This article treats of (1) the religion, (2) the architecture and art, and (3) the language and literature of Pharaonic Egypt.
Herodotus (237) rightfully called the Egyptians the most religious of all men, for religion was one of the most
important elements of ancient Egyptian civilization, playing a major role in the life of the state as well as in the life of the individual. The notion of the divine made its impact felt on the most diverse of human activities. Egypt differs from other ancient Near Eastern nations, for example, in that the majority of the names for its territorial divisions or nomes referred to some symbol for the divine. In addition, many of the cities took their names from the local temple or from some epithet or attribute of the god venerated there, and the great majority of the inhabitants bore names referring to the divine in someway.
On the other hand, the fact that the reconstruction of this civilization is based almost entirely on monuments and documents discovered within sacred enclosures, temples, or necropolises must always be borne in mind. Cities of the living, such as Akhet-Aton (el-’Amârna) and the workers' village at Deir el-Medīnah, have yielded relatively few objects to the excavators. As a consequence, the vestiges of the past tend to place a one-sided emphasis on the religious life of the ancient Egyptians; this leaves a knowledge of their religion nonetheless indispensable for a proper understanding of Egyptian civilization as a whole.
The Gods. The gods of the Egyptian pantheon can be divided into three classes. The most important consists of animals or fetishes, each originally venerated in a single city. Because of the tendency to anthropomorphism, these divinities were represented as men or women with animal heads; for example, the jackal Anubis of Saūti (Lycopolis), modern Asyut; the cat Ubastet of Bubastis in the Delta; the hawk Horus; the ram Harsaphes of Heracleopolis Magna, modern Ehnāsya; the cow Hathor of Aphroditopolis, modern Atfīh; the hawk Haroëris or "Horus the Great" of Damanhur; the ram Khnum of Hypselis, modern Shūtb, and of Latopolis, modern Esnah; the hawk-headed warrior god Montu of Hermonthis; the vulture-goddess Uto of Butō, modern Kōm el-Farā’īn; the crocodile Sobek (Greek Souchos) of Faiyūm; the lioness Sekhmet of Rehesu, near Letopolis, later venerated at Memphis; the fabulous animal Seth, of Ombos; the mummified hawk Sokaris, of the Memphite necropolis; and the ibis Toth of Hermopolis in the Delta, modern Baklia, and of Hermopolis Magna, modern el-Ashmūnēn. Several goddesses bear on their heads the animals they originally represented. Thus the goddess Mut, from the Karnak region, wears the skin of a vulture, and Selkis wears a scorpion. Satis, the goddess of the Island of Sehel and of Elephantine, often wears the crown of Upper Egypt combined with antelope horns. This type of representation is especially typical of divinities who originated as fetishes: Isis, from Iseion, modern Behbīt el-Hagar, formerly personified the royal throne; Nefertem,
from the Memphis region, a lotus flower; and Nēth from Saïs, modern Sān el-Hagar, an archaic shield with two crossed arrows.
Cosmic gods comprise the second category, represented as a general rule in human form, as for example, Shu, the personification of air; the moon-god Khonsu; the ithyphallic god of fertility, Min; and the chthonian god of fertility, Osiris, also a king in prehistoric times. These gods, however, were identified also with local divinities of animal origin. Thus, Shu forms with Tefnut, the personification of moisture, a pair of lions, and the goddess of the sky, Nut, is considered a cow-goddess.
To the third category belong gods personifying abstractions in human form: Atum, from Heliopolis, who expresses the concept of universality; amon, from Karnak, whose name means "the hidden one"; Ptah of Memphis, god of industrial labor and the arts; and, finally, the goddess Ma‘at, personification of cosmic order, manifested in human society in the ethical notions of
truth and justice [see J. B. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East in Pictures Relating to the Old Testament, (Princeton 1954) 573].
Theology and the Myths. As a consequence of the political evolution, which brought the cities in closer contact, the problem of the relationships between these local gods, each supreme master in its locale, developed with increasing urgency. The establishment of divine families was a first solution. These families frequently formed a triad, composed of father, mother, and son: thus Ptah, Sekhmet, and Nefertem were brought together at Memphis; and Amon, Mut, and Khonsu, at Thebes. Families consisting of eight or nine divinities appear later. How did the Egyptians reconcile the supremacy of the local god with the existence of the gods of other cities, whose power they never dreamed of contesting? The phenomenon of syncretism, or the identification of the gods, came into play here—the other divinities were considered manifestations or emanations of the local god. There is a text, for example, which in regard to the primordial god Atum, indicates that the other gods are his names, created by him. Similar statements are made concerning other gods, in particular Amon. Syncretism seems to be based on the idea that the divine nature is one and universal. J. Vandier (228–229) concluded from this: "It is all as though the Egyptians had believed in one god, capable of manifesting himself in different forms…. Were the Egyptiansin the last analysis monotheists unawares?"
Other writers claim to have discovered more palpable proofs of the existence of monotheism. The "Monument of Memphite theology" is of primary concern. H. Junker points out in the god Ur, "the Great," mentioned here, a god of the sky who was venerated as a single god during the prehistoric epoch and was later split up into the numerous divinities of the Memphite pantheon [ Die Götterlehre von Memphis, in Abhandlungen der Deutschen (Preussischen, to 1944) Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin (1815–), Phil.-hist.Kl. 23 (1939)].
On the other hand, in the wisdom literature, the divinity is most of the time evoked by the word ne tter, simply "God." Basing his argument on this fact, and on the ideas expressed in these texts, É. Drioton has defended the hypothesis that the Egyptians, from the beginning of the Old Kingdom, had the idea "of a God named without determination [and consequently thought of as unique], master of events, provident guardian of men, judge of good and evil actions, and giver of just rewards" [La religion égyptienne dans ses grandes signes, excerpt from La Revue du Caire, 1945, in Pages d'Égyptologie (Cairo 1957) 79]. In Le monothéisme de l'ancienne Égypte [Cahiers d'histoire égyptienne (Cairo, Jan. 1949) 168] he formulated his judgment as follows: "The official Egyptian
religion was always polytheism acted upon by the philosophical monotheism of its faithful; for the most enlightened among these, the private religion was most frequently monotheism tainted with polytheism."
Theological Systems. Five theological systems can be reconstructed from the texts, each explaining in its own way the origin of the universe, the gods, and men.
According to one cosmogony, not related to any center of worship, the god of the earth, Geb, and the goddess of the sky, Nut, of unspecified origin, created the sun. Each evening, Nut receives him into hiding for the night, and each morning she gives him back to the world.
The system from On-Heliopolis teaches that Atum-Rē came forth from the primordial ocean, Nun, by his own power. He climbed a hill and raised himself up on the benben stone at Heliopolis. He then drew out from himself, by masturbating, the first divine couple, Shu and Tefnut (air and moisture). These gods brought into the world Geb and Nut, who gave birth to Osiris, Isis, Seth,
and Nephthys. The members of this Ennead governed the country, father succeeding son.
