THE LITERATURE AND RELIGION OF ANCIENT EGYPT.
THAT the first people who possessed letters in the literal sense
should also be the first people to possess letters in the literary
sense, is no more than we should expect. Not, indeed, that the
possession of an alphabet necessarily implies literary activity on the
part of those who possess it. The Romans engraved their codes on tablets
of stone and brass, and sculptured inscriptions on their public
buildings, for centuries before they wrote histories and dramas, odes
and satires. The Oscans, the Etruscans, and other early nations of
Italy, never, so far as we know, got beyond mere inscriptions. Even the
Greeks of the Ægean, as we are now just beginning to find out, were in
possession of the Cadmæan alphabet some five or six centuries before the
time of Homer; and yet we have no evidence that the Iliad was committed
to writing earlier than some four hundred years after the death of the
poet. Literature is, in fact, the fruit of leisure. Nations which are
going through the struggle for existence call for soldiers, not scribes.
The bard, the rhapsodist, the extemporaneous singer of war-chants and
dirges, is the only representative of literature at that early stage in
the history of a people; and it is not till the arts of peace have taken
their place side by side with the arts of war, that poems are written,
not sung–that histories are recorded with the pen, not carved out by the
But when we are dealing with the origin and evolution of national
literatures, there is yet another factor to be taken into the account;
namely, the possession of a cheap and convenient material upon which to
write. This is a very commonplace and vulgar necessity; yet it is one of
paramount importance. So long as stone and metal are the only available
substances, so long will they be used for inscriptions and state
documents only. It is not till papyrus, and parchment, and finally
paper, become current articles of commerce, that writing as a career or
a recreation is even possible. Without papyrus or parchment, we should
never have had a literature of Egypt, Greece, or Rome. Without paper, we
could never have had the magnificent literary efflorescence of the
Renaissance. Fancy Anacreon and Sappho, Martial and Horace, laboriously
scratching their poems on tablets of limestone, or plates of bronze !
How the perfume of the roses and the sting of the epigrams and the aroma
of the Sabine wine would have evaporated under such a process!
So far as we know, the people of ancient Egypt had to make no
struggle for existence at the outset of their career. Hemmed in between
two vast and pathless deserts, their fertile valley was so strongly
fortified by nature herself that they had little cause to fear danger
from without. It is not, in fact, till thirteen royal dynasties,
comprising about two hundred kings, have passed in shadowy succession
across the stage of Egyptian history, that we hear of the Hyksôs
The Egyptians of the first twelve dynasties, and, indeed, the bulk of
the nation at all times, were a pastoral and peaceful people, well
content with their lot in this life, and much occupied with preparations
for the next. They were naturally averse to soldiering, and the armies
of the great military Pharaohs of the Nineteenth and Twentieth dynasties
were largely composed of foreign auxiliaries. What the native-born
Egyptian most dearly loved was to cultivate his paternal acres, to
meditate on morals and religion, and to prepare a splendid tomb for his
mummy when the inevitable summons should come. And he not only loved
meditation, but he loved to record his meditations in writing, for the
benefit of posterity.
How early the Egyptians began to cut and press the stalks of the
papyrus plant in order to make a material for the use of the scribe, it
is impossible to say. But we know that material to have been already
employed for literary purposes in the time of the Third Dynasty; that is
to say, some three thousand eight hundred years before the Christian
era. There is at this present time, in the archives of the Bibliothèque
Nationale of Paris, a papyrus written by a scribe of the Eleventh
Dynasty, which contains copies of two much more ancient documents, one
dating from the Third, and one from the Sixth Dynasty. This most
precious document (known as the Prisse Papyrus) is the only Eleventh
Dynasty papyrus yet discovered. It has been well styled "the oldest book
in the world;" (49)
and it is, at all events, the oldest papyrus known.
When I say that it is the oldest papyrus known, it is not to be
inferred that the Prisse Papyrus is the oldest specimen of Egyptian
writing yet discovered. If we turn to inscriptions cut in stone–as, for
instance, to the Fourth Dynasty tombs of Ghizeh, which are contemporary
with the Great Pyramid or to the famous Second Dynasty tablet of the
Ashmolean Museum in Oxford–we can point to inscriptions dating from 4000
B.C. and 4200 B.C. But stone cut inscriptions, even when they run to a
considerable length, are not what we naturally classify under the head
of literature. When we speak of the literature of a nation, we are not
thinking of inscriptions graven on obelisks and triumphal arches. We
mean such literature as may be stored in a library and possessed by
individuals. In a word, we mean books –books, whether in the form
of clay cylinders, of papyrus rolls, or any other portable material.
The Egyptians were the first people of the ancient world who had a
literature of this kind: who wrote books, and read books; who possessed
books, and loved them. And their literature, which grew, and flourished,
and decayed with [Page 196] the language in which it was
written, was of the most varied character, scientific, secular, and
religious. It comprised moral and educational treatises; state-papers;
works on geometry, medicine, astronomy, and magic; travels, tales,
fables, heroic poems, love-songs, and essays in the form of letters;
hymns, dirges, rituals; and last, not least, that extraordinary
collection of prayers, invocations, and religious formulæ known as
The Book of the Dead. Some of these writings are older than the
pyramids; some are as recent as the time when Egypt had fallen from her
high estate and become a Roman province. Between these two extremes lie
more than five thousand years. Of this immense body of literature we
possess only the scattered wrecks–mere "flotsam and jetsam," left
stranded on the shores of Time. Even these disjecta membra,
though they represent so small a proportion of the whole, far exceed in
mere bulk all that remains to us of the literature of the Greeks. Every
year, moreover, adds to our wealth. No less than a dozen papyri of the
remote Twelfth Dynasty period were found by Mr. Petrie in the season of
1888-1889 among the ruins of an obscure little town in the Fayûm. How
precious these documents are may be judged from the fact that only three
or four papyri of that period were previously known. In the course of
the same season, and of the previous season, Mr. Petrie discovered at
least as many papyri of later dynasties, besides hundreds of fragments
of Greek papyri of Ptolemaic and Roman times. These consist chiefly of
accounts, deeds, royal edicts, and the like, not forgetting a
magnificent fragment containing nearly the whole of the Second Book of
the Iliad. Nor is this the first time that Homer has been found in
Egypt. The three oldest Homeric texts previously known come from the
land of the Pharaohs. To those three Mr. Petrie has now added a fourth.
Other papyri found within the present century contain fragments of
Sappho, Anacreon, Thespis, Pindar, Alcæus, and Timotheus; and all,
without exception, come from graves. The great Homer Papyrus of 1889
was rolled up as a pillow for the head of its former owner; and its
former owner was a young and apparently a beautiful woman, with little
ivory teeth, and long, silky black hair. The inscription on her coffin
was illegible, and we are alike ignorant of her name, her nationality,
and her history. She may have been an Egyptian, but she was more
probably a Greek. We only know that she was young and fair, and she so
loved her Homer that those who laid her in her last resting-place buried
her precious papyrus in her grave. That papyrus is now among the
treasures of the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and all that is preserved
of its possessor–her skull and her lovely hair–are now in the South
Kensington Museum, London.
But we are not now concerned with the transcripts of foreign classics
which have been found on Egyptian soil. Our subject is the native
literature of that ancient and wonderful people whose immemorial home
was the Valley of the Nile.
The two most important subjects in the literature of a nation are,
undoubtedly, its history and its religion; and up to the present time
nothing in the shape of an Egyptian history of Egypt has been found. We
have historical tablets, historical poems, chronicles of campaigns,
lists of conquered cities, and records of public works sculptured on
stelæ, written on papyrus, and carved on the walls of temples and tombs.
But these are the materials of history–the bricks and blocks and beams
with which the historian builds up his structure. Brugsch, in his
Geschichte Aegyptens Unter Den Pharaonen, has brought together all
such documents as were known at the time when he wrote it; but no one
can read that excellent work without perceiving that it is but a
collection of inscriptions, and not a consecutive narrative. Whole
reigns are sometimes represented by only a name or a date; whole
dynasties are occasionally blank. This is no fault of the learned
author. It simply means that no monuments of those times have been
discovered. Yet we cannot doubt that histories of Egypt were written at
various periods by qualified scholars. We know of one only–the work of
Manetho, who was High Priest of Ra, and Keeper of the Archives in the
Great Temple of Heliopolis, in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus, some
two hundred and fifty years before our era. Manetho, though a true-born
Egyptian, wrote his history in Greek, which was the native tongue of the
Ptolemies and the language of the court. He wrote it, moreover, by the
royal command. Now, the Sacred College of Heliopolis was the most
ancient home of learning in Egypt. Its foundation dated back to the ages
before history; the oldest fragments embedded in The Book of the Dead
being of Heliopolitan origin. Manetho had, therefore, the most
venerable, and probably the largest, library in Egypt at his command;
and whatever histories may have been written before his time, we may be
very certain that his was the latest and the best. But of that precious
work, not a single copy has come down to our time. A few invaluable
fragments are preserved in the form of quotations by later writers–by
Josephus, for instance, in his Antiquities of the Jews, by George
the Syncellus, by Eusebius–and by various chronologers; but the work
itself has perished with the libraries in which it was treasured and the
scholars by whom it was studied.
Still, there is always room for hope in Egypt; and it may yet be
reserved for some fortunate explorer to discover the grave of a
long-forgotten scribe whose head shall be pillowed, not on a transcript
of Homer, but upon a copy of the lost History of Manetho.
Of the numerous historic documents which remain to us, the three most
interesting are perhaps the celebrated "Chant of Victory" of King
Thothmes III., the "Epic of Pentaur," and the great international treaty
between Rameses II. and the allied Princes of Syria.
