Ancient Egyptian literature

Ancient Egyptian literature

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Ancient Egyptian literature was written in the Egyptian language
Egyptian language
Egyptian is the oldest known indigenous language of Egypt and a branch of the Afroasiatic language family. Written records of the Egyptian language have been dated from about 3400 BC, making it one of the oldest recorded languages known. Egyptian was spoken until the late 17th century AD in the...

 from Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

's pharaonic period
History of Ancient Egypt
The History of Ancient Egypt spans the period from the early predynastic settlements of the northern Nile Valley to the Roman conquest in 30 BC...

 until the end of Roman domination. It represents the oldest corpus of Egyptian literature
Literature of Egypt
Egyptian literature traces its beginnings to ancient Egypt and is some of the earliest known literature. Indeed, the Egyptians were the first culture to develop literature as we know it today, that is, the book.-Ancient Egyptian literature:...

. Along with Sumerian literature
Sumerian literature
Sumerian literature is the literature written in the Sumerian language during the Middle Bronze Age. Most Sumerian literature is preserved indirectly, via Assyrian or Babylonian copies....

, it is considered the world's earliest literature
Ancient literature
The history of literature begins with the history of writing, in Bronze Age Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt.Writing develops out of proto-literate sign systems by the 30th century BC, although the oldest literary texts that have come down to us are several centuries younger, dating to the 27th or...

.

Writing in Ancient Egypt
Writing in Ancient Egypt
The native writing systems of Ancient Egypt used to record the Egyptian language include both the Egyptian hieroglyphs and Hieratic from Protodynastic times, the 13th century BC cursive variants of the hieroglyphs which became popular, then the latest Demotic script developed from Hieratic, from...

—both hieroglyphic
Egyptian hieroglyphs
Egyptian hieroglyphs were a formal writing system used by the ancient Egyptians that combined logographic and alphabetic elements. Egyptians used cursive hieroglyphs for religious literature on papyrus and wood...

 and hieratic
Hieratic
Hieratic refers to a cursive writing system that was used in the provenance of the pharaohs in Egypt and Nubia that developed alongside the hieroglyphic system, to which it is intimately related...

—first appeared in the late 4th millennium BC during the late phase of predynastic Egypt
Predynastic Egypt
The Prehistory of Egypt spans the period of earliest human settlement to the beginning of the Early Dynastic Period of Egypt in ca. 3100 BC, starting with King Menes/Narmer....

. By the Old Kingdom
Old Kingdom
Old Kingdom is the name given to the period in the 3rd millennium BC when Egypt attained its first continuous peak of civilization in complexity and achievement – the first of three so-called "Kingdom" periods, which mark the high points of civilization in the lower Nile Valley .The term itself was...

 (26th century BC to 22nd century BC), literary works included funerary texts
Ancient Egyptian Funerary Texts
The literature that make up the Ancient Egyptian Funerary Texts are a collection of religious documents that were used in Ancient Egypt, usually to help the spirit of the concerned person to be preserved in the afterlife....

, epistle
Epistle
An epistle is a writing directed or sent to a person or group of people, usually an elegant and formal didactic letter. The epistle genre of letter-writing was common in ancient Egypt as part of the scribal-school writing curriculum. The letters in the New Testament from Apostles to Christians...

s and letters, religious hymns and poems, and commemorative autobiographical
Autobiography
An autobiography is a book about the life of a person, written by that person.-Origin of the term:...

 texts recounting the careers of prominent administrative officials. It was not until the early Middle Kingdom
Middle Kingdom of Egypt
The Middle Kingdom of Egypt is the period in the history of ancient Egypt stretching from the establishment of the Eleventh Dynasty to the end of the Fourteenth Dynasty, between 2055 BC and 1650 BC, although some writers include the Thirteenth and Fourteenth dynasties in the Second Intermediate...

 (21st century BC to 17th century BC) that a narrative Egyptian literature was created. This was a "media revolution" which, according to Richard B. Parkinson
Richard B. Parkinson
Richard Bruce Parkinson is a British academic of Egyptology.Parkinson studied at The Queen's College, Oxford, his D.Phil thesis being a commentary on The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant and submitted in 1988....

, was the result of the rise of an intellectual class of scribe
Scribe
A scribe is a person who writes books or documents by hand as a profession and helps the city keep track of its records. The profession, previously found in all literate cultures in some form, lost most of its importance and status with the advent of printing...

s, new cultural sensibilities about individuality, unprecedented levels of literacy, and mainstream access to written materials. However, it is possible that the overall literacy rate was less than one percent of the entire population. The creation of literature was thus an elite exercise, monopolized by a scribal class attached to government offices and the royal court of the ruling pharaoh
Pharaoh
Pharaoh is a title used in many modern discussions of the ancient Egyptian rulers of all periods. The title originates in the term "pr-aa" which means "great house" and describes the royal palace...

. However, there is no full consensus among modern scholars concerning the dependence of ancient Egyptian literature on the sociopolitical order of the royal courts.
Middle Egyptian
Middle Egyptian
Middle Egyptian is the typical form of Egyptian written from 2000 BCE to 1300 BCE .Although evolving into Late Egyptian from the 14th century, Middle Egyptian remained in use as literary standard language until the 4th century AD. As such, it is the classical variant of Egyptian that historically...

, the spoken language
Spoken language
Spoken language is a form of human communication in which words derived from a large vocabulary together with a diverse variety of names are uttered through or with the mouth. All words are made up from a limited set of vowels and consonants. The spoken words they make are stringed into...

 of the Middle Kingdom, became a classical language
Classical language
A classical language is a language with a literature that is classical. According to UC Berkeley linguist George L. Hart, it should be ancient, it should be an independent tradition that arose mostly on its own, not as an offshoot of another tradition, and it must have a large and extremely rich...

 during the New Kingdom
New Kingdom
The New Kingdom of Egypt, also referred to as the Egyptian Empire is the period in ancient Egyptian history between the 16th century BC and the 11th century BC, covering the Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Dynasties of Egypt....

 (16th century BC to 11th century BC), when the vernacular language known as Late Egyptian
Late Egyptian
Late Egyptian is the stage of the Egyptian language that was written by the time of the New Kingdom around 1350 BC – the Amarna period. Texts written wholly in Late Egyptian date to the Ramesside Period and later...

 first appeared in writing. Scribes of the New Kingdom canonized and copied many literary texts written in Middle Egyptian, which remained the language used for oral readings of sacred hieroglyphic texts. Some genres of Middle Kingdom literature, such as "teachings
Sebayt
Sebayt is the ancient Egyptian term for a genre of pharaonic literature. The word literally means 'teachings' or 'instructions' and refers to formally written ethical teachings focused on the "way of living truly"....

" and fictional tales
Traditional stories
Traditional stories, expressed as myth, legend, folktales, fairy tale, and fable, are used interchangeably in common speech as a synonym, or sometimes an antonym, parable, or metaphor for popular fiction. Similar terms include anecdote, parable, and fairy stories...

, remained popular in the New Kingdom, although the genre of prophetic texts
Prophecy
Prophecy is a process in which one or more messages that have been communicated to a prophet are then communicated to others. Such messages typically involve divine inspiration, interpretation, or revelation of conditioned events to come as well as testimonies or repeated revelations that the...

 was not revived until the Ptolemaic period (4th century BC to 1st century BC). Popular tales included the Story of Sinuhe
Story of Sinuhe
The Tale of Sinuhe is considered one of the finest works of Ancient Egyptian literature. It is a narrative set in the aftermath of the death of Pharaoh Amenemhat I, founder of the 12th dynasty of Egypt, in the early 20th century BC. It is likely that it was composed only shortly after this date,...

and The Eloquent Peasant
The Eloquent Peasant
The Eloquent Peasant is an Ancient Egyptian story about a peasant, Khun-Anup, who stumbles upon the property of the noble Rensi son of Meru, guarded by its harsh overseer, Nemtynakht. It is set in the Ninth/Tenth dynasty around Herakleopolis.-Story Summary:...

, while important teaching texts include the Instructions of Amenemhat
Instructions of Amenemhat
Instructions of Amenemhat is a short ancient Egyptian poem of the sebayt genre written during the early Middle Kingdom. The poem takes the form of an intensely dramatic monologue delivered by the ghost of the murdered 12th Dynasty pharaoh Amenemhat I to his son Senusret I...

and The Loyalist Teaching. By the New Kingdom period, the writing of commemorative graffiti on sacred temple and tomb walls flourished as a unique genre of literature, yet it employed formulaic phrases similar to other genres. The acknowledgment of rightful authorship remained important only in a few genres, while texts of the "teaching" genre were pseudonym
Pseudonym
A pseudonym is a name that a person assumes for a particular purpose and that differs from his or her original orthonym...

ous and falsely attributed to prominent historical figures.

Ancient Egyptian literature has been preserved on a wide variety of media. This includes papyrus
Papyrus
Papyrus is a thick paper-like material produced from the pith of the papyrus plant, Cyperus papyrus, a wetland sedge that was once abundant in the Nile Delta of Egypt....

 scrolls and packets, limestone or ceramic ostraca
Ostracon
An ostracon is a piece of pottery , usually broken off from a vase or other earthenware vessel. In archaeology, ostraca may contain scratched-in words or other forms of writing which may give clues as to the time when the piece was in use...

, wooden writing boards, monumental stone edifices
Ancient Egyptian architecture
The Nile valley has been the site of one of the most influential civilizations which developed a vast array of diverse structures encompassing ancient Egyptian architecture...

 and coffins
Coffin Texts
The Coffin Texts are a collection of ancient Egyptian funerary spells written on coffins beginning in the First Intermediate Period. The texts are derived in part from the earlier pyramid texts, reserved for royal use only, but they contain substantial new material related to everyday desires that...

. Texts preserved and unearthed by modern archaeologists represent a small fraction of ancient Egyptian literary material. The area of the floodplain of the Nile
Flooding of the Nile
has been an important natal cycle in Egypt since ancient times. It is celebrated by Egyptians as an annual holiday for two weeks starting August 15, known as Wafaa El-Nil. It is also celebrated in the Coptic Church by ceremonially throwing a martyr's relic into the river, hence the name, Esba`...

 is under-represented because the moist environment is unsuitable for the preservation of papyri and ink inscriptions. On the other hand, hidden caches of literature, buried for thousands of years, have been discovered in settlements on the dry desert margins of Egyptian civilization.

