1. Education
Send to a Friend via Email

Ancient Egyptian Literature

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating

By

John L. Foster (translator). 2001. Ancient Egyptian Literature. University of Texas Press, Austin. 229 pp; four appendices, including a chronology, a glossary, a list of hieroglyphic passages, a list of sources; and an index.
I think I'll go home and lie very still
feigning terminal illness.
Then the neighbors will all troop over to stare,
my love, perhaps, among them.
How she'll smile while the specialists
snarl in their teeth!

she perfectly well knows what ails me

That love song, written in the Ramessid period of ancient Egypt (ca. 1292-1070 BC), is as fresh and funny as if it were written yesterday, rather than over three thousand years ago. This is but one of numerous poems brought to us over the centuries by John Foster, research associate at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. The poems are a selection from Foster's earlier comprehensive translations of Egyptian literature, and they have been collected from papyri (paper scrolls), ostraca (etched or painted ceramic sherds), and from the walls of temples, pyramids, and tombs. In addition to love, they cover the topics of education, hymns to gods, complaints, and wild stories from sailors returned from their wanderings.
The poems are accompanied by a handful of hieroglyphic images, and cover the range of Egyptian literature from Old to New Kingdoms. A full range of emotions is shown, as Foster himself writes in his introduction, "...surprisingly lively coming from a civilization that was so in love with death (the usual misinterpretation)."

As is written in the epilogue to the Wisdom of Amenemopet,

Man dies, his body is dust
his family all brought low to the earth;
But writing shall make him remembered,
alive in the mouths of any who read.
Better a book than a builded mansion,
better than body's home in the West,
Splendid above a fine house in the country
or stone-carved deeds in the precinct of God.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.