It’s easy to swing by your local library and pick up a book by Homer or Sappho—two of the greats of ancient Greece. But finding translated works of ancient Egypt isn’t as simple.
The difference between hieroglyphs and other ancient languages is that the former is often dismissed as art, not story.
Toby Wilkinson, a fellow of Clare College in the U.K., wants to change that. He’s publishing a book that, for the first time, amasses the writings of ancient Egyptians and translates it into English for the general public.
When I was chamberlain of the palace and sandal-bearer, King Mernere, my lord who lives forever, made me Count and Governor of Upper Egypt, from Yebu in the south to Medenyt in the north, because I was worthy in his majesty’s heart, because I was rooted in his majesty’s heart, because his majesty’s heart was filled with me. When I was chamberlain and sandal-bearer, his majesty praised me for the watch and guard duty which I did at court, more than any official of his, more than any noble of his, more than any servant of his. Never before had this office been held by any servant.
I governed Upper Egypt for him in peace, so that no one attacked his fellow. I did every task. I counted everything that is countable for the residence in this Upper Egypt two times, and every service that is countable for the residence in this Upper Egypt two times. I did a perfect job in this Upper Egypt. Never before had the like been done in this Upper Egypt. I acted throughout so that his majesty praised me for it.
His majesty sent me to Ibhat to bring the sarcophagus “chest of the living” together with its lid, and the costly august pyramidion for the pyramid “Mernere-appears-in-splendor,” my mistress. His majesty sent me to Yebu to bring a granite false-door and its libation stone and granite lintels, and to bring granite portals and libation stones for the upper chamber of the pyramid “Mernereappears-in-splendor,” my mistress. I travelled north with (them) to the pyramid “Mernere-appears-in-splendor” in six barges and three tow-boats of eight ribs in a single expedition. Never had Yebu and Ibhat been done `in a single expedition under any king. Thus everything his majesty commanded was done entirely as his majesty commanded.
His majesty sent me to Hatnub to bring a great altar of alabaster of Hatnub. I brought this altar down for him in seventeen days. After it was quarried at Hatnub, I had it go downstream in this barge I had built for it, a barge of acacia wood of sixty cubits in length and thirty cubits in width. Assembled in seventeen days, in the third month of summer, when there was no water on the sandbanks, it landed at the pyramid “Mernere-appears-in-splendor” in safety. It came about through me entirely in accordance with the ordinance commanded by my lord.
His majesty sent me to dig five canals in Upper Egypt, and to build three barges and four tow-boats of acacia wood of Wawat. Then the foreign chiefs of Irtjet, Wawat, Yam, and Medja cut the timber for them. I did it all in one year. Floated, they were loaded with very large granite blocks for the pyramid “Mernere-appears-in-splendor.” Indeed I made a [saving] for the palace with all these five canals. As King Mernere who lives forever is august, exalted, and mighty more than any god, so everything came about in accordance with the ordinance commanded by his ka.
I was one beloved of his father, praised by his mother, gracious to his brothers. The count, true governor of Upper Egypt, honoured by Osiris, Weni.
1980s HP ColorPro Pen plotter writes out part of the Story of Sinuhe, using Glyph for Windows.
The passage reads:
“Regnal year 30, month 3 of Flood season, day 7: the god ascended to his horizon; the Dual King Who-Pacifies-the-Heart-of-Re ascended to heaven, and united with the solar disk, the divine flesh blending with the one who made him. The Residence was silent, hearts were in mourning; the great double portal was sealed, the court was head-upon-knee, the nobles in grief.
Now, [His Majesty] had sent [an army to the land of the Timehu, his son being captain thereof…]”
The ‘Dispute between a man and his Ba’ (also knows as 'A Man Tired With Life’) is an ancient Egyptian text about a man deeply unhappy with his life. He complains and his Ba (a part of the Egyptian concept of soul) responds:
What my Ba said to me: “Cast complaint upon the peg, my friend and brother; make offering on the brazier and cleave to life, according as I have said.
@nprbooks reviews The Queue, the debut from dissident Egyptian author Basma Abdel Aziz, calling it, “an effective critique of authoritarianism…People…will always find a way to control other people in one way or another, should it suit them. Perhaps with the publication of The Queue, the lesson will begin to finally sink in.“
Death is before me today: like the recovery of a sick man, like going forth into a garden after sickness.
Death is before me today: like the odor of myrrh, like sitting under a sail in a good wind.
Death is before me today: like an aroma of lotus flowers, like the first moments on the edge of sweet drunkenness.
Death is before me today: like the course of a stream; like the return of a man from the war-galley to his house.
Death stands before me today: like the clarity of heaven, like the answer long-desired to a heavy riddle.
Death is before me today: like the home that a man longs to see, after years spent as a captive.
The text belongs to the most interesting examples of an ancient Egyptian religious literature and is considered to be one of the top pieces of literary work of ancient world. It describes the dilemma of a man, whose life was destroyed by the decay of a society, probably during the First Intermediate Period (2181 BC – c. 2055 BC). The man discusses his personal problems with his ba (soul), that is described as an independent entity. He desires death and plans to commit a suicide.
His ba, who could decide to stay by his side or to leave him to his destiny, eventually manages to convince him to stay alive so they can share their afterlife together.
This is not something you would typically expect from the ancient Egyptian literature usually praising gods, securing the afterlife or spreading a state propaganda. It is a very human and honest confession of hopelessness that is universal throughout time and space.
some quotes i like from ancient Egyptian literature
O God, thy Annu is Unas; O God, thy Annu is Unas. O Ra, Annu is Unas, thy Annu is Unas, O Ra. The mother of Unas is Annu, the father of Unas is Annu; Unas himself is Annu, and was born in Annu.
