Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Senet - an ancient Egyptian game of the soul

examiner.com (Diana Gainer)

The ancient Egyptian Senet (snt in hieroglyphs, which means “passing”) is a game for two players, requiring a board with 3 rows of 10 squares each – sort of like a checkerboard cut off short. Each player tries to be the first to send his or her little “men” around all 30 squares and off the board. This is rather like the point of Parcheesi. The second – or last – across and off the board is not just a rotten egg, as we say in English, but doomed! Egyptians took this game very seriously indeed. More on that later.

Players each get 5 “men” (although originally they got 7). To be able to tell them apart, these playing pieces need to be different colors, theoretically black and white. However, the version the Word Geek purchased was made of wood and the “white” ones are not painted at all, which makes them a pale, woody color. The “black” ones are painted green. The Egyptians couldn’t distinguish between blue and green with their ancient language but they definitely had a separate word for “black,” a word they used to describe their own country, kmt, namely, “the black land.” The “great green,” on the other hand, was the Mediterranean Sea, not a land at all.

Anyway, there is a set path for these little “men,” half of which resemble the nondescript pawns of the average chess game and half of which are more like the castles but minus crenelation. They must go from top left, down 10 squares, then up the middle row of 10 squares, and then back down the 3rd row of 10 squares. This sort of back and forth path, when applied to reading or writing ancient texts, is called boustrophedon, from the Greek description of how the ox plows.

These playing pieces (and the human players) hope that they are heading to the Egyptian version of Paradise, unification with the sun, Mr. Ra or Re, because playing Senet is a way of deciding what will happen to the players’ soul (or souls, since people had 2 in those days) in the Land of the Dead. So, stay alert! You wouldn’t want to lose your ka (or ba).

See the above page for the full story.

Don't forget that you can play Senet online at Ben's All About Egypt website.

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