Hieroglyphs, hieratic, and Demotic



By the Early Dynastic Period
Early Dynastic Period of Egypt
The Archaic or Early Dynastic Period of Egypt immediately follows the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt c. 3100 BC. It is generally taken to include the First and Second Dynasties, lasting from the Protodynastic Period of Egypt until about 2686 BC, or the beginning of the Old Kingdom...

 in the late 4th millennium BC, Egyptian hieroglyphs
Egyptian hieroglyphs
Egyptian hieroglyphs were a formal writing system used by the ancient Egyptians that combined logographic and alphabetic elements. Egyptians used cursive hieroglyphs for religious literature on papyrus and wood...

 and their cursive form hieratic
Hieratic
Hieratic refers to a cursive writing system that was used in the provenance of the pharaohs in Egypt and Nubia that developed alongside the hieroglyphic system, to which it is intimately related...

 were well-established written scripts
Writing system
A writing system is a symbolic system used to represent elements or statements expressible in language.-General properties:Writing systems are distinguished from other possible symbolic communication systems in that the reader must usually understand something of the associated spoken language to...

. Egyptian hieroglyphs are small artistic pictures of natural objects. For example, the hieroglyph for door-bolt
Door bolt (s hieroglyph)
The Ancient Egyptian Door bolt hieroglyph is Gardiner sign listed no. O34 for a door bolt, a sliding form of a deadbolt.The door bolt hieroglyph is used in the Ancient Egyptian language hieroglyphs for the alphabetic consonant letter —s.-The Egyptian hieroglyph alphabetic letters:The...

, pronounced se, produced the s
S
S is the nineteenth letter in the ISO basic Latin alphabet.-History: Semitic Šîn represented a voiceless postalveolar fricative . Greek did not have this sound, so the Greek sigma came to represent...

sound; when this hieroglyph was combined with another or multiple hieroglyphs, it produced a combination of sounds that could represent abstract concepts like sorrow, happiness, beauty, and evil. The Narmer Palette
Narmer Palette
The Narmer Palette, also known as the Great ierakonpolis Palette or the Palette of Narmer, is a significant Egyptian archeological find, dating from about the 31st century BC, containing some of the earliest hieroglyphic inscriptions ever found. It is thought by some to depict the unification of...

, dated c
Circa
Circa , usually abbreviated c. or ca. , means "approximately" in the English language, usually referring to a date...

. 3100 BC during the last phase of Predynastic Egypt
Predynastic Egypt
The Prehistory of Egypt spans the period of earliest human settlement to the beginning of the Early Dynastic Period of Egypt in ca. 3100 BC, starting with King Menes/Narmer....

, combines the hieroglyphs for catfish and chisel to produce the name of King Narmer
Narmer
Narmer was an ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the Early Dynastic Period . He is thought to be the successor to the Protodynastic pharaohs Scorpion and/or Ka, and he is considered by some to be the unifier of Egypt and founder of the First Dynasty, and therefore the first pharaoh of unified Egypt.The...

.

The Egyptians called their hieroglyphs "words of god" and reserved their use for exalted purposes, such as communicating with divinities and spirits of the dead through funerary texts. Each hieroglyphic word both represented a specific object and embodied the essence of that object, recognizing it as divinely made and belonging within the greater cosmos
Cosmos
In the general sense, a cosmos is an orderly or harmonious system. It originates from the Greek term κόσμος , meaning "order" or "ornament" and is antithetical to the concept of chaos. Today, the word is generally used as a synonym of the word Universe . The word cosmos originates from the same root...

. Through acts of priestly ritual, like burning incense
Incense
Incense is composed of aromatic biotic materials, which release fragrant smoke when burned. The term "incense" refers to the substance itself, rather than to the odor that it produces. It is used in religious ceremonies, ritual purification, aromatherapy, meditation, for creating a mood, and for...

, the priest allowed spirits and deities to read the hieroglyphs decorating the surfaces of temples. In funerary texts beginning in and following the Twelfth dynasty
Twelfth dynasty of Egypt
The twelfth dynasty of ancient Egypt is often combined with Dynasties XI, XIII and XIV under the group title Middle Kingdom.-Rulers:Known rulers of the twelfth dynasty are as follows :...

, the Egyptians believed that disfiguring, and even omitting certain hieroglyphs, brought consequences, either good or bad, for a deceased tomb occupant whose spirit relied on the texts as a source of nourishment in the afterlife. Mutilating the hieroglyph of a venomous snake
Venomous snake
"Poisonous snake" redirects here. For true poisonous snakes, see Rhabdophis.Venomous snakes are snakes which have venom glands and specialized teeth for the injection of venom...

, or other dangerous animal, removed a potential threat. However, removing every instance of the hieroglyphs representing a deceased person's name would deprive his or her soul
Egyptian soul
The ancient Egyptians believed that a human soul was made up of five parts: the Ren, the Ba, the Ka, the Sheut, and the Ib. In addition to these components of the soul there was the human body...

 of the ability to read the funerary texts and condemn that soul to an inanimate existence.

Hieratic is a simplified, cursive form of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Like hieroglyphs, hieratic was used in sacred and religious texts. By the 1st millennium BC, calligraphic hieratic became the script predominantly used in funerary papyri
Ancient Egyptian Funerary Texts
The literature that make up the Ancient Egyptian Funerary Texts are a collection of religious documents that were used in Ancient Egypt, usually to help the spirit of the concerned person to be preserved in the afterlife....

 and temple rolls. Whereas the writing of hieroglyphs required the utmost precision and care, cursive hieratic could be written much more quickly and was therefore more practical for scribal record-keeping. Its primary purpose was to serve as a shorthand
Shorthand
Shorthand is an abbreviated symbolic writing method that increases speed or brevity of writing as compared to a normal method of writing a language. The process of writing in shorthand is called stenography, from the Greek stenos and graphē or graphie...

 script for non-royal, non-monumental, and less formal writings such as private letters, legal documents, poems, tax records, medical texts, mathematical treatises
Egyptian mathematics
Egyptian mathematics is the mathematics that was developed and used in Ancient Egypt from ca. 3000 BC to ca. 300 BC.-Overview:Written evidence of the use of mathematics dates back to at least 3000 BC with the ivory labels found at Tomb Uj at Abydos. These labels appear to have been used as tags for...

, and instructional guides
Sebayt
Sebayt is the ancient Egyptian term for a genre of pharaonic literature. The word literally means 'teachings' or 'instructions' and refers to formally written ethical teachings focused on the "way of living truly"....

. Hieratic could be written in two different styles; one was more calligraphic and usually reserved for government records and literary manuscripts, the other was used for informal accounts and letters.

By the mid-1st millennium BC, hieroglyphs and hieratic were still used for royal, monumental, religious, and funerary writings, while a new, even more cursive script was used for informal, day-to-day writing: Demotic
Demotic (Egyptian)
Demotic refers to either the ancient Egyptian script derived from northern forms of hieratic used in the Delta, or the stage of the Egyptian language following Late Egyptian and preceding Coptic. The term was first used by the Greek historian Herodotus to distinguish it from hieratic and...

. The final script adopted by the ancient Egyptians was the Coptic alphabet
Coptic alphabet
The Coptic alphabet is the script used for writing the Coptic language. The repertoire of glyphs is based on the Greek alphabet augmented by letters borrowed from the Demotic and is the first alphabetic script used for the Egyptian language...

, a revised version of the Greek alphabet
Greek alphabet
The Greek alphabet is the script that has been used to write the Greek language since at least 730 BC . The alphabet in its classical and modern form consists of 24 letters ordered in sequence from alpha to omega...

. Coptic became the standard in the 4th century AD when Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 became the state religion
State religion
A state religion is a religious body or creed officially endorsed by the state...

 throughout the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

; hieroglyphs were discarded as idolatrous images
Idolatry
Idolatry is a pejorative term for the worship of an idol, a physical object such as a cult image, as a god, or practices believed to verge on worship, such as giving undue honour and regard to created forms other than God. In all the Abrahamic religions idolatry is strongly forbidden, although...

 of a pagan tradition, unfit for writing the Biblical canon
Biblical canon
A biblical canon, or canon of scripture, is a list of books considered to be authoritative as scripture by a particular religious community. The term itself was first coined by Christians, but the idea is found in Jewish sources. The internal wording of the text can also be specified, for example...

.

Writing implements and materials


Egyptian literature was produced on a variety of media
Media (communication)
In communications, media are the storage and transmission channels or tools used to store and deliver information or data...

. Along with the chisel
Chisel
A chisel is a tool with a characteristically shaped cutting edge of blade on its end, for carving or cutting a hard material such as wood, stone, or metal. The handle and blade of some types of chisel are made of metal or wood with a sharp edge in it.In use, the chisel is forced into the material...

, necessary for making inscriptions on stone, the chief writing tool of ancient Egypt was the reed pen
Reed pen
Reed pens or kalamoi are a type of writing implement with a long history. They are made by cutting and shaping a single reed straw or length of bamboo. Reed pens with regular features such as a split nib have been found in Ancient Egyptian sites dating from the 4th century BC...

, a reed
Phragmites
Phragmites, the Common reed, is a large perennial grass found in wetlands throughout temperate and tropical regions of the world. Phragmites australis is sometimes regarded as the sole species of the genus Phragmites, though some botanists divide Phragmites australis into three or four species...

 fashioned into a stem with a bruised, brush-like end. With pigments of carbon black and red ochre
Ochre
Ochre is the term for both a golden-yellow or light yellow brown color and for a form of earth pigment which produces the color. The pigment can also be used to create a reddish tint known as "red ochre". The more rarely used terms "purple ochre" and "brown ochre" also exist for variant hues...

, the reed pen was used to write on scrolls of papyrus
Papyrus
Papyrus is a thick paper-like material produced from the pith of the papyrus plant, Cyperus papyrus, a wetland sedge that was once abundant in the Nile Delta of Egypt....

—a thin material made from beating together strips of pith
Pith
Pith, or medulla, is a tissue in the stems of vascular plants. Pith is composed of soft, spongy parenchyma cells, which store and transport nutrients throughout the plant. In eudicots, pith is located in the center of the stem. In monocots, it extends also into flowering stems and roots...

 from the Cyperus papyrus
Cyperus papyrus
Cyperus papyrus is a monocot belonging to the sedge family Cyperaceae. It is a herbaceous perennial native to Africa, and forms tall stands of reed-like swamp vegetation in shallow water....

plant—as well as on small ceramic or limestone ostraca known as potsherds. It is thought that papyrus rolls were moderately expensive commercial items, since many are palimpsest
Palimpsest
A palimpsest is a manuscript page from a scroll or book from which the text has been scraped off and which can be used again. The word "palimpsest" comes through Latin palimpsēstus from Ancient Greek παλίμψηστος originally compounded from πάλιν and ψάω literally meaning “scraped...

s, manuscripts that have their original contents erased
Eraser
An eraser or rubber is an article of stationery that is used for rubbing out pencil markings. Erasers have a rubbery consistency and are often white or pink, although modern materials allow them to be made in any color. Many pencils are equipped with an eraser on one end...

 to make room for new written works. This, alongside tearing off pieces of papyrus documents to make smaller letters, suggests that there were seasonal shortages caused by the limited growing season of Cyperus papyrus. It also explains the frequent use of ostraca and limestone flakes as writing media for shorter written works. In addition to stone, ceramic ostraca, and papyrus, writing media also included wood, ivory, and plaster.