The first of these is engraved on a large black granite tablet found
in the Great Temple of Karnak, at Thebes. It records the conquests of
Thothmes III.; and Thothmes III. was the Alexander of ancient Egypt. He
was possessed by the same insatiable thirst for conquest, by the same
storm-driven restlessness. Ever on the march and ever victorious,
[Page 199] he conquered the known world of his time. It was his
magnificent boast that he planted the frontiers of Egypt where he
pleased; and he did so. Southward as far, apparently, as the great
equatorial lakes which have been rediscovered in our time; northward to
the islands of the Ægean and the upper waters of the Euphrates; over
Syria and Sinai, Mesopotamia and Arabia in the east; over Libya and the
North African coast as far as Scherschell in Algeria on the west, he
carried fire and sword, and the terror of the Egyptian name. He was by
far the greatest warrior-king of Egyptian history, and his "Chant of
Victory," though rhapsodical and Oriental in style, does not exaggerate
the facts. This chant, written by the laureate of the day, is one of the
extant of the poetry of ancient Egypt. For the Egyptians,
notwithstanding the poverty of their grammar and the cumbrous structure
of their language, had poetry, and poetry of a very high order. It was
not like our poetry. It had neither rhyme nor metre; but it had rhythm.
Like the chants of the Troubadours and Trouvères, it was largely
alliterative, cadenced, symmetrical. It abounded in imagery, in
antithesis, in parallelisms. The same word, or the same phrase, was
repeated at measured intervals. In short, it had style and music; and
although the old Egyptian language is far more literally dead than the
languages of Greece and Rome, that music is still faintly audible to the
ears of such as care to listen to its distant echo.
A two-fold bas-relief group at the top of the tablet of Thothmes III.
represents the King in adoration before Amen-Ra; and the context shows
the poem to have been composed in commemoration of the opening of the
Hall of Columns added by this Pharaoh to the Temple of Amen at Karnak.
It is the god who speaks. He begins with a few lines of prose; thus:
THE DISCOURSE OF AMEN-RA,
LORD OF THRONES.
"Come unto me! Tremble thou with joy, Oh my Son, [Page 200]
my avenger, Ra-men-Kheper, endowed with life everlasting! I am
resplendent through thy love, and my heart is dilated on beholding
thy joyous entrance into my Temple. My hands have endowed thy limbs
with living strength; thy perfections are pleasant in my sight. I am
established in my Abode. I give thee victory and power over all the
nations. I have spread the fear of thee throughout all lands, and
thy terror unto the limits of the four props of heaven. It is I who
magnify the dread of thy name, and the echo of thy war-cry in the
breasts of the outer barbarians. I stretch forth my arm, and I seize
the people of Nubia in myriads, and the nations of the North in
millions, and I bind them for thee in sheaves! I have cast thine
enemies under thy sandals, and thou hast trampled their chiefs under
thine heel. By my command, the world in its length and its breadth,
from East to West is thy throne! Joyful of heart, thou dost traverse
the lands of all the nations, none daring to oppose thee. Thou hast
sailed the waters of the great sea,*
and thou hast scoured Mesopotamia in victory and power. I have made
the nations to hear thy war-cry in the depths of their caves, and I
have cut off the breath of life from their nostrils. I made their
hearts to turn back before thy victories. My glory was on thy brow,
dazzling them, leading them captive, burning them to ashes in their
settlements. Thou hast struck off the heads of the Asiatics, and
their children cannot escape from thee. Every land illuminated by
thy diadem is encircled by thy might; and in all the zone of the
heavens there is not a rebel to rise up against thee. The enemy
bring in their tribute on their backs, prostrating themselves before
thee, their limbs trembling and their hearts burned up within them."
And now the god breaks suddenly into rhythmic verse:
" 1. I came ! I gave thee might to fell the princes of Taha. I
cast them beneath thy feet, marching across their territories. I
made them to behold thy Majesty as a Lord of Light, shining in their
faces, even in my own likeness!
" 2. I came! I gave thee might to fell the nations of Asia. Thou
hast reduced to captivity the chiefs of the Rotennu. I made them to
behold thy Majesty in the splendor of thy panoply of war, wielding
thy weapons and combating in thy war-chariot.
" 3. I came! I gave thee might to fell the people of the far East
! Thou hast traversed the provinces of the Land of the Gods. I made
them to behold thee like unto the Star of Morning, shedding radiance
and showering dew!
" 4. I came! I gave thee might to fell the nations of the West!
Phoenicia and Cyprus have thee in terror. I made them to behold thy
Majesty even as a young Bull, bold of heart, horned, and
" 5. I came! I gave thee might to fell the dwellers in the
harbors of the coast-lands ! The shores of Maten tremble before
thee. I made them to behold thy Majesty even as the Crocodile, the
Lord of Terror of the water, whom none dare to encounter.
" 6. I came! I gave thee might to fell those who dwell in their
islands! Those who live in the midst of the great deep hear thy
war-cry and tremble. I made them to behold thy Majesty as an avenger
who bestrides the back of his victim.
" 7. I came! I gave thee might to fell the people of Libya! The
isles of the Danæans are under the power of thy will. I made them to
behold thy Majesty as a furious Lion, crouching over their corpses
and stalking through their valleys.
" 8. I came! I gave thee might to fell those beyond the limits of
the sea! The circuit of the great waters lies within thy grasp. I
made them to behold thy Majesty as the Hawk which hovers on high,
beholding all things at his pleasure.
" 9. I came! I gave thee might to fell the tribes of the
marsh-lands, and to bind in captivity the Herusha, ords of the
desert sands. I made them to behold thy Majesty as the Jackal of the
South, Lord of Swiftness, who scours the plains of the upper and
" 10. I came ! I gave thee might to fell the nations of Nubia,
even to the barbarians of Pat! I made them to behold thy Majesty
like unto thy two brothers, Horus and Set, whose arms I have united
to give thee power and strength."
The poem concludes with a few lines of peroration in measured prose,
in which the god approves the additions which Thothmes had made to his
temple. "Longer is it and wider," he says, "than it has ever been till
now. Great is its gateway. I bade thee make it, and thou hast made it. I
Mariette wrote of this ancient Hymn of Praise as being "redolent with
the perfume of Oriental poetry;" while Brugsch ranks it with the heroic
poem of Pentaur and a few other similar compositions, as destined for
ever to remain one of the representative specimens of ancient Egyptian
literature at its finest period.
The poem of Pentaur, which is sometimes called the Egyptian Iliad, is
in a quite different style. It is much longer than the chant of
Thothmes. It is full of incident and dialogue, and it recites, not a
mere catalogue of victories, but the events of a single campaign and the
deeds of a single hero. That hero is Rameses II., and the campaign thus
celebrated was undertaken in the fifth year of his reign, against the
allied forces of Syria and Asia Minor. The coalition thus formed
included the vassal princes of Karkhemish, Kadesh, Aradus, and Kati, all
tributaries of Egypt, headed by the Prince of the Kheta, or Hittites,
with a large Hittite army, and an immense following of the predatory and
warlike Græco-Asiatic tribes of Mysia, Lydia, Pedasos, and the Troad.
CAMP OF RAMESES II. AT SHABTÛN.
From the Great Tableau in the Temple of Abû-Simbel.
The rectangular space enclosed on three sides by a row of shields
represents the royal camp. The oblong structure to the right of the
centre is the pavilion of Rameses; five attendants kneel before the
entrance to an inner apartment, surmounted by a royal oval watched
over by winged genii. This represents the sleeping-place of the
King. The pavilion appears to be a movable structure raised on
arches; it was probably of wood, and was constructed in such wise as
to be easily taken to pieces and put together again. To the left,
the horses of the charioteers are feeding in mangers and attended by
grooms. Bales of fodder lie on the ground. A blacksmith with his
brazier prepares to shoe a horse near the middle of the camp.
Elsewhere we see charioteers dragging away empty chariots, a soldier
mending a hoe, a man carrying a pair of water-buckets suspended at
each end of a pole across his shoulders; infantry and charioteers
arriving in camp; soldiers squatting round a bowl at their supper;
officers chastising lazy or recalcitrant subordinates, and the like.
Close above and behind the royal pavilion there is a brawl among the
king's officers, one of whom is in the act of being stabbed. Just
below this group a horse prepares to lie down, bending its fore-legs
with a remarkably natural action; while in the foreground to the
right, we see the two Syrian spies being soundly bastinadoed, in
order to force the truth from them. All the busy life of a great
camp is depicted in this wonderful section of the largest
battle-subject in the history of art.
Rameses took the field in person with the flower of the Egyptian
army, traversing the Land of Canaan, which still remained loyal, and
establishing his Syrian headquarters at Shabtûn, a fortified town in a
small valley a short distance to the south-west of Kadesh. Here he
remained stationary for a few days, reconnoitring the surrounding
country, and [Page 204] endeavoring, but without success, to
learn the whereabouts of the enemy. The latter, meanwhile, had their
spies out in all directions, and knew every movement of the Egyptian
host. Two of these spies, being previously instructed, allowed
themselves to be taken by the King's scouts. Introduced into the royal
presence, they prostrated themselves before Pharaoh, declaring that they
were messengers from certain of the Syrian chiefs, their brothers, who
desired to break their pact with the Kheta, and to serve the great King
of Egypt. They further added that the Khetan host, dreading the approach
of the Egyptian army, had retreated to beyond Aleppo, forty leagues to
the northward. Rameses, believing their story, then pushed confidently
onward, escorted only by his body-guard. The bulk of his forces,
consisting of the brigade of Amen, the brigade of Ptah, and the brigade
of Ra, followed at some little distance; the brigade of Sutekh, which
apparently formed the reserve, lingering far behind on the Amorite
SYRIAN SPIES BASTINADOED BY EGYPTIAN OFFICERS.
