JOHN LEE, Esq., LL.D. F.R.S. &c., in the Chair.

[Extracted from Original papers read before the Syro-Egyptian Society of London, 1845, pp. 47-60]


The work entitled the "Hieroglyphics of Horapollo Nilous" is remarkable as being the only ancient work which is written to explain the Egyptian Hieroglyphics. It professes to have been written in Coptic, and translated into Greek by one Philip; but in its present state, it is Greek in more than its language. It always speaks of the Egyptians as "they" and "them," and sometimes blunderingly attempts to explain Egyptian words by the help of the Greek language. For example, the writer says that noun "the inundation," a well-known Coptic word, means "New," deriving it from the Greek Νεος. Upon the whole, it seems more probable that it is a Greek work written by Philip, from explanations given to him by Horapollo, and which he did not understand. He gives, clause by clause, the description of the hieroglyphical characters, and the reasons, founded on figurative considerations, for the characters having such meanings. As the greater part of the characters which he describes are not found in any of the numerous inscriptions known to us, and as most of the meanings are such that it is scarcely possible they could have existed on the monuments at all, the work has, both on external and internal evidence, usually been rejected as of little worth. But now that modern ingenuity, guided by the sure and philosophical rules of induction, has given us some insight into hieroglyphics, we are led by a rational curiosity to compare our knowledge with the assertions of Horapollo; not expecting to gain much information from him (for it would be unphilosophical [p.48] to rely on a witness who is evidently mistaken in nine cases out of ten), but to see what knowledge he had of the subject which he professes to teach. His work is full of puerile reasoning. Out of the one hundred and eighty-nine groups which Horapollo undertakes to explain, it would be difficult to point out forty in which he has a knowledge of the true meaning: and in most of these, he is remarkably mistaken in the reasons which he assigns for the meaning. He is not aware that the characters represent sounds, but supposes them all to be figurative or allegorical.

We are told by Suidas that Horapollo was a grammarian of the reign of Theodosius, who, after teaching for some time in the Schools of Alexandria, removed to Constantinople; but we may fairly doubt whether our author is the person he is speaking of. Beyond this doubtful account, nothing else is known of him.

The two last editions of this work are those by Dr. Leemans of Leyden, and by Mr. A. T. Cory of Cambridge; and from the latter, in particular, I have freely borrowed in the following Notes. But the subject of hieroglyphics is still in a state of progress; and as it would be wholly unnecessary for every fresh annotator to print a new edition of the text, there can be no better method of calling the attention of students to his views than by laying them before this Society. This I venture to do; and the following few extracts from Horapollo are the whole of those in which his explanations seem to be just, according to the present state of our knowledge of the subject; and they are followed by such remarks, and illustrated by such hieroglyphical characters, as I should add if I were now publishing an edition of his work.




Chap. 1. To denote an age [or period, αιών] they draw the sun and moon, because their elements are lasting for an age [αιώνια]. But to write an age otherwise [meaning eternity] they draw a Serpent with its tail covered by the rest of its body.

Note. Thus in each of the hieroglyphics for the words Year, fig. 1,1 Month, fig. 2,2 and Day, fig. 3,3 which are the more common periods of time, we find a Sun; and in the word Month a Moon, as well as in the names of the several months. We find the Serpent with a long tail forming part of the words For ever, fig. 4;4 and the Asp with a twisted tail is the word Immortal, fig. 5.5

Again—This Serpent the Egyptians call Ouraius, which is, in Greek, Basilisk.

Note. ouro is the Coptic for King, and hence the Greek name for the animal, a Basilisk.

Chap. 3.—When they wish to denote the Natural Year, they draw Isis, that is to say, a Woman. By the same they also represent the Goddess. And Isis, with them, is a Star, called, in Egyptian, Sothis, and in Greek, the Dogstar, which seems also to rule the rest of the stars.


Note. I do not find the word Year represented by a woman; but in the zodiac of the Memnonium, the Beginning of the Year, the heliacal rising of the Dogstar, or when that star rises with the sun, is a woman in a boat, fig. 6;6 and in the Planisphere on the Temple of Dendera, we have a Cow in a boat, fig. 7,7 for the same part of the heavens; each meaning the goddess Isis.

