Cosmic Canvas: Ancient Egyptian Cosmos


Nut stretches over the Earth. Art Media/Print Collector/Getty

We're gearing up for another podcast episode concerning ancient Egypt, so I thought it a good time to consider this artistic interpretation of the universe. Above, we see papyrus dating from the 21st dynasty. Nut, the goddess of heaven, stretches over the Earth, represented here by her brother Geb. The toes of the goddess are at the eastern horizon, and her fingertips at the western horizon.

The image below (from the same time period) also features the siblings' father Shu, the god of air. He holds Nut aloft, separating her from her brother. Despite Shu's attempts to separate the siblings, Geb and Nut went on to have four children together, all of whom play vital roles in Egyptian mythology: Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephthys.

It's a beautifully anthropomorphic vision of Earth, sky and the void beyond.

Cosmos in human form.
Oxford Science Archive/Print Collector/Getty Images

It's a big universe. Let's paint a picture of it. Explore more interpretations in the Cosmic Canvas blog series.


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.