The ancient name Shmūn of the city Ashmūnēn (Hermopolis) means "eight," referring to the four divine couples venerated in this place. These divinities, represented in the form of serpents and frogs, set themselves on the primordial mound, which had come forth from Nun at Shmūn, in order to create light, that is, Rē. According to other texts, the Ogdoad created an egg and placed it on the mound. The sun was born from that egg, and in turn created and ordered the world. Among these gods, Amon afterward met with extraordinary fortune when, during the First Intermediate Period, he became the local god of Thebes, and later, the supreme god of Egypt. The system was then transformed as follows. In the beginning there was a serpent-god Kem-atef (he who finished his time) who was assimilated by the great Amon of Karnak. This serpent died and left to his son, the serpent Ir-ta (the creator of the earth), the care of creating the Ogdoad. Ir-ta was assimilated by the ithyphallic Amon of Luxor. Amon, the member of the Ogdoad, is then his son. The eight gods swam from Thebes to Hermopolis, where they created the sun, and came to die later not far from Medīnet Habu. Later, Horus was linked to this cycle as son and heir of the Ogdoad.
The Memphite system is the only one among these Egyptian cosmogonies that does not have to be laboriously reconstructed from the Pyramid Texts and other religious documents, some funerary, some not. It is preserved in the form of doctrine in stele no. 797 of the British Museum, dating from the reign of Shabaka (Twenty-fifth Dynasty). The original text of this"Monument of Memphite theology," however, was composed, according to H. Junker, between the Third and Fifth Dynasties, and was a fusion of the two preceding systems. Ptah finds himself at the head of eight primordial gods, who are only "forms that exist within Ptah." Ur-Atum, the manifestation of Ptah, accomplishes the work of creation with his heart (the seat of intelligence) and his tongue (instrument of the will). The demiurge first creates the other gods of the Ennead, then the kas and the hemsut, that is, the powers which sustain life, and finally "he caused the cities to rise up and founded the nomes."
Veneration of the sun-god (solar religion) appears alongside the other cults encountered throughout the religious history of Egypt. The name Rē probably originated as the common name for the sun. It was associated with several other gods, in particular with Amon and Atum. Rē-Atum is the sun who disappears during the night; Rē is the star of the day. Kheprer (he who is becoming) and Rē-Hor-Akhte (Rē-Horus, dwelling on the horizon) personify the sun that rises in the morning. The Pyramid Texts indicate that the solar religion existed from the most ancient times and that by syncretism with Atum it was integrated into the doctrine of On-Heliopolis. It flourished especially under the Fourth and Fifth Dynasties. During that time several kings bore names formed of compounds based on the name of Rē; and from that time a part of the king's title was sa-Rē or "son of Rē"; the kings of the Fifth Dynasty built solar temples near Abū-Gūrab. A story from the Papyrus Westcar (in the Berlin Museum) tells how the first three kings of that dynasty were born from the union of Rē with the wife of a priest of Rē; the eldest was high priest at Heliopolis before becoming king. Under the Middle Empire, besides Amon-Rē, the names of Khnum-Rē, Min-Rē, and Sobek-Rē appear, attesting to the gradual ascendancy of the solar religion over the other cults. It took on new forms during the New Empire, and even became, under akhnaton, the only officially tolerated religion.
Myths. The cosmogonical systems, as has just been seen, attributed an uncontested supremacy to the gods. In the myths, on the contrary, they are exposed to all sorts of ambushes and attacks by their adversaries. These legends surround two personages: the sun-god Rē, and Osiris, the god of fertility, lord of the kingdom of the dead. Their vicissitudes are doubtless inspired by the spectacle of nature, in which light and darkness, life and death struggle in unceasing combat.
The "Destruction of Mankind" is an important myth from the solar cycle. Rē sent his eye, the goddess Hathor, against the men who had plotted against him. She caused such a massacre that Rē was obliged to have recourse to a trick in order to rescue the survivors. Wounded by such ingratitude, Rē abandoned the government of the world. His daughter, Nut, the divine cow, carried him up to the sky on her back, but while looking at the earth, she was overcome by vertigo. Rē then ordered Shu to hold her up from underneath.
In the Osirian legend, as in certain solar myths, Horus and Seth are the protagonists. Horus, however, is here the son of Osiris and Isis: he is Horus the child. This legend has been transmitted in its most complete form by Plutarch, De Iside et Osiride. This version describes the benevolent reign of Osiris, which attracted the jealousy of Seth and his supporters. These succeeded by a trick in enclosing him in a coffin, which they threw into the river. The coffin, borne by the waters to Byblos, in Phoenicia, ran aground near a tree, which grew miraculously around it. Isis, gone in search of her husband, found the coffin, after many adventures, and brought it back to Egypt. But after she arrived at Butō close to her son Horus, Seth discovered the coffin and cut up the cadaver into 40 pieces which he scattered. Isis buried the pieces in the places where she found them. Osiris left the kingdom of the dead for a time to prepare his son for combat. Grown to maturity, Horus defied his uncle Seth and overcame him in a series of conflicts. Certain details of this account show Osiris assuming the character of a vegetation god. At the same time, as among other peoples, this vegetation god is also the god of the dead. The name of the city of Byblos provides a link also between Osiris and Adonis, the Phoenician god of vegetation and water who was himself
related to the Canaanite-Mesopotamian god Tammuz.
On the gods and the legends, see H. Kees, Der Götterglaube im alten Ägypten (Mitteil. d. vorderasiat.-äg. Ges. 45; Leipzig, 1941).
The Cult. Besides the temples and their personnel, the religious calendars of the Egyptian and the routine daily services of worship of their gods are here described.
The Temples. The contrast between the solar religion and the cult of the other gods is reflected clearly in the construction of the sanctuaries. The solar temple of Abū-Gūrab, built by King Ni-User-Rē, of the Fifth Dynasty, is generally thought to be a replica of the sanctuary at Heliopolis. It is basically a large rectangular court, 75 by 100 meters, bounded by a wall, whose entrance is found in the axis of the east façade. In the west end of the court is an obelisk 36 meters high raised above a truncated pyramid 20 meters high. The obelisk is doubtless a reproduction of the benben stone at Heliopolis. At its foot was placed the table for offerings. Two passageways
begin at the entrance and follow the enclosure wall, leading in one direction to the substructure of the obelisk, in another to the storehouses set back against the north wall. Both are decorated with reliefs representing the seasons and various scenes from the life of men, as well as animals and plants. Outside the wall is a large ship made of bricks, symbolizing the ship of the sun.
The classic temple, however, was conceived as the palace or house of the god (ḥet-neṯer, per-neṯer). Temples from the New Empire and from the Ptolemaic Epoch are the only ones preserved, but the ruins of a temple built in the southwest of the Faiyūm by Amenhemhet III and IV show that the sanctuaries of the Middle Kingdom were constructed on the same plan. A monumental gateway, flanked by two towers, the so-called pylons, marked the entrance to the temple. Both towers were adorned with notches into which were fitted great poles ornamented with multicolored pennants. An avenue lined with sphinxes, called the "way of the god," often led through the city to the temple. Beyond the pylons opened a great porticoed court. At the end of the court the columned (hypostyle) hall was erected, its ceiling supported by columns whose capitals reproduced the papyrus flower in bloom or bud. Certain ceremonies were performed here attended only by a limited number of privileged persons; the court was the public part of the temple. Behind the hypostyle hall, also called the vestibule, were a variety of rooms containing, among other things, the objects necessary for the ritual and the treasure of the god, as well as constituting chapels of the gods who were his guests (σύνναοι θεοί). The most important section was the holy of holies or the adyton (bu ḏeser or also set uret ). This chapel forms an independent structure within the temple. It has its own roof and receives no light from the exterior. It contains the naos of granite (khemu ) in which the statue of the god is placed. On the walls of the vestibule and the other chambers, bas-reliefs depict the ceremonies performed there.