By the Roman Period of Egypt, the traditional Egyptian reed pen had been replaced by the chief writing tool of the Greco-Roman world
Greco-Roman world
The Greco-Roman world, Greco-Roman culture, or the term Greco-Roman , when used as an adjective, as understood by modern scholars and writers, refers to those geographical regions and countries that culturally were directly, protractedly and intimately influenced by the language, culture,...

: a shorter, thicker reed pen with a cut nib
Nib (pen)
A nib is the part of a quill, dip pen or fountain pen which comes into contact with the writing surface in order to deposit ink. Different types of nibs vary in their purpose, shape and size, as well as the material they are made from.-Quill:...

. Likewise, the original Egyptian pigments were discarded in favor of Greek lead
Lead
Lead is a main-group element in the carbon group with the symbol Pb and atomic number 82. Lead is a soft, malleable poor metal. It is also counted as one of the heavy metals. Metallic lead has a bluish-white color after being freshly cut, but it soon tarnishes to a dull grayish color when exposed...

-based ink
Ink
Ink is a liquid or paste that contains pigments and/or dyes and is used to color a surface to produce an image, text, or design. Ink is used for drawing and/or writing with a pen, brush, or quill...

s. The adoption of Greco-Roman writing tools had an impact on Egyptian handwriting
Handwriting
Handwriting is a person's particular & individual style of writing with pen or pencil, which contrasts with "Hand" which is an impersonal and formalised writing style in several historical varieties...

, as hieratic signs became more spaced, had rounder flourishes, and greater angular precision.

Preservation of written material


Underground Egyptian tombs built in the desert provide possibly the most protective environment for the preservation of papyrus documents. For example, there are many well-preserved Book of the Dead
Book of the Dead
The Book of the Dead is the modern name of an ancient Egyptian funerary text, used from the beginning of the New Kingdom to around 50 BC. The original Egyptian name for the text, transliterated rw nw prt m hrw is translated as "Book of Coming Forth by Day". Another translation would be "Book of...

funerary papyri placed in tombs to act as afterlife guides for the souls of the deceased tomb occupants. However, it was only customary during the late Middle Kingdom and first half of the New Kingdom to place non-religious papyri in burial chambers. Thus, the majority of well-preserved literary papyri are dated to this period.

Most settlements in ancient Egypt were situated on the alluvium
Alluvium
Alluvium is loose, unconsolidated soil or sediments, eroded, deposited, and reshaped by water in some form in a non-marine setting. Alluvium is typically made up of a variety of materials, including fine particles of silt and clay and larger particles of sand and gravel...

 of the Nile floodplain
Flooding of the Nile
has been an important natal cycle in Egypt since ancient times. It is celebrated by Egyptians as an annual holiday for two weeks starting August 15, known as Wafaa El-Nil. It is also celebrated in the Coptic Church by ceremonially throwing a martyr's relic into the river, hence the name, Esba`...

. This moist environment was unfavorable for long-term preservation of papyrus documents. Archaeologists have discovered a larger quantity of papyrus documents in desert settlements on land elevated above the floodplain, and in settlements that lacked irrigation works, such as Elephantine
Elephantine
Elephantine is an island in the River Nile, located just downstream of the First Cataract at the southern border of Ancient Egypt. This region is referred to as Upper Egypt because the land is higher than that near the Mediterranean coast. The island may have received its name because it was a...

, El-Lahun
El-Lahun
Located in the Faiyum, Egypt, el-Lahun or Kahun is the workers' village associated with the pyramid of Senusret II . It is located near the modern village of el-Lahun , and is often known by that name...

, and El-Hiba.
Writings on more permanent media have also been lost in various ways. Stones with inscriptions were frequently re-used as building materials, and ceramic ostraca require a dry environment to ensure the preservation of the ink on their surfaces. Whereas papyrus rolls and packets were usually stored in boxes for safekeeping, ostraca were routinely discarded in waste pits; one such pit was discovered by chance at the Ramesside-era village of Deir el-Medina, and has yielded the majority of known private letters on ostraca. Documents found at this site include letters, hymns, fictional narratives, recipes, business receipts, and wills and testaments
Will (law)
A will or testament is a legal declaration by which a person, the testator, names one or more persons to manage his/her estate and provides for the transfer of his/her property at death...

. Penelope Wilson
Penelope Wilson
Penelope Wilson is a British lecturer of Egyptology in the Department of Archaeology at Durham University, UK. She is a member of the Centre for the Study of the Ancient Mediterranean and the Near East...

 describes this archaeological find as the equivalent of sifting through a modern landfill
Landfill
A landfill site , is a site for the disposal of waste materials by burial and is the oldest form of waste treatment...

 or waste container
Waste container
A waste container is a container for temporarily storing refuse and waste. Different terms are in use, depending on the language area, the design and material and the respective site .The most general terms are waste receptacle and container bin.Common terms include dustbin ,...

. She notes that the inhabitants of Deir el-Medina were incredibly literate by ancient Egyptian standards, and cautions that such finds only come "...in rarefied circumstances and in particular conditions."

John W. Tait
John W. Tait
John W. Tait is a British Edwards Professor of Egyptology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, and was the head of the department till 2010. He received his Ph.D in Egyptian and Greek Papyrology from the University of Oxford. His research focuses on Ancient Egyptian...

 stresses, "Egyptian material survives in a very uneven fashion ... the unevenness of survival comprises both time and space." For instance, there is a dearth of written material from all periods from the Nile Delta
Nile Delta
The Nile Delta is the delta formed in Northern Egypt where the Nile River spreads out and drains into the Mediterranean Sea. It is one of the world's largest river deltas—from Alexandria in the west to Port Said in the east, it covers some 240 km of Mediterranean coastline—and is a rich...

 but an abundance at western Thebes
Thebes, Egypt
Thebes is the Greek name for a city in Ancient Egypt located about 800 km south of the Mediterranean, on the east bank of the river Nile within the modern city of Luxor. The Theban Necropolis is situated nearby on the west bank of the Nile.-History:...

, dating from its heyday. He notes that while some texts were copied numerous times, others survive from a single copy; for example, there is only one complete surviving copy of the Tale of the shipwrecked sailor
Tale of the shipwrecked sailor
The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor is a Middle Kingdom story of an Ancient Egyptian voyage to "the King's mines" .-Historical information:...

from the Middle Kingdom. However, Tale of the shipwrecked sailor also appears in fragments of texts on ostraca from the New Kingdom. Many other literary works survive only in fragments or through incomplete copies of lost originals.

Classical, Middle, Late, and Demotic Egyptian language


Although writing first appeared during the very late 4th millennium BC, it was only used to convey short names and labels; connected strands of text did not appear until about 2600 BC, at the beginning of the Old Kingdom
Old Kingdom
Old Kingdom is the name given to the period in the 3rd millennium BC when Egypt attained its first continuous peak of civilization in complexity and achievement – the first of three so-called "Kingdom" periods, which mark the high points of civilization in the lower Nile Valley .The term itself was...

. This development marked the beginning of the first known phase of the Egyptian language
Egyptian language
Egyptian is the oldest known indigenous language of Egypt and a branch of the Afroasiatic language family. Written records of the Egyptian language have been dated from about 3400 BC, making it one of the oldest recorded languages known. Egyptian was spoken until the late 17th century AD in the...

: Old Egyptian
Old Egyptian
Old Egyptian is the stage of the Egyptian language spoken from 2600 BC to 2000 BC during the Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period. The Pyramid Texts are the largest body of literature written in this phase of the language. Tomb walls of elite Egyptians from this period bear autobiographical...

. Old Egyptian remained a spoken language
Spoken language
Spoken language is a form of human communication in which words derived from a large vocabulary together with a diverse variety of names are uttered through or with the mouth. All words are made up from a limited set of vowels and consonants. The spoken words they make are stringed into...

 until about 2100 BC, when, during the beginning of the Middle Kingdom
Middle Kingdom of Egypt
The Middle Kingdom of Egypt is the period in the history of ancient Egypt stretching from the establishment of the Eleventh Dynasty to the end of the Fourteenth Dynasty, between 2055 BC and 1650 BC, although some writers include the Thirteenth and Fourteenth dynasties in the Second Intermediate...

, it evolved into Middle Egyptian
Middle Egyptian
Middle Egyptian is the typical form of Egyptian written from 2000 BCE to 1300 BCE .Although evolving into Late Egyptian from the 14th century, Middle Egyptian remained in use as literary standard language until the 4th century AD. As such, it is the classical variant of Egyptian that historically...

. While Middle Egyptian was closely related to Old Egyptian, Late Egyptian
Late Egyptian
Late Egyptian is the stage of the Egyptian language that was written by the time of the New Kingdom around 1350 BC – the Amarna period. Texts written wholly in Late Egyptian date to the Ramesside Period and later...

 was significantly different in grammatical
Grammar
In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules, and this field includes morphology, syntax, and phonology, often complemented by phonetics, semantics,...

 structure. Late Egyptian possibly appeared as a vernacular language as early as 1600 BC, but was not used as a written language
Written language
A written language is the representation of a language by means of a writing system. Written language is an invention in that it must be taught to children, who will instinctively learn or create spoken or gestural languages....

 until c. 1300 BC during the Amarna Period
Amarna Period
The Amarna Period was an era of Egyptian history during the latter half of the Eighteenth Dynasty when the royal residence of the pharaoh and his queen was shifted to Akhetaten in what is now modern-day Amarna...

 of the New Kingdom
New Kingdom
The New Kingdom of Egypt, also referred to as the Egyptian Empire is the period in ancient Egyptian history between the 16th century BC and the 11th century BC, covering the Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Dynasties of Egypt....

. Late Egyptian evolved into Demotic
Demotic (Egyptian)
Demotic refers to either the ancient Egyptian script derived from northern forms of hieratic used in the Delta, or the stage of the Egyptian language following Late Egyptian and preceding Coptic. The term was first used by the Greek historian Herodotus to distinguish it from hieratic and...

 by the 7th century BC, and although Demotic remained a spoken language until the 5th century AD, it was gradually replaced by Coptic
Coptic language
Coptic or Coptic Egyptian is the current stage of the Egyptian language, a northern Afro-Asiatic language spoken in Egypt until at least the 17th century. Egyptian began to be written using the Greek alphabet in the 1st century...

 beginning in the 1st century AD.

