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King Unas lives – Only in inscriptions

“King Unas Lives” is the second track on my album, “Divan”, which has songs created from ancient historical documents – in this case, hieroglyphics. King Unas is also known as Ounas, Wenis, and Wenas. He was the ninth and last ruler of the Fifth Dynasty of Egypt during the Old Kingdom, and reigned for 15 to 30 years in the mid-24th century BCE. He died in 2345 BCE, ending the Fifth Dynasty. Pharaoh Unas was the first pharaoh to have the incantations for his voyage after death inscribed on the walls of his tomb (below). I became fascinated with King Unas after watching the excellent documentary about him by Dr. David Miano. It is part of Dr. Miano’s video series “World of Antiquity“.

When the burial chamber of Pharaoh Unas was discovered in his pyramid complex in Saqqara, Egypt, and opened in 1881, amazingly, the inner walls – the room and the corridors leading off it – were found covered in hieroglyphics of incantations; not only engraved, but filled in with blue paint. The 283 spells and utterances on the walls were still perfectly preserved and blue after more than 4,000 years. I based the lyrics of this song on a few lines of those incantations.

Translated and transliterated, and read as a whole, the 283 spells or utterances on the walls make up a prose-poem of epic proportions that has been the subject of many analyses and studies. (The complete “Pyramid Texts”, translated and transliterated into English by Wim van den Dungen, 2006, can be downloaded from the Internet.)​

The lyricism of the prose-poems in the “Pyramid Texts” on the walls is surprising. Some are gruesome, some have beautiful imagery. Some depict Egypt as it was at the time of Unas’s death. The Egyptians believed their pharaohs were gods, or one god amongst many gods, with their status as deities changing in importance as time went on. For example, the words refer to “the followers of Re”; “Re” or “Ra”, or “Ba” is the Egyptian sun god, which was, at the time, the most important one, and to the belief that the king will rise again, as the incarnation of “Ra”, and is immortal.


To create an Egyptian-sounding song, I used the oud, saz zither, dulcimer, and Persian Clarinet in the composition. The lead melody is played on the zither and oud, and the spoken lyrics are fitted into the rhythm of the verses, like a chant. The bass instrumentalist on this track is Luke Garfield, who also did the mixing and mastering.

Imagining King UNas

​I drew this picture of a very handsome King Unas for the music video of the song. It is purely imaginary. No images, drawings, engravings, statues or sculptures exist of Unas, but there are sculptures of one of his titles, the god Horus, which has the head of a bird of prey.

Using that as a starting point, I gave Unas a long, narrow head, a pointy beak of a nose, and very dark skin. But Ancient Egyptian pharaohs were, according to some Egyptian historians, not African in appearance, but Greek-looking and fair-skinned. So I gave him green eyes, high cheekbones, and a light tan.

The gallery Below shows the progress in the development of a portrait of King unas

His beard is tied with gold ribbons, which, in the stylized sarcophagi of the pharaohs of later dynasties, like Tutankhamun, resembles a woven leather whip handle. I gave him perfectly regular features and an attractive mouth.

For the music video I took this portrait of him and animated it, so that he smiles and looks around.

But this pharaoh, like many other kings and queens, including Queen Nefertiti, was likely not physically perfect in real life and probably had scars from injuries, ailments and hereditary diseases. In the end, King Unas, poor man, did not have his wish granted to preserve his body and his resting place forever. There is very little left of it, other than the rooms and the inscriptions on the walls. Who knows to where his bones were scattered.

Spoken Word Lyrics

“Unas is as that which dawns, as that which endures. 
The doers of evil shall not be able to destroy the favourite place of Unas among the living in this land, now and forever. 
King Unas is Lord of Wisdom, whose mother knows not his name. 
The glory of King Unas is in the sky, his might is in the horizon, like his father, Atum*, his begetter; though his son, King Unas, is mightier than he. 
Atum, here is your son, whom you have caused to be restored that he may live: 
He lives. This King, Unas, lives. He is not dead. He is not destroyed. He has not been judged. He judges. This King, Unas, judges all. 
I was conceived in Nun. I was born in Nun. I have come and I have brought to you, the bread of those I found there.
I was conceived in the night. I was born in the night. I belong to the Followers of Re, who are before the Morning Star. 
The sky rains down. The stars darken. The celestial vaults stagger. 
The bones of Aker**tremble, at seeing King Unas rise as Ba, a god who lives on his fathers and feeds on his mothers.”

*“Atum” is named in the tomb inscriptions as the father of Unas, because Pharaoh Unas was believed to have been reincarnated as a god. Atum, also spelled Atoum and Atem, and called “Finisher of the World”, is the primordial god in Egyptian mythology from whom all else arose, and he is also the incarnation of the evening sun. Some historians say that Unas’s human father, and predecessor, was Pharaoh Djedkare Isesi, though that has not been confirmed.

​**“Aker” was an ancient Egyptian personification of the horizon, and an earth and underworld god, believed to guard the eastern and western horizons.

“King Unas Lives” on Vimeo

Credits are in the video.

Next time

The next track to be released is “Havn (Do All Birds Have Nests)”.

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