Again—When they write a Natural Year otherwise, they draw a Palm-branch.

Note. As we have seen in fig. 1, a Palm-branch is part of the hieroglyphical word Year. lajjpi and rojjpi, the Coptic words for Year, seem to mean the complete heaven, from ph, the heavens, and lajj and rajj, rich, splendid. If this be the case, we see, in the similarity of sound between ph, the heavens, and bai, a palm-branch, why a palm-branch is used for the word Year.

Chap. 4. When they write a Month, they draw the Moon inverted because they say that on its heliacal rising, when it has come to fifteen degrees [from the sun], it appears with its horns erect; but in its decrease, after having completed the number of thirty days, it sets with its horns downward.

Note. In all the hieroglyphics for Month the Moon has its horns downward, as in fig. 2; but on the sarcophagus of the wife of Amasis, in the British Museum, where the deceased is addressed "Thy name is New Moon," the horns are upwards, as in fig. 8.8 The resemblance of this figure of the moon rising heliacally, when one day old, to the moon in a boat, seems to be the reason why the other constellations, when rising heliacally, in the zodiac of Dendera, are all in boats, as figs. 6 and 7.


Chap. 5. When writing the current Civil Year, they draw the fourth part of an aroura [their term in the square measure of land].

Note. Fig. 99 seems to be the hieroglyphic here meant, and it may be compared with fig. 1. But the Palm-branch with a Square is used when a number of years are spoken of, and the Palm-branch with a ring is used in dates; which is the reverse of what seems to be Horapollo's meaning.

Chap. 7. Moreover, the Hawk is put for the Soul, from the meaning of the name; for among the Egyptians the Hawk is called Baieth.

Note. In many sculptures we see a bird over the mouth of the dead man, meaning the soul which has quitted the body, as in fig. 10.10 In chapter 34 this bird is called the Phoenix.

Chap. 8. When writing Ares and Aphrodite they draw two Hawks.

Note. Horus is often drawn as a Hawk-headed Man, fig. 11;11 and the name of Athor, here called Aphrodite, is written with a Hawk within a House, as fig. 12.12 The word Athor is obtained from its resemblance in sound to the Coptic words for "House of Horus," hi t xwr.

Chap. 9. To write Mother or Minerva, or Juno, or  Two Drachms, they draw a Vulture ...; Minerva and Juno, because among the Egyptians Minerva is thought to preside over the upper hemisphere, and Juno over the lower and Two Drachms, because among the Egyptians the unit [of money] is two drachms.

Note. The Vulture, as in fig. 13,13 is the usual hieroglyphic for Mother. In fig. 14,14 we have the two goddesses, Neith and Isis, representing Heaven and Earth. [p.52] As our author remarks, a Didrachm is the unit of money; and fig. 13 is jjauaat, "alone."

Chap. 13. When signifying a Mundane God, or Fate, or the number Five, they draw a Star.

Note. We find the Star part of the word God on all occasions, as fig. 15.15 Fig. 16.16 is the numeral Fifteen, where the Star is the numeral Five.

Chap. 16. Again, when signifying the Two Equinoxes, they draw a Cynocephalus sitting.

Note. On the ceiling of the Memnonium at Thebes, a sitting Cynocephalus, or Dog-headed Monkey sitting on a landmark, marks the Summer solstice, as fig. 17.17

Chap. 17. When they wish to denote Courage they draw a Lion.

Note. A Lion seems to have this meaning in the hieroglyphics. See Vocab. 770.

Chap. 18. When writing Strength they draw the fore-parts of a Lion.

Note. Fig. 1818 is the word jor, 'victorious,' and the latter half of the word Neit-cori, or Nitocris, Neith the Victorious. It is spelt Thor, but the instances are common of Th and Ch being interchanged, through the guttural sound.

Chap. 21. When signifying the rising of the Nile, which in Egyptian they call Noun they sometimes draw a Lion, and sometimes three large Waterpots, and sometimes Heaven and Earth gushing forth water.

Note. In Coptic we still have the word noun for water; and the god of the Nile is called Hapinoun, or [p.53] "Waterman," fig. 19,19 though more usually Hapimou, fig. 20.20 We also meet with the title "Lord of the Waters" as fig. 21,21 with a water-pot.

