God of Harmony Osiris in Egyptian Mice Tomb

Recently an “early Ptolomaic” tomb was discovered similar in themes to the famous Egyptian Books of the Dead (Middle Kingdom). Normally written on papyrus, they feature multiple tableau of Osiris judging the dead and other scenes. Osiris is a long lasting and perhaps supreme god whose cult was present throughout 3000 years of Dynastic history. I have previously interpreted his throne through drawings but, in the new tomb, he is painted on the walls at least twice and the design of his throne looks like layers of “eggs”. Below is one of the press pictures taken from the Guardian, and the headline is Mummified mice found in ‘beautiful, colourful’ Egyptian tomb.

Osiris could have been seen as a/the god of Harmony and below I explain why harmony may have been thought technically significant at the dawn of our earliest texts, then found in Sumeria 900 miles to the East. The reason I believe musical ratios were significant at the dawn of history because they had naturally emerged from measuring the lunar and solar year and comparing these with the time between loops of the outer planets Jupiter and Saturn.

Wallis Budge drawing in Osiris Judge of the Dead. We can see the lines but no detail and the bottom right is a vertical root 2 rectangle rather than a near square.

My work with celestial harmony grew from Megalithic monuments, interpreted as a culture defined by an astronomy using numbers as lengths to count celestial time periods and build numerate structures in the process. The words harmony of the spheres came through followers of Pythagoras who, for the West, conducted both a pilgrimage and origin work on the numerical origins of culture so, it was only a matter of time before I would connect with the ancient harmonists since, around 2000, I became aware that the lunar month was resonant with Jupiter and Saturn as tone (9/8) and semitone (10/9) interval. The lunar year was well studied by the megalithic with respect to the solar year – a relationship they captured in the right angled Lunation Triangle – so they were all fixed to compare time periods and are the logical choice to have first discovered Jupiter and Saturn’s relationship to the lunar year.

However, two intervals cannot make music since, at least, a melody is required with a larger range, most often the octave, in which a tone frequency doubles in the ratio 2/1. What then happens is one of the strange facts about music. The larger tones we call harmonious all emerge from the numbers less than 7, in a set call the senarius (“out of six”). Thus seven punctuates musical harmony leaving a second stage in which the tones and semitone (for Just tuning) emerge between the numbers 8 to 16 (itself a doubling) so that 9/8 is a tone and 10/9 is another tone that allows the semitone 16/15 to emerge. These tones enable music but also 9/8 and 16/15 are fixed relationships between the lunar year and Jupiter and Saturn.

The numerical origins of musical ratios prior to Equal Temperament.

I believe this pattern is what was shown in the tomb painting, within the side of Osiris’ throne. It is not just the smallness of the numbers in these ratios but also the fact that they differ by just one unit (musical ratios are superparticular). I noticed (below) the count of “eggs” within the larger golden frame is 15 across and 14 down, thus differing by one. The L-shape left, the outer golden frame, is familiar to sacred geometry with the Egyptians, who loved grids and arithmetic relationships like our arrays. Its ratio would be 16 across and 15 down, and could be seen as the semitone at the upper limit of relationships shown above.

The Throne area of the painting above Photograph: Khaled Desouki

The smaller L-shape (a gnomon) embracing the red square would then be 8 across and 7 down, the ratio of the Egyptian Royal foot, a ratio excluded from early Sumerian music for its use of the number 7 which separates the Senarius from the tones and semitone. Thus 9/8 then 10/9 grow top left of the gnomon for 8/7 and then bottom right are the lower numbers of the senarius, as ratios between the numbers 6 down to 1 – within the red square.

Overlaying the numerical content of the Throne Photograph: Khaled Desouki

The growing tonal intervals are presented as superparticular rectangles with dimensions in proportion to the musical interval names we use today in table below

rectangle interval
2 by 1 octave
3 by 2 fifth
4 by 3 fourth
5 by 4 maj. third
6 by 5 min. third

It is the clarity of a wall rather than papyrus that reveals detail from which this interpretation seems likely. Such a design on this all-important throne could supplement or change what is known of this long lasting god and give new emphasis to musical theory as having been more significant to the Egyptians outside of the area of practical music but as a cosmological reality in the sky. The Kaaba’s rectangular portrayal of the senarius can be seen here, using adjacent odd numbers.

My book Harmonic Origins of the World (2018), now generally available, examines Osiris and other gods of mythology and scriptures, from their numerical and harmonic codes; using the methods of Ernest G McClain, methods believed similar to those known by Plato and possibly Pythagoras. These codes came to be there because of the same technical interest in a harmony garnered by ancient astronomy.