Thursday, June 05, 2008

Hieroglyphs, Four-toed Statues and Egyptians, Oh My!

What the heck were the Egyptians doing on the island? I guess the first time Lost gave us a taste of Egypt was when the countdown clock in Desmond's hatch went past zero and into hieroglyphics. Supposedly the signs would read something like "Cause to die". Then, this season, there were hieroglyphics on the door in Ben's basement (where he went to seemingly summon Smokey): in this case the signs read "To Summon Protection" (or something close to it), and there were even more ancient Egyptian scribblings on the walls of the cold Donkey Wheel Cave in Dharma's basement.

Arguably the four-toed statue seen by Sayid, Sun and Jin may be Egyptian too, though it's hard to tell from just a foot of course. (Several posters at The Fuselage think it may be a statue of Anubis.)

So... thinking about Egypt made me think of dead people and bodies and dead people seemingly coming back to life. You know, like Christian or Yemi for example. Some time ago, Damon and Carlton made a comment that it is indeed significant that both Yemi's and Christian's bodies disappeared. We saw them both dead, then their bodies were gone. And we saw them both, or something that looked like them anyway, interacting with various Losties. Yemi's interactions with Eko are very interesting, since it seems he wants Eko to confess his sins. From Lostpedia:

Eko demands to know why Yemi wants to hear his confession, and why now? Eko finds Yemi waiting expectantly in the middle of a 'garden' of brightly colored anthurium bushes. Yemi asks if Eko is ready to confess, to which Eko assents.

Eko shows his cross to Yemi, who reaches out and cradles it in his fingers. Eko says, "I ask for no forgiveness, Father, for I have not sinned. I have only done what I needed to do to survive."

Yemi lets go of the cross. Referring to Daniel asking if Eko was a bad man, Eko says that when he was a small boy he killed a man to save his brother's (Yemi's) life--and that he is not sorry for this, he is proud of it. Then Eko kneels before Yemi and extends his arms, palms upward in supplication. He appeals, and says to the Yemi-like figure: "I did not ask for the life I was given, but it was given nonetheless. And with it, I did my best."

An angry-looking Yemi replies, "You speak to me as if I were your brother!" Inferring that this apparition of Yemi isn't actually his brother, Eko asks, "Who are you?" But 'Yemi' turns away and vanishes into the jungle.

I'm not sure if it is significant, and in that case how, that Christian's interactions with Jack and the other Losties have been different than Yemi's. Also the smoke monster has not appeared to be as closely tied to him as it was to Yemi.

But back to Egypt. In ancient Egypt, the body was needed for the soul to be able to live on in the afterlife.What we would call the soul consisted of two important parts in the afterlife: ka and ba. Ka can be very loosely translated as "life force" and ba as "personality", though the concepts are rather different really. Anyway. The soul needed the body to live after death. Is something similar happening on the island? Are Christian and Yemi able to "come back to life" because their bodies were available? Is part of their souls still alive on the island somehow, even though they are both really dead? What happened to their bodies in that case? Are they corporeal or just manifestations of smokey or representations somehow made visible by the people who see them? Then how come Locke, who has never seen Christian, can still see him? It's obviously something more complicated. This is Lost after all!

Another interesting concept in the Egyptian afterlife is "the weighing of the heart", the judgement passed on the dead person when he first enters the afterlife.

From the Museum of Science's webpage:

Egyptians had to justify their time on earth upon arrival at the Hall of Judgment. The other senses were needed immediately because the first trip after death was to the Field of Reeds, the land of wish-fulfillment. Having to pass through seven gates, aided by the magic spells inscribed upon the funerary objects, the dead arrived in the presence of Osiris, god of the netherworld, to face judgment. The ceremony was called, "weighing the heart," and explains why the heart remained intact while the priests removed the other vital organs and placed them in canopic jars.

Justifying himself was not easy. Face to face with forty-two gods, the heart of the dead was weighed in the presence of the jackal-headed Anubis, god of the dead, against a feather, representing Maat, goddess of truth. Balancing the scale meant immortality. Should the heart not balance perfectly, Amemet devoured it, and Seth, murderer of Osiris, ate the rest of the body.

The demon who would devour the heart was called Amemet or Ammit or other variations on those names, and according to Wikipedia:

In Egyptian mythology, Ammit (also spelt Ammut, Ammet, Amam, Amemet and Ahemait) was the personification of divine retribution for all the wrongs one had committed in life and she dwelt in the Hall of Ma'at. Ammit was said to live near the scales of justice, in the underworld, Duat, where the hearts of the dead were weighed by Anubis against the feather in Ma'at's headdress. Ma'at was regarded as the personification of the principles of truth and justice. The hearts of those who failed the test were given to Ammit for her to devour, and their souls were not permitted to enter Aaru, having to be restless forever—dying a second time.

Ammit was not worshipped, and she was never regarded as a goddess. Instead, she embodied all that the Egyptians feared, threatening to bind them to eternal restlessness if they did not follow the principle of Ma'at. Thus Ammit was depicted with the head of a crocodile or dog, the front part of her body as a lioness or leopard, and her hind quarters in the form of a hippopotamus, a combination of those animals which were considered as the most dangerous to the ancient Egyptians. Although often referred to as a demon, technically, however, in destroying evil she acted as a force for good.

Sound like anyone we know? Someone kind of dark and smokey? It certainly seems like this is what happened when Eko refused to repent and ask forgiveness for his sins. His heart was found wanting and he was killed.

Was the island once inhabited or visited by ancient Egyptians who were influenced in their mythology by what happened on the island? Was that why they were obsessed with preserving the body after death? Did encounters with Smokey lead to the myth of Ammit? Though if the writings on Ben's basement door really did mean "to summon protection", then it seems that whoever wrote that didn't really think of Smokey as evil, but rather as a guardian.

When Lost showed us that scribbly hatch map, there were such a mass of information, hints and clues and probably red herrings on it that I think many a brain almost short circuited. There's a link to an enhanced image of it in my links section. There, reference is made to "CVs", aka "Cerberus Vents". And since we know that Smokey does indeed seem to have vents/tunnels/lairs underground (remember when it tried to pull Locke into one?), we all now figured we knew one more name for Smokey: Cerberus:

the hound of Hades, a monstrous three-headed dog[1] with a snake for a tail and snakes down his back like a mane, whose analogs in other cultures are hellhounds. --- Cerberus guarded the gate to Hades and ensured that spirits of the dead could enter, but none could exit (additionally, no living person was to come into Hades).
Which is another suggestive description when you connect it to Smokey.

So what's the conclusion of all these rambling thoughts? Damned if I know. I don't think the island is Hades or the Egyptian afterlife or purgatory. But I do think that one of the ideas behind the show might be that this island has influenced these myths in ancient times because ancient peoples might have had access to it at various points in history. Or, maybe it's as simple as various myths influencing the way Lost's writers choose to depict things? I mean, if you want to make something look eerie and mysterious, then using hieroglyphics is a good choice.

But the inclusion of Charlotte in the cast of characters probably means we will get some archeology and anthropology explained to us in the coming seasons. Just like the inclusion of ghost-whispering Miles and physicist Faraday hint at other areas of exploration. Wanna bet that Charlotte can read hieroglyphics? *grins*

Screencap from S2's "Live Together, Die Alone", thanks to lost-media.


edi said...

shame Charlotte died, though if Locke is alive...
Who knows.

Maria said...

I was really disappointed to see Charlotte written out so quickly, before she ever had a chance to actually DO something and use her skills on the island. I know she may pop up again in flashbacks/timetravel but still... it seems such a waste.