Hieratic was used alongside hieroglyphs for writing in Old and Middle Egyptian, becoming the dominant form of writing in Late Egyptian. By the New Kingdom and throughout the rest of ancient Egyptian history
History of Ancient Egypt
The History of Ancient Egypt spans the period from the early predynastic settlements of the northern Nile Valley to the Roman conquest in 30 BC...

, Middle Egyptian became a classical language
Classical language
A classical language is a language with a literature that is classical. According to UC Berkeley linguist George L. Hart, it should be ancient, it should be an independent tradition that arose mostly on its own, not as an offshoot of another tradition, and it must have a large and extremely rich...

 that was usually reserved for reading and writing in hieroglyphs. For the rest of ancient Egyptian history, Middle Egyptian remained the spoken language for more exalted forms of literature, such as historical records, commemorative autobiographies, religious hymns, and funerary spells. However, Middle Kingdom literature written in Middle Egyptian was also rewritten in hieratic during later periods.

Literary functions: social, religious and educational


Throughout ancient Egyptian history, reading and writing were the main requirements for serving in public office, although government officials were assisted in their day-to-day work by an elite, literate
Literacy
Literacy has traditionally been described as the ability to read for knowledge, write coherently and think critically about printed material.Literacy represents the lifelong, intellectual process of gaining meaning from print...

 social group known as scribe
Scribe
A scribe is a person who writes books or documents by hand as a profession and helps the city keep track of its records. The profession, previously found in all literate cultures in some form, lost most of its importance and status with the advent of printing...

s. As evidenced by Papyrus Anastasi I of the Ramesside Period, scribes could even be expected, according to Wilson, "...to organize the excavation of a lake and the building of a brick ramp, to establish the number of men needed to transport an obelisk
Obelisk
An obelisk is a tall, four-sided, narrow tapering monument which ends in a pyramid-like shape at the top, and is said to resemble a petrified ray of the sun-disk. A pair of obelisks usually stood in front of a pylon...

 and to arrange the provisioning of a military mission". Besides government employment, scribal services in drafting letters, sales documents, and legal documents would have been frequently sought by illiterate people. Literate people are thought to have comprised only 1% of the population, the remainder being illiterate farmers, herdsmen, artisans, and other laborers, as well as merchants who required the assistance of scribal secretaries. The privileged status of the scribe over illiterate manual laborers was the subject of a popular Ramesside Period instructional text, The Satire of the Trades
The Satire of the Trades
The Satire of the Trades, also called The Instruction of Dua-Kheti, is a work of didactic ancient Egyptian literature. It takes the form of an Instruction, composed by a scribe from Sile named Dua-Kheti for his son Pepi. The author is thought by some to have composed the Instructions of Amenemhat...

, where lowly, undesirable occupations, for example, potter, fisherman, laundry man, and soldier, were mocked and the scribal profession praised. A similar demeaning attitude towards the illiterate is expressed in the Middle Kingdom Teaching of Khety, which is used to reinforce the scribes' elevated position within the social hierarchy.

The scribal class was the social group responsible for maintaining, transmitting, and canonizing literary classics, and writing new compositions. Classic works, such as the Story of Sinuhe
Story of Sinuhe
The Tale of Sinuhe is considered one of the finest works of Ancient Egyptian literature. It is a narrative set in the aftermath of the death of Pharaoh Amenemhat I, founder of the 12th dynasty of Egypt, in the early 20th century BC. It is likely that it was composed only shortly after this date,...

and Instructions of Amenemhat
Instructions of Amenemhat
Instructions of Amenemhat is a short ancient Egyptian poem of the sebayt genre written during the early Middle Kingdom. The poem takes the form of an intensely dramatic monologue delivered by the ghost of the murdered 12th Dynasty pharaoh Amenemhat I to his son Senusret I...

, were copied by schoolboys as pedagogical exercises in writing and to instill the required ethical and moral values that distinguished the scribal social class. Wisdom texts of the "teaching
Sebayt
Sebayt is the ancient Egyptian term for a genre of pharaonic literature. The word literally means 'teachings' or 'instructions' and refers to formally written ethical teachings focused on the "way of living truly"....

" genre represent the majority of pedagogical texts written on ostraca during the Middle Kingdom; narrative tales, such as Sinuhe and King Neferkare and General Sasenet
King Neferkare and General Sasenet
The ancient Egyptian story of King Neferkare and General Sasenet survives only in fragments. With its atmosphere of nocturnal mystery and intrigue it is an early example of the literary cloak and dagger tradition...

, were rarely copied for school exercises until the New Kingdom. William Kelly Simpson
William Kelly Simpson
William Kelly Simpson is an American professor emeritus of Egyptology, Archaeology, Ancient Egyptian literature, and Afro-Asiatic languages at Yale University....

 describes narrative tales such as Sinuhe and The shipwrecked sailor as "...instructions or teachings in the guise of narratives", since the main protagonist
Protagonist
A protagonist is the main character of a literary, theatrical, cinematic, or musical narrative, around whom the events of the narrative's plot revolve and with whom the audience is intended to most identify...

s of such stories embodied the accepted virtues of the day, such as love of home or self-reliance.

There are some known instances where those outside the scribal profession were literate and had access to classical literature. Menena, a draughtsman working at Deir el-Medina during the Twentieth dynasty of Egypt
Twentieth dynasty of Egypt
The Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Dynasties of ancient Egypt are often combined under the group title, New Kingdom. This dynasty is considered to be the last one of the New Kingdom of Egypt, and was followed by the Third Intermediate Period....

, quoted passages from the Middle Kingdom narratives Eloquent Peasant and Tale of the shipwrecked sailor
Tale of the shipwrecked sailor
The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor is a Middle Kingdom story of an Ancient Egyptian voyage to "the King's mines" .-Historical information:...

in an instructional letter reprimanding his disobedient son. Menena's Ramesside contemporary Hori, the scribal author of the satirical
Satire
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

 letter in Papyrus Anastasi I, admonished his addressee for quoting the Instruction of Hardjedef
Instruction of Hardjedef
The Instruction of Hardjedef, also known as the Teaching of Hordedef and Teaching of Djedefhor, belongs to the didactic literature of the Egyptian Old Kingdom. It is possibly the oldest of all known Instructions, composed during the 5th Dynasty according to Miriam Lichtheim, predating The...

in the unbecoming manner of a non-scribal, semi-educated person. Hans-Werner Fischer-Elfert
Hans-Werner Fischer-Elfert
Hans-Werner Fischer-Elfert is a German professor of Egyptology at the Institut für Ägyptologie, University of Leipzig, Germany. He received his Ph.D, written under the direction of Prof. Wolfgang Helck, from the University of Hamburg. He notably took part in the writing of the Lexikon der...

 further explains this perceived amateur affront to orthodox literature:

What may be revealed by Hori's attack on the way in which some Ramesside scribes felt obliged to demonstrate their greater or lesser acquaintance with ancient literature is the conception that these venerable works were meant to be known in full and not to be misused as quarries for popular sayings mined deliberately from the past. The classics of the time were to be memorized completely and comprehended thoroughly before being cited.


There is scant but solid evidence in Egyptian literature and art
Art of Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egyptian art is the painting, sculpture, architecture and other arts produced by the civilization in the lower Nile Valley from 5000 BC to 300 AD. Ancient Egyptian art reached a high level in painting and sculpture, and was both highly stylized and symbolic...

 for the practice of oral reading of texts to audiences. The oral performance word "to recite" (šdj) was usually associated with biographies, letters, and spells. Singing (ḥsj) was meant for praise songs, love song
Love song
A love song is about falling in love and the feelings it brings. Anthologies of love songs often contain a mixture of both of these types of song. A bawdy song is both humorous and saucy, emphasizing the physical pleasure of love rather than the emotional joy...

s, funerary lament
Lament
A lament or lamentation is a song, poem, or piece of music expressing grief, regret, or mourning.-History:Many of the oldest and most lasting poems in human history have been laments. Laments are present in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, and laments continued to be sung in elegiacs accompanied by...

s, and certain spells. Discourse
Discourse
Discourse generally refers to "written or spoken communication". The following are three more specific definitions:...

s such as the Prophecy of Neferti
Prophecy of Neferti
The Prophecy of Neferti is an Ancient Egyptian discourse text set in the reign of the 4th dynasty Old Kingdom king Snofru , but was actually written during the early 12th dynasty . The text is a pseudo-prophecy, i.e. one written after the event...

suggest that compositions were meant for oral reading among elite gatherings. In the 1st millennium BC Demotic short story cycle
Short story cycle
A short story cycle is a collection of short stories in which the narratives are specifically composed and arranged with the goal of creating an enhanced or different experience when reading the group as a whole as opposed to its individual parts...

 centered around the deeds of Petiese
Petiese
Petiese was the name of a number of high ancient Egyptian officials who served the pharaohs during the seventh and sixth centuries BCE...

, the stories begin with the phrase "The voice which is before Pharaoh", which indicates that an oral speaker and audience was involved in the reading of the text. A fictional audience of high government officials and members of the royal court are mentioned in some texts, but a wider, non-literate audience may have been involved. For example, a funerary stela of Senusret I
Senusret I
Senusret I was the second pharaoh of the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt. He ruled from 1971 BC to 1926 BC, and was one of the most powerful kings of this Dynasty. He was the son of Amenemhat I and his wife Nefertitanen. His wife and sister was Neferu. She was also the mother of the successor Amenemhat II...

 (r. 1971–1926 BC) explicitly mentions people who will gather and listen to a scribe who "recites" the stela inscriptions out loud.

Literature also served religious purposes. Beginning with the Pyramid Texts
Pyramid Texts
The Pyramid Texts are a collection of ancient Egyptian religious texts from the time of the Old Kingdom. The pyramid texts are possibly the oldest known religious texts in the world. Written in Old Egyptian, the pyramid texts were carved on the walls and sarcophagi of the pyramids at Saqqara during...

of the Old Kingdom, works of funerary literature written on tomb walls, and later on coffins
Coffin Texts
The Coffin Texts are a collection of ancient Egyptian funerary spells written on coffins beginning in the First Intermediate Period. The texts are derived in part from the earlier pyramid texts, reserved for royal use only, but they contain substantial new material related to everyday desires that...

