Friday, June 21, 2019

Obscure Art Friday: Weighing the Heart of the Dead by Erol Otus

Erol Otus, Weighing the Heart of the Dead. Image source

The above picture is a fantastic full-page illustration by Erol Otus from Deities & Demigods (later retitled Legends & Lore), the fourth AD&D hardcover released in 1980. A tour-de-force of TSR's bullpen of artists at the time, it includes the work of Darlene, Dee, Diesel, Jaquays, Otus, Rosolf, Sutherland and Trampier, and lesser known artists (Eymoth, Jeff Lanners), all together in a single tome. 

But this picture is not in the highly sought after first or second printings that include the Cthulhu & Melnibonean Mythos, and which get the most attention these days. It was only added to the third printing when the Cthulhu & Melnibonean Mythos were removed. Some clues to the change are that Otus' signature includes an "81", which is the year after the book was originally published, and that Jeff Dee illustrated the rest of the Egyptian Mythos.

I'm not sure why TSR added this picture; I thought maybe they needed to fill in a page but by my count those two Mythos total 16 pages, which was exactly the amount removed (reducing the page count from 144 to 128 pages). Perhaps TSR let Otus add it because they were removing his stunning work on the Cthulhu Mythos (which he drew all of), which was his major contribution to the book besides the cover, title page illustration, and a few Non-Human Deities.

I had the version with this picture when I was kid and always liked it; these days I only have the earlier version but at some point realized this picture was not in it. I posted about it a few years ago in the Holmes Basic Community on G+. Per our discussions there, the image is a bit confusingly placed, as it comes on page 43 at the end of the Chinese Mythos, whose last entry is "Yen-Wang-Yeh (judge of the dead)", but the image is clearly illustrating a scene from the Egyptian Mythos, which after removal of the Cthulhu Mythos is placed right after the Chinese Mythos. 

Thoth is pictured in the background, and Anubis  in the foreground, fulfilling his role as "collector of the souls for transportation to the house of the dead", per his entry in the Egyptian Mythos. Curiously, there does not seem to be any further description of the Judgement scene anywhere else in the Egyptian Mythos, including any description of the creature standing behind the scales.

I found the above scan at the Sharktanks tumblr, where they wrote: 
"The Egyptian rite of Judgement from TSR’s “Deities and Demigods” by Erol Otus, 1980.  Still the only artistic depiction of the rite I’ve seen outside of the original hieroglyphs. The Devourer of the Dead is a lot bigger in this version than in the ancient copies I’ve seen."
The Wikipedia entry for the Book of the Dead gives more information, including a picture showing the same entities:

"This detail scene, from the Papyrus of Hunefer (c. 1275 BCE), shows the scribe Hunefer's heart being weighed on the scale of Maat against the feather of truth, by the jackal-headed Anubis. The ibis-headed Thoth, scribe of the gods, records the result. If his heart equals exactly the weight of the feather, Hunefer is allowed to pass into the afterlife. If not, he is eaten by the waiting chimeric devouring creature Ammit composed of the deadly crocodile, lion, and hippopotamus. Vignettes such as these were a common illustration in Egyptian books of the dead."


  1. Erol Otus is my all-time favorite artist. I didn't realize the llearlier edition of that book didn't have this pic.

  2. Chris Holmes wrote: "Hey I just tried to comment on your Erol Otus post and Google messed me up. I enjoyed it and wanted you to know Dad had a copy of the papyrus of that scene in his study."

  3. nice article ; the glee in the devourer's eyes makes this scene