…and at the moment of his birth a voice was heard to proclaim that the lord of creation was born.
The holy one had grown old, he dribbled at the mouth, his spittle fell upon the earth, and his slobbering dropped upon the ground.
God is hidden and no man knoweth His form. No man hath been able to seek out His likeness. He is hidden to gods and men, and He is a mystery unto His creatures. No man knoweth how to know Him. His name remaineth hidden. His name is a mystery unto His children. His names are innumerable, they are manifold and none knoweth their number.
…He begetteth, but was never begotten. He produceth, but was never produced. He begat himself and produced himself. He createth, but was never created. He is the maker of his own form, and the fashioner of His own body. God Himself is existence. He endureth without increase or diminution. He multiplieth Himself millions of times, and He is manifold in forms and in members. God hath made the universe, and He hath created all that therein is. He is the Creator of what is in this world, and of what was, of what is, and of what shall be.
The Ipuwer Papyrus describes Egypt as afflicted by natural disasters and in a state of chaos, a topsy-turvy world where the poor have become rich, and the rich poor, and warfare, famine and death are everywhere.
Behold, he who had no dependents is now an owner of serfs, and he who was [a magnate] now performs his own errands.
Behold, the strong men of the land, the condition of the people is not reported [to them]. All is ruin!
Behold, no craftsmen work, for the enemies of the land have impoverished its craftsmen.
Inscription No. 116 from the tomb of PetOsiris West Side of Pillar A in Chapel. 6 columns // English text from: Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume III (Miriam Lichtsheim), pp. 44-52; Hieroglyphics from: G. Lefebvre, Le tombeau de Petosiris, 3 vols. (Cairo, 1923 — 1924).
An offering that the King gives to Osiris-Khentamenti, the great god,
lord of Abydos, that he may give an offering of a thousand of bread and
beer, oxen and fowl, alabaster and clothing, ointment and incense, a
thousand of everything good and pure to the ka of the owner of this
tomb, the Great one of the Five, the master of the (holy) seats, the second
prophet of Khnum-Re, lord of Herwer, and of Hathor, lady of Nefrusi;
the phylarch of the second phylae of the temple of Herwer and that of
Nefrusi, Sishu, justified; he says:
O you who are alive on earth, And you who shall be born, Who shall come to this desert, Who shall see this tomb and pass by it: Come, let me lead you to the way of life, That you may sail with good wind, without getting stranded, That you may reach the abode of generations. Without coming to grief. I am a worthy deceased without fault. If you hear (my) words, it you cleave to them, You will find their worth. Serving god is the good way. Blessed is he whose heart leads him to it! I speak to you of what happened to me, I let you perceive the plan of god. I let you discern knowledge of his might! I have come here to the city of eternity, Having done the good upon earth, Having filled my heart with god’s way, From my youth until this day! I lay down with his might in my heart. I rose up doing his has wish; I did justice, abhorred falsehood, Knowing he lives by it (justice), is contented by it. I was pure as his ka desires, I joined not with him who ignores god’s might. Relying on him who was loyal to him, I seized no goods from any man. I did no wrong to anyone. All citizens praised god for me. I did this remembering I would reach god after death, Knowing the day of the lords of justice, When they separate in judgment! One praises god for him who loves god. He will reach his tomb without grief.
Речь Сишу, отца Петосириса Надпись 116 Западная сторона колонны А в часовне, 6 колонок
Приносится царская жертва для Осириса, Первого-из-Западных (Хенти-Аменти), владыки Абидоса, да даст он приношение тысячи хлебов и кувшинов пива, быков и птиц, алебастра и одеяний, умащений и благовоний, тысячу всяких вещей хороших и чистых для Ка владельца этой гробницы, величайшего из Пяти, владыки священных престолов, второго пророка Хнума-Ра, владыки Херуэр, и Хатхор, владычицы Нефруси; предводителя второй череды (филы) в храме Херуэр и в храме Нефруси, Сишу, правогласного; говорит он:
О вы, живущие на земле, И те, кому предстоит родиться, Те, кто придет в эту пустыню, Кто увидит эту гробницу и будет проходить мимо нее! Придите, позвольте мне наставить вас на путь жизни, Так что вы будете плыть с попутным ветром, не встречая препятствий, Так что вы достигните обиталища поколений Без того, чтобы пребывать в скорби! Я — почивший, достойный, свободный от вины, Если вы услышите слова мои, Если вы (будете поступать по слову моему), Вы найдете ценность в них. Служение богу — благой путь, Благословен тот, чье сердце приводит его к этому пути! Я поведаю вам о том, что было со мной, Я дам вам осознать план бога, Я дам вам постигнуть знание могущества его! Я прибыл сюда, в город вечности, Я творил добрые дела на земле, Наполнив сердце мое (5) путем бога От юности моей и до сего дня! Я поместил могущество его в своем сердце, Я вырос, исполняя желания Ка его; Я творил справедливость и отвращался лжи, Зная, что живущий в правде удовлетворится ею. Я был чист, согласно желанию его Ка, Я не вступал в общение с теми, кто не уважал могущество бога, И уповал на тех, кто был предан ему. Я не похитил имущества ни у единого человека, Я ни с кем не поступил неправедно. Все горожане восхваляли бога за меня. Я поступал так, помня о том, что я достигну бога после смерти, Памятуя о дне владык справедливости, Когда они совершают правосудие! Восхваляют бога ради того, кто любит бога, И он достигнет места погребения без печали.