Chap. 24. When they wish to write Protection, they draw two Human Heads, that of a man looking inwards, and that of a woman looking outwards.

Note. Fig. 2222 and fig. 2323 each mean Guardian and Belonging to.

Chap. 26. When they wish to denote an Opening, they draw a Hare.

Note. Horapollo probably means a rabbit, as there is a resemblance between the hieroglyphic name of the animal SOAT, fig. 24,24 and the Coptic word qwtx, "to burrow.'' When a rabbit occurs in the hieroglyphics, it has that syllabic sound, and with the letter u it forms the very common word souten, just, as in fig. 25.25

Chap. 32. When they would represent Delight, they write the number Sixteen.

Note. We have a coin of Hadrian with the figures sixteen over a reclining figure of a river god, to denote that sixteen cubits was the height of rise in the Nile at all times wished for. We have other coins on which the river god is surrounded by sixteen little naked children or Cupids; and it would almost seem that the Alexandrian artist had, in this case, had in his mind the similarity in sound, in the Latin language, between Cupids and Cubits.

Chap. 28. To denote Egyptian letters, or a Sacred Scribe, or a Boundary, they draw Ink, and a Sieve, and a Reed.


Note, In Fig. 26,26 the hieroglyphic for Scribe, and Letters, we perhaps have these objects. This character is not used when Greek letters are spoken of on the Rosetta stone.

Again—And among the sacred scribes there is a sacred book called Ambres, by which they judge as to a person lying sick, whether he will live or not.

Note. We recognise this word on the Gnostic gems in the word Chambre, and perhaps in Abrasax, whence the more modern word Abracadabra. See fig. 27.27 and fig. 28.28 In the last two words, the sound of MB has sunk into B.

Chap. 39. And again, when they would write Sacred Scribe, or Prophet, or Embalmer, or Spleen, or Smelling, or Laughter, or Sneezing, or Government, or a Judge, they draw a Dog.

Note. Anubis was the god of embalming; and the priest, whose duty it was to embalm the dead is represented with a dog's head. See fig. 29.29 He probably wore a mask of that form, for his dog's head is always large enough to hold a man's head concealed under it. A dog-headed sceptre (fig. 30.30) is also the hieroglyphic for Power. But by the help of the next chapter, we see that our author more particularly meant the Dog, fig. 31,31 which stands before Osiris in the judgment scene on the Papyri, and seems to be the original of the Greek dog Cerberus.

Chap. 40. But when they would write Government, or a Judge, they place before the dog a royal garment.

Note. This is always the case in the judgment scene: it is the skin of some spotted beast, as fig. 32,32 hanging on a pole.


Chap. 43. When writing Purity, they draw Fire and water.

Note. We find a flame of fire and a bucket of water with this meaning. See fig. 33,33 Purifications.

Chap. 44. When any thing unlawful or hateful, they draw a Fish.

Note. The nearest hieroglyphic to this; is the word dead, fig. 34,34 in which the letter M is a fish.

Chap. 46. To denote Manliness with Prudence, they draw a Bull.

Note. Fig. 35.35 is the word Brave. The arm is only the final vowel. From jjasi a bull, we get jjase to fight, by the similarity of sound.

Chap. 52. And when writing Knowledge, they draw an Ant.

Note. The group, fig. 36,36 forms the title of one of the four chief orders of the priesthood, and was also used by the king.

Chap. 53. And when they wish to write Son, they draw a Goose.

Note. Fig. 37.37 is Son, and fig. 38.38 Daughter.

Chap. 54. For an Unjust and Ungrateful Man, they draw two claws of an Hippopotamus turned downwards.

Note. Fig. 39,39 the hieroglyphical group for enemies begins with the character here spoken of.

Chap. 59. The serpent's name, among the Egyptians, is Meisi.

Note. We find this name in hieroglyphics, as fig. 40,40 [p.56] where it is followed by the demonstrative sign to distinguish it from Born. We have the same word in Coptic for serpent, jjsi.

Chap. 60. And otherwise to denote a Watchful King, they draw a Serpent watching, and in the place of the king's name, they draw a Watcher.