From the Great Tableau in the Temple of Abû-Simbel.
Meanwhile two more spies were seized, and the suspicions of the
Egyptian officers were aroused. Being well bastinadoed, the Syrians
confessed to the near neighborhood of the allied armies, and Rameses,
summoning a hasty council of war, despatched a messenger to hurry up the
brigade of Amen. At this critical juncture the enemy emerged from his
ambush, and by a well-executed flank movement interposed between Pharaoh
and his army. Thus surrounded, [Page 205] Rameses, with right
royal and desperate valor, charged the Hittite war-chariots. Six times,
with only his household troops at his back, he broke their lines,
spreading disorder and terror and driving many into the river. Then,
just at the right moment, one of his tardy brigades came hurrying up,
and forced the enemy to retreat. A pitched battle was fought the next
day, which the Egyptians claimed for a great victory.
Such would appear to be the plain, unvarnished facts. The poet,
however, takes some liberties with the facts, as poets are apt to do
even now. He abolishes the household troops, and leaves Rameses to fight
the whole field single-handed. Nor is the Deus ex machina
wanting–that stock device which the Greek dramatists borrowed from
Egyptian models. Amen himself comes to the aid of Pharaoh, just as the
gods of Olympus do battle for their favorite heroes on the field of
This poem is certainly the most celebrated masterpiece of Egyptian
literature; I therefore make no apology for quoting at some length from
the original. We will take up the narrative at that critical point where
the Hittites are about to execute their flank movement, and so isolate
Rameses from his army.
" Now had the vile Prince of Kheta, and the many nations which
were leagued with him, hidden themselves at the north-west of the
city of Kadesh. His Majesty was alone; none else was beside him. The
brigade of Amen was advancing behind. The brigade of Ra followed the
watercourse which lies to the west of the town of Shabtûn. The
brigade of Ptah marched in the centre, and the brigade of Sutekh
took the way bordering on the land of the Amorites.
" Then the vile Prince of Kheta sent forth his bowmen and his
horsemen and his chariots, and they were as many as the [Page
206] grains of sand on the sea-shore. Three men were they on
each chariot; and with them were all the bravest of the fighting-men
of the Kheta, well armed with all weapons for the combat.
" They marched out on the side of the south of Kadesh, and they
charged the brigade of Ra; and foot and horse of King Rameses gave
way before them.
" Then came messengers to his Majesty with tidings of defeat. And
the King arose, and grasped his weapons and donned his armor, like
unto Baal, the war-god, in his hour of wrath. And the great horses
of his Majesty came forth from their stables, and he put them to
their speed, and he rushed upon the ranks of the Kheta.
THE ROYAL CHARIOT AND GREAT HORSES OF RAMESES ARE BROUGHT ROUND FROM
Four of the King's spearsmen and two of his Sardinian body-guard
await his approach. From the Great Temple of Abû-Simbel.
" Alone he went–none other was beside him. And lo! he was
surrounded by two thousand five hundred chariots; his retreat cut
off by all the fighting-men of Aradus, of Mysia, of Aleppo, of
Caria, of Kadesh, and of Lycia. They were three on each chariot, and
massed in one solid phalanx."
Here the form changes, and Rameses breaks forth into an impassioned
appeal to Amen.
" None of my princes are with me," he cries. " Not one of my
generals–not one of my captains of bowmen or chariots. My soldiers
have abandoned me–my horsemen have [Page 207] fled–there are
none to combat beside me! Where art thou, oh Amen, my father? Hath
the father forgotten his son ? Behold! have I done aught without
thee ? Have I not walked in thy ways, and waited on thy words? Have
I not built thee temples of enduring stone ? Have I not dedicated to
thee sacrifices of tens of thousands of oxen, and of every rare and
sweet-scented wood ? Have I not given thee the whole world in
tribute ? I call upon thee, oh Amen, my father! I invoke thee!
Behold, I am alone, and all the nations of the earth are leagued
against me! My foot-soldiers and my chariot-men have abandoned me! I
call, and none hear my voice! But Amen is more than millions of
archers –more than hundreds of thousands of cavalry! The might of
men is as nothing–Amen is greater than all!"
Then, suddenly, Rameses becomes aware that Amen has heard his cry–is
near him–is leading him to victory.
RAMESES II. SLAYING THE ASIATICS BEFORE RA, THE TUTELARY DEITY OF
THE GREAT TEMPLE OF ABÛ-SIMBEL..
"Lo! my voice hath resounded as far as Hermonthis! Amen comes to
my call. He gives me his hand–I shout aloud for joy, hearing his
voice behind me!"
And now the god speaks.
" Oh, Rameses, I am here ! It is I, thy father! My hand is with
thee, and I am more to thee than hundreds of thousands. I am the
Lord of Might, who loves valor. I know thy dauntless heart, and I am
content with thee. Now, be my will accomplished."
Then Rameses, inspired with the strength of a god, bends his terrible
bow and rushes upon the enemy. His appeal for divine aid is changed to a
shout of triumph.
" Like Menthu, I let fly my arrows to right and left, and mine
enemies go down! I am as Baal in his wrath! The two thousand five
hundred chariots which encompass me are dashed to pieces under the
hoofs of my horses. Not one of their warriors has raised his hand to
smite me. Their hearts die in their breasts–their limbs fail–they
can neither hurl the javelin, nor wield the spear. Headlong I drive
them to the water's edge ! Headlong they plunge, as plunges the
crocodile! They fall upon their faces, one above the other, and I
slay them in the mass ! No time have they to turn back–no time to
look behind them! He who falls, falls never to rise again !"
Then the Kheta, and the Kadeshites, and the warriors of Karkhemish
and Aleppo, and the princes of Mysia, and Ilion, and Lycia, and Dardania
turned and fled, crying aloud:
" It is no man who is in the midst of us! It is Sutekh the
glorious ! It is Baal in the flesh! Alone–alone, he slays hundreds
of thousands ! Let us fly for our lives !"
" And they fled; and the King pursued them, as he were a flame of
The rest of the poem is necessarily somewhat of an anteclimax. It
tells how the Egyptian brigades come up towards evening, and are filled
with wonder as they wade through the blood of the slain, and behold the
field strewn with dead [Page 209]
THE BATTLE OF KADESH.
From the Great Temple of Abû-Simbel.
This sculptured tableau is divided horizontally by the river
Orontes, represented by the zigzag lines. The fortified city of
Kadesh occupies a projecting tongue of land, almost surrounded by
the great bend of the river. To the right, where there is apparently
a ford, some Egyptian chariots are dashing across in pursuit of a
Khetan chariot, in which are seen three warriors. The Egyptian
chariots are distinguished from those of the Kheta by containing
only two. In the top register, to right, an aide-de-camp on
horseback gallops off with orders for the tardy rear-guard, and we
see a horse running away with an empty saddle. To the left Rameses
(depicted of colossal size) pursues the flying foe to the water's
edge. Some lie trampled under his chariot-wheels, and some are
drowning in the river. A drowning chief is dragged to shore by a
soldier of the garrison. Forming a frieze round the end of the
tableau to left is a squadron of Egyptian chariots in single file.
[Page 210] and dying.- They exalt the prowess of the King,
who overwhelms them with reproaches.
"What will the whole world say," he asks, " when it is known that
you left your King alone, with none to second him ?–that not a
prince, not a charioteer, not a bowman was there to join his hand
with mine ? I fought alone ! Alone, I overthrew millions! It was
only my good horses who obeyed my hand, when I found myself alone in
the midst of the foe. Verily, they shall henceforth eat their corn
before me daily in my royal palace, for they alone were with me in
the hour of danger."
BRIGADE OF INFANTRY ON THE MARCH, PROTECTED BY CAVALRY.
From the great Abû-Simbel Tableau.
The next day at sunrise Rameses assembles his forces, and, according
to the chronicler, achieves a signal victory, fol- [Page 211]
lowed by the submission of the Prince of Kheta and the conclusion of a
treaty of peace. This treaty was shortly confirmed by the marriage of
Rameses with a Khetan princess; and the friendship thus cemented
continued unbroken throughout the rest of his long reign.
The foregoing passages are much abridged, but they fairly represent
the fervent diction and the dramatic action of this celebrated poem. The
style is singularly capricious, narrative and dialogue succeeding each
other according to the exigencies of the situation. These changes are
unmarked by any of those devices whereby the modern writer assists his
reader; they must therefore have been emphasized by the reciter.
EGYPTIAN ATTACK ON HITTITE CHARIOT.
From the great Abû-Simbel Tableau.
To use a very modern word in connection with a very ancient
composition, one might say that Rameses "published" this poem in a most
costly manner, with magnificent illustrations. And he did so upon a
scale which puts our modern publishing houses to shame. His imperial
edition was issued on sculptured stone, and illustrated with bas-relief
subjects gorgeously colored by hand. Four more or less perfect copies of
this edition have survived the wreck of ages, and we know not how many
have perished. These four are carved on the pylon walls of the Great
Temples of Luxor and the Ramesseum at Thebes, on a wall of the Great
Temple of Abydos, and in the main hall of the great rock-cut Temple of
Abû-Simbel in Nubia. One of the tableaux in this hall is fifty feet in
length by about forty feet in height, and it contains many thousands of
figures. A fifth copy is also graven [Page 212] without
illustrations on a side-wall of the Great Temple of Karnak; and some
remains of a great battle-scene with defaced inscriptions appear to
belong to another copy, on one of the walls of the Temple of Derr, in
Nubia. In these temple-copies, the poem is sculptured in hieroglyphs.