The temple often included a sacred lake in which the priests bathed and purified themselves before celebrating the divine service. Certain ceremonies took place there on feast days. Close by the Ptolemaic temples a small structure was erected, the mammisi, to which the mothergoddess was supposed to have withdrawn to await the birth of her son.
The Clergy. In principle, the king, son of the god, was the sole priest, the sole mediator between men and the divinity. Hence, it is always the king who is shown on the walls of temples performing the ceremonies of the daily ritual; in fact, he was replaced in this function by the priests. Their staffs were attached to each temple, more or less numerous depending on the temple's importance. In spite of several different appellations, notably for the high priests, the hierarchical order appears to have been the same for all these groups. A higher clergy, consisting of the ḥem-ne ter, or "servants of God," are generally distinguished from the lower clergy, to which belonged the wāb -priests, "the pure," among others. In fact, besides these two orders of priests, the ḥem-neṯer and the wāb, there existed several classes of clergymen. By virtue of ordination or rather initiation, expressed by the word bes, the priests had the right to enter the adyton and the naos to perform the ceremonies of the cult there. The ritual of Amon indicates that the wāb celebrated the divine service, and comparison of the Onomasticon of Amenophis with the circumlocutions employed by the Decrees of Canopus and Memphis lead to the same conclusion.
Among the clergymen, in the first place, were the kheri-ḥeb or "readers," ritualists, as their name indicates, who performed secondary tasks in the cult and who were responsible for the proper regulation of the ceremonies. These men were doubtless preparing themselves for the priesthood by familiarizing themselves with all branches of knowledge in a school attached to the temple, the "House of Life," in which the kheri-ḥeb-ḥeri-tep or "chief readers" and the scribes of the divine book were probably the professors. They also played an important part in the funerary cult, particularly in mummification. The subordinate staff consisted of musicians, chanters, sistrum players, and singers. It is difficult to establish whether the latter were permanently attached to the temple or if they held positions in civil life and came in for a month at a time, three times a year. This was the case with the kautiu and the unutiu. The former performed all kinds of heavy work, such as cleaning the temple, probably acting as porters and participating as well in the management of the goods. The latter kept watch day and night, probably also crying the hour, thus assuring the punctuality of the ceremonies. It is generally held that these three classes of personnel were made up of pious lay people who benevolently offered their services. But comparison of the passage of the Decree of Memphis N16 with that of Canopus 3 makes it appear possible that, as members of the priestly families they belonged to the "sacred tribes" and were considered wāb, in the later sense of the term, that is, members of the clergy.
The monthly rotation of duty pertained not only to the subordinate staff, but also to the readers and the wāb -priests. For this reason all these members of the clergy were divided into four "tribes" or phylae. From the Twenty-first Dynasty up to the close of the Saïte era, the ḥem-neṯer or "prophets" became so numerous that they were likewise divided into tribes. But during other epochs, there were only four prophets in each great temple. The ḥem-neṯer thus may have been simply the heads of the phylae. The Decree of Canopus did, in fact, establish a fifth phyle and place at its head a prophet "as in the other phylae." The prophets were ranked in ascending order from the fourth to the first prophet, who was ordinarily the high priest or chief of the temple.
On the organization of the clergy, see J. Vergote, Joseph en Égypte (Louvain 1959) 74–94.
Feasts and Daily Ritual. Several liturgical calendars have been preserved in the temple inscriptions, at Medīnet-Habu, Edfu, and Denderah, for example. Unfortunately these acquaint us, in most instances, only with the names of the numerous feasts listed, rarely indicating anything of the nature of the ceremonies. Processions, however, do seem to have been an especially characteristic feature of these feasts. At Edfu, the statue of the god was carried up to the roof of the temple. At Karnak, Amon left his naos to reside several days in his harem (opet ) in the South, the temple of Luxor. Descriptions of these feasts may be found in H. W. Fairman, "Worship and Festivals in an Egyptian Temple," The Bulletin of the John Rylands Library (Manchester 1903) 37 (1954) 165–203; W. Wolf, Das schöne Fest von Opet (Leipzig 1931); H. Gauthier, Les fêtes du dieu Min (Cairo 1931).
Two papyri from Berlin (no. 3055, 2014, and 3053), which describe the ritual of the temples of Amon and Mut at Karnak, provide better information concerning the daily worship of the divinity. These are in agreement with the inscriptions and representations in the chapels of Amon and five other gods at Abydos, demonstrating a fair degree of uniformity in the rituals honoring different gods. A. Moret explores this data in Le rituel du culte journalier en Égypte (Annales du Musée Guimet. Bibl. d'Études 14; Paris 1902). G. Roeder has slightly altered the order of the ceremonies in his translation of the texts from Abydos: Kulte, Orakel und Naturverehrung im alten Ägypten (Zürich-Stuttgart 1960) 72–141. To these documents has since been added a papyrus preserved partially in Cairo and partially in Turin, as well as the Chester Beatty Papyrus IX in the British Museum. H. Nelson studied these texts in relation to the bas-reliefs in the two great temples of Thebes: "Certain Reliefs at Karnak and Medinet Habu and the Ritual of Amenophis I," Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 8 (1949) 201–232, 309–345. The rite of Horus at Edfu included similar ceremonies (see Fairman, supra ). The holy office, celebrated each morning, consisted in the opening of the naos, the adoration and purification of the god with water and incense, and the dressing of the statue, which was then rouged and perfumed. Food and drink were then offered or presented as a sort of meal for the god. Certain texts indicate these offerings may have been made only symbolically, speaking of the offering of Ma‘at (in the ritual of Amon) or of the presentation of myrrh (in the ritual of Edfu), for instance. Owing to a ceremony called the "giving back of the offerings," the food was next offered to such other beneficiaries as deceased kings, then carried outside the temple for distribution among the priests, according to their rank. Little is known concerning the makeup of the noonday or evening services.
Piety, Magic, and Morality. Some attention should be directed to the religious life of the people as complementary to the official religion. Unfortunately, the monuments from the early period have yielded little information regarding popular devotion. The wisdom literature is the sole source. This, however, shows, contrary to what has often been said, that the Egyptians of the Old Kingdom had already formed an elevated conception of God and of morality. The New Empire witnessed a change in the relationship that had been formed between the divinities and the faithful. Prayers preserved on the steles depict Amon as the protector of men, the shepherd who watches his flock and who runs to the aid of those who call upon him [e.g., the prayer of Neb-Rē, see J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, (Princeton 1955) 380b]. The great number of ex-votoes, statuettes of the gods, amulets (not all magical), and scarabs with religious devices bears witness to a widespread piety among the people, who addressed themselves by preference to such minor gods as Hapi, the god of the Nile flood; Nepri, god of the wheat; Renenutet, goddess of the harvest; Meskhenet and the seven Hathors, patronesses of women in labor; Taït, goddess of weaving; and Bes and Toëris, protectors of the hearth. The dream books and the ostraca with questions for the oracles demonstrate the wide variety of circumstances that brought the Egyptians into consultation with the deity. Finally, by their personal names they placed themselves under divine protection or proved that they took an active part in the celebration of the religious feasts.