Note. There seems to be a mistake in this sentence; and I should conjecture, that instead of the last word φυλακα, a watcher, we should read γυπα, a vulture; and that the group meant was fig, 41,41 a sole ruler, or Monarch.

Chap. 62. When denoting a people obedient to a king, they draw a Bee.

Note. Our author seems to be thinking of the Twig and Insect, fig. 42,42 the well known title of the kings. It is strictly a double title, each used by an order of Priests, and one peculiar to the Upper, and one to the Lower Country. Hence it is to be translated King of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Chap. 70. When they speak of Darkness, they draw the tail of a Crocodile.

Note. Fig. 43.43 may be meant for a crocodile's tail. It is the word Black; and has that meaning from the similarity in sound between Χμψη], Herodotus's name for a Crocodile, and kajje the Coptic for Black.



Chap. 3. Two feet joined, and walking, signify the path of the sun in the winter solstice.

Note. In the zodiac of Tentyra, the twelve signs are enclosed within two female figures, representing the heavens, as in fig. 44;44 where the feet represent the summer, and the hands the winter solstice.

Chap. 5. The hands of a man, one holding a shield, and the other a bow when drawn, denote the Front of the Battle.

Note. The hieroglyphic nearest to this is fig. 45:45 a man's arms, one holding a shield and the other a club; this is the word Brave or Victorious.

Chap. 9. When we would denote the loins or constitution of a man, we draw the backbone; for some say that the seed is brought from thence.

Note. Fig. 46,46 which is a thigh-bone with the flesh on it, is the word Son, and may be the hieroglyphic here meant.

Chap. 11. Two men joining their right hands denote Concord.

Note. We find this group in the hieroglyphics, as fig. 47,47 and it seems to mean Friends.

Chap. 12. A man armed with a shield and a bow denotes a Crowd.

Note. We find a man with a bow for the word Soldier, as fig. 48;48 and a man with an arrow, as fig. 49,49 with the same meaning.


Chap. 29. Seven letters enclosed in two rings signify a Song, or Infinite, or Fate.

Note. This seems to allude to the Seven Tens in fig. 50,50 which mean the seventy days of mourning and embalming between the death and burial, during which the funeral song may have been sung.

Chap. 30. A straight line, together with a curved line or a Ten, signify prose writing.

Note. I know no such group as our author speaks of; but as we have seen in fig. 50, a curved line is a Ten.

Chap. 32. When they wish to draw a woman, who remains a widow till death, they draw a black Dove.

Note. The Vulture, fig. 13, which is more often the word Mother, is also Widow; as with us, the Queen-Mother is the Queen-Widow. Moreover, in Coptic, the words Mother and Solitary are nearly the same.

Chap. 41. When they wish to signify a man that caught a fever and died from a stroke of the sun, they draw a Blind beetle.

Note. This is a good instance of how our author blunders about the meaning of a group, without quite understanding it. The Scarabaeus rolling up a ball of dung between its feet, as in fig. 51,51 is one hieroglyphic for the Sun, or Ra.

Chap. 56. When they wish to signify a King that governs absolutely, and shews no mercy to faults, they draw an Eagle.

Note. The eagle and globe, fig. 52,52 is the usual title of a King. The eagle is an A, the globe is the sun, Ra, making the word ouro king; and with the article prefixed, the well known word Pharaoh.

Chap. 57. When they wish to signify a great Cyclical Renovation, they draw the bird Phoenix.


Note. We have a coin of Antoninus, as fig. 53,53 with the word ΑΙΩΝ, the age or period, written over an Ibis with a glory round his head. This was coined in honour of the end of one Sothic period or Great Year, and the beginning of another. On each of these occasions, the Ibis or Phoenix was said to return to earth. In hieroglyphics, the Palm-branch, fig. 1 and fig. 9, is the word Year; and the bird seems to have that meaning from the similarity of sound between bai a palm branch, and apoi, an ibis. In Greek, the fabled bird seems only to have obtained its name Phoenix from φοινιξ, the palm branch.

Chap. 72. When they wish to denote a man that passes fearlessly through the evils which assail him, even until death, they draw the skin of an Hyena. For if a man clothe himself in this skin, and pass through any of his enemies, he will be injured by none, but pass through without fear.