But there were also popular editions of this immortal poem–copies
written on papyrus by professional scribes; and one of these copies is
in the British Museum, a fragment of the beginning of the same copy
being in the Museum of the Louvre. The British Museum document contains
one hundred and twelve lines of very fine hieratic writing, and the last
page ends with a formal statement that it was "written in the year VII.,
the month Payni, in the reign of King Rameses Mer-Amen, Giver of Life
eternal like unto Ra, his father. For the chief librarian of the royal
archives . . . by the Royal Scribe, Pentaur."
FAC-SIMILE OF THE OPENING LINES OF THE POEM OF PENTAUR.
From the original hieratic papyrus in the British Museum.
Whether this Pentaur was, as it is generally supposed, the [Page
213] author of the poem, or but a copyist in the employment of the
King's principal librarian, is perhaps an open question. As, however,
the colophon is unmistakably clear as to date, and as that date is but
two years subsequent to the events narrated in the poem, we may at least
assume that the papyrus is a contemporary document. (51)
THE MÊLÉE OF CHARIOTS.
From the great Abû-Simbel Tableau.
It is from the huge battle-piece sculptured on the north wall of the
great hall at Abû-Simbel that we derive many minor details not recorded
by the poet. In this elaborate composition the events of the first and
second engagements are combined in a single subject. In one place we see
Rameses, single-handed, rushing upon the foe in his chariot, and driving
them head-long into the river; in another we behold the pitched battle
of the following morning. Every circumstance of that momentous fight is
shown with the most painstaking fidelity. The chariots start first, an
officer of bowmen leading the way on foot.
WAR-CHARIOTS SETTING OUT.
From the great Abû-Simbel Tableau.
Next follow the infantry, marching in a solid square, and protected,
van, flank, and rear, by a force of chariots. The infantry are armed
with only spear and shield. This is a very interesting section of the
great tableau, as it shows us the Egyptian order of battle.
Next comes the encounter with the enemy–the shock of chariots–the
overthrow of the Hittite warriors. Part of this fight is arbitrarily
introduced into that section of the subject where Rameses is performing
his great feat of arms on the preceding day; but merely to fill the
spaces with figures. In some of these minor episodes we see the Egyptian
warriors descending from their chariots and attacking the enemy on foot.
The Hittite chariots are clumsily built, the wheels being cut from a
solid block of wood, like millstones, and working on a central pivot.
The Khetan soldiers wear a scalp-lock, and are three in a chariot.
AFTER THE BATTLE.
From the great Abû-Simbel Tableau. In this section of the great
tableau the Egyptian artist depicts the incidents of the
battle-field after the victory is won. We see the charioteers and
infantry returning in order, and the enemy's cattle being driven to
the camp. Long files of prisoners are brought along, some tied
together by the neck, others with their arms bound behind their
backs. In the lowest register a captain of archers brings in a
string of eight captives, and is greeted by his comrades with
acclamations. In the second register, to the right, Rameses sits in
his chariot with his back to the horses and witnesses the counting
of the hands of the slain, while three scribes enter the numbers on
Finally, the field is fought–the battle is won, and the King, seated
in his chariot with his back to the horses, witnesses the bringing in of
the prisoners and the counting of the hands of the slain. Three officers
cast the severed hands in a heap before the feet of the conqueror, while
the captives, strung together by the neck, are brought into his presence
with their arms fast bound behind their backs.
In the last scene of all, Rameses, depicted of colossal size, sits
enthroned, and receives the congratulations of his great officers of
state. His fan-bearer and his bow-bearer stand behind his chair, and his
chariot and horses are taken back with honor to the royal stables.
RAMESES, ENTHRONED, RECEIVING THE CONGRATULATIONS OF HIS OFFICERS
AFTER THE VICTORY.
From the great Abû-Simbel Tableau.
It is evident that the artists who designed the sculptured
illustrations at Abû- [Page 216] Simbel and Thebes were not
dependent on only the text of the poem for the subject-matter of their
battle-scenes. They were familiar with incidents of which the poet takes
no note, and of which we could know nothing had they not been recorded
by the chisel of the sculptor and the brush of the painter. In that
spirited scene where Rameses, Phoebus-like, stands erect in his chariot,
bending his great bow and chasing the enemy into the water (page
209), we see, for instance, a half-drowned chieftain being dragged
to land by one of the Hittite garrison, and we learn that he was no less
a personage than the Prince of Aleppo. A hieroglyphic inscription
engraved over the head of the rescued man in the Abû-Simbel tableau runs
thus: "The Great of Aleppo. His warriors lift him up after the King has
flung him into the water." Now, it is certain that this is no merely
THE PRINCE OF ALEPPO HELD UPSIDEDOWN AFTER DROWNING.
From the Pylon of the Ramesseum, Thebes. Photographed by Mr. W. M.
[Page 217] episode designed by the artist in order to
heighten the effect of his tableau, for the same incident is depicted in
the version sculptured on the great pylon of the Ramesseum at Thebes.
The artist of the Ramesseum, however, chooses a later phase of the
catastrophe, when the unlucky prince has been dragged ashore, and is
held up head downwards, in order to let the water run out of his mouth–a
method by no means to be recommended under the circumstances. The color
is yet preserved on this part of the subject, and it shows the Prince of
Aleppo to have been of the race of fair Syrians, his eyes being painted
blue, and his hair and beard light red. We also learn from one of these
battle-subjects that "the writer of books of the vile Hittite" (that is
to say, the official scribe of the Hittite leader) accompanied the
Syrian host. Rameses, without doubt, had also his following of royal
scribes, and one of them was in all probability the author of this poem.
How highly it gratified the vanity of Rameses may be gathered from the
frequency with which he caused it to be reproduced upon the walls of
temples and pylons during his long reign. (52)
The scientific literature of the Egyptians is extremely interesting,
inasmuch as it illustrates that eager spirit of inquiry which is the
mainspring of intellectual effort, and without which there can be no
intellectual progress. But its value to us is, of course, purely
archæological. We have nothing to learn from these earliest pioneers of
astronomy, of mathematics, of medicine. We smile at their childlike and
fanciful speculations; but we are sometimes amazed to find how near they
were to grasping many truths which we have been wont to regard as the
hard-won prizes of modern research.
This is especially true of ancient Egyptian astronomy. Their
observations were singularly exact. They understood perfectly well the
difference between the fixed stars and the planets; the first being "the
genii which never move," and the last "the genii which never rest." They
even knew that our own earth forms part of the planetary system, and is
subject to the same law of motion. In a hieratic inscription of [Page
218] the Pyramid Period, for instance, it is said that "the earth
navigates the celestial ocean in like manner with the sun and the
Again, in a remarkable passage of the Great Harris Papyrus, we read how
Ptah, the primordial god, "moulded man, created the gods, made the sky,
and formed the earth revolving in space." Unhappily, no papyrus
treating of astronomy has yet been discovered; but zodiacs, calendars,
and astronomical tables, showing the divisions of the year, the phases
of the moon and the dates and hours of the rising and setting of certain
planets, abound on the walls of temples and tombs.
Two mathematical papyri have been found. One was discovered by Mr.
Petrie in the ruins of a buried house in Tanis. This papyrus is the
property of the Egypt Exploration Fund, and Prof. Eugène Revillout, of
the Egyptian Department of the Louvre, has undertaken to translate it.
The other mathematical papyrus was found by Mr. Rhind at Thebes. It
belongs to the British Museum, and has been translated by Dr. August
Eisenlohr, of Heidelberg. This curious document treats of plane
trigonometry and the measurement of solids; and it contains not only a
system of reckoning by decimals, but a series of problems for solution
by the student. Of the practical geometry of the Egyptians, we have a
magnificent example in the Pyramids, which could never have been erected
by builders who were not thoroughly conversant with the art of measuring
surfaces and calculating the bulk and weight of materials.
Works on medicine abounded in Egypt from the remotest times, and the
great medical library of Memphis, which was of immemorial antiquity, was
yet in existence in the second century before our era, when Galen
visited the Valley of the Nile. The Egyptians seem, indeed, to have
especially prided themselves on their skill as physicians, and the art
of healing was held in such high esteem that even kings made it their
study. Ateta, third king of the First Dynasty, is the reputed author of
a treatise on anatomy. He also covered himself with glory by the
invention of an infallible hair-wash, [Page 219] which, like a
dutiful son, he is said to have prepared especially for the benefit of
No less than five medical papyri have come down to our time, the
finest being the celebrated Ebers papyrus, bought at Thebes by Dr. Ebers
in 1874. This papyrus contains one hundred and ten pages, each page
consisting of about twenty-two lines of bold hieratic writing. It may be
described as an Encyclopædia of Medicine as known and practiced by the
Egyptians of the Eighteenth Dynasty; and it contains prescriptions for
all kinds of diseases–some borrowed from Syrian medical lore, and some
of such great antiquity that they are ascribed to the mythologic ages,
when the gods yet reigned personally upon earth. Among others, we are
given the recipe for an application whereby Osiris cured Ra of the
The Egyptians attached great importance to these ancient medical
works, which were regarded as final. The physician who faithfully
followed their rules of treatment might kill or cure with impunity; but
if he ventured to treat the patient according to his own notions, and if
that patient died, he paid for the experiment with his life. Seeing,
however, what the canonical remedies were, the marvel is that anybody
ever recovered from anything. Raw meat; horrible mixtures of nitre,
beer, milk, and blood, boiled up and swallowed hot; the bile of certain
fishes; and the bones, fat, and skins of all kinds of unsavory
creatures, such as vultures, bats, lizards, and crocodiles, were among
their choicest remedies. What we suffer at the hands of the faculty in
this nineteenth century is bad enough; but we may rejoice that we have
escaped the learned practitioners of Memphis and Thebes.