In comparison with prayer, an expression of the dependence of the individual on the divine being, magical incantation treated the god as though subject to certain laws and occult powers. The magician, identifying himself with a god, presumptuously claimed the right to give orders to another god. The Egyptians had no notion of the fundamental contradiction between these two attitudes. Magic, consequently, always played an important part. In their ardent desire to attain their goals, they sometimes alternated sublime prayers with magical injunctions. This practice made itself felt regularly in the rituals and the funerary documents: the Pyramid Texts, the Coffin Texts, and the book of the dead.
A highly developed moral sense is expressed in the so-called negative confession, in chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead and in the autobiographies represented in the tombs. This witnesses to the innocence of the deceased, before the divine judges, of a wide range of misconduct.
The Life Beyond. Two doctrines concerning life beyond the grave opposed each other, the first being supplanted quite early by the second. According to the Pyramid Texts, the deceased king rose into the sky, taking his place in the solar barque and uniting himself to Rē. The souls of other humans mingled with the stars after death, partaking of their eternal life. The passages toward this heavenly world are located in the East; for that reason this world is called the Dat or Duat, a word also meaning "morning." The life of those who have been thus "glorified" is sometimes depicted as a sojourn in some type of land of plenty, the "field of reeds" or the "field of the offerings." According to the second doctrine, the world of the dead is a subterranean world over which Osiris rules. The roads leading there are the roads to the West; this world is called Imentet (Coptic Amente ) or the "West." This conception appears already in a secondary position in the Pyramid Texts, into which it was permitted to penetrate with no little opposition on the part of the supporters of the solar doctrine. It teaches that the dead person must render an account of his good and bad deeds to Osiris. The soul or ba of the just, who is ma’a kheru or "justified by his voice," lives in the tomb close to the mummified body and the statues, or "bodies of eternity," destined to act in lieu of the body in the event that it begins to decay. His happiness consists in "coming into the daylight," in moving among men and gods and "doing what the living do." In the evening, the soul reenters the subterranean world, which Rē then visits and entertains throughout the night. The Book of the Dead contains the magic formulas giving the power to overcome the obstacles that could prevent the soul from coming and going. According to the position generally taken, the survival of the soul is dependent upon the preservation of the body or its magic counterparts; the soul disappears into nothingness in the event of their destruction. It is, however, difficult to reconcile this opinion with the notion that the survival of the ma’a kheru is the reward for a virtuous life. On the other hand, the texts from the "skeptics" do not indicate doubt that the soul is immortal: they simply deny that the Osirian funerals guarantee the ba its freedom of movement and they claim that the soul is eternally enclosed in the darkness of the subterranean world. See H. Kees, "Ein Klagelied über das Jenseits," Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache 62 (1927) 73–79. In the Dialogue of the Pessimistic Man with his Soul, the ba only threatens to abandon the body if it should perish by fire. There is reason, therefore, to raise the question whether or not the Egyptians did believe in the full immortality of the soul independently of the preservation of the body. There is not, however, any opposition regarding this point between the ancient solar doctrine and the Osirian doctrine. The aim of the Osirian funerals would have been eternal prolongation of life on earth, which, consequently, must have appeared to them as the greatest good. If the body were annihilated, the soul would go toward the field of reeds, where it knew a beatitude that was, in their eyes, happiness only to a certain limited extent.
If, from the beginning, the soul was not subject to death, that would not mean for the Egyptians that the soul is indestructible. Numerous passages in the funerary texts speak of the destruction of the soul, of the "second death," etc. This was the lot reserved for certain ones among those who were found guilty before the tribunal of Osiris, and perhaps for those who were not protected by magic against the enemies from beyond. These texts were assembled by J. Zandee, Death as an Enemy, according to Egyptian Conceptions (Leiden 1960). It must be noted that these texts do not indicate that the destruction of the soul is an effect of the disappearance of the body.
If one accepts this interpretation of the Osirian funerals, a new meaning is given to the Egyptian civilization as it appears to us, preserved essentially in its necropolises. Rather than the appanage of a people both morosely and morbidly preoccupied with death, these cities of the dead must be seen as homage and a hymn to life, loved by the Egyptians, it seems, more than by all the rest of mankind. See G. A. Reisner, The Egyptian Conception of Immortality (Boston 1912); H. Kees, Totenglauben und Jenseitsvorstellungen der alten Ägypter (Leipzig 1926); A. H. Gardiner, The Attitude of the Ancient Egyptians to Death and the Dead (Cambridge 1942).
Bibliography: j. h. breasted, Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt (New York 1912). a. erman, Die Religion der Ägypter (Leipzig 1934), Fr. La Religion des Égyptiens, tr. h. wild (Paris 1937). j. vandier, La Religion égyptienne, ("Mana" 1.1; Paris 1949). c. desroches-noblecourt, "Les Religions égyptiennes," m. m. gorce and r. mortier, eds., Histoire générale des religions, 4 v. (Paris 1944–48) v. 4. h. frankfort, Ancient Egyptian Religion (New York 1948). É. drioton, "La Religion égyptienne," m. brillant and r. aigrain, eds., Histoire des religions, 5 v. (Paris 1953–56) 3:7–147, 433–437. h. bonnet, Reallexikon der ágyptischen Religionsgeschichte (Berlin 1952). s. morenz, Ägyptische Religion (Stuttgart 1960), Fr. La Religion égyptienne, tr. l. jospin (Paris 1962).
2. Architecture And Art
Egyptian culture reaches back into the 5th millennium b.c., when neolithic settlements existed in the Faiyûm region at Deir Tasa and Beni Salâma (Merimda). About 3600 b.c. a new, much more advanced culture originated at Gerza and other sites in the north. This chalcolithic period produced some copper pots and some amulets representing gods in the shapes of various animals. Villages turned into towns and districts (the so-called nomes). Two powerful states developed along the banks of the Nile: Upper Egypt in the south, embracing 22 nomes; and Lower Egypt or the Delta land in the north, embracing 20 nomes. Each of these had its totemic symbols of animals or flowers.
Protodynastic Period. During this period (c. 2850–c. 2615 b.c.) the two Egypts were united in a single kingdom by Menes, also called Narmer, who was, according to the historian Manetho of the 3rd century b.c., the founder of the First Dynasty. This event is documented with great aesthetic, as well as historic, value by one of the earliest objects of Egyptian arṭ the Palette of Narmer (Cairo Museum) (see kingship in the ancient near east). Egyptian palettes were plates on which cosmetics were prepared, especially the cosmetic made of powdered malachite mixed with oil, which served as a germicidal eye paint similar to the black ointment that is still put on eyelids in the fly-infested regions of the modern Orient. This 22-inch slate object is decorated on both sides. On one side the king is depicted wearing the tall, white crown of Upper Egypt, as he is about to smite a foe with his lifted mace, while two enemies are fleeing below. The reverse shows Narmer crowned, wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt and surveying two rows of decapitated enemies, whose heads are neatly placed between their feet. Above him the cow heads symbolize the goddess Hathor, protectress of Narmer. Below, the intertwined long necks of two mythical animals form the container in which the ointment was mixed. Even in this early work the convention that was to rule Egyptian art for centuries is already present. The ruler, since he was considered divine, towers high over his vizier and his soldiers. The bodies are represented from the front, whereas the head and legs are seen in profile. This characteristic persists throughout the entire history of Egyptian relief sculpture and painting.
Artistically, the history of Egypt can be divided into three periods corresponding to the Old, the Middle, and the New Kingdoms. The first, called also the Pyramid Age, lasted from c. 2850 to c. 2140 b.c. Since his life was ruled by religion, the art of the Egyptian naturally reflected his faith.
