really buried at Medinet Habu?

Her coffin is still intact, nothing opened or unwrapped. She sits under glass or Plexi sharing a room with the first written account of a labor strike, the aforementioned massive pharaoh, hundreds of artifacts of such meticulous preservation and beauty as to make a classicist weep, and two other mummies, one that researchers think might be Petosiris the high priest of Thoth and one they’ll only ever know as “a Young Boy.”

I found myself idly wondering if Meresamun and Petosiris would have liked each other. Were they nice? Were they jerks? Were they pleasant enough but when all was said and done didn’t have enough in common to sustain a conversation? If she hadn’t died 400 years before he was born, would they have carried a priestly rivalry between Amun and Thoth, or would they have found common ground griping about wheat merchants, whiny worshipers and how touristy Ptolemais Hermiou has gotten these days?

If they’d lived another 250 years past Petosiris, would they have been kind to the boy?

We know nothing about your mother. Who was she? Was she a temple singer also? How about siblings?

Lives centuries apart in Egypt, three deaths are bound forever in a room in Cook County. It’s a respectful display that, even under glass, makes me think of Meresamun, Petosiris and a dead mummy boy as people.

I wondered what Meresamun’s voice sounded like. I wondered if she was pretty. I wondered if she was a jerk. What song did she sing as the maraca-like sistra and the necklace menats rattled and shimmied to calm the wind god, make Him amenable to praise and petition?

What did you do before you came to Chicago, she who Amun loved? Dr. Teeter and I want to know.

More on the priestess’ life

A look at an Art Institute ogre

And my grandpa’s bug at the Field Museum

What's this?

You are currently reading #843: Meresamun the Chicagoan by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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