, and papyri
Book of the Dead
The Book of the Dead is the modern name of an ancient Egyptian funerary text, used from the beginning of the New Kingdom to around 50 BC. The original Egyptian name for the text, transliterated rw nw prt m hrw is translated as "Book of Coming Forth by Day". Another translation would be "Book of...

 placed within tombs, were designed to protect and nurture souls in their afterlife. This included the use of magical spells, incantation
Incantation
An incantation or enchantment is a charm or spell created using words. An incantation may take place during a ritual, either a hymn or prayer, and may invoke or praise a deity. In magic, occultism, witchcraft it may be used with the intention of casting a spell on an object or a person...

s, and lyrical hymns. Copies of non-funerary literary texts found in non-royal tombs suggest that the dead could entertain themselves in the afterlife by reading these teaching texts and narrative tales. See also Egyptian influences in the Hebrew Bible
Egyptian influences in the Hebrew Bible
It is generally accepted that some of the texts of the Hebrew Bible have precedents in earlier Ancient Near Eastern religions and mythology, especially Mesopotamian , but to a lesser extent also Ancient Egyptian...

.

Although the creation of literature was predominantly a male scribal pursuit, some works are thought to have been written by women. For example, several references to women writing letters and surviving private letters sent and received by women have been found. However, Edward F. Wente
Edward F. Wente
Edward F. Wente is an American professor emeritus of Egyptology and the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. He received his Ph.D from the University of Chicago in 1959 and lectured there from 1963-1996. He is also a longstanding member of the...

 asserts that, even with explicit references to women reading letters, it is possible that women employed others to write documents.

Dating, setting, and authorship


Richard B. Parkinson
Richard B. Parkinson
Richard Bruce Parkinson is a British academic of Egyptology.Parkinson studied at The Queen's College, Oxford, his D.Phil thesis being a commentary on The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant and submitted in 1988....

 and Ludwig D. Morenz
Ludwig D. Morenz
Ludwig D. Morenz is German privatdozent in Egyptology at the University of Leipzig. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Leipzig and Habilitation from the University of Tübingen...

 write that ancient Egyptian literature—narrowly defined as belles-lettres
Belles-lettres
Belles-lettres or belles lettres is a term that is used to describe a category of writing. A writer of belles-lettres is a belletrist. However, the boundaries of that category vary in different usages....

("beautiful writing")—was not recorded in written form until the early Twelfth dynasty of the Middle Kingdom. Old Kingdom texts served mainly to maintain the divine cults, preserve souls in the afterlife, and document accounts for practical uses in daily life. It was not until the Middle Kingdom that texts were written for the purpose of entertainment and intellectual curiosity. Parkinson and Morenz also speculate that written works of the Middle Kingdom were transcriptions of the oral literature
Oral literature
Oral literature corresponds in the sphere of the spoken word to literature as literature operates in the domain of the written word. It thus forms a generally more fundamental component of culture, but operates in many ways as one might expect literature to do...

 of the Old Kingdom. It is known that some oral poetry was preserved in later writing; for example, litter-bearers' songs were preserved as written verses in tomb inscriptions of the Old Kingdom.

Dating texts by methods of palaeography
Palaeography
Palaeography, also spelt paleography is the study of ancient writing. Included in the discipline is the practice of deciphering, reading, and dating historical manuscripts, and the cultural context of writing, including the methods with which writing and books were produced, and the history of...

, the study of handwriting, is problematic because of differing styles of hieratic script. The use of orthography
Orthography
The orthography of a language specifies a standardized way of using a specific writing system to write the language. Where more than one writing system is used for a language, for example Kurdish, Uyghur, Serbian or Inuktitut, there can be more than one orthography...

, the study of writing systems and symbol usage, is also problematic, since some texts' authors may have copied the characteristic style of an older archetype
Archetype
An archetype is a universally understood symbol or term or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated...

. Fictional accounts were often set in remote historical settings, the use of contemporary settings in fiction being a relatively recent phenomenon. The style of a text provides little help in determining an exact date for its composition, as genre and authorial choice might be more concerned with the mood of a text than the era in which it was written. For example, authors of the Middle Kingdom could set fictional wisdom texts in the golden age
Golden Age
The term Golden Age comes from Greek mythology and legend and refers to the first in a sequence of four or five Ages of Man, in which the Golden Age is first, followed in sequence, by the Silver, Bronze, and Iron Ages, and then the present, a period of decline...

 of the Old Kingdom (e.g. Kagemni
Instructions of Kagemni
The Instructions of Kagemni is an ancient Egyptian instructional text of wisdom literature which belongs to the sebayt genre. Although the earliest evidence of its compilation dates to the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, its authorship has traditionally yet dubiously been attributed to Kagemni, a vizier...

, Ptahhotep, and the prologue of Neferti), or they could write fictional accounts placed in a chaotic age resembling more the problematic life of the First Intermediate Period
First Intermediate Period of Egypt
The First Intermediate Period, often described as a “dark period” in ancient Egyptian history, spanned approximately one hundred years after the end of the Old Kingdom from ca. 2181-2055 BC. It included the seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, and part of the eleventh dynasties. Very little monumental...

 (e.g. Merykare and The Eloquent Peasant). Other fictional texts are set in illo tempore (in an indeterminable era) and usually contain timeless themes.

Parkinson writes that nearly all literary texts were pseudonym
Pseudonym
A pseudonym is a name that a person assumes for a particular purpose and that differs from his or her original orthonym...

ous, and frequently falsely attributed to well-known male protagonists of earlier history, such as kings
Pharaoh
Pharaoh is a title used in many modern discussions of the ancient Egyptian rulers of all periods. The title originates in the term "pr-aa" which means "great house" and describes the royal palace...

 and viziers
Vizier (Ancient Egypt)
The vizier was the highest official in Ancient Egypt to serve the king, or pharaoh during the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms. Vizier is the generally accepted rendering of ancient Egyptian tjati, tjaty etc, among Egyptologists...

. Only the literary genres of "teaching" and "laments/discourses" contain works attributed to historical authors; texts in genres such as "narrative tales" were never attributed to a well-known historical person. Tait asserts that during the Classical Period of Egypt, "Egyptian scribes constructed their own view of the history of the role of scribes and of the 'authorship' of texts", but during the Late Period
Late Period of Ancient Egypt
The Late Period of Ancient Egypt refers to the last flowering of native Egyptian rulers after the Third Intermediate Period from the 26th Saite Dynasty into Persian conquests and ended with the death of Alexander the Great...

, this role was instead maintained by the religious elite attached to the temples.

There are a few exceptions to the rule of pseudonymity. The real authors of some Ramesside Period teaching texts were acknowledged, but these cases are rare, localized, and do not typify mainstream works. Those who wrote private and sometimes model letters were acknowledged as the original authors. Private letters could be used in courts of law as testimony, since a person's unique handwriting could be identified as authentic. Private letters received or written by the pharaoh were sometimes inscribed in hieroglyphics on stone monuments to celebrate kingship, while kings' decrees inscribed on stone stelas were often made public.

Literary genres and subjects


Modern Egyptologists categorize Egyptian texts into genre
Genre
Genre , Greek: genos, γένος) is the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or culture, e.g. music, and in general, any type of discourse, whether written or spoken, audial or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time...

s, for example "lament
Lament
A lament or lamentation is a song, poem, or piece of music expressing grief, regret, or mourning.-History:Many of the oldest and most lasting poems in human history have been laments. Laments are present in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, and laments continued to be sung in elegiacs accompanied by...

s/discourse
Discourse
Discourse generally refers to "written or spoken communication". The following are three more specific definitions:...

s" and narrative tales. The only genre of literature named as such by the ancient Egyptians was the "teaching" or sebayt
Sebayt
Sebayt is the ancient Egyptian term for a genre of pharaonic literature. The word literally means 'teachings' or 'instructions' and refers to formally written ethical teachings focused on the "way of living truly"....

genre. Parkinson states that the titles of a work, its opening statement, or key words found in the body of text should be used as indicators of its particular genre. Only the genre of "narrative tales" employed prose
Prose
Prose is the most typical form of written language, applying ordinary grammatical structure and natural flow of speech rather than rhythmic structure...

 writing, yet many of the works of that genre, as well as those of other genres, were written in verse
Verse (poetry)
A verse is formally a single line in a metrical composition, e.g. poetry. However, the word has come to represent any division or grouping of words in such a composition, which traditionally had been referred to as a stanza....

 format. Most ancient Egyptian verses were written in couplet
Couplet
A couplet is a pair of lines of meter in poetry. It usually consists of two lines that rhyme and have the same meter.While traditionally couplets rhyme, not all do. A poem may use white space to mark out couplets if they do not rhyme. Couplets with a meter of iambic pentameter are called heroic...

 form, but sometimes triplets
Tercet
A tercet is composed of three lines of poetry, forming a stanza or a complete poem. English-language haiku is an example of an unrhymed tercet poem...

 and quatrain
Quatrain
A quatrain is a stanza, or a complete poem, consisting of four lines of verse. Existing in various forms, the quatrain appears in poems from the poetic traditions of various ancient civilizations including Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and China; and, continues into the 21st century, where it is...

s were used.

Instructions and teachings


The "instructions" or "teaching" genre, as well as the genre of "reflective discourses", can be grouped within the larger corpus of wisdom literature
Wisdom literature
Wisdom literature is the genre of literature common in the Ancient Near East. This genre is characterized by sayings of wisdom intended to teach about divinity and about virtue...

 found in the ancient Near East
Ancient Near East
The ancient Near East was the home of early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia , ancient Egypt, ancient Iran The ancient Near East was the home of early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia...

. The genre is didactic in nature and is thought to have formed part of the Middle Kingdom scribal education syllabus
Syllabus
A syllabus , is an outline and summary of topics to be covered in an education or training course. It is descriptive...

. However, teaching texts often incorporate narrative elements that can instruct as well as entertain. Parkinson asserts that there is evidence that teaching texts were not created primarily for use in scribal education, but for ideological purposes. For example, Adolf Erman
Adolf Erman
Johann Peter Adolf Erman was a renowned Egyptologist and lexicographer.-Life:Born in Berlin, he was the son of Georg Adolf Erman and grandson of Paul Erman....

 (1854–1937) writes that the fictional instruction given by Amenemhat I
Amenemhat I
Amenemhat I, also Amenemhet I, was the first ruler of the Twelfth Dynasty . He ruled from 1991 BC to 1962 BC...

 (r. 1991–1962 BC) to his sons "...far exceeds the bounds of school philosophy, and there is nothing whatever to do with school in a great warning his children to be loyal to the king". While narrative literature, embodied in works such as The Eloquent Peasant, emphasize the individual hero who challenges society and its accepted ideologies, the teaching texts instead stress the need to comply with society's accepted dogmas.