The moral philosophy of the ancient Egyptians is peculiarly
interesting to us of a later age. It is not a profound philosophy. On
the contrary, it is simple, practical, and very much to the point. We
have several papyri containing collections of moral precepts, and most
of them are written in the form of aphorisms on the conduct of life,
[Page 220] addressed by a father to his son. Such are the Maxims of
the Scribe Ani, the Maxims of Ptah-hotep, and others. The Maxims of
Ptah-hotep are contained in the famous Prisse Papyrus, which has been
styled "The Oldest Book in the World." This papyrus dates from the
Twelfth Dynasty, and is copied from a yet more ancient document of the
Fifth Dynasty, written some three thousand eight hundred years before
our era. It is one of the treasures of the Bibliothèque Nationale, in
" Be not proud because of thy learning," saith Ptah-hotep.
"Converse with the ignorant as freely as with the scholar, for
the gates of knowledge should never be closed. "
" If thou art exalted after having been low, if thou art rich
after having been needy, harden not thy heart because of thy
elevation. Thou hast but become a steward of the good things
belonging to the gods."
" If thou wouldst be of good conduct and dwell apart from evil,
beware of bad temper; for it contains the germs of all wickedness.
When a man takes Justice for his guide and walks in her ways, there
is no room in his soul for bad temper."
" If thou art a leader doing those things which are according to
thy will, do for the best, which shall be remembered in time to
come, so that the word which flatters, or feeds pride, or makes for
vainglory, shall not weigh with thee."
" Treat well thy people, as it behooves thee; this is the duty of
those whom the gods favor."
" Do not disturb a great man; do not distract the attention of
the busy man. His care is to accomplish his task. Love for the work
they have to do brings men nearer to the gods."
" Do not repeat the violent words [of others]. Do not listen to
them. They have escaped a heated soul. If they are repeated in thy
hearing, look on the ground and be silent."
" Take care of those who are faithful to thee, even when thine
own estate is in evil case. So shall thy merit be greater than the
honors which are done to thee." (54)
These, taken at random, are some of the wise words writ- [Page
221] ten by Ptah-hotep when, as he himself tells us, he had reached
the patriarchal age of one hundred and ten years.
The Scribe Ani, who lived about one thousand years later, preaches
the same just and gentle gospel. He says:
" Beware of giving pain by the words of thy mouth, and make not
thyself to be feared."
" He who speaks evil, reaps evil."
" Work for thyself. Do not count upon the wealth of others; it
will not enter thy dwelling-place."
" Do not eat bread in the presence of one who stands and waits,
without putting forth thine hand towards the loaf for him."
" Enter not into a crowd if thou art there in the beginnings of a
Good manners are the minor morality of life, and Ani was not only a
sage but a man of the world. He has something to say on the subject of
" Be not discourteous to the stranger who is in thy house. He is
" Do not remain sitting when thy elder or thy superior, is
" If a deaf man is present, do not multiply words; it is better
thou keep silent "
A demotic papyrus (55)
of comparatively recent date (in the Louvre collection) contains a
series of maxims of much the same character as those propounded by
Ptah-hotep in the time of the Ancient Empire, and by the Scribe Ani
under the New Empire; thus proving that the moral code of the Egyptians
remained in all essential points the same, from the earliest to the
latest chapter of their national history.
" Associate not thyself with the evil-doer," says this last
moralist. " Ill-treat not thine inferior; respect the aged."
" Ill-treat not thy wife, whose strength is less than thine. Be
thou her protector."
" Save not thine own life at the expense of the life of another."
It is such brief and simple sayings as these which bring us nearest
to the hearts of the old Egyptian people. We see them "as in a glass,"
and we see them at their best: a gentle, kindly, law-abiding race,
anxious to cultivate peace and good-will, and to inculcate those rules
of good conduct whereby their own lives had been guided. Their
philosophy was not profound. They were not tormented by "the burden and
the mystery of all this unintelligible world." They made no attempt to
formulate or to solve those deeper problems which have perplexed the
students of humanity since their time. To live happily, to live long, to
deserve the favor of their superiors, to train their children in sane
thinking and right-doing, to be respected in life and honorably
remembered by posterity, represented the sum of their desires. It is a
philosophy of utility and good-will, in which the ideal has no part.
The ancient Egyptians would have been unlike all other Orientals if
they had not loved stories and songs; yet it was not till the first
ancient Egyptian romance was discovered that any one dreamed of a
popular literature of the days of the Pharaohs. We had, I suppose, been
so accustomed to think of the ancient Egyptians as mummies that we
scarcely remembered they were men. Those mummies, it is true, had once
been alive in a solemn, leathery, unsympathetic way, as became a people
who were destined to be spiced, bandaged, and ultimately consigned to
glass-cases in modern museums. But as for an ancient Egyptian in love,
chanting a sonnet to his mistress's eyebrow and accompanying himself on
the lute–we should have blushed to think of him in connection with so
trivial an occupation!
And yet, within the last five-and-thirty years, no less than fifteen
or sixteen romantic stories, and almost as many love-songs, have been
brought to light. (56)
Some had been lying undeciphered in the learned dust of various museums.
Others were found in graves–buried, strange to say, with the mummies of
their former owners. Some are as old as the Twelfth Dynasty; others are
as recent as the time of Alex- [Page 223] ander and the
Ptolemies. In some we recognize stories familiar to us from childhood as
old nursery tales, and as stories first read in the Arabian Nights
Entertainments; in others we discover the originals of legends which
Herodotus, with a credulity peculiar to the learned, accepted for
history. Even some of the fables attributed to Æsop are drawn from
Egyptian sources older by eight hundred years than the famous dwarf who
is supposed to have invented them. The fable of "The Lion and the Mouse"
was discovered by Dr. Brugsch in an Egyptian papyrus a few years ago.
"The Dispute of the Stomach and the Members" has yet more recently been
identified by Professor Maspero with an ancient Egyptian original. (57)
When we remember, however, that tradition associates the name of Æsop
with that of Rhodopis, who lived at Naukratis in the time of Amasis, we
seem to be within touch of the actual connection between Æsop and Egypt.
Of this same Rhodopis it is said, in an ancient Egyptian story
repeated by Herodotus, that an eagle flew away with her sandal while she
was bathing, and dropped it at the feet of the Egyptian King, at
Memphis. Struck by its beauty, he sent out his messengers in all
directions to find the owner of this little sandal; and when they had
found her, he made her his queen. In another Egyptian story, called "The
Tale of the Two Brothers," a lock of hair from the head of a beautiful
damsel is carried to Egypt by the river, and its perfume is so ravishing
that the King despatches his scouts throughout the length and breadth of
the land, that they may bring to him the owner of this lock of hair. She
is found, of course, and she becomes his bride. In these tales we have
apparently the germ of Cinderella.
In another story, called "The Taking of Joppa," we meet with what is
unquestionably the original source of the leading incident in the
familiar story of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves." One Tahuti, a
general of Thothmes III., who is sent to lay siege to the city of Joppa,
conceals two hundred of his soldiers in two hundred big jars, fills
three hun- [Page 224] dred other jars with cords and fetters,
loads five hundred other soldiers with these five hundred jars, and
sends them into the city in the character of captives. Once inside the
gates, the bearers liberate and arm their comrades, take the place, and
make all the inhabitants prisoners. Now, although the King and the
General are both historical personages, and although Joppa figures in
the lists of cities conquered by Thothmes III., the story itself is
evidently pure romance. As for the big jars with their human cargoes,
they are clearly the forefathers of the jars which housed the "Forty
We turn to another story, called "The Doomed Prince," and we are at
once reminded of the story of "Prince Agib and the Lodestone Mountain."
After years of hope deferred, a king and queen are blessed with a
beautiful son. The seven Hathors, who play the part of fairy godmothers
in these old Egyptian stories, predict that the prince will die from the
bite of a crocodile, a serpent, or a dog. The King accordingly builds a
castle on the top of a lofty mountain, and there makes a state-prisoner
of his son. His precautions are, of course, in vain. The young man
escapes from durance vile, and becomes the husband of a lovely princess
and the master of a faithful dog. The princess kills the serpent; the
dog kills the crocodile; and, although the end of the story is
unfortunately lost, it is evident that the dog, by some fatal accident,
will fulfill his master's doom, just as the doom of Agib is fulfilled by
Another tale of extreme antiquity, entitled "The Shipwrecked
Mariner," tells of a seaman cast on the shores of a desolate island
abounding in delicious fruits, and inhabited by a limited population of
seventy-five amiable and intelligent serpents. The head of this charming
family was thirty cubits long. His body was incrusted with gold and
lapis lazuli, and nature had adorned him with a magnificent beard.
He talks like a book; treats the seaman with distinguished hospitality;
and when a ship comes that way, dismisses his guest with gifts of
perfumes, incense, rare woods, elephant [Page 225] tusks,
baboons, and all kinds of precious things. Here is probably the
starting-point of our dear old friend, "Sindbad the Sailor," who was
also cast among a population of serpents.
In others of these ancient fictions, King Khufu, the builder of the
Great Pyramid; Prince Kha-em-uas, the favorite son of Rameses the Great;
King Amasis, who gave Naukratis to the Greeks; and even the great
Alexander himself, figure among the dramatis personæ.
Of the popular poetry of those far-off times we will take but two
specimens, the one a love-song, from a papyrus in the British Museum;
the other a rustic ditty, supposed to be sung by the driver of a pair of
oxen, while they tread out the corn on the threshing-floor.
