This is the climax of the album, a song about a dying Egyptian Pharaoh lamenting on the limits of his power. The Egyptian mythology and imagery sets the mood for the album, which is perfectly matched by the album cover and pictures. This is a powerful song, and has one of Maiden's best instrumental sections, which begins with a slow and beautiful solo followed by two brilliant guitar solos separated by a bass part. It's so good that I wore out my first Powerslave tape in that part of the song from constant rewinding.
The Eye of Horus The Eye of Horus mentioned in the song has a very specific meaning. For the ancient Egyptians, the Eye of Horus or wedjat the "Whole One" was a powerful symbol of protection, and was also considered to confer wisdom, health and prosperity. Horus (whose name means "He who is above" and is itself a Latin form of a Greek word for the Egyptian name Heru or Hor) was one of the most important Egyptian gods, a sun-god represented as a falcon or with the head of a hawk (one of the first animals to be worshipped in Egypt), whose right eye was the Sun and whose left eye was the Moon (symbols previously encountered in 'Revelations' on the Piece Of Mind album). He was the son of Osiris (god of the underworld) and Isis (mother goddess). Osiris was slain by his own brother, the evil Set (jackal-headed god of night), and Horus fought Set to avenge his father's death, winning the battle but losing an eye in the process. The eye was restored by the magic of the god of wisdom and the moon, Thoth, and this allowed Horus to grant Osiris rebirth in the underworld (hence the verse in the song: "Enter the risen Osiris, risen again").
It is interesting to note that the "Rx" symbol used in the pharmaceutical industry and in medicine has its origins in the Eye of Horus. Variations of the Eye of Horus are even nowadays still often encountered, a notable case being the all-seeing eye in the Great Seal of the United States. The reverse of the Great Seal is shown below with a detail of the Eye symbol that completes the pyramid:
The Eye of Horus The eye itself is represented as a figure with 6 parts, these parts corresponding to the six senses: Touch, Taste, Hearing, Thought, Sight, and Smell. The eye was considered to be the receptor of "input" and had these six doors to receive data. The construction of the eye follows very precise laws. The senses are ordered according to their importance and according to how much energy must be absorbed by the eye for an individual to receive a particular sensation. All of the sensory data input is considered "food". In the Ancient Egyptian measurement system, the Eye of Horus represented a fractional quantification system to measure parts of a whole. The entire eye measured 1 heqat and each of the parts of the eye measured fractions of this heqat. This system was used to record prescriptions, land and grain. The complete Eye of Horus represents in fact 63/64, but it is rounded off to 1.
The corresponding sense data are:
1/64 heqat Touch
1/32 heqat Taste
1/16 heqat Hearing
1/8 heqat Thought
1/4 heqat Sight
1/2 heqat Smell
МThe ancient Egyptians also used anther unit, the ro, whose symbol was the mouth and representing one mouthful (once again, these measures are associated with food, or input data). By definition 320 ro = 1 heqat. Considering the ro as the smallest unit of input energy needed for the input to register as sense data, we note that: 320 = 5 ? 64. In terms of ro we therefore have 5 ro to register a Touch, 10 ro to register a Taste, 20 ro to register a Sound, 40 ro to register a Thought, 80 ro to register a Light, and 160 ro to register a Smell. The parts of the drawings of the eye correspond to the various senses:
1 Touch (1/64 heqat or 5 ro):
This drawing corresponds to a stick planted into the ground, like planting a stalk that will take root. The Earth represents touch. The act of planting itself represents physical contact and touching.
2 Taste (1/32 heqat or 10 ro):
This part of the eye represents the sprouting of the wheat or grain from the planted stalk. It is the food we put into our mouth and therefore represents taste. Taste is also: Touch + Shape. This means that the different tastes we experience come from touching different shapes. So Touch seems to be a more fundamental sense than Taste.
3 Hearing (1/16 heqat or 20 ro):
This symbolises the ear and the figure points towards the ear on the face. Also, it has the shape of a horn or some musical instrument. The sound has a taste for us, causing a preference. Sound requires Touch + Taste and so is a combination of the lower senses.
4 Thought (1/8 heqat or 40 ro):
This is thought. We often use our eyebrows to express our thoughts and this facial feature is closest to that part of the forehead we associate with thinking. Thought = Touch + Taste + Hearing. Thinking is a kind of surpressed sound. The language we think in is like the "touch" of muscle prior to giving voice. And of course, we have a "taste" for different types of thoughts.
5 Sight (1/4 heqat or 80 ro):
This is the pupil of the eye and is pretty self-explanatory. It represents the action of seeing or simply the sensation of light.
6 Smell (1/2 heqat or 160 ro):
This part of the eye points to the nose and it even looks like a nose. Naturally, it represents the sensation of smell.
The dying Pharaoh therefore probably sees the Eye of Horus as the loss of his senses to the power of death, and the "risen Osiris" is the equivalent of the Reaper in Western civilisations, waiting for him as he passes away. He reflects on his past life and he doesn't seem to have any remorse about having ruled the land with terror. He even pushes the sarcasm as to welcome his successor with "blood and red wine", apparently hoping that the dictatorial rule will carry on after he's gone.
The last verses deal with the infamous "Mummy's curse", a belief created by authors of fantastic fiction in the 19th Century and perpetuated by sensational press journalists in the early 20th Century when archeologists discovered and explored pharaohs' tombs. All this has of course a perfectly rational explanation, but it fits perfectly well with the Egyptian folklore and tales of long-dead pharaohs striking from the grave.
The term "Powerslave" can also arguably be applied to Iron Maiden, as they were at the time becoming increasingly popular and were caught in a vicious circle of album release / promotion tour, album release / promotion tour. There didn't seem to be an end and Bruce Dickinson wrote this song with this situation in mind. Nevertheless, despite many ups and downs, Maiden was going to enjoy a successful career for over 20 more years after the release of this album.