Key words found in teaching texts include "to know" (rh) and "teach" (sba.yt). These texts usually adopt the formulaic title structure of "the instruction of X made for Y", where "X" can be represented by an authoritative figure (such as a vizier
Vizier (Ancient Egypt)
The vizier was the highest official in Ancient Egypt to serve the king, or pharaoh during the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms. Vizier is the generally accepted rendering of ancient Egyptian tjati, tjaty etc, among Egyptologists...

 or king
Pharaoh
Pharaoh is a title used in many modern discussions of the ancient Egyptian rulers of all periods. The title originates in the term "pr-aa" which means "great house" and describes the royal palace...

) providing moral guidance to his son(s). It is sometimes difficult to determine how many fictional addressees are involved in these teachings, since some texts switch between singular and plural when referring to their audiences.

Examples of the "teaching" genre include the Maxims of Ptahhotep, Instructions of Kagemni
Instructions of Kagemni
The Instructions of Kagemni is an ancient Egyptian instructional text of wisdom literature which belongs to the sebayt genre. Although the earliest evidence of its compilation dates to the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, its authorship has traditionally yet dubiously been attributed to Kagemni, a vizier...

, Teaching for King Merykare, Instructions of Amenemhat
Instructions of Amenemhat
Instructions of Amenemhat is a short ancient Egyptian poem of the sebayt genre written during the early Middle Kingdom. The poem takes the form of an intensely dramatic monologue delivered by the ghost of the murdered 12th Dynasty pharaoh Amenemhat I to his son Senusret I...

, Instruction of Hardjedef
Instruction of Hardjedef
The Instruction of Hardjedef, also known as the Teaching of Hordedef and Teaching of Djedefhor, belongs to the didactic literature of the Egyptian Old Kingdom. It is possibly the oldest of all known Instructions, composed during the 5th Dynasty according to Miriam Lichtheim, predating The...

, Loyalist Teaching
Loyalist Teaching
The Loyalist Teaching, or The Loyalist Instructions, is an ancient Egyptian text of the sebayt genre. It survives in part from a stela inscription of the mid Twelfth dynasty of Egypt. The whole text can be found in papyrus scrolls of the New Kingdom period...

, and Instructions of Amenemope. Teaching texts that have survived from the Middle Kingdom were written on papyrus manuscripts. No educational ostraca from the Middle Kingdom have survived. The earliest schoolboy's wooden writing board, with a copy of a teaching text (i.e. Ptahhotep), dates to the Eighteenth dynasty
Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt
The eighteenth dynasty of ancient Egypt is perhaps the best known of all the dynasties of ancient Egypt...

. Ptahhotep and Kagemni are both found on the Prisse Papyrus
Prisse Papyrus
The Prisse Papyrus, dating from the twelfth dynasty Egyptian Middle Kingdom was obtained by the French orientalist Émile Prisse d'Avennes at Thebes in 1856 and is now in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris....

, which was written during the Twelfth dynasty of the Middle Kingdom. The entire Loyalist Teaching survives only in manuscripts from the New Kingdom, although the entire first half is preserved on a Middle Kingdom biographical stone stela commemorating the Twelfth dynasty
Twelfth dynasty of Egypt
The twelfth dynasty of ancient Egypt is often combined with Dynasties XI, XIII and XIV under the group title Middle Kingdom.-Rulers:Known rulers of the twelfth dynasty are as follows :...

 official Sehetepibre. Merykare, Amenemhat, and Hardjedef are genuine Middle Kingdom works, but only survive in later New Kingdom copies. Amenemope is a New Kingdom compilation.

Narrative tales and stories


The genre of "tales and stories" is probably the least represented genre from surviving literature of the Middle Kingdom and Middle Egyptian. In Late Egyptian literature, "tales and stories" comprise the majority of surviving literary works dated from the Ramesside Period of the New Kingdom into the Late Period
Late Period of Ancient Egypt
The Late Period of Ancient Egypt refers to the last flowering of native Egyptian rulers after the Third Intermediate Period from the 26th Saite Dynasty into Persian conquests and ended with the death of Alexander the Great...

. Major narrative works from the Middle Kingdom include the Tale of the Court of King Cheops
Westcar Papyrus
The Westcar Papyrus is an ancient Egyptian text containing five stories about miracles performed by priests and magicians. Each of these tales are being told at the royal court of the King Cheops by his sons...

, King Neferkare and General Sasenet
King Neferkare and General Sasenet
The ancient Egyptian story of King Neferkare and General Sasenet survives only in fragments. With its atmosphere of nocturnal mystery and intrigue it is an early example of the literary cloak and dagger tradition...

, The Eloquent Peasant
The Eloquent Peasant
The Eloquent Peasant is an Ancient Egyptian story about a peasant, Khun-Anup, who stumbles upon the property of the noble Rensi son of Meru, guarded by its harsh overseer, Nemtynakht. It is set in the Ninth/Tenth dynasty around Herakleopolis.-Story Summary:...

, Story of Sinuhe
Story of Sinuhe
The Tale of Sinuhe is considered one of the finest works of Ancient Egyptian literature. It is a narrative set in the aftermath of the death of Pharaoh Amenemhat I, founder of the 12th dynasty of Egypt, in the early 20th century BC. It is likely that it was composed only shortly after this date,...

, and Tale of the shipwrecked sailor
Tale of the shipwrecked sailor
The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor is a Middle Kingdom story of an Ancient Egyptian voyage to "the King's mines" .-Historical information:...

. The New Kingdom corpus of tales includes the Quarrel of Apepi and Seqenenre, Taking of Joppa, Tale of the doomed prince
Tale of the doomed prince
The Tale of the Doomed Prince is an ancient Egyptian story, dating to the 18th Dynasty, written in hieratic text, which survived partially on the verso of Papyrus Harris 500 currently housed in the British Museum. The papyrus was burned in an explosion; because of this damage the conclusion of the...

, Tale of Two Brothers
Tale of Two Brothers
The Tale of Two Brothers is an ancient Egyptian story that dates from the reign of Seti II, who ruled from 1200 to 1194 BC during the 19th Dynasty of the New Kingdom. The story is preserved on the Papyrus D'Orbiney, which is currently preserved in the British Museum. The British Museum dates the...

, and the Report of Wenamun. Stories from the 1st millennium BC written in Demotic include the story of the Famine Stela (set in the Old Kingdom, although written during the Ptolemaic dynasty
Ptolemaic dynasty
The Ptolemaic dynasty, was a Macedonian Greek royal family which ruled the Ptolemaic Empire in Egypt during the Hellenistic period. Their rule lasted for 275 years, from 305 BC to 30 BC...

) and short story cycle
Short story cycle
A short story cycle is a collection of short stories in which the narratives are specifically composed and arranged with the goal of creating an enhanced or different experience when reading the group as a whole as opposed to its individual parts...

s of the Ptolemaic and Roman periods that transform well-known historical figures such as Khaemweset
Khaemweset
Prince Khaemweset was the fourth son of Ramesses II, and the second son by his queen Isetnofret. He is by far the best known son of Ramesses II, and his contributions to Egyptian society were remembered for centuries after his death...

 (Nineteenth Dynasty
Nineteenth dynasty of Egypt
The Nineteenth Dynasty of ancient Egypt was one of the periods of the Egyptian New Kingdom. Founded by Vizier Ramesses I, whom Pharaoh Horemheb chose as his successor to the throne, this dynasty is best known for its military conquests in Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria.The warrior kings of the...

) and Inaros
Inaros
Inaros or Ienheru, also known as Inarus, was an Egyptian rebel ruler who was the son of a Libyan prince named Psamtik, presumably of the old Saite line. In 460 BC, he revolted against the Persians with the help of his Athenian allies, and defeated the Persian army commanded by satrap Akheimenes...

 (First Persian Period) into fictional, legendary heroes. This is contrasted with many stories written in Late Egyptian, whose authors frequently chose divinities as protagonists and mythological places as settings.

Parkinson defines tales as "...non-commemorative, non-functional, fictional narrative
Narrative
A narrative is a constructive format that describes a sequence of non-fictional or fictional events. The word derives from the Latin verb narrare, "to recount", and is related to the adjective gnarus, "knowing" or "skilled"...

s" that usually employ the key word "narrate" (sdd). He describes it as the most open-ended genre, since the tales often incorporate elements of other literary genres. For example, Morenz describes the opening section of the foreign adventure tale Sinuhe as a "...funerary self-presentation" that parodies the typical autobiography
Autobiography
An autobiography is a book about the life of a person, written by that person.-Origin of the term:...

 found on commemorative funerary stelas. The autobiography is for a courier
Courier
A courier is a person or a company who delivers messages, packages, and mail. Couriers are distinguished from ordinary mail services by features such as speed, security, tracking, signature, specialization and individualization of express services, and swift delivery times, which are optional for...

 whose service began under Amenemhat I. Simpson states that the death of Amenemhat I in the report given by his son, coregent, and successor Senusret I
Senusret I
Senusret I was the second pharaoh of the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt. He ruled from 1971 BC to 1926 BC, and was one of the most powerful kings of this Dynasty. He was the son of Amenemhat I and his wife Nefertitanen. His wife and sister was Neferu. She was also the mother of the successor Amenemhat II...

 (r. 1971–1926 BC) to the army in the beginning of Sinuhe is "...excellent propaganda". Morenz describes The shipwrecked sailor as an expeditionary report and a travel-narrative myth. Simpson notes the literary device of the story within a story
Story within a story
A story within a story, also rendered story-within-a-story, is a literary device in which one narrative is presented during the action of another narrative. Mise en abyme is the French term for a similar literary device...

 in The shipwrecked sailor may provide "...the earliest examples of a narrative quarry
Quarry
A quarry is a type of open-pit mine from which rock or minerals are extracted. Quarries are generally used for extracting building materials, such as dimension stone, construction aggregate, riprap, sand, and gravel. They are often collocated with concrete and asphalt plants due to the requirement...

ing report". With the setting of a magical desert island, and a character who is a talking snake, The shipwrecked sailor may also be classified as a fairy tale
Fairy tale
A fairy tale is a type of short story that typically features such folkloric characters, such as fairies, goblins, elves, trolls, dwarves, giants or gnomes, and usually magic or enchantments. However, only a small number of the stories refer to fairies...

