The first of these is the original hieroglyphic picture of the head and horns of a bull; the second is the astronomical sign of Taurus, and, as such, for astronomical purposes has retained that form, probably because so seldom thus used in comparison to its subsequent employment as a letter; the third shows the transition of the second into the fourth, after it began to be used alphabetically, and is one form of the Greek letter tau; the last is the Greek and Roman capital tau, which is identical to the tau cross.
The common name of all these characters, it will be observed, from the first pictorial representation of the head and horns of a bull, and including the sign T, is tau, meaning a bull or cow. For the real name is tau, the "us" of the Latin and the "os" of the Greek being nothing but the usual termination characteristic of those languages. The Phoenician name of the letter T, according to Rawlinson, is also tau, meaning, however, "bread" in that language. But, as the bread is the nourisher and "staff of life," the word is equivalent to the Egyptian "giver of life." The real meaning and figurative significance of the Phoenician word for bread thus becomes at once apparent; it may have had a double as well as a figurative meaning. Even in the Egyptian the word has a meaning suggestive of agriculture and the raising of grain, out of which bread is made, for the Coptic word thour meant a bull, and its verb athor meant to plow.
The constellation Taurus was anciently at the vernal equinox, and was considered by the Egyptians (for reasons before fully explained) the emblem of a perpetual return to life; the sign Taurus, and consequently the tau cross, thus became the expressive symbol of the vernal equinox and of immortality. The letter, or symbol, together with the mythology connected with it, was adopted by the Greeks, perhaps, indirectly through the Phoenicians, for the Greeks claim to have been taught the letters by Cadmus, a Phoenician. The foregoing is probably the origin of the letter tau, and the peculiar significance attached to it.
Rawlinson, in his notes to "Herodotus," Book V, Chapter LVIII, holds that the Greeks derived their letters directly from the Phoenicians, for the reason that they are quite similar in form, and that their names all have a significance in the Phoenician language of the object which they were originally intended to represent; while, on the other hand, their names have no meaning whatever in the Greek tongue. In other words, he argues that the names of the letters are Phoenician, and not Greek, and that, therefore, the Greeks must have borrowed their letters directly from the Phoenicians. This he shows conclusively by the table of letters with their names, which he gives. This list of names, however, proves just as conclusively that the Phoenicians themselves did not invent the letters, but simply translated their names into their own language when they began to use them. The names, translated into English, are as follows:
A Tent, A serpent, An Eye, A Camel, A Hand, A Mouth,
A door, The Hollow An Axe, A Window of a Hand, A Head A Hook, A Prick-stick, A Tooth, and A Lance water, Bread
The Phoenicians, it is certain, were a maritime nation. They were wholly commercial in their character, and the most renowned people of all antiquity for their naval pursuits. Had they invented the letters, the objects which the letters most certainly would have represented would have been of a marine and commercial nature. We would expect to find ships, boats, sails, ropes, rudders, anchors, chains, oars, and that class of objects. None of these, however, appear; on the contrary, the objects are all pastoral or agricultural in their character, indicative of a people engaged in those pursuits—a people who used the bull to plow with, and whose commercial enterprises were not conducted on the sea by ships.
It is another significant and almost conclusive fact that each and every one of these "objects," except the camel, are found in profusion among the hieroglyphic pictures of the Egyptians, and were in daily and familiar use in all their written inscriptions, as we find them on their monuments and sculptures even to this day. This is true of no other ancient people, and the conclusion becomes irresistible that the Phoenicians, whose ships and traffic brought them in frequent contact with the Egyptians, borrowed of them their letters or derived them from the hieroglyphics of Egypt. They naturally, and almost of course translated the names of the various objects and animals represented in the hieroglyphs into their own Phoenician tongue. This the Greeks, when they in turn borrowed from the Phoenicians, did not do, probably because, when the hieroglyphs reached them, they had assumed a more arbitrary form, and one so far removed from the original pictures as to render any such translation wholly unnecessary, if not impossible.
