The Freud Museum


Egyptian Objects

Amenophis 1 and Ahmose-Nofretiri


The main figure of this fragmentary dyad is the deified Amenophis 1, who is shown wearing a short Nubian wig, kilt, and armlets and clutching a flail in his right hand. He is seated beside his mother, the deified queen Ahmose-Nofretiri, who wears an elaborate vulture headdress. After their deaths, both Amenophis 1, second king of the 18th dynasty (r. 1514 - 1493 B.C.), and his mother, Ahmose- Nofretiri, were worshipped as the divine patrons of the vast Theban necropolis, and buried in the same tomb. In 1913-14 the tomb was cleared by Howard Carter, the archaeologist best known for discovering the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.

This queen-mother affectionately and intimately grouped with her king-son may have appealed to Freud, a first born and favoured child. He once said: ‘If a man has been his mother’s undisputed darling he retains throughout life the triumphant feeling, the confidence in success, which not seldom brings actual success along with it’ (SE, 17 p156).

Freud avidly followed reports of excavations throughout his life and surely would have known about Howard Carter’s excavation of the tomb of Amenophis 1 and Ahmose-Nephretiri. The discoverer of the Oedipus complex may have been intrigued by their burial arrangement - mother and son lying together for eternity in a common tomb.

Head of Osiris


Osiris was a complex deity, possessing an essentially dual role in the religion of ancient Egypt. Perhaps originally worshipped as a god of fertility, Osiris only gradually accrued to himself, by assimilation with various local gods, the trappings of a mummified godking, ruler of the underworld and lord of resurrection.

By the end of the 5th Dynasty (2520 - 2360 B.C.) the king, in life the embodiment of Horus, was equated in death with Osiris. This was later extended to apply to all Egyptians.

According to legend (a number of versions of which exist), Osiris was a terrestrial king whose popularity and success aroused the jealousy of his brother, Seth. Seth determined to seize the throne for himself, and he tricked Osiris into laying in a magnificent casket which he immediately nailed shut and sealed with molten lead. Seth threw the chest into the Nile where it was carried out to sea and eventually washed up on the coast of Lebanon. The dead kings widow, Isis, found the casket and brought it back to Egypt, but the body fell into Seth’s hands and was cut into fourteen pieces and scattered the length and breadth of the country. Isis sought out the pieces and reassembled the body as the first mummy. The corpse was then reanimated by her by the beating of her wings - she had taken the form of a kite - and upon the mummy of Osiris the goddess was able to conceive the child Horus.

It has been noted that this myth contains a number of themes - especially that of sibling rivalry - which relates to the first few years of Freud’s life. Freud’s younger brother Julius died in infancy. It is noticeable that Freud did not use the resources of Egyptian mythology in his work (there is no ‘Osiris complex’, as there is an Oedipus complex.

Question: What might have been the impact on Freud of the death of his younger brother when he was about two and a half years old? Why was Freud reluctant to use Egyptian mythology in his work?



Imhotep, the deified vizier of King Djoser of the 3rd Dynasty (2705 - 2640 B.C.), is best known today as the architect of the step pyramid at Saqqara, the worlds first large-scale stone building. Cast in bronze, and about 12 inches high, the statue held a prominent position on Freud’s desk.

In ancient times Imhotep was held in high esteem as a sage and a god of writing, and he later became identified with Asklepios, the Greek god of medicine. The ideas of ‘healing’, ‘writing’, and ‘wisdom’, are therefore combined in the figure.



Now attached to a modern wooden base, the figure of the god Amon-Re is shown in human form, wearing a short wrap-over kilt and his characteristic flat topped crown with tall double plumes and a large solar disk.

The name Amun, ‘the hidden one’, conveys some impression of the god’s all-pervading nature, who created the world through an act of masturbation. He became elevated to the status of king of the gods during the course of the Middle Kingdom (1987 - 1640 B.C.). “Amun” appears as a component of several royal names during this period, and the god’s prestige was further increased during the New Kingdom (1540 - 1075 B.C.) by association with the sun god Re. In that way the god became a synthesis of both visible and invisible power. During the New Kingdom he gained such power that it is almost possible to argue that Egypt had become a monotheistic state. Amun-Ra was considered to be the father and protector of the pharaoh. The Theban royal women wielded great power, and influence and were closely involved with the cult of Amun. Queen Ahmose Nefertari (the Great Wife of the Pharaoh Ahmose) was granted the title "God's Wife of Amun". By the time of the Greeks, the god Amon-Re was identified with Zeus.

Question: Why should Creation be depicted as an act of masturbation?



Ptah stands apart from the other important gods of ancient Egypt in that he was first and foremost a local god - that of Memphis, a royal residence and the administrative capital of Egypt. He was variously represented as having created the world by thought and speech alone, or as the divine patron of craftsmen and artists. This was perhaps the precursor of the idea of god as an 'architect'. As with the greater number of such figures, this bronze was presumably presented at a shrine of the god by a suppliant. The figure occupied a prominent position on Freud’s desk.

Question: What connections can you see between the idea of creating the world by thought or speech alone, and the idea of a craftsman or artist?

Amun is said to have created the world by masturbation; Ptah is said to have created the world 'by thought alone'. What connections can you see between the two?



The Egyptians identified the vulture with a number of deities, including Nekhbet of Elkab, the principal tutelary goddess of Upper Egypt, whom this small bronze piece is probably intended to represent. In hieroglyphic script, the vulture stands as the sign for mut (mother), which is the name given to another vulture goddess, Mut, one of the maternal guardians of the Pharaoh. Mut was the consort of Amun and mother of Khons. Unlike Nekhbet, Mut is more usually represented in human form. An examination of the Egyptian vulture deity became central to Freud’s argument in his essay Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood. (See Freud and Art).