Old Kingdom. Belief in an afterworld, for which he prepared during his whole lifetime, in a resurrection, and in a last judgment necessitated the preservation of his body. According to his prominence in society the Egyptian built his tomb: in the shape of a truncated pyramid called the mastaba or, as in the case of Djosher, the first king of the Third Dynasty, a series of five mastabas on top of one another, which formed his so-called Step Pyramid at Saqqâra (see egypt). Out of this structure the true pyramids developed.
Pyramids. The best-known pyramids are those of Khufu (Cheops), Khafra (Chephren), and Menkaure (Mycerinos) at El Gîza. The largest one is the pyramid of Khufu, originally 481 feet high (some of it now covered by sand), on which about 100,000 men labored for 30 years, usually during the period of inundation, when agricultural work was at rest. The core is of yellow limestone, the funeral chamber is lined with granite, and the outer casing, now almost completely stripped off, was once of exquisitely fitted, polished, white limestone that reflected the sun, the sacred emblem of which was a pyramidal shape—a fitting memorial because the kings considered themselves sons of Ra (Re), the sun god. Next to the pyramid a mortuary temple, of which only the foundations are left, was erected. Since tombs were sealed after the body was laid to rest, the temple was used for memorial services. Khafra, who succeeded Khufu, erected a sphinx next to his pyramid as a symbolic guardian of the tomb. The sphinx is a composite figure, lion-bodied with a human head representing the king wearing the linen headdress and the cobra, emblems of royalty. East of the pyramid is Khafra's mortuary temple, to which a causeway once reached from the Nile.
Tombs. Inside the tomb, whether pyramid of king or mastaba of noble, arrangements were made for the comfort and entertainment of the soul of the deceased. The Ka, or life force, was believed to live on in the shape of a bird, the manifestation of the soul after death, called the Ba, and to visit the tomb periodically until the time for last judgment, when the deceased would have to account for his deeds. His heart was balanced against truth before the assembly of gods. If the judgment were favorable, he would become a transfigured spirit and exist in a sphere beyond humanity; if not, he was annihilated by demons. The visiting Ka needed a likeness of the deceased into which it could enter, so portrait statues were placed in each tomb. Those of the kings and nobles were highly stylized and idealized, as, for example, Khafra or the courtier Rahotep and his wife, Nofret. All three statues are in the Cairo Museum. The artist worked from a rectangular block of stone as it came from the quarry, and the result is almost cubistic simplicity. The figures of Rahotep and Nofret were polychromed; the man has a brownish tan all over his body, whereas his lady, who is dressed in a white sheath and wears lavish jewelry, has a light olive complexion. Their eyes are made of crystal, on which the iris is painted, so that they have a startlingly lifelike appearance. The representations of commoners were much more realistic; for example, the limestone figures of the Seated Scribe in the Louvre, whose flabby body witnesses to a sedentary occupation, or the wooden statuette of the portly Ka-aper (Sheikel-Beled, "the mayor"), now in the Cairo Museum.
The walls of the tomb chamber were decorated by polychromed relief sculpture or painting, representing the property or favorite occupations of the deceased. Ti, a court official whose tomb is at Saqqâra, is represented on a hippopotamus hunt, standing up in his reed boat, while his servants attack the animals with spears. Fish swim in the water below, and the papyrus thicket is alive with birds and small beasts above their heads. Another relief from the same tomb represents cattle herded across a river; a herdsman carries a newborn calf, whose head is turned back anxiously toward its lowing mother. It is interesting to observe that, whereas the figure of the deceased Ti is stylized, the herdsmen and especially the animals are quite realistic on these limestone reliefs. A variation in wood is the relief of Hesire in the Cairo Museum, which comes from his brick mastaba at Saqqâra and shows a high degree of technical accomplishment.
Painting at that time was used mostly as an accessory to relief. The painter did not wish to create an illusion; rather he achieved an effect of polychrome harmony. Illustrated papyrus copies of the book of the dead also are found in the tombs. They served as magical passports that recalled the virtues of the deceased and pleaded for eternal life. They established the formal, archaic style of painting in the Old Kingdom.
Middle Kingdom. During the Middle Kingdom (c. 1989–1776 b.c.) the traditional forms of architecture and sculpture were used, and mortuary temples and pyramids were erected; but none of them was as impressive as those at El Gîza. Sesostris I caused an obelisk to be raised in Heliopolis as a homage to the sun. The pyramidion on top, like the pyramids, was an emblem of the sun. Most of the great architectural projects of this time have disappeared because of rebuilding by rulers of the New Kingdom. In the minor arts the Middle Kingdom reached a very high technical excellence, of which the magnificent collection of jewels in the Metropolitan Museum, New York City, bears witness.
New Kingdom. This period (c. 1570–c. 1150 b.c.), which began after the Hyksos invaders had been driven out of the country, was architecturally the most brilliant period in Egyptian history. The pharaohs built vast temples instead of the huge pyramids to immortalize their names. Plunder of the tombs cautioned the rulers to hide rather than expose their last resting places. These were still magnificently appointed, containing beautiful reliefs, paintings, and all the paraphernalia the Ka might desire; but they were cut deep in the rock and hidden from covetous eyes. The so-called Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens near Thebes contain the most grandiose of these rock-cut funeral vaults; but the tombs of nobles at El Ashraf and Deir-el-Medina, though smaller, are artistically just as important and interesting because of their less formal and, at times, impressionistic decoration representing daily life.
Hatshepsut's Temple. The mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut at Deir-el-Bahri is one of the most conspicuous monuments of its kind (see temples). She wished to firmly establish her divine origin in order to sustain her unprecedented position as Lady Pharaoh. Colonnaded porticoes built of white limestone, terraces planted with trees and flowers imported from Punt, which had to be watered laboriously, attempted to transform the arid cliff landscape into an earthly paradise of the sungod Amon-Ra. The noble Senmut, Hatshepsut's chief architect, built sanctuaries to Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the dead, and to the sky-goddess Hathor. The main shrine was dedicated to amon, and under this the Queen planned her own resting place. However, because of difficulties in cutting the rock, her mortuary chapel was built south of the main sanctuary. She also caused two obelisks to be erected at Karnak, one of which, the largest in all Egypt, is still standing; it is 97½ feet high and contains 180 cubic yards of granite.
Thutmose III, the stepson whom Hatshepsut kept from ruling, avenged himself by decapitating all the Queen's likenesses, erasing her name, and letting her beautiful gardens die.
Temples at Karnak and Luxor. On the eastern shore of the Nile the huge temples of Karnak and Luxor bear witness to the building zeal of the rulers during the Empire Period (1570–1211 B.C.). Usually the approach to the temple was from the river, along a processional way lined by guardian spirits, sphinxes, or rams. The pylon gate was formed by two towerlike stone structures with sloping sides decorated by laudatory reliefs and chased vertically to form flag bases for banners. Cedar doors covered by bronze, gold, or electrum led into the colonnaded forecourt, where the public festivals were held. Beyond it was the hypostyle hall, or hall of appearances, the roof of which was supported by rows of columns. Behind the hall was the small inner sanctuary of the god, to which only the priests were admitted. Within the sacred precinct were also the priests' offices, treasury, and storerooms.
