Book of the Dead
From Thebes, Egypt
19th Dynasty, around 1275 BC
The judgement of the dead in the presence of Osiris
This scene from the Book of the Dead of Ani reads from left to right. At the left, Ani and his wife enter the judgement area. In the centre are the scales used for weighing the heart, attended by Anubis, the god of embalming. The process is also observed by Ani's ba spirit (the human-headed bird), two birth-goddesses and a male figure representing his destiny.
Ani's heart, represented as the hieroglyph for 'heart' (a mammal heart), sits on the left pan of the scales. It is being weighed against a feather, the symbol of Maat, the principle of order, which in this context means 'what is right'. The ancient Egyptians believed that the heart was the seat of the emotions, the intellect and the character, and thus represented the good or bad aspects of a person's life. If the heart did not balance out with the feather, then the deceased were condemned to non-existence, and was consumed by the ferocious 'devourer', the strange beast, part-crocodile, part-lion, and part-hippopotamus, shown at the right of this scene.
However, a papyrus devoted to ensuring the continued existence of the deceased is not likely to depict this happening. Once the judgement is completed, the deceased was declared 'true of voice' or 'justified', a standard epithet applied to dead individuals in their texts. The whole process is recorded by the ibis-headed deity Thoth. At the top twelve deities supervise the judgement.
Compare this with a vignette from the Book of the Dead of Hunefer, also in the British Museum.
R.O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Book of t, (revised ed. C. A. R. Andrews) (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)
R.B. Parkinson and S. Quirke, Papyrus, (Egyptian Bookshelf) (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)
S. Quirke and A.J. Spencer, The British Museum book of anc (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)