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Ancient Egyptian Literature

Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume I: The Old and Middle Kingdoms

Miriam Lichtheim
With a New Foreword by Antonio Loprieno
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 2
Pages: 300
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  • Book Info
    Ancient Egyptian Literature
    Book Description:

    First published in 1973 – and followed by Volume II in 1976 and Volume III in 1980 – this anthology has assumed classic status in the field of Egyptology and portrays the remarkable evolution of the literary forms of one of the world’s earliest civilizations. Volume I outlines the early and gradual evolution of Egyptian literary genres, including biographical and historical inscriptions carved on stone, the various classes of literary works written with pen on papyrus, and the mortuary literature that focuses on life after death. Introduced with a new foreword by Antonio Loprieno. Volume II shows the culmination of these literary genres within the single period known as the New Kingdom (1550-1080 B.C.). With a new foreword by Hans-W. Fischer-Elfert. Volume III spans the last millennium of Pharaonic civilization, from the tenth century B.C. to the beginning of the Christian era. With a new foreword by Joseph G. Manning.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93305-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xi)
  3. Chronological Table
    (pp. xii-xiii)
  4. Abbreviations and Symbols
    (pp. xiv-xxii)
  5. Foreword to the 2006 Edition
    (pp. xxiii-xxxii)
    Antonio Loprieno

    When it first appeared in 1973, the first volume of Miriam Lichtheim’sAncient Egyptian Literaturewas in many respects an epochal book. Although already established as an important field of research within Egyptology, the study of Pharaonic literature was primarily considered at that time to be a tool for our understanding of Egyptian culture and society as a whole. The first modern author—“modern” in the sense of his competence in Egyptian language and scripts—to offer a complete treatment of this ancient civilizations written production was Adolf Erman, whoseLiteratur der Alten Ägypter, published in German in 1923 (and...

  6. Introduction

    • Literary Genres and Literary Styles
      (pp. 3-12)

      When writing first appeared in Egypt, at the very beginning of the dynastic age, its use was limited to the briefest notations designed to identify a person or a place, an event or a possession. An aura of magic surrounded the art which was said to derive from the gods. As its use slowly grew, its first major application (if we judge by the evidence of what has survived) took the form of anOffering List, a long list of fabrics, foods, and ointments, carved on the walls of private tombs.

      The dogma of the divinity of kingship led to...

  7. PART ONE: The Old Kingdom

    • I. Monumental Inscriptions from Private Tombs
      (pp. 15-27)

      (1) An offering which the king gives and Anubis, lord of the necropolis, first of the god's hall: May she be buried in the western necropolis in great old age. May she travel on the good ways on which a revered one travels well.

      (2) May offerings be given her on the New Year's feast, the Thoth feast, the First-of-the-Year feast thewas-feast, the Sokar feast, the Great Flame feast, the Brazier feast the Procession-of-Min feast, the monthlysadj-feast, the Beginning-of-the-Month feast, the Beginning-of-the-Half-Month feast, every feast, every day, to the royal daughter, the royal ornament, Ni-sedjer-kai.

      (1) An offering...

      (pp. 28-28)

      (1) First jubilee of Merire, given life, duration, and dominion; may he live like Re. (3) District of the Two-Falcons: Coptus: chapel of Queen-mother Iput. My majesty has commanded the exemption of this chapel [and what belongs to it] (5) in serfs and large and small cattle. [There is no] claim [whatever against it]. As to any commissioner who shall travel south on any mission, my majesty does not permit (him) (7) to charge any travel expenses to the chapel. Nor does my majesty permit to supply the royal retinue. For my majesty has commanded the exemption of this chapel....

    • III. From The Pyramid Texts
      (pp. 29-50)

      The Pyramid Texts are carved on the walls of the sarcophagus chambers and adjoining rooms and corridors that together form the royal burial suites inside the pyramids of Saqqara. They were discovered in 1881 in five of the Saqqara pyramids; those of Unas, the last king of the Fifth Dynasty, and of Kings Teti, Pepi I, Mernere, and Pepi II, the principal kings of the Sixth Dynasty.

      Since the 1920s some additional texts were found in the pyramids of the three queens of Pepi II, and in the pyramid of King Ibi of the Eighth Dynasty.

      Taken together they constitute...

    • IV. A Theological Treatise “THE MEMPHITE THEOLOGY”
      (pp. 51-57)

      The text is carved on a rectangular slab of black granite, which measures 92 Ⅹ 137 cm. It consists of two horizontal lines, written at the top across the entire width of the stone, and sixty-two columns which begin on the left side, In addition to numerous lacunae, the middle portion of the text, columns twenty-four to forty-seven, has been almost completely obliterated owing to the slab’s reuse as a nether millstone.

      As shown by its introduction, the text was copied onto the stone by order of King Shabaka of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty (ca. 710 b.c.), because the original, written...

    • V. Didactic Literature
      (pp. 58-80)

      Beginning of the Instruction made by the Hereditary Prince, Count, King's Son, Hardjedef, for his son, his nursling, whose name is Au-ib-re. [He] says:

      Cleanse yourself before your (own) eyes,

      Lest another cleanse you.