The love-song is sung by a girl to her lover. Each strophe begins
with an invocation to a flower, thus curiously resembling the
stornelli of the Tuscan peasantry, of which every verse begins and
ends with a similar invocation to some familiar blossom or tree:
" Oh, flower of henna!
My heart stands still in thy presence.
I have made mine eyes brilliant for thee with kohl.
When I behold thee, I fly to thee, oh my Beloved!
Oh, Lord of my heart, sweet is this hour. An hour passed with thee
is worth an hour of eternity!
" Oh, flower of marjoram !
Fain would I be to thee as the garden in which I have planted
flowers and sweet-smelling shrubs! the garden watered by pleasant
runlets, and refreshed by the north breeze!
Here let us walk, oh my Beloved, hand in hand, our hearts filled
with joy !
Better than food, better than drink, is it to behold thee.
To behold thee, and to behold thee again!"
This is literally "the old, old story;" and the story this time is
yet older than the song. (58)
Our threshing-song dates from about 1650 B.C. It is carved on the
walls of the tomb of one Pahiri, at El Kab in Upper Egypt, and it
belongs to the early years of the Eighteenth Dynasty. In the
wall-painting which illustrates the text, we see the oxen at work, just
as in the Egypt of today, treading in a measured circle, with the driver
seated on his revolving stool in the middle.
It is a simple chant of but four lines many times repeated. (59)
We know not the air to which it was sung; but no one who has listened to
the monotonous songs of the Egyptian laborers as they ply the shadûf
or the waterwheel, can fail to be struck by their evident antiquity.
Doubtless, the cadenced chant intoned of old by Pahiri's laborers
survives to this day among those so often heard by the modern traveller,
as his boat glides along the broad waters of the sacred river. These are
" Thresh the corn, oh ye oxen !
Thresh for yourselves, oh oxen!
The fodder for eating,
The grain for your master!"
It has been thus paraphrased by Mr. Gliddon:
" Hie along oxen,
Tread the corn faster !
The straw for yourselves;
The grain for your master!"
The Religion of ancient Egypt is still very imperfectly understood.
Every year, almost every day, we find ourselves compelled to abandon
some long-established theory which, up to that moment, we had believed
to be as self-evident as the pyramids, and as well understood as the law
of gravitation. The opening of a tomb, the discovery of a papyrus, may
at any moment put us in possession of religious texts older than the
oldest yet known, and subversive, perhaps, of our best-founded
assumptions. [Page 227]
This is precisely what happened when the pyramids of Unas, Teta, and
other very early kings were excavated in 1881 and 1882. Because the
Great Pyramids of Ghizeh are destitute of inscriptions, it had been
rashly concluded that all pyramids must be blank. Great, therefore, was
the stupefaction of those who pinned their faith upon that theory, when
the sepulchral chambers and passages of this group were found to be
lined with graven prayers and invocations, some of which are more
ancient than any religious texts previously known. Again, it had been
laid down as one of the fundamental facts of the Egyptian religion that
certain gods, whose renown was great at a later period, were as yet
unborn, so to speak, in the time of the Pyramid Kings. Thebes was not
founded till the beginning of the Eleventh Dynasty, and Amen was the
Great God of Thebes. Consequently, Amen had no existence when the
pyramids of Unas, Teta, and Pepi, of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties, were
built. But when those pyramids were laid open, Amen was found there as a
member of the cycle of great deities.
We cannot, in fact, exercise too much caution in formulating general
rules, or in making use of elastic definitions. We speak, for instance,
of "the Egyptian religion;" but there can hardly be a much more
misleading phrase. Just as Professor Revillout has said of the Egyptian
language that "it is not one language, but a whole family of languages,"
so I would say of the Egyptian religion, that it is not one religion,
but a whole family of religions. This family springs, it is true, from
one very ancient stock; but it branches out into innumerable varieties.
It is not too much to say that there was in Egypt a Religion of the
Pyramid Period, a Religion of the Theban Period, a Religion of Saïs, a
Religion of the Ptolemaic age, a Popular Religion, a Sacerdotal
Religion, a Religion of Polytheism, a Religion of Pantheism, a Religion
of Monotheism, and a Religion of Platonic Philosophy. And these
religions were not revolutionary. The new did not drive out the old, as
the bud pushes off the dead leaf in autumn. On the contrary, the
Egyptians, who were nothing [Page 228] if not conservative,
clung with the strictest fidelity to the old, even while ardently
embracing the new. It did not matter in the least, if the dogmas of one
school were diametrically opposed to the dogmas of half a dozen other
schools; they continued to believe them all. (60)
The one great and crucial question–the question which we are most
keenly concerned to resolve–is whether the ancient Egyptians believed in
one God, or in many gods. In Ra, the supreme solar deity, are we to
recognize the Egyptian synonym for "Almighty God, Maker of Heaven and
Earth, and of all that in them is ?" Are the other deities of the
Egyptian Pantheon mere personifications of his divine attributes ? Does
Knum represent his creative power? Does Amen, the Hidden One, signify
his unsearchable mystery ? Does Thoth, the ibis-headed god of letters,
typify his wisdom, and the bull Apis his strength, and the jackal Anubis
his swiftness ? Are these animal-headed and bird-headed and
reptile-headed forms mere hieroglyphs, of which the secret meaning is
the unity and omnipresence of God ?
This theory was elaborated in the first instance by M. Pierret, in
his Essai sur la Mythologie Egyptienne; and it has been still
further developed by Dr. Brugsch in his recent work on The Religion
and Mythology of the Ancient Egyptians. As it is the most attractive
exposition of the Egyptian Pantheon, so it is undoubtedly the most
popular, and I therefore doubly regret that I am unable to follow M.
Pierret and Dr. Brugsch in their proposed solution of this deeply
interesting problem. This solution is founded on the assumption that the
religion of the Egyptians was, from first to last, absolutely
homogeneous; and that in all its complex developments it merely
presented varying aspects of one simple, fundamental, and God-given
truth. In this sense, all the gods of Egypt are one and the same, the
name merely changing with the seat of worship. Animal worship becomes
mere symbolism; and Knum, Sebek, Horus, Thoth, Anubis, and the rest, are
but reflections of an omnipresent Deity. [Page 229]
The Egyptians were, unquestionably, the most wonderful people of
antiquity; but they would have been infinitely more wonderful had they
started in life with notions so just, so philosophic, so exalted, as
these. The earliest Egyptian monuments to which we can assign a date are
the monuments of a people already highly civilized, and in the
possession of an alphabetic system of writing, a grammar, a government,
and a religion. It must have taken them long ages to arrive at this
advanced stage of their national development; and of those ages a few
vague traditions and the names of three dynasties of kings have alone
survived. Yet there must have been a time when these people were mere
unlettered barbarians, like the forefathers of other nations. They did
not spring fully civilized from the mud of the inundation, like Athena
from the head of Zeus. As a matter of fact, the barbarian origin of the
Egyptians is more distinctly traceable than the barbarian origin of any
other highly civilized nation of antiquity. It is traceable in their
laws, in their customs, and even in their costumes. Above all, it is
traceable in their religion.
We have but to turn our eyes to the far West of America in order to
discover the living solution of some of our most puzzling Egyptian
problems. Just as the northern half of that great continent was
originally possessed by tribes of Indians, so the land of Egypt, in the
ages before history, was divided into many small territories, each
territory peopled by an independent clan. The red man had, and has, his
"totems," or clan crests; these "totems" being sometimes animals, as the
bear, the wolf, the beaver, the deer; and sometimes birds, as the snipe,
the hawk, the heron. So, in like manner, the prehistoric tribes of
ancient Egypt will have had their "totems," taken from the familiar
beasts, birds, and reptiles of the Nile Valley–the jackal, the
crocodile, the ibis, and so forth.
Now, a distinctive appellation is one of the first necessities of
life, whether savage or civilized; and in an age when proper names, and
the occupations from which proper names [Page 230] are largely
derived, are yet unknown, the tribal name is of extreme importance. For
this tribal name, the savage naturally adopts that of some creature
whose strength, subtlety, swiftness, or fearlessness may symbolize such
qualities in himself. These facts are true of barbarian and
semi-civilized races in all parts of the world. The Bechuanas of South
Africa, the Kols of Khota Nagpar in Asia, the Yakats of Siberia in
Northern Europe, the aborigines of Australia, are all divided into
clans, each clan being affiliated to some beast, bird, fish, or reptile.
They all regard the "totem" animal as sacred. They forbear to eat it;
and if compelled in self-defence to kill it, they ask its pardon for the
Here, then, we have the origin of animal worship–animal worship being
the direct outcome of totemism.
Now, what is true of these American, South African, Asiatic,
European, and Australian tribes, must surely be true also of the
prehistoric Egyptians. They began with totemism–the Bull-clan at
Memphis, the Crocodile-clan in the Fayûm, the Ibis-clan at Hermopolis,
and so forth. (61)
As time went on and civilization progressed, they explained away the
grosser features of this creed by representing the totem animal as the
symbol, or incarnation, of an unseen deity; and there is no clearer
proof of the extreme antiquity of their civilization than the fact that
they had already reached this point in their spiritual career when Mena,
the first king of the First Dynasty, laid the foundation-stone of the
Temple of Ptah, at Memphis.