Building on the enormous temple of Amon at Karnak went on for centuries. Within the sacred precinct are smaller temples to Khonsu and Ptah, deities of procreative power, and a sacred lake. The great hypostyle hall was started by Seti I and completed by his son, RamsesII. It is 54,000 sq. feet, the largest columnar hall in the world. It has 16 rows of columns, the two central ones of which supported the clerestory. The height of each column is 79 feet; the diameter is 11¾ feet; each papyrus capital could accommodate 100 standing men. Like Karnak, the temple of Luxor is dedicated to Amon-Ra. Amenhotep III built the first temple, but Ramses II made many additions, among others six colossal granite figures of himself, two obelisks, and an avenue of sphinxes leading to Karnak, which are presently being excavated. Within the sacred precinct there is a chapel of Alexander the Great, the remains of a Christian shrine, and a mosque; each era has thus paid homage to divinity.
Temples of Ramses II and III. The mortuary temple of Ramses II, the Ramesseum, was built on the opposite side of the Nile, west of Thebes. Even today the grandeur of the ruins, covering 870 by 570 feet, amazes the visitor. Behind the temple are a series of granaries covered by barrel vaults constructed of mudbrick, probably the earliest vaults in the history of architecture. Nearby, at Madînet Habu, Ramses III built his mortuary temple, which is, in concept, similar to that of his predecessor but much better preserved. A series of two courts with statues of the king led to the hypostyle hall, which was followed by smaller halls leading to the sanctuary. A small palace with audience hall and apartments opened to the south of the main court. The thick stone wall surrounding the precinct had fortified gates on western and eastern sides. The gateways contained apartments in the upper stories. The sculptural decoration was enlivened by rich paint, which is especially well preserved in the sheltered places.
At Abu Simbel, between the second and third cataracts of the Nile, Ramses II caused a temple to be hewn out of the rock above the river. Four colossal portraits of the king (64 feet high) decorate the front, and a smaller representation of the sun-god stands above the entrance. By the legs of the sitting colossi eight small figures represent the Pharao's mother, his beloved wife, Nefertari (a Hittite princess), and their children. The door leads into a great hall, 55 by 50 feet, beyond which is a smaller room and a sanctuary with cult statues of Ramses himself, the sun-god Ra-Harakhti, and the chief gods of Thebes and Memphis, Amon and Ptah. Adjacent is the smaller temple of Queen Nefertari, decorated by six colossi (30 feet high), of which four represent Ramses II, and two, the Queen. The interior contains two small halls dedicated to the cow-goddess Hathor, goddess of love, music, and dance. The construction of the Aswân High Dam, which was to transform the Nile to the south into Lake Nasser, threatened these monuments with inundation. At the completion of the dam, the water level would be 120 feet above the heads of the colossi of Ramses II. To save Abu Simbel for posterity, a $36 million project was undertaken whereby the temples and statues were cut into sections and reassembled as much as possible in their ancient form on a plateau 200 feet above the original site. Forty-eight nations of the world responded to the plea of the United Arab Republic to help salvage these important cultural treasures. The U.S. donated $12 million to the cause.
Naturalism. New Kingdom sculpture, while traditional in its frontality and poses, shows a tendency toward naturalism and portrait likeness. Although Hatshepsut is represented on her statue that is now in the Metropolitan Museum as enthroned and wearing the formal headdress and short, pleated linen skirt of a ruler, she is made to appear femininely delicate both in features and in body. Realism was practiced during the reign of Amenhotep IV, who changed his name to akhnaton, "useful to Aton." He was unique among ancient Egyptian rulers for his monotheism. He rejected the Egyptian pantheon and proclaimed Aton, represented by the sun disk, the sole deity (see sun worship). The new capital that he built at Tell el ‘Amârna he called Akhet-Aton, "Horizon of Aton." Search for truth was his doctrine, and this is mirrored in the numerous portraits of Akhnaton, which show a remarkable lack of flattery; the philosopher-poet king is depicted with a slight paunch typical of a man of sedentary habits. His lovely wife, Nefretiti, and his daughters were the subjects of several works of art. The painted limestone bust of the queen in Berlin is the best known of these, but several unfinished portraits have been found that bear witness to her exquisite beauty. Warm family devotion is depicted on a relief in Cairo, which represents the royal spouses seated, holding their children on their laps, the king kissing one; in the background the sun extends its beneficent rays toward them, and each ray ends in a blessing hand. Tutankhamon, who married one of these princesses, had to renounce Akhnaton's monotheism after a religious upheaval and return to the cult of the old gods of Egypt. The tomb of this young ruler, discovered in 1922, yielded the richest find yet of minor art objects, jewelry, lamps, furniture, chariots, etc.
At Thebes, the reliefs of the tomb of Ramose, who was vizier during the rules of Amenhotep III and his son, Akhnaton, reflect the transition from refined formality, as depicted by the festive gathering in which his brother takes part, to a realistic style, which is illustrated by the later decoration of the burial chamber, representing the funeral procession with priests, offerings, and professional mourners.
Late Period. Relief became progressively flat and turned into deeply incised contour lines with only slight modeling during the late period. Nevertheless, the traditional Egyptian style survived the Greek and Roman conquests and their enormous influence over the art of the provinces. The temple of Isis on the small island of Philae, which is now under water during a great part of the year (because of the Aswan Dam), was started by Ptolemy II in the 3rd century b.c.; but its decoration continued during Roman rule as the cult of Isis became popular with the Romans. It was closed finally by Justinian in a.d. 543. The Horus temple at Edfu (c. 200 B.C. ) is another example of the survival of traditional architecture and sculpture in Ptolemaic times.
Egyptian Paintings. Painting in the New Kingdom was often applied directly, and the relief was omitted. Earth colors and mineral pigments were used with the al secco technique. Gum arabic, egg white, glue, wax, or honey served as medium. The figures were sketched in with a red or black outline; there is evidence that a grid was used for proportions. After the application of the color, the contour was outlined again with red and white lines. When the subject matter was mythological or ritual, as it usually was when a royal sepulchre was decorated, the drawing was based on traditional conventions resembling the style of the Book of the Dead. When it was biographical, depicting the favorite events of the life of the deceased, as in the more than 400 private tombs near Thebes, the artist invented his own iconography, and the result was a free, lively style of genre painting. These scenes of banquets, musicians, beautiful ladies, pleasure gardens with pools full of carp and lotus flowers, hunters, fishers, harvesters, and artisans at their toil all present posterity with a valuable document that reflects the high civilization of ancient Egypt.
Bibliography: k. lange and m. hirmer, Egypt, Architecture, Sculpture, Painting in Three Thousand Years, tr. r. h. boothroyd (London 1956). a. mekhitarian, Egyptian Painting, tr. s. gilbert (New York 1954). w. s. smith, The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt in Pelican History of Art, ed. n. pevsner (Baltimore 1958). s. bosticco and h. w. mÜller, Encyclopedia of World Art (New York 1959) 4:572–710; plates 319–392. j. wilson, The Burden of Egypṭ An Interpretation of Ancient Egyptian Culture (Chicago 1951). s. lloyd, The Art of the Ancient Near East (New York 1961).
[i. e. ellinger]
3. Language and Literature
The language of ancient Egypt is related both to the Semitic languages of Southeast Asia and to the Hamitic languages of North Africa (Berber, Somali, Galla). This can be explained either by the fusion of intrusive Semitic elements with the Hamitic African substratum or by the remote common origin of the Semitic and Hamitic language families, which split off at an early date and left Egyptian in between.