      When you prosper, found your household,

      Take a hearty wife,¹ a son will be born you.

      It is for the son you build a house,

      When you make a place for yourself.²

      Make good your dwelling in the graveyard,

      Make worthy your station in the West.³

      Given that⁴ death humbles us,

      Given that life exalts us,

      The house of death is for life.

      Seek for yourself...

  8. PART TWO: The Transition to the Middle Kingdom

    • I. Monumental Inscriptions from Private Tombs
      (pp. 83-93)

      The seven tomb inscriptions in this section illustrate the major themes that recur in the autobiographies of this brief period. Their owners are persons of various ranks who have in common an intense loyalty to their home districts, their nomes, which they rule or in which they serve a ruler.

      The striving for local autonomy, and the power struggle between the Heracleopolitan and Theban dynasties, resulted in intermittent warfare, recurring famines, and shifting alliances. This is the picture we piece together from the tomb inscriptions; and along with these features there emerges a strong sense of independence and self-reliance on...

    • II. The Prayers of a Theban King A STELA OF KING WAHANKH INTEF II
      (pp. 94-96)

      [An offering which the king gives (and) Osiris: an offering of a thousand of bread and beer], a thousand of ointment jars and clothing, a thousand of everything good, to one honored by Re-Atum in his evenings, honored by Hathor [who nurses the dawn].¹ He says:

      Will you depart, father Re, before you commend me?

      Will sky conceal you before you commend me?

      Commend 〈me〉 to night and those dwelling in it,

      So as to find [me among your adorers],² O Re,

      Who worship you at your risings,

      Who lament at your settings.³

      May night embrace me, midnight shelter me

      By your command,...

    • III. The Testament of a Heracleopolitan King THE INSTRUCTION ADDRESSED TO KING MERIKARE
      (pp. 97-110)

      The text is preserved in three fragmentary papyri which only partly complement one another. They are Papyrus Leningrad 1116A, dating from the second half of the Eighteenth Dynasty; P. Moscow 4658, from the very end of the Eighteenth Dynasty; and P. Carlsberg 6, from the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty or later. Unfortunately, the most complete manuscript, P. Leningrad, is also the most corrupt. The numerous lacunae and the many scribal errors make this text one of the most difficult.

      The work is cast in the form of an Instruction spoken by an old king to his son and successor....

  9. PART THREE: The Middle Kingdom

    • I. Monumental Inscriptions
      (pp. 113-130)

      Assembled in this section are seven major inscriptions of the Middle Kingdom which range in date from the end of the Eleventh Dynasty to the end of the Thirteenth. Three of the inscriptions are from the royal sphere, the other four are autobiographies of officials.

      Because of their precise dates, monumental inscriptions bring into focus the continual evolution of the literary forms and provide a frame of reference for the literary works on papyrus which, lacking dates, are dated by internal evidence only.

      Though a very small sample, the seven inscriptions are representative of Middle Kingdom monumental texts. The royal...

    • II. A Spell from the Coffin Texts CT 1130 and 1031
      (pp. 131-133)

      Words spoken by Him-whose-names-are-hidden, the All-Lord, as he speaks before those who silence the storm, in the sailing of the court:¹

      Hail in peace! I repeat to you the good deeds which my own heart did for me from within the serpent-coil,² in order to silence strife. I did four good deeds within the portal of lightland:

      I made the four winds, that every man might breathe in his time. This is one of the deeds.

      I made the great inundation, that the humble might benefit by it like the great. This is one of the deeds.

      I made every man like his fellow; and I...

    • III. Didactic Literature
      (pp. 134-192)

      The first and the last of the seven works in this section belong to the genreInstructionin the specific sense in which the Egyptians used the term: a teaching of a father to his son. But all seven works are instructional in the wider sense. They formulate and ponder problems of life and death and seek solutions. Egypt and Mesopotamia were the earliest practitioners of this class of writings, to which the name “Wisdom Literature” has been given. Their example contributed significantly to the subsequent flowering of the genre among the Hebrews.

      The compositional forms in which the evolved...

    • IV. Songs and Hymns
      (pp. 193-210)

      While the distinction between poems and songs is sometimes uncertain, we may first claim as songs those poems that are indicated as being recited to the accompaniment of a musical instrument. Second, it is customary to treat as religious songs, i.e., hymns, those poems that show a clear connection with the temple celt and with festivals. Third, we may class as songs the short pieces of poetry carved above scenes of labor depicted in tomb reliefs. Such workmen’s songs are in fact comparable to songs sung by Egyptian workmen to this day.

      The few snatches of workmen’s songs that have...

    • V. Prose Tales
      (pp. 211-236)

      Perhaps more than any other genre of Egyptian literature, these few surviving prose tales speak to the modem reader, for they are creations of the universal storytelling impulse, and of an imagination that roamed and played upon experience, unfettered by the functional orientation of most Egyptian literary works. It would be a mistake, however, to think of these tales as being folklore, as being simply and artlessly told. Like all Egyptian writings, the tales come from the sphere of the educated scribes and from the ambience of the court. It is true that the style of theShipwrecked Sailoris...

  10. Indexes
    (pp. 237-245)