Note. The skin of an Hyena, as fig. 32, is hung before Osiris in the judgment scene, when the dead man is brought to his trial. And again, on the funereal tablets, we sometimes see the deceased clothed in an Hyena's skin (see Egypt. Inscript. 72.) Either of these may have given rise to our author's remark.

Chap. 73. When they wish to signify a man skilled in heavenly matters, they draw a Crane flying.

Note. Fig. 5454 is the word High-priest, in which the flying Crane is the first syllable.

Chap. 115. When they wish to signify a prolific [or a generous] man, they draw a House Sparrow.

Note. Fig. 5555 is the word Great, of which the first character is a Sparrow.


Chap. 116. When they would signify a man that is constant and uniform, they draw a Lyre.

Note. The character, fig. 56,56 is the word Like; but it is doubtful whether it is a musical instrument.

Chap. 118. When they wish to signify a man that distributes justice equally to all, they draw the Feather of an Ostrich.

Note, Fig. 5757 is the God or Goddess of Truth. The letters are MO, forming the word jjhi true.

Chap. 119. When they wish to signify a man that is fond of building, they draw a Man's hand.

Note. Fig. 5858 is the word to set up.



1 Fig. 1, Sharpe's Vocab. 634.

2  Fig. 2, Voc. 643.

3 Fig. 3, Voc. 671.

4 Fig. 4, Voc. 316.

5 Fig. 5, Voc. 191.

6 Fig. 6, Burton, pl. 58.

7 Fig. 7, Denon, pl. 132.

8 Fig. 8, Sharpe's Egypt. Inscript. pl 118.

9 Fig. 9, Voc, 635.

10 Fig. 10, Materia Hierog. I. 18.

11 Fig. 11, Egypt. Inscript. pl. 1.

12 Fig. 12, Voc. 116.

13 Fig. 13, Voc. 1013.

14 Fig. 14, Denon, pl. 129.

15 Fig. 15, Voc. 190.

16 Fig. 16, Egypt. Inscript. 73.

17 Fig. 17, Burton, pl. 58.

18 Fig. 18, Wilkinson's Thebes, pl. i.

19 Fig. 19, Burton, pl. 57.

20 Fig. 20, Burton, pl. 59.

21 Fig. 21, Voc. 781.

22 Fig 22, Voc. 496.

23 Fig. 23, Voc. 493.

24 Fig. 24, Rossellini, M.C. 20.

25 Fig. 25, Voc. 620.

26 Fig. 26, Voc. 545.

27 Fig. 27, Walsh's Gems.

28 Fig. 28, Walsh's Gems.

29 Fig. 29, Young's Hierog. pl. 68.

30 Fig. 30, Voc. 556.

31 Fig. 31, Young's Hierog. pl. 5.

32 Fig. 32, Voc. 142.

33 Fig. 33, Egypt. Inscript. 66.

34 Fig. 34, Egypt. Inscript. 32.

35 Fig. 35, Egypt. Inscript. 42.

36 Fig. 36, Egypt. Inscript. 32.

37 Fig. 37, Voc. 996.

38 Fig. 38, Voc. 997.

39 Fig. 39, Egypt. Inscript. 74.

40 Fig. 40, Egypt. Inscript. 65.

41 Fig. 41, Voc. 403.

42  Fig. 42, Voc. 417.

43 Fig. 43, Rossellini, Mon. Reg. 41.

44 Fig. 44, Denon, pl. 132.

45 Fig. 45, Egypt. Inscript. 42.

46 Fig. 46, 1012.

47 Fig. 47, Burton, 42.

48 Fig, 48, Voc. 988.

49 Fig. 49, Voc. 989.

50 Fig. 50, Voc. 676.

51 Fig. 51, Egypt. Inscript. pl. 29.

52 Fig. 52, Voc. 406.

53 Fig. 53, Zaega's Niimi Egypt.

54 Fig. 54, Voc. 202.

55 Fig. 55, Voc. 582.

56 Fig. 56, Voc. 447.

57 Fig. 57, Egypt. Inscript. 67.

58 Fig. 58, Voc. 925.