Language and Script. Texts of different periods make it possible to detect the stages in the history of the Egyptian written languages from the Archaic Period (c. 3000 b.c.) to the Christian era.
History of the Language. Old Egyptian, the language of the Old Kingdom (before 2200 b.c.), was the language of the Pyramid Texts and the earliest biographical inscriptions, which developed probably around the North Egyptian cultural centers of Memphis and Heliopolis.
Middle Egyptian was in general use from the First Intermediate Period to the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty (c. 2200–c. 1350 b.c.) and survived in the late periods as the language of monumental inscriptions and religious literature. Middle Egyptian probably developed in the Herakleopolitan center and was regarded as the classical form of the Egyptian language.
Late Egyptian, apparently the spoken language of Upper Egypt, was first written in the private letters and administrative documents of the Amarna Period (c. 1370–c. 1350 b.c.); in the Ramesside Period (13th century b.c.) it replaced Middle Egyptian elsewhere in nonreligious literature. Demotic was the Late Egyptian of the cursive scripts between 750 b.c. and a.d. 320. The popular language in the Late Egyptian Period developed into Coptic.
Types of Script. The Egyptian hieroglyphic script developed from pictographic signs in the Late Predynastic (Gerzean) Period (last quarter of the 4th millennium b.c.), possibly under the influence of Protoliterate Mesopotamian civilization. The earliest known hieroglyphic inscriptions were written at the beginning of the First Dynasty (Kings Narmer and Aha) and already comprised the standard forms of phonetic signs, which changed very little throughout the whole of ancient Egyptian civilization. The hieroglyphic writing included word signs, phonetic symbols, ideographic determinatives, and a complete decimal numerical system.
From the Old Kingdom to the Roman Empire highly decorative hieroglyphic texts were carved or painted on walls and steles as well as on wooden coffins and papyri of religious significance.
The hieratic script developed early from the cursive hieroglyphic signs and, beginning with the Archaic Period, was used on pottery, wood, and papyrus, undergoing considerable stylistic changes in subsequent periods of Egyptian history.
The demotic script developed in the Saitic Period (663–525 b.c.) and later. It gradually replaced the hieratic script in administration, legal records, letters, and folk stories, and remained in general use to the end of the Roman Empire.
Old-Egyptian Literature. The most dynamic age in the formation of ancient Egyptian civilization began in the Late Predynastic (Gerzean) Period and continued until it reached its summit and achieved stabilization in the Pyramid Age, probably before 2500 b.c. There is no doubt that a complex Egyptian literature existed in the Third Dynasty (c. 2615–c. 2565), especially in the time of King Djoser and his chief architect, Imhotep, who was credited with the authorship of medical texts, books of wisdom, and magic formulas [J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2 (Princeton 1954) 419–420].
Later texts, particularly those of a religious, scientific, magical, and didactic character, were intentionally archaized and claimed great antiquity in order to gain esteem, while really ancient texts were carefully preserved, transcribed, and imitated. The authenticity of their early sources can be verified on the basis of linguistic and circumstantial evidence. At least two such texts, the Memphite Theology [J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2 (Princeton 1955) 4–6], transcribed in the 6th century b.c. by the order of Shabaka (hence known as the Shabaka Stone), and the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus, both following originals of the Third to the Fifth Dynasties, are listed among the highest achievements of ancient Egyptian civilization, showing the speculative mind and scientific approach so alien to the Egyptian literature of later periods. The Old Kingdom Teaching of Ptah-hotep [J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2 (Princeton 1955) 412–414], the vizier of King Izezi of the Fifth Dynasty, known from several manuscripts of the Middle Kingdom and later, became the model for Egyptian wisdom literature.
The largest body of the Old Kingdom literature is found in the Pyramid Texts [J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2 (Princeton 1955) 326–328], which include magic spells, incantations, and the earliest examples of hymns, with frequent references to cosmic myths but very little narrative. The other largest domain of the Old Kingdom literature is the tomb inscriptions, including the narrative biographical texts of Uni, Heri-Khuf, Sabni, and others, which could have served as prototypes for the best Middle Kingdom stories.
No Old Egyptian tales are known, with the possible exception of the Story of Cheops [or Khufu] and the Magicians. Circumstantial evidence makes it probable that the stories were first composed in the Fifth or early Sixth Dynasty, but the only manuscript, the Westcar Papyrus, dates from the Hyksos times, and its language is characteristic of the late Middle Kingdom. The text includes several magic adventures told or demonstrated to King Cheops, and it concludes with the alleged prophetic story of the miraculous birth of the first three rulers of the Fifth Dynasty.
Middle Egyptian Literature. The fall of the Old Kingdom authority, the deep crisis of the ancient political and moral order, and the social chaos of the civil war were reflected in the literature of the time of transition, and particularly in the Admonitions of Ipu-wer and the Prophecy of Nefer-rohu (or Neferti); see J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2 (Princeton 1955) 441–446 and Posenor, Littérature et politique. The imaginative descriptions of disturbance and total disaster were sometimes concluded with a prophecy of the new ruler or "the shepherd," who would restore order and justice to Egypt. But all the above-mentioned texts are known only from much later manuscripts, and the circumstantial evidence suggests that the original texts were composed not earlier than the Twelfth Dynasty as a kind of political propaganda for the new rulers of the appeased country. In any case, they reflect the awakening of social and national consciousness and a tendency to establish new order in the country. Special emphasis was laid upon rightness or justice, personified as the goddess Ma‘at.
Wisdom Literature. An important part in the Egyptian renaissance was played by wisdom literature. The ideas of just rule were expressed in the Instructions for Meri-ka-re [J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2 (Princeton 1955) 414–418], the Herakleopolitan king of the Tenth Dynasty, and much shorter Instructions of Amen-em-het I (ibid. 418–419), the first king of the Twelfth Dynasty, assassinated in a palace revolt; and in the Satire de metièrs or Teaching of Kheti (or Akhtoy), son of Duaf, known from numerous corrupt late copies, describing the dignity of the scribe's profession in comparison with other kinds of work. The same ideas were expressed in the Middle Kingdom Egyptian tales.
The Philosophical Dispute of the Misanthrope with his soul is a strange psychological drama of a split personality discussing with his soul (Ba) the problem of death. It includes a sharp criticism of the existing social order, resembling Admonitions of Nefer-rohu and Ipuwer. The Story of the Eloquent Peasant [J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2 (Princeton 1955) 407–410] was used only as a framework for nine speeches on justice addressed by a complaining peasant to the royal officials.
Travel Stories. Two Middle Kingdom travel stories, of Si-nuhe [J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2 18–22] and the Shipwrecked Sailor, deal with the patriotic nostalgia that the Egyptians felt when in foreign lands. Si-nuhe was an Egyptian refugee who attained a high position in the Kingdom of Retenu (Syria or Palestine) but finally returned home to die in his own country. The Story of Sinuhe was considered a classic piece of Egyptian literature, and the large number of preserved manuscripts indicates its great popularity. The language and composition are clear, free from verbosity and unnecessary ornamentation, but effective and picturesque, giving good glimpses into the daily life of the time in Egypt and in the land of Retenu. Everything could have actually happened just as described in the story. The Ship-wrecked Sailor is a fantastic story of a sailor's adventures and homesickness on the strange enchanted island of a snake king.