But, having started from totemism, animal worship, and polytheism,
did they not rise at last to higher things–to monotheism, pure and
Yes; they did rise to monotheism; but not, I think, to monotheism
pure and simple. Their monotheism was not exactly our monotheism: it was
a monotheism based upon, and evolved from, the polytheism of earlier
ages. Could we question a high-priest of Thebes of the time of the
Nineteenth or Twentieth Dynasty on the subject of his faith, we should
be startled by the breadth and grandeur of his views touch- [Page
231] ing the Godhead. He would tell us that Ra was the Great All;
that by his word alone he called all things into existence; that all
things are therefore but reflections of himself and his will; that he is
the creator of day and night, of the heavenly spheres, of infinite
space; that he is the eternal essence, invisible, omnipresent,
omniscient; in a word, that he is God Almighty.
If, after this, we could put the same questions to a high-priest of
Memphis, we should receive a very similar answer, only we should now be
told that this great divinity was Ptah. And if we could make the tour of
Egypt, visiting every great city, and questioning the priests of every
great temple in turn, we should find that each claimed these attributes
of unity and universality for his own local god. All, nevertheless,
would admit the identity of these various deities. They would admit that
he whom they worshipped at Heliopolis as Ra was the same as he whom they
worshipped at Memphis as Ptah, and at Thebes as Amen. We have proof of
their catholicity in this respect. Ptah and Apis were, of course, one
and the same; but Apis was also recognized as "The Soul of Osiris, and
the Life of Tum." Again, Amen and Knum and Sebek were made one with Ra,
and became Amen-Ra, Knum-Ra, and Sebek-Ra. This, however, was but a
compromise, and they never got beyond it. That individual theologians
rose to the height of pure monotheism cannot be doubted. Those who
conceived and formulated the exalted pantheism of Ra-worship cannot have
failed to go that one step further; but that one step further would be
heresy, and heresy was not likely to leave records for future historians
in a land where the governing classes were all members of the
priesthood. In a word, it is certain–absolutely certain–that every great
local deity was worshipped as the "one God " of his own city or
province; and it is also certain that, to whatever extent these gods
were identified one with another, the Egyptians never agreed to abolish
their Pantheon in favor of one, and only one, supreme deity. (62)
There is, however, one central fact which must never be overlooked in
any discussion of the religion of the old Egyptian people. They were the
first in the history of the world who recognized, and held fast by, the
doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Look back as far as we will
into the darkness of their past, question as closely as we may the
earliest of their monuments, and we yet find them looking forward to an
Their notions of Man, the microcosm, were more complex than ours.
They conceived him to consist of a Body, a Soul, a Spirit, a Name, a
Shadow, and a Ka–that Ka which I have ventured to interpret as the Life;*
and they held that the perfect reunion of all these parts was a
necessary condition of the life to come. Hence the care with which they
embalmed the Body; hence the food and drink offerings with which they
nourished the Ka; hence the funerary texts with which they lined the
tomb, and the funerary papyri which they buried with the mummy for the
instruction of the Soul. But none of these precautions availed, unless
the man had lived a pure and holy life in this world, and came before
the judgment-seat of Osiris with clean hands, a clean heart, and a clean
" Glory to thee, O thou Great God, thou Lord of truth and justice
!" says the dead man, when brought into the presence of the eternal
Judge. "Lo ! I have defrauded no man of his dues. I have not
oppressed the widow. I have not borne false witness. I have not been
slothful. I have broken faith with no man. I have starved no man. I
have slain no man. I have not enriched myself by unlawful gains. I
have not given short measure of corn. I have not tampered with the
scales. I have not encroached upon my neighbor's field. I have not
cut off the running water from its lawful channel. I have not turned
away the food from the mouths of the fatherless. Lo ! I am pure ! I
am pure !"
This is from the Negative Confession in the 125th chapter [Page
233] of the most famous religious book of the ancient Egyptians–The
Book of the Dead. It gives the measure of their standard of
morality. The teachers who established that standard, and the people who
endeavored faithfully to live up to it, may have had very childish and
fantastic notions on many points; they may in one place have put gold
rings in the ears of their sacred crocodiles; they may have shaved their
eyebrows when their cats died; but as regards uprightness, charity,
justice, and mercy, they would not, I think, have much to learn from us,
if they were living to this day beside the pleasant waters of the Nile.
VIGNETTE FROM THE BOOK OF THE DEAD
|Concept of Wisdom and
|Of all the fields, of civilization literature figured
high. Ancient Egypt was the source of great works written on
papyrus or on the walls of temples, tombs, pyramids,
obelisks, portraits and monuments. These works of art
succeeded for many centuries. Over time many changes took
place; many governments and civilizations, vanished and
others appeared, but the ideals of the ancient Egyptian
literature persisted even in our age. Besides, ancient
Egyptian literature formed central elements in folkloric
works of many nations. This shows how elevated ancient
Egyptians moral and literary perceptions were, even before
divine religions were revealed or even before the world knew
great literary masterpieces.
Ancient Egyptian literature rose and grew in the bosom of
religious beliefs, but it quickly evolved to deal with man’s
ordinary day-to-day life. Literary works occupied a
distinguished position in the ancient Egyptian thought and
civilization. The ancient Egyptians viewed literature as a
source of spiritual nourishment and a unique way to elevate
Refined literary style was a source of pride for the writer
and appreciation and enjoyment for the reader.
Ancient Egyptian literature tackled almost all aspects of
life. Literary works were classified by subjects into
various “genres” such as novels, short stories, poetry,
folkloric tales, proverbs, wise-sayings, moral teachings,
philosophical meditations and literary messages. The latter
were divided into title, introduction, body and conclusion.
Literary debates involved opposite parties rendering them
arguments and counter arguments.
Besides, ancient Egyptians wrote plays, dramatic poetry,
songs, religious hymns and love poetry, in addition to
description of nature, panegyrical poems to glorify their
kings and their glorious battles, and songs for workers and
farmers and others to be sung in parties.
Influence on world literature
In ancient Egyptian literature, there is a story dating
back to the Middle Kingdom (2022 BC-1850 BC). This era
witnessed a great number of writers and thinkers who left
behind a number of works of art reflecting the elevated
status of thinking and culture in ancient Egypt. The story
is entitled “The Sailor and the Wonder Island”. It narrates
the story of an ancient Egyptian sailor whose ship was
wrecked with all on board drowned. As the only survivor, he
lives on an isolated island, finds a treasure, returns home
and the mysterious island sinks deep into the sea
immediately after his departure.
Scholars of comparative literature maintain that the
structure, plot and general theme of the source was inspired
by many of the greatest and most famous novelists all over
the world. The story had influenced many famous classical
and romantic novels invoking adventures in search of
valuable treasures and heroes who lived in isolated islands.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” is a good
example. This novel narrates the adventures of the hero “Jim
Hawkens” who found a map of a treasure buried in an isolated
island. Another example is the French writer “Alexandre
Dumas’s “Conte De Monte Cristo”. This novel tells the story
of “Edmound Dante” who suffers much and goes through a
series of exciting adventures to find a buried treasure in
the isolated island of Monte Cristo. At the end, he gets the
treasure and returns home safe. Surprisingly enough, ship
the hero's ship was named “Pharaoh”.
Critics of comparative literature state that the ancient
Egyptian story of “The Sailor and the Wonder Island” had
influenced “Hay Ibn Yaqthan”, a story written in the 12th
century by the Arab Andalusian philosopher “Abo Bakre Ibn
Tafayl”. “Hay Ibn Yaqthan” a philosophical story of a man
who lives since his childhood on an isolated island. Through
reasoning, he reaches philosophical conclusions proving the
existence of Allah. This story had a wide influence on world
philosophers and creative writers after being translated
into many languages such as Latin, French, English, German
Divine Comedy versus Message of
Scholars and critics of comparative literature are at
logger head on the extent of the influence of the “Message
of Forgiveness” written by the great Arabic poet
abul-Ala’al- Ma’arri (973-1057 AD) on Dante Aligieri’s
Divine Comedy”. The central theme of both works is the
description of heaven and hell in the hereafter.
A number of Impartial scholars believe that this theme
has clear roots in ancient Egyptian literature which tackled
this theme in many works. It was evident in “The Book of the
Dead”, “The Book of the Gates”, and in the story “Isis,
Osiris and the World of Dead “.
Ancient Egyptian writers expressed their imaginative
vision of the journey of the soul after leaving the body to
the sky until it reaches the court where the deceased’s
heart is weighed against “Ma’et’s feather” that symbolizes
justice, truthfulness, rightness and bounty. Then, the
deceased is sentenced to eternal paradise or hell.
In heaven, called “Iyarow’s fields”, the deceased enjoys
eternal youth without sickness, senility, or death. He is
dressed in magnificent clothes that never wear out or get
dirty, eats and drinks the most delicious food, fruits and
fresh water. Besides, he enjoys eternal peace of mind,
safety, and peace as there is no evil souls, snakes, beasts
In hell, the bad people are thrown, where they undergo
eternal punishment in certain lakes full of water like fire
flames, voracious crocodiles, snakes, and vipers. Besides,
the guardians of these lakes are voracious beasts that
inflict all sorts of torture on wicked hell residents.
Cinderella in ancient Egyptian
Cinderella's story with the same central themes appears
in abundance in the folkloric and literary works of many
nations all over world. The most famous writers who tackled
the story were the German Grim brothers.
Cinderella's story with the same central themes can be
traced in some literary works appearing on the ancient
Egyptian papyri in different names and styles.
The first reference of this story dates back to the era
of the fourth Dynasty in the 26th Century BC. Then, a copy
of this story, dating back to the Modern Kingdom between
16th and12th centuries BC., was found. This copy contains a
detailed description of the humiliation and torture
inflicted on Cinderella by her step-mother. Another papyrus
dating back to the Sixth Century BC. showed the same story.
