The Egyptians took the forecast of life after death positively and literally. In anticipation, and with a kind of symbolism as well, they painted their gardens (which they did not expect to have in the actual material sense) on the walls of their tomb-chambers. We must bear in mind that most of the garden pictures known to us are from tombs. Less often an attempt is made in the paintings to place the graves themselves in the garden as though they were part of it. In the tomb of Sennefer, the overseer of Amon’s cattle, herds and gardens, there is a beautiful decoration representing a vine, which covers the whole roof, and makes it like an arbour. If we transfer this idea from the grave-chamber to an ordinary living-room, we see in it an early attempt to bring, by the help of plant-paintings, a bit of our gardens into our rooms. We are constantly meeting with this endeavour, from the earliest times to the present day.
The importance of gardens in connection with the dead is shown by the very numerous drawings in which the mummy or the statue of a dead man is shown taking leave of his beloved possession, while he is once again rowed over the water, accompanied by his servants and met by them (Fig. 20).
Probably, this was part of a special death-feast, which was held in the garden. The coffin was placed where the dead man had best loved to be when living, perhaps in the garden plot in front of the store-room. Or it was placed on an island in the pond with votive offerings, while the train of mourners is assembling on the bank. For the offerings special arbours were set up in the gardens. But it is always the actual garden that is represented, the very place that he himself had made, even though the dead man may appear in the picture as though he was master still.
In the tomb of the writer Ennene, who (as was mentioned before) gives a proud list of the trees he had planted, the garden is depicted as well as the house. There are several tiers, one above the other: first comes the house with a granary and a wall round it with two entrance doors; next, a pond among trees, then several other rows of trees, and lastly in the top tier an open kiosk, in which the dead man is sitting with his wife, and is saluted by a servant who is seen passing along. Thus Ennene has attained what he asks for in his inscription: “ He treads once more his gardens in the west, he is cooled under his sycomore, he gazes on plots of fair tall trees, which he himself had planted when on earth.” And he also looks upon his real home, where work is quietly proceeding, where gardeners who are still on earth are tending and watering his garden.
Besides these gardens that are pictured inside the tombs, to indicate that the soul on the other side can enjoy its possessions, there are also other little gardens of the dead laid out in front of the graves. In the story of Sinuhe the fugitive comes home from a foreign land, and thankfully rejoices that Pharaoh has made ready a grand tomb for him: “ It was a Necropolis-garden, with fields lying before the town, as it might be for his best friend.” This tale belongs to the Middle Period, and in the New we find on two sepulchral columns an account of gardens of the kind. At the entrance to the tomb there are two or three palms and a sycomore. On one of these columns there is also a table with votive offerings (Fig. 21).
These gardens were certainly not large, for in the desert land they could not raise great plantations owing to lack of water. Perhaps they were only intended as a sort of symbolic picture of a garden, to show that the soul, when it came forth from the grave, really finds a tree to sit beside. It seems certain that the description of Osiris is of this kind. In the form of the bird Bennu (the Greek Phoenix) Osiris sits on the sacred tamarisk
tree in front of the tomb (Fig. 22). There is a scene, often shown. of the way hunger and thirst are quenched in the garden. The goddess is seen with half of her body stretching out from the sycomore, handing food and drink to the soul. It is often only an arm, which reaches out as though it were one of the branches. The Book of the Dead also gives one picture where a dead man and his wife are collecting water into their hands, and drinking (Fig. 23).
Perhaps a presentation of more ordinary graves is given in a peculiarly formal kind of scene, that is again found with very slight differences in various pictures of the Eighteenth Dynasty. It shows palms, seven, five, or fewer, with a water-tank passing through the middle of all their trunks, as though to indicate that there is water on both sides of them. There are vegetable beds drawn like a chess board at the side, and generally two other trees, perhaps meant for sycomores (Fig. 24). These gardens are indirectly connected with the actual feasts for the dead (Fig. 25).
One of them is at the tomb of the writer Inny, close to his own beautiful garden. Surely by this was intended some sort of ceremonial or symbolic picture of the garden of the dead, and maybe Sinuhe’s Necropolis-garden should be regarded in a similar way, fields and all. It seems just as likely that it is a very ancient garden type, handed down deliberately in the books that record sepulchral monuments. In the Middle Period we certainly find gardens of the living not very different from these, at any rate in the case of vegetable gardens. But it is quite possible that our pictures really go back to a still older time, of which as yet no descriptions have been discovered.