. While stories like Sinuhe, Taking of Joppa, and the Doomed prince contain fictional portrayals of Egyptians abroad, the Report of Wenamun is most likely based on a true account of an Egyptian who traveled to Byblos
Byblos
Byblos is the Greek name of the Phoenician city Gebal . It is a Mediterranean city in the Mount Lebanon Governorate of present-day Lebanon under the current Arabic name of Jubayl and was also referred to as Gibelet during the Crusades...

 in Phoenicia
Phoenicia
Phoenicia , was an ancient civilization in Canaan which covered most of the western, coastal part of the Fertile Crescent. Several major Phoenician cities were built on the coastline of the Mediterranean. It was an enterprising maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean from 1550...

 to obtain cedar for shipbuilding
Shipbuilding
Shipbuilding is the construction of ships and floating vessels. It normally takes place in a specialized facility known as a shipyard. Shipbuilders, also called shipwrights, follow a specialized occupation that traces its roots to before recorded history.Shipbuilding and ship repairs, both...

 during the reign of Ramesses XI
Ramesses XI
Ramesses XI reigned from 1107 BC to 1078 BC or 1077 BC and was the tenth and final king of the Twentieth dynasty of Egypt. He ruled Egypt for at least 29 years although some Egyptologists think he could have ruled for as long as 30...

.

Narrative tales and stories are most often found on papyri, but partial and sometimes complete texts are found on ostraca. For example, Sinuhe is found on five papyri composed during the Twelfth
Twelfth dynasty of Egypt
The twelfth dynasty of ancient Egypt is often combined with Dynasties XI, XIII and XIV under the group title Middle Kingdom.-Rulers:Known rulers of the twelfth dynasty are as follows :...

 and Thirteenth
Thirteenth dynasty of Egypt
The thirteenth dynasty of ancient Egypt is often combined with Dynasties XI, XII and XIV under the group title Middle Kingdom. Other writers separate it from these dynasties and join it to Dynasties XIV through XVII as part of the Second Intermediate Period...

 dynasties. This text was later copied numerous times on ostraca during the Nineteenth
Nineteenth dynasty of Egypt
The Nineteenth Dynasty of ancient Egypt was one of the periods of the Egyptian New Kingdom. Founded by Vizier Ramesses I, whom Pharaoh Horemheb chose as his successor to the throne, this dynasty is best known for its military conquests in Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria.The warrior kings of the...

 and Twentieth
Twentieth dynasty of Egypt
The Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Dynasties of ancient Egypt are often combined under the group title, New Kingdom. This dynasty is considered to be the last one of the New Kingdom of Egypt, and was followed by the Third Intermediate Period....

 dynasties, with one ostraca containing the complete text on both sides.

Laments, discourses, dialogues, and prophecies


The Middle Kingdom genre of "prophetic texts
Prophecy
Prophecy is a process in which one or more messages that have been communicated to a prophet are then communicated to others. Such messages typically involve divine inspiration, interpretation, or revelation of conditioned events to come as well as testimonies or repeated revelations that the...

", also known as "lament
Lament
A lament or lamentation is a song, poem, or piece of music expressing grief, regret, or mourning.-History:Many of the oldest and most lasting poems in human history have been laments. Laments are present in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, and laments continued to be sung in elegiacs accompanied by...

s", "discourse
Discourse
Discourse generally refers to "written or spoken communication". The following are three more specific definitions:...

s", "dialogue
Dialogue
Dialogue is a literary and theatrical form consisting of a written or spoken conversational exchange between two or more people....

s", and "apocalyptic literature", include such works as the Admonitions of Ipuwer, Prophecy of Neferti
Prophecy of Neferti
The Prophecy of Neferti is an Ancient Egyptian discourse text set in the reign of the 4th dynasty Old Kingdom king Snofru , but was actually written during the early 12th dynasty . The text is a pseudo-prophecy, i.e. one written after the event...

, and Dispute between a man and his Ba
Dispute between a man and his Ba
The Dispute between a man and his Ba is an ancient Egyptian text dating to the Middle Kingdom about a man deeply unhappy with his life. It is part of the so-called Wisdom literature and takes the form of a dialogue between a man and his ba. The beginning of the text is missing, there are a number...

. This genre had no known precedent in the Old Kingdom and no known original compositions were produced in the New Kingdom. However, works like Prophecy of Neferti were frequently copied during the Ramesside Period of the New Kingdom, when this Middle Kingdom genre was canonized but discontinued. Egyptian prophetic literature underwent a revival during the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty
Ptolemaic dynasty
The Ptolemaic dynasty, was a Macedonian Greek royal family which ruled the Ptolemaic Empire in Egypt during the Hellenistic period. Their rule lasted for 275 years, from 305 BC to 30 BC...

 and Roman period of Egypt with works such as the Demotic Chronicle, Oracle of the Lamb
Oracle of the Lamb
The Oracle of the Lamb is an ancient Egyptian prophetic text written on a papyrus in Demotic Egyptian and dated to the thirty-third year of the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus . In it, a lamb speaks and provides prophecies to a man named Pasenhor...

, Oracle of the Potter
Oracle of the Potter
The Oracle of the Potter is a Hellenistic Egyptian prophetic text, originally written in Demotic Egyptian in the 3rd century BC but only surviving in five Greek manuscript copies on papyrus dated to the 2nd or 3rd centuries AD during the Roman rule of Egypt...

, and two prophetic texts that focus on Nectanebo II
Nectanebo II
Nectanebo II was the third and last pharaoh of the Thirtieth dynasty, as well as the last native ruler of Ancient Egypt. Under Nectanebo II Egypt prospered...

 (r. 360–343 BC) as a protagonist. Along with "teaching" texts, these reflective discourses (key word mdt) are grouped with the wisdom literature category of the ancient Near East.

In Middle Kingdom texts, connecting themes include a pessimistic outlook, descriptions of social and religious change, and great disorder throughout the land, taking the form of a syntactic
Syntax
In linguistics, syntax is the study of the principles and rules for constructing phrases and sentences in natural languages....

 "then-now" verse formula. Although these texts are usually described as laments, Neferti digresses from this model, providing a positive solution to a problematic world. Although it survives only in later copies from the Eighteenth dynasty
Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt
The eighteenth dynasty of ancient Egypt is perhaps the best known of all the dynasties of ancient Egypt...

 onward, Parkinson asserts that, due to obvious political content, Neferti was originally written during or shortly after the reign of Amenemhat I. Simpson calls it "...a blatant political pamphlet designed to support the new regime" of the Twelfth dynasty founded by Amenemhat, who usurped the throne from the Mentuhotep
Mentuhotep IV
Nebtawyre Mentuhotep IV was the last king of the 11th Dynasty. He seems to fit into a 7 year period in the Turin Canon for which there is no recorded king, and is known from a few inscriptions in Wadi Hammamat that record expeditions to the Red Sea coast and to quarry stone for the royal monuments...

 line of the Eleventh dynasty
Eleventh dynasty of Egypt
The eleventh dynasty of ancient Egypt was one group of rulers, whose earlier members are grouped with the four preceding dynasties to form the First Intermediate Period, while the later members are considered part of the Middle Kingdom...

. In the narrative discourse, Sneferu
Sneferu
Sneferu, also spelled as Snephru, Snefru or Snofru , was the founder of the Fourth dynasty of Egypt. Estimates of his reign vary, with for instance The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt suggesting a reign from around 2613 BC to 2589 BC, a reign of 24 years, while Rolf Krauss suggests a 30-year reign...

 (r. 2613–2589 BC) of the Fourth dynasty
Fourth dynasty of Egypt
The fourth dynasty of ancient Egypt is characterized as a "golden age" of the Old Kingdom. Dynasty IV lasted from ca. 2613 to 2494 BC...

 summons to court the sage and lector priest Neferti. Neferti entertains the king with prophecies that the land will enter into a chaotic age, alluding to the First Intermediate Period, only to be restored to its former glory by a righteous king— Ameny—whom the ancient Egyptian would readily recognize as Amenemhat I. A similar model of a tumultuous world transformed into a golden age by a savior king was adopted for the Lamb and Potter, although for their audiences living under Roman domination, the savior was yet to come.

Although written during the Twelfth dynasty, Ipuwer only survives from a Nineteenth dynasty
Nineteenth dynasty of Egypt
The Nineteenth Dynasty of ancient Egypt was one of the periods of the Egyptian New Kingdom. Founded by Vizier Ramesses I, whom Pharaoh Horemheb chose as his successor to the throne, this dynasty is best known for its military conquests in Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria.The warrior kings of the...

 papyrus. However, A man and his Ba is found on an original Twelfth dynasty papyrus, Papyrus Berlin 3024. These two texts resemble other discourses in style, tone, and subject matter, although they are unique in that the fictional audiences are given very active roles in the exchange of dialogue. In Ipuwer, a sage addresses an unnamed king and his attendants, describing the miserable state of the land, which he blames on the king's inability to uphold royal virtues. This can be seen either as a warning to kings or as a legitimization of the current dynasty, contrasting it with the supposedly turbulent period that preceded it. In A man and his Ba, a man recounts for an audience a conversation with his ba (a component of the Egyptian soul
Egyptian soul
The ancient Egyptians believed that a human soul was made up of five parts: the Ren, the Ba, the Ka, the Sheut, and the Ib. In addition to these components of the soul there was the human body...

) on whether to continue living in despair or to seek death as an escape from misery.

Poems, songs, hymns, and afterlife texts


The funerary stone slab stela
Slab stela
The slab stela was an original form of the steles of ancient Egypt, but in a horizontal dimension. Some of the earliest ones from mid- to late-3rd millennium BC were painted Slab Steles...

 was first produced during the early Old Kingdom. Usually found in mastaba
Mastaba
A mastaba, or "pr-djt" , is a type of ancient Egyptian tomb in the form of a flat-roofed, rectangular structure with outward sloping sides that marked the burial site of many eminent Egyptians of Egypt's ancient period...

 tombs, they combined raised-relief artwork with inscriptions bearing the name of the deceased, their official titles (if any), and invocation
Invocation
An invocation may take the form of:*Supplication or prayer.*A form of possession.*Command or conjuration.*Self-identification with certain spirits....

s.

Funerary poems were thought to preserve a monarch's soul in death. The Pyramid Texts
Pyramid Texts
The Pyramid Texts are a collection of ancient Egyptian religious texts from the time of the Old Kingdom. The pyramid texts are possibly the oldest known religious texts in the world. Written in Old Egyptian, the pyramid texts were carved on the walls and sarcophagi of the pyramids at Saqqara during...

 are the earliest surviving religious literature incorporating poetic
Poetry
Poetry is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning...

 verse. These texts do not appear in tombs or pyramids originating before the reign of Unas
Unas
Unas was a Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, and the last ruler of the Fifth dynasty from the Old Kingdom. His reign has been dated as falling between 2375 BC and 2345 BC...

