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The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians   By: (1857-1934)

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First Page:







Sometime Scholar of Christ's College, Cambridge, and Tyrwhitt Hebrew Scholar; Keeper of the Department of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities in the British Museum


LONDON J.M. DENT & SONS LIMITED Aldine House, Bedford Street, W.C.

[Frontispiece: The Elysian Fields of the Egyptians according to the Papyrus of Ani. 1. Ani adoring the gods of Sekhet Aaru. 2. Ani reaping in the Other World. 3. Ani ploughing in the Other World. 4. The abode of the perfect spirits, and the magical boats.]


This little book is intended to serve as an elementary introduction to the study of Egyptian Literature. Its object is to present a short series of specimens of Egyptian compositions, which represent all the great periods of literary activity in Egypt under the Pharaohs, to all who are interested in the study of the mental development of ancient nations. It is not addressed to the Egyptological specialist, to whom, as a matter of course, its contents are well known, and therefore its pages are not loaded with elaborate notes and copious references. It represents, I believe, the first attempt made to place before the public a summary of the principal contents of Egyptian Literature in a handy and popular form.

The specimens of native Egyptian Literature printed herein are taken from tombs, papyri, stelæ, and other monuments, and, with few exceptions, each specimen is complete in itself. Translations of most of the texts have appeared in learned works written by Egyptologists in English, French, German, and Italian, but some appear in English for the first time. In every case I have collated my own translations with the texts, and, thanks to the accurate editions of texts which have appeared in recent years, it has been found possible to make many hitherto difficult passages clear. The translations are as literal as the difference between the Egyptian and English idioms will permit, but it has been necessary to insert particles and often to invert the order of the words in the original works in order to produce a connected meaning in English. The result of this has been in many cases to break up the short abrupt sentences in which the Egyptian author delighted, and which he used frequently with dramatic effect. Extraordinarily concise phrases have been paraphrased, but the meanings given to several unknown words often represent guess work.

In selecting the texts for translation in this book an attempt has been made to include compositions that are not only the best of their kind, but that also illustrate the most important branches of Egyptian Literature. Among these religious, mythological, and moral works bulk largely, and in many respects these represent the peculiar bias of the mind of the ancient Egyptian better than compositions of a purely historical character. No man was more alive to his own material interests, but no man has ever valued the things of this world less in comparison with the salvation of his soul and the preservation of his physical body. The immediate result of this was a perpetual demand on his part for information concerning the Other World, and for guidance during his life in this world. The priests attempted to satisfy his craving for information by composing the Books of the Dead and the other funerary works with which we are acquainted, and the popularity of these works seems to show that they succeeded. From the earliest times the Egyptians regarded a life of moral excellence upon earth as a necessary introduction to the life which he hoped to live with the blessed in heaven... Continue reading book >>

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