That the Phoenicians, a people preeminent for their ingenuity and skill, greatly improved on the Egyptian method, and reduced the hieroglyphs to a more strictly alphabetic and arbitrary form and use, is highly probable, if not certain; but that the originals of the letters, together with their names, first came from Egypt, is also just as certain. The improvements which the Phoenicians made in the art of writing by letters was, no doubt, as much due to the fact that they were free from certain religious obligations, which hampered an advance in that direction by the Egyptians, as to their own characteristic ingenuity and national aptitude for scientific pursuits.
It may be urged, as an objection to our derivation of the letter tau, that, in the Phoenician and Hebrew alphabets, the letter A is named aleph, meaning a bull. The Greeks, also, called the letter A alpha, adopting the Phoenician name. But the sound of A is also represented in the Egyptian hieroglyphs by the tau cross. The very fact, therefore, that the Phoenician letter A was named a bull, shows that the Egyptian tau cross had a name with a similar meaning, and did represent not only a bull, but specifically the sacred bull called Apis, which, according to the Egyptian system, gave it the sound of the letter A, for the use of the hieroglyph as a letter followed the first sound of the name of the object represented. It also shows that the allusion of the tau cross of Egypt was to the vernal equinox, and the constellation of the bull thereon, for which reason it was an emblem of life and a return to life. Apis was the name of the sacred bull, under which emblematic form the Egyptians worshipped Osiris, the sun-god.
In the Chaldaic alphabets it is the letter T which is said to have been originally represented by a bull In the alphabet of Cadmus the letter T is a cross, similar to another of the Egyptian signs for the letter A. Now, if all these alphabets were in fact originally derived from the hieroglyphics of Egypt, this is just the sort of confusion which we would naturally expect to exist respecting the name and form of the letters T and A among the earlier alphabets of other nations, who translated the names into their own language, and began to use them on the Egyptian system, and according to the initial sounds of those names.
In some of these alphabets the letter A, while it lost the form of the cross, retained the name of a bull, as no distinction would naturally be made by other nations between that particular bull named Apis, sacred to the Egyptians only, and a bull generally.
In other alphabets both the name and form might be retained, but the name being translated into another language, the letter might be used as the symbol of another sound. The Greek Tauros and Latin Taurus have the word tau as a common root, which may have been derived from the Egyptian or Coptic kau, a cow or bull, or athor The Arabic thour, a bull is evidently the same as athor, the "a" only being dropped. Such changes as these would cause the hieroglyphic sign of the bull to represent in some languages the sound of T in place of that of A.
CRUX ANSATA, EMBLEM OF ETERNAL LIFE
The specific ancient Egyptian "emblem of eternal life," however, does not appear to have been adopted in its complete form by other nations—that is, as a letter. Its form was abbreviated, although its symbolical meaning was retained to some extent. The Egyptian symbol of eternal life, in its unabridged form, is as below, and was known in later times as the "Cruz Ansata." As will be seen, it is nothing more than the "tau cross" surmounted by a circle, sometimes made somewhat oval in shape. The entire hieroglyphic was probably originally the picture of the head and horns of a bull, surmounted by the orb of the sun, thus expressing in a still more direct and specific manner the sun in Taurus.
It was thus they were accustomed to represent Apis. This symbol, from its constant use at first as a sacred emblem, and finally, as a letter, or hieroglyphic, would naturally assume more and more of an arbitrary form. The face and horns of the bull would gradually take the shape of a cross, as before t described, and the orb of the sun which surmounted it lose somewhat its perfect circular form. The whole hieroglyph would thus finally assume an arbitrary form, like that here represented. If this conjecture be correct, it fully explains why this peculiar symbol denoted among the Egyptians eternal life— the reason for which, according to both Wilkinson and Ken-drick, has as yet remained in obscurity. (See Kendrick's "Ancient Egypt," vol. i, page 254; Wilkinson's "Ancient Egyptians," vol. 1, page 277.)
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