 (r. 2375–2345 BC), who had the Pyramid of Unas
Pyramid of Unas
The Pyramid Complex of Unas is located in the pyramid field at Saqqara, near Cairo in Egypt.The pyramid of Unas of the Fifth Dynasty is now ruined, and looks more like a small hill than a royal pyramid.It was investigated by Perring and then Lepsius, but it was Gaston Maspero who first gained...

 built at Saqqara
Saqqara
Saqqara is a vast, ancient burial ground in Egypt, serving as the necropolis for the Ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis. Saqqara features numerous pyramids, including the world famous Step pyramid of Djoser, sometimes referred to as the Step Tomb due to its rectangular base, as well as a number of...

. The Pyramid Texts are chiefly concerned with the function of preserving and nurturing the soul of the sovereign in the afterlife. This aim eventually included safeguarding both the sovereign and his subjects in the afterlife. A variety of textual traditions evolved from the original Pyramid Texts: the Coffin Texts
Coffin Texts
The Coffin Texts are a collection of ancient Egyptian funerary spells written on coffins beginning in the First Intermediate Period. The texts are derived in part from the earlier pyramid texts, reserved for royal use only, but they contain substantial new material related to everyday desires that...

 of the Middle Kingdom, the so-called Book of the Dead
Book of the Dead
The Book of the Dead is the modern name of an ancient Egyptian funerary text, used from the beginning of the New Kingdom to around 50 BC. The original Egyptian name for the text, transliterated rw nw prt m hrw is translated as "Book of Coming Forth by Day". Another translation would be "Book of...

, Litany of Ra, and Amduat
Amduat
The Amduat is an important Ancient Egyptian funerary text of the New Kingdom. Like many funerary texts, it was found written on the inside of the pharaoh's tomb for reference...

written on papyri from the New Kingdom until the end of Ancient Egyptian civilization.

Poems were also written to celebrate kingship. For example, at the Precinct of Amun-Re at Karnak
Karnak
The Karnak Temple Complex—usually called Karnak—comprises a vast mix of decayed temples, chapels, pylons, and other buildings, notably the Great Temple of Amun and a massive structure begun by Pharaoh Ramses II . Sacred Lake is part of the site as well. It is located near Luxor, some...

, Thutmose III
Thutmose III
Thutmose III was the sixth Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty. During the first twenty-two years of Thutmose's reign he was co-regent with his stepmother, Hatshepsut, who was named the pharaoh...

 (r. 1479–1425 BC) of the Eighteenth dynasty erected a stela commemorating his military victories in which the gods bless Thutmose in poetic verse and ensure for him victories over his enemies. In addition to stone stelas, poems have been found on wooden writing boards used by schoolboys. Besides the glorification of kings, poems were written to honor various deities, and even the Nile
Nile
The Nile is a major north-flowing river in North Africa, generally regarded as the longest river in the world. It is long. It runs through the ten countries of Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Egypt.The Nile has two major...

.
Surviving hymns and songs from the Old Kingdom include the morning greeting hymns to the gods in their respective temples. A cycle of Middle-Kingdom songs dedicated to Senusret III
Senusret III
Khakhaure Senusret III was a pharaoh of Egypt. He ruled from 1878 BC to 1839 BC, and was the fifth monarch of the Twelfth Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom. Among his achievements was the building of the Sisostris Canal...

 (r. 1878–1839 BC) have been discovered at El-Lahun
El-Lahun
Located in the Faiyum, Egypt, el-Lahun or Kahun is the workers' village associated with the pyramid of Senusret II . It is located near the modern village of el-Lahun , and is often known by that name...

. Erman considers these to be secular songs used to greet the pharaoh at Memphis
Memphis, Egypt
Memphis was the ancient capital of Aneb-Hetch, the first nome of Lower Egypt. Its ruins are located near the town of Helwan, south of Cairo.According to legend related by Manetho, the city was founded by the pharaoh Menes around 3000 BC. Capital of Egypt during the Old Kingdom, it remained an...

, while Simpson considers them to be religious in nature but affirms that the division between religious and secular songs is not very sharp. The Harper's Song, the lyrics found on a tombstone of the Middle Kingdom and on Papyrus Harris 500
Papyrus Harris 500
The Papyrus Harris 500, alt. pHarris 500 or P. British Museum 10060, contains copies of the ancient Egyptian tales of The Doomed Prince and The Taking of Joppa, of love poems and of the Harper's Song from the tomb of King Intef...

 from the New Kingdom, was to be performed for dinner guests at formal banquets.

During the reign of Akhenaten
Akhenaten
Akhenaten also spelled Echnaton,Ikhnaton,and Khuenaten;meaning "living spirit of Aten") known before the fifth year of his reign as Amenhotep IV , was a Pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt who ruled for 17 years and died perhaps in 1336 BC or 1334 BC...

 (r. 1353–1336 BC), the Great Hymn to the Aten
Great Hymn to the Aten
The Great Hymn to the Aten is an ancient Egyptian hymn to the sun god Aten. It is attributed to Pharaoh Akhenaten, who attempted to convert Egypt to monotheism, with Aten being the only god. It was found, in its most complete form, in the tomb of Ay in the rock tombs at Amarna...

—preserved in tombs of Amarna
Amarna
Amarna is an extensive Egyptian archaeological site that represents the remains of the capital city newly–established and built by the Pharaoh Akhenaten of the late Eighteenth Dynasty , and abandoned shortly afterwards...

, including the tomb
Southern Tomb 25
Southern Tomb 25 at Amarna was intended for the burial of Ay, who later became Pharaoh, after Tutankhamun. The tomb was never finished, and he later buried in the Western Valley of the Valley of the Kings , in Thebes....

 of Ay
Ay
Ay was the penultimate Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt's 18th dynasty. He held the throne of Egypt for a brief four-year period , although he was a close advisor to two and perhaps three of the pharaohs who ruled before him and was the power behind the throne during Tutankhamun's reign...

—was written to the Aten
Aten
Aten is the disk of the sun in ancient Egyptian mythology, and originally an aspect of Ra. The deified Aten is the focus of the monolatristic, henotheistic, or monotheistic religion of Atenism established by Amenhotep IV, who later took the name Akhenaten in worship in recognition of Aten...

, the sun-disk deity given exclusive patronage
Atenism
Atenism, or the Amarna heresy, refers to the religious changes associated with the eighteenth dynasty Pharaoh Amenophis IV, better known under his adopted name, Akhenaten...

 during his reign. Simpson compares this composition's wording and sequence of ideas to those of Psalm 104
Psalm 104
Psalm 104 is a poem from the Book of Psalms in the Hebrew Bible, describing the ongoing act of God continuously bringing the world into existence. German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder remarked, "It is worth studying the Hebrew language for ten years in order to read Psalm 104 in the original"...

.

Only a single poetic hymn in the Demotic script has been preserved. However, there are many surviving examples of Late-Period Egyptian religious hymns written in hieroglyphs on temple walls.

No Egyptian love song
Love song
A love song is about falling in love and the feelings it brings. Anthologies of love songs often contain a mixture of both of these types of song. A bawdy song is both humorous and saucy, emphasizing the physical pleasure of love rather than the emotional joy...

 has been dated from before the New Kingdom, these being written in Late Egyptian, although it is speculated that they existed in previous times. Erman compares the love songs to the Song of Songs
Song of songs
Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon, is a book of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. It may also refer to:In music:* Song of songs , the debut album by David and the Giants* A generic term for medleysPlays...

, citing the labels "sister" and "brother" that lovers used to address each other.

Private letters, model letters, and epistles


The ancient Egyptian model letters and epistle
Epistle
An epistle is a writing directed or sent to a person or group of people, usually an elegant and formal didactic letter. The epistle genre of letter-writing was common in ancient Egypt as part of the scribal-school writing curriculum. The letters in the New Testament from Apostles to Christians...

s are grouped into a single literary genre. Papyrus rolls sealed with mud stamps were used for long-distance letters, while ostraca were frequently used to write shorter, non-confidential letters sent to recipients located nearby. Letters of royal or official correspondence, originally written in hieratic, were sometimes given the exalted status of being inscribed on stone in hieroglyphs. The various texts written by schoolboys on wooden writing boards include model letters. Private letters could be used as epistolary model letters for schoolboys to copy, including letters written by their teachers or their families. However, these models were rarely featured in educational manuscripts; instead fictional letters found in numerous manuscripts were used. The common epistolary formula used in these model letters was "The official A. saith to the scribe B".

The oldest-known private letters on papyrus were found in a funerary temple dating to the reign of Djedkare-Izezi (r. 2414–2375 BC) of the Fifth dynasty
Fifth dynasty of Egypt
The fifth dynasty of ancient Egypt is often combined with Dynasties III, IV and VI under the group title the Old Kingdom. Dynasty V dates approximately from 2494 to 2345 BC.-Rulers:...

. More letters are dated to the Sixth dynasty
Sixth dynasty of Egypt
The sixth dynasty of ancient Egypt is often combined with Dynasties III, IV and V under the group title the Old Kingdom.-Pharaohs:...

, when the epistle subgenre began. The educational text Book of Kemit, dated to the Eleventh dynasty
Eleventh dynasty of Egypt
The eleventh dynasty of ancient Egypt was one group of rulers, whose earlier members are grouped with the four preceding dynasties to form the First Intermediate Period, while the later members are considered part of the Middle Kingdom...

, contains a list of epistolary greetings and a narrative with an ending in letter form and suitable terminology for use in commemorative biographies. Other letters of the early Middle Kingdom have also been found to use epistolary formulas similar to the Book of Kemit. The Heqanakht papyri
Heqanakht papyri
The Heqanakht Papyri or Heqanakht Letters , written around 2,000 BCE, have been placed in historical context since 1954, per Cerny, Jareslav . "Prices and Wages in Egypt in the Ramesside Period." Journal of World History, 1, 903–21...

, written by a gentleman farmer, date to the Eleventh dynasty and represent some of the lengthiest private letters known to have been written in ancient Egypt.

During the late Middle Kingdom, greater standardization of the epistolary formula can be seen, for example in a series of model letters taken from dispatches sent to the Semna fortress
Semna (Nubia)
Semna was a fortified town established in the reign of Senusret I on the west bank of the Nile at the southern end of a series of fortresses founded during the 12th Dynasty in the second-cataract area of Lower Nubia. The Semna gorge, at the southern edge of ancient Egypt, was the narrowest part...

 of Nubia
Nubia
Nubia is a region along the Nile river, which is located in northern Sudan and southern Egypt.There were a number of small Nubian kingdoms throughout the Middle Ages, the last of which collapsed in 1504, when Nubia became divided between Egypt and the Sennar sultanate resulting