This is a fine example of a rare type of stela, made to honour the ‘effective spirits of Re’ (Akhw iqr n Ra). Only around 60 are known, and these date exclusively to the later New Kingdom (c. 1295-1069 BC). This limestone example is 29cms in height and was found by W.M.F. Petrie in the first court of the mortuary temple of Merenptah (c. 1213-1203 BC) on the Theban west bank.
The text above the main figure (and recipient of the offerings) reads:
‘The effective spirit of Re, Ptah-hesy, justified’
Ptah-hesy (‘favoured-of-Ptah’) is shown in the classic pose of the ‘effective spirits’: seated and holding a lotus blossom to his face in one hand. In the other, Ptah-hesy holds an ankh – the sign of ‘life.’ This is extremely unusual in scenes depicting ordinary mortals, usually only being the privilege of deities and kings. These attributes indicate the supra-human state of the ‘effective spirits of Re’. They were believed to be the blessed dead, close ancestors who had made a successful transition to the afterlife and were able to journey with the sun god Re in his barque across the sky.The solar barque depicted in the upper register of this stela illustrates this concept. Those privileged enough to be on board this divine cruise ship across the heavens were thought particularly well-placed to intercede in the lives of the living and act beneficially for them. Prayers in the form of letters are known, which address the Akhwdirectly. Stelae such as this would have been dedicated to win the favour of the ‘effective spirits’, and were often set up by relatives.
The text above the figure of the donor of the stela identifies him:
‘Made by the guardian of the temple of millions of years, Pen-renut, justified, of Thebes.
We are not certain of the relationship of the two men. The ‘mansion of millions of years’ in which Pen-renut worked is not specified, but must be a mortuary temple on the Theban west bank where the cult of deceased kings would – it was hoped – be celebrated for ‘millions of years’. Here the term is probably intended to imply the mortuary temple of Merenptah, where the stela was found.