The ancient Egyptians excelled in novel writing. This is
reflected in the great number of stories left behind. In
some of these stories, a well-traveled hero tells us about
his adventures such as the story of the drowned sailor and
the dangers he witnessed on the mythical island of snakes.
Another example is “Senuhy”; story that became very
famous for many centuries. It describes Senuhy’s escape from
Egypt, his stay in Syria for dozens of years , where he won
the favor of the king. He become so close to the leader that
he allowed him to marry of his elder daughter and gave him a
plot of land. When Senuhy grows old, he also grows homesick.
He appeals to the king for permission to return to Egypt to
see, as he says, “the place that his heart is longing to see
because the greatest thing in the world for a man is to be
buried in the place of his birth”. His hope was fulfilled
and he honorably comes back to Egypt.
Another example of the marvelous stories is “The Eloquent
Farmer”. It tells the story of an Egyptian farmer who was
robbed and treated unjustly, so he submits eloquent
complaint to the Pharaoh saying:
Look, you are the chief that hold the scales, Do not let
it lose balance.
Your tongue represents that of the scales, Your lips the
If you shut your eyes to the oppressor, Who else can rebuff.
It is you that make justice.
You do all good and destroy all evil.
You bring satisfaction; as you come, hunger-vanishes, You
come like a calm sky after a wild storm.
You give warmth to those stricken with cold.
Your are like fresh water that quenches thirst.
Proverbs of Ptah Hotep
The oldest text in the ancient literature which
expresses, in excellent literary style, the rules of good
conduct is “The Proverbs of Ptah Hotep”. Ptah Hotep was an
ancient Egyptian minister under King Asisi of the Fifth
Dynasty (2670 BC) When he felt that he is getting older, he
wanted to teach his son wisdom. So, he wrote a papyrus
containing his directives and proverbs.
The preface of this 5000 years old- papyrus says that
“Here begin the wise sayings said by the prince, sacred
father, God’s favorite, the true son of the king, ruler of
the city; minister Ptah Hotep. He wrote it to educate the
ignorant and to teach him styles of wisdom and wise sayings.
Glory be to those who follow these teachings and shame be on
those who neglect them.”
Ptah Hotep addresses his son saying
“Do not be arrogant of your knowledge. Consult with all:
with the educated as well as the uneducated, as knowledge
has no limits and no one can acquire all kinds of learning.
If you hear someone, who is older and wiser than you,
talking, listen carefully and bow to him. If he says
something wrong, do not be angry: people will say “what an
Somewhere else, Ptah Hotep advises his son saying, “If
you were a leader of a group of people, treat them well. Do
not treat them unjustly; justice is something great.”
Concerning table etiquette, Ptah Hotep teaches his son
saying, "When you sit to the table of a dignitary, take,
when he asks you, from what is immediately before you. Do
not look at what is before him. Do not look too much at him.
Do not look at him unless he salutes you. Do not talk unless
he salutes you. Laugh when he laughs. This will make him
delighted and satisfied with you because man does not know
the reality of the heart.”
Regarding destiny and divine decree and how to be
satisfied with the god’s judgment, Ptah Hotep tells his son,
“Let not a man with no children envy you. Do not step away
from him making him sad and grieved. A farther with many
children may be worried in spite of his high rank.
Similarly, the mother of many children may have less time
for rest. God creates man and predestines his share in
Urging his son to work and earn his living, he tells
him, "Listen son, you can not be rich without exertion. If
you work hard, the god will help you gain wealth. But if you
keep lethargic and lax, the god will be always ready to
inflict his wrath and punishment on you”. If not lazy and
dull, God will hardly punish you.”
As for modesty, Ptah Hotep advises his son saying, “When
you rise from mean ranks to higher positions, grow rich
after being poor, forget not your past. Do not be proud of
your wealth and do not be arrogant but remember you are no
better than your mates who had relapsed into poverty.”
The Egyptian drama
In addition to novels, proverbs and wise sayings, the
ancient Egyptians were the first to write drama. An Egyptian
document dating back to king Menes (Narmer); of the 32nd
Century BC shows the first dramatic text along man’s history
on earth. The document, kept at present at the British
Museum in London contains dramatic philosophical dialogue
between Egypt’s ancient deities on the process of creating
the world and the cosmic system of things and creatures.
Therefore, historians, called this text a “drama of the
start of creation” or “the Memphis drama” named after
Memphis; Egypt's capital built by king Menes.
It is astonishing that dialogues between the gods were
written in a style typically similar to that used in
classical and contemporary drama. More interesting is that
the text of this drama contains soliloquies by the reciting
priest who plays a role similar to that of the “narrator”
who interprets and comments on the events “stage directions”
. Surprisingly enough, this text contains a number of
similar to those used by classical and modern dramatists.
There is another dramatic text, inscribed on the walls of
Edfu temple, called by historians “a drama of Horus’ victory
over his enemies”. This text is considered one of the best
and most complete dramatic text of the ancient Egyptian era.
It is divided into five parts: introduction, three acts, and
the end. Events evolve around the conflict between “Horus
and his followers” and “Sit and his followers”. It ends with
the victory of Horus, who represents good, truth, and
justice, over “Sit”, who represents evil, injustice, and
The ancient Egyptians excelled in writing romantic love
poetry. In addition eulogies to Nile River and its merits,
there were many love poems that expressed not only vehement
poison surging the heart of a lover, but also delicate
emotions. Sentiments of love were couched in beautiful
similes derived from the aesthetic aspects of Egyptian
environment. For example, a lover says to his beloved, “My
beloved is like a garden, full of beautiful papyrus blossoms
and I am like a wild goose attracted by the taste of love”.
Another lover says, “My beloved is there on the other
bank. We are separated by the floodwater. On the bankside,
there is a crocodile lying in wait. But I am not afraid of
it. I will swim through the water until I reach her and be
In another love song, two lovers exchange most refined
expressions of love. The loving woman says, “I will never
leave you my darling. My only wish is to stay in your house
and at your service. We will always be hand in hand, come
and go to gather everywhere. You are my health; my life.”
It is to be noted that in many of the love poems in
ancient Egypt, the man calls his beloved as “sister” and the
woman calls her lover as “brother” in order to show how each
one of them highly appreciates the other and rises him.
A story from the Pharaonic era
Studies of ancient Egyptian literature have showed no
trace of stories in the old Kingdom era. However, there were
indications of legends and tales about deities dating back
to pre-historic times. Stories that so far survived were
handed down from the Middle Kingdom era. These reflect that
this art had reached its climax during that era, but
gradually deteriorated in later times. This is a normal and
historically repetitive evolution. In Greek civilization
Humer’s epics were the starting-point. Therefrom, a dramatic
art started maturely enough with Aeschylious and Sophocles.
in the same way, story writing began in the Middle Kingdom
era as a natural outcome of the Ancient Kingdoms legends.
The most notable work of that era was the story of
Senuhy, written in 2000 BC during the region of the 12th
Senuhy, hero of the story, was a celebrity during the
region of King Amnemhat I . He held the titles of hereditary
prince manager of royal estate in Asian lands, exclusive and
most favored entertainer of the king.
When the King come to know that some Libyans in west
Delta were regularly looting the area, he sent an army led
by his eldest son Snosert conquered them and returned with
my booties including captives and livestock. En route home,
Snosest knew of the death of his father, and was the only
one to be aware of this event. He proceeded briskly to keep
his throne. however, Senuhy received news that another son
of the deceased King also came to know of his death and
accordingly hurried back home. Senuhy anticipated a conflict
over the throne among the King’s sons. In view of his close
relationship with prince Snosert, he felt terrified by the
imminent struggle and accordingly decided to flee from
Egypt. Heading towards Syria, he encountered many troubles.
With no provision, he fell down due to fatigue and thirst
and was starved almost to death. He was saved by a group of
Bedouins. Being a well-known figure, they recognized him and
therefore give him food and shelter. Then, he proceeded to
Palestine whose prince warmly welcomed him when he
recognized his status. He hosted him in his palace and let
him marry his eldest daughter. He further offered him the
best of his property, of which he chose a fine plot of land
rich with crops, water and livestock.
Senuhy later became ruler of one of the best tribes in
the century. He lived there in peace and prosperity for a
long time. As he grew older, he felt homesick for his
motherland Egypt and wished to return home and be buried
there. But how to do so, considering his earlier
unjustifiable flight? The King must be angry at him. Taking
this in consideration, Senuhy sent an appeal to Snosert I,
explaining his plight and excesses for his flight and
begging for permission to return home.
“I was a mouse that fled in time, but now I am being
reported in the King’s seat. I was dwindling of hunger, but
now I offer bread to my neighbor. My home is beautiful and
spacious, and I am mentioned in the royal palace.
You god, whosoever you are, who had decreed that flight,
have mercy on me and bring me back to the King’s seat. May
be, you will allow me to see the place where my heart rests.
More important is that my body be buried where I was born.
Oh! how much I wish if the King of Egypt will have mercy on
me so that I can live with blessing of his mercy.”
When these messages reached King Sinosert 1 and having
known the plight of his former servant, he reacted favorably
and forgave him. He even sent gifts to him. Accordingly, the
King issued a royal decree stating, "Come back to Egypt to
see the King’s seat where you will die. Kiss the ground at
both great doors and get your share among members of the
court.” Senuhy actually returned to Egypt, where he was
warmly welcomed by the King, his sons and entourage. He
settled there and had a stone tomb erected among the tombs
surrounding the King’s.
His tomb was surrounded with a garden in such a style
that became the senior entertainer of the King. His statue,
ordered to be made by King, was adorned with gold. No poor
man has ever received such tender care up to his death,
Senuhy had enjoyed overwhelming royal favors.