Poetry. Egyptian poetic compositions have apparent strophic arrangement, rhythmic devices, emphasized by periodic repetitions and parallel statements, word play, and alliteration. Some of the Old Kingdom spells of the Pyramid Texts were certainly poems, and the biographical text of Uni (from the early Sixth Dynasty) contains a triumphal hymn, written on the occasion of Uni's happy return from a Nubian expedition, in which every strophe is introduced by a brief clause: "This army returned in safety…."
The great religious hymns to the sun-god ra (Re), the hymn to the crocodile-god Sobek, the ritual Hymn to the Crowns, the Hymn to Osiris, the god of vegetation, the Hymn to the Nile [J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2 (Princeton 1955) 372–373]—these and other hymns, some of which may have originated in the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts, certainly existed in the Middle Kingdom, although they are known mainly from later manuscripts. The hymns of victory are included in the historical royal records. The best known of such hymns, dedicated to Sesostris III (1878–1843), had a rigid strophic form and repetitions, possibly intended for a choir. Four elegiac hymns are included in the philosophical Dispute over Suicide [J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2 (Princeton 1955) 405–407]. Their structure is similar, although they were hardly composed for choral singing.
Religious drama in ancient Egypt, reenacting mythological scenes on special occasions, is attested by some texts with dialogues and presumed stage devices. The Middle Kingdom papyrus from the Ramesseum contains the Coronation Play, based on the myth of Horus and Set. A brief account of a similar dramatic performance held on the occaison of seasonal festivals at Abydos is recorded on the stele of Ikhernofret, an official of Sesostris III.
New Kingdom and Late Egyptian Literature. New Kingdom literature did not break with the ancient heritage. The ancient wisdom literature (of Ptah-hotep, Amenemhet I, and Kheti, son of Duaf), the Middle Kingdom poetry, such as religious hymns and the Harper's Song [J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2 (Princeton 1955) 467], and the best stories (e.g., Si-nuhe ) were copied and imitated, serving as literary models in the scribal schools. Middle Egyptian remained the language of monumental inscriptions and sacred literature, which used the traditional phraseology.
Historical records of the Empire include vivid narrations of achievements and adventures and poems glorifying the victories [J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2 (Princeton 1955) 234–263]. The hymn from the poetic stele of Thutmose III was rewritten with some minor alteration for several later pharaos.
Religious hymnal literature reached the highest level in the solar Hymn to Amon-Ra of Suty and Hor [J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2 365–366], composed under Amenhotep III; and in the famous Hymn to Aton of the Amarna Period (ibid. 369–371), ascribed to King akhnaton himself and best preserved in the abandoned tomb of It-nṯr Ay (or Eye).
A new literary form, particularly popular in the time of the empire, is represented by charming love songs with clear poetic devices: strophic arrangement, similes, metaphors, play on words, often with humor and satire.
New Kingdom narrative literature must include the historical records of war expeditions and other activities inscribed on the walls of the temples and commemorative steles, especially the records of the Syrian expeditions of Thutmose I and III [J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2 (Princeton 1955) 234–241], the Sportive Stele of Amenhotep II (ibid. 244–245), the Battle of Kadesh of Ramses II (ibid. 255–256), once known as the Epic of Pentawer.
Among the Late Egyptian stories there is the Story of the Two Brothers [J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2 (Princeton 1955) 23–25], which begins as a folk tale of peasant life and develops in a continuous narrative of magic, adventures, and reincarnations. The Story of the Foredoomed Prince (Papyrus Harris 500, see J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2 22b) resembles the European tales of the Glass Mound and Sleeping Beauty. There are at least two historical folk tales: the Story of Sekenenre and Apopis and the Capture of Joppe. The long Story of Wen-Amon [J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2 (Princeton 1955) 25–29] might have been a true account of the travel adventures of an Egyptian official sent from Thebes to Lebanon to bring wood for the sacred bark of Amon. There are also an allegorical Story of the Blinding of Truth and several long mythological stories, such as the Deliverance of Mankind from Destruction (ibid. ) inscribed on the shrine of Tutankhamun and on the walls of the royal tombs (Seti I, Ramses II andIII), the Tale of Horus and Seth (ibid. 14–17), with their long quarrel before the divine tribunal, and How Isis Gained Magic Power over Ra, the King of Gods. (The last two are preserved on Twentieth-Dynasty papyri in the Chester Beatty collection.)
The Late Egyptian wisdom literature, such as the Instruction of Ani [J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2 (Princeton 1955) 420–421] and the Wisdom of Amen-em-ope (ibid. 421–424), reflect the new attitudes of the period, which J. H. Breasted called the "Age of Personal Piety," emphasizing humility, meekness, and total dependence on divine mercy. The Late Egyptian miscellanies include a large number of school texts, copying, quoting, or imitating earlier instructions, together with model letters, didactic or satirical, advocating learning, obedience, and modesty.
The New Kingdom texts of prayers of this period, which include confession of guilt, reconciliation, supplication, and thanksgiving, have been the subject of a fascinating study by B. Gunn, "Religion of the Poor" [The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 3 (1916) 81–94].
Demotic Literature. The Egyptian literature of the latest periods on demotic manuscripts preserves the memory of the glorious past in the cycles of historical novels: the Story of Setne (or Khaemwase), the son of Ramses II, continued in the Story of Si-Osiris, his son, two stories from the Cycle of Petubastis, and fragments of Amasis Tales and of the Story of Patese.
The late demotic Papyrus of Leiden contains the long mythological or allegorical Story of the Solar Eye or the Flight of Hathor-Tefnut to Nubia, which includes several philosophical discourses and animal fables interwoven in the plot of the story. At least one fable of the Leiden Papyrus, The Mouse and the Lion, is known from Greek sources ascribed to Aesop. No animal fables have been found in Egyptian literature outside of the Leiden Papyrus, but their existence and popularity in the New Kingdom is evident from drawings representing animals in human attitudes.
Demotic texts of the Ptolemaic and Roman period include a later version of the book of the dead and some fragments copied from lost ancient sources, such as the Lamentations of Isis and Nephtys and even the Wisdom of Hor-dedef from the Fourth Dynasty [J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2 (Princeton 1955) 419–420) and the demotic adaptation of the Memphite Theology, showing the deeply rooted traditions of the ancient Egyptian civilization.
Bibliography: Language. a. h. gardiner, Egyptian Grammar (London 1957). e. edel, Altägyptische Grammatik, 2 v. (Analecta orientalia 34, 39; Rome 1955–64). a. erman, Neuägyptische Grammatik (Leipzig 1933). f. lexa, Grammaire démotique (Prague 1947–51). a. erman and h. grapow, eds., Wörterbuch der aegyptischen Sprache, 12 v. (Leipzig 1926–55). h. kees, ed., Ägyptologie (Handbuch der Orientalistik 1.1; Leiden 1959). Literature. a. erman, The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, tr. a. m. blackman (London 1927). g. lefebvre, ed. and tr., Romans et contes égyptiens de l'époque pharaonique (Paris 1949). s. schott, ed. and tr., Altägyptische Liebeslieder mit Märchen und Liebesgeschichten (Zurich 1950). e. brunnertraut, ed. and tr., Altägyptische Märchen (Düsseldorf-Cologne 1963). j. a. wilson, in j. b. pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2, passim. g. posener, "Recherches littéraires," Revue d'Égyptologie 6 (1951) 27–48; 7 (1950) 71–84; 8 (1951) 171–189; 9 (1952) 109–120; Littérature et politique dans l'Égypte de la XII e dynastie (Paris 1956).