Isis suckling the infant Horus


The goddess Isis, offspring of Geb and Nut and sister-wife of Osiris, represented above all else the wifely and motherly virtues that the Egyptians held dear. Following the death of Osiris and his eventual resurrection as lord of the underworld, Isis took refuge in the marshes of Chemis in the Delta. Here she gave birth to her son, rearing him in secret, protecting him by her magic powers that he might in due course avenge the murder of his father.

In this bronze figure, Isis wears a tripartite vulture headdress surmounted by the horned disc of her close associate, the cow goddess Hathor, and a simple, close-fitting ankle-length garment. Harpocrates (Horus the child), to whom the goddess offers her breast is naked except for a broad collar and close fitting cap and side lock; physically, however, he is represented not as a child but, in typical Egyptian fashion, as a miniature adult.

As the mother of Horus, Isis was also the mother of Pharaoh and the guarantor of royal succession. She is sometimes depicted wearing a headdress representing a throne. Always a goddess of importance, during the later periods of pharaonic rule the worship of Isis was especially popular. Under the Romans, her cult spread throughout the empire, and she came to be regarded as the goddess par excellence. Isis Lactans is seen by some as a natural prototype for the Christian image of the Madonna and Child, though a much more powerful figure, and she was a patron goddess of motherhood and childbirth. The priestesses of Isis were skilled healers and midwives, who had magical powers and could also interpret dreams.

Question: Psychoanalysis has been called 'mdwifery of the soul'. Do you think it is more suited to men or women as practitioners? Why so?

Baboon of Thoth


Thoth was an Ibis-headed lunar god in Middle Egypt, and a patron of all things intellectual, particularly writing. As scribe of the gods, Thoth had charge of the scales at the Weighing of the Heart ceremony, conducted after death to establish the merit and virtue of the dead person. The baboon was recognized as the spirit of Thoth.

As god of intellectual pursuits, and inventor of hieroglyphs, the baboon of Thoth may have had a special appeal to Freud because of its conflation of instinct and intellect. One of Freud’s missions, after all, was to reveal the profound influence of instinct – sexuality and aggression - on man’s intellectual achievements. Freud also used the metaphor of a pictorial language (hieroglyphics) to describe the dream-process.

Question: Freud thought that 'intelligence' was connected to the olfactory sense (smell). Why would he make such a strange comparison?

Discussion topic: The idea of 'judgement' in all its many manifestations. How do you judge yourself?

Falcon-headed figure


This figure is probably intended as a representation of the falcon-headed god, Horus, son of Isis, who avenged the murder of Osiris, king of the underworld. In fact the figure is a fake, of a type still produced in Egypt today, using traditional methods and frequently employing ancient materials. It was perhaps one of a group of figures bought from the dealer Robert Lustig in 1931.

Falcon-headed figures appear in an anxiety dream that Freud had as a child, which he analyzed some thirty years later in The Interpretation of Dreams:

“In it I saw my beloved mother, with a peculiarly peaceful expression on her features, being carried into the room by two (or three) people with birds’ beaks and laid upon the bed. I awoke in tears and screaming and interrupted my parents’ sleep. The strangely draped and unnaturally tall figures with birds’ beaks were derived from the illustrations to Philippson’s Bible. I fancy they must have been gods with falcons’ heads from an ancient Egyptian funerary relief.”

Question: Why would Freud collect figures that gave him nightmares?

Heart Scarab


For the Egyptians the scarab beetle was closely associated with the concept of resurrection and rebirth: it lays its eggs in a ball of dead matter, dung, from which new life was subsequently seen to emerge. Today the scarab is one of the most frequently encountered amulets from ancient Egypt.

The heart scarab was a common article of funerary equipment, intended to prevent the heart (for the Egyptians the seat of all emotions and the source of all physical action, including speech) from testifying against its owner at the final judgement, the Weighing of the Heart. In this ceremony, the heart was placed in one pan of the scales to be balanced against the feather of Maat, goddess of truth and justice, which rested in the opposing pan. With the heart in place on the balance, the deceased recited a declaration of innocence before the divine tribunal of forty-two assessors. If the scales did not balance his chances of entry into the hereafter would be lost: he would be thrown to ‘the Eater’ – a composite monster, part crocodile, part lion, and part hippo – to die a second death.

Shabti figure of Senna

IMAGE Fm3271

Mummified figures like this first appeared singly in tombs toward the end of the Middle Kingdom (1987 - 1640 B.C.) when they were clearly intended as substitutes for the dead person. Later their role broadened and they became regarded as deputies of the deceased, whose job was to carry out on his behalf any menial agricultural tasks that he might be required to perform.

Freud was fascinated by the way in which the dead continue to influence the living, that is, to live on intrapsychically - in mummified form one might say - and to work for and on the living mind. Freud discovered a different kind of life after death: the coercion of the commands, prohibitions, fears, and wishes of the deceased on the minds and actions of those who live on.


Human-headed bird (Ba-bird)

IMAGE FM3286BaBird

This type of figure, commonly encountered perched at the rounded summits of Ptolemaic wooden funerary stelae, represents the ba (individuality) of the deceased, one of the aspects into which a person divided at death. The accompanying aspects were the body itself and the ka, or life-force. Unlike the body, the ba was not a prisoner of the tomb. Very much independent, it took the form of a bird in order to visit the land of the living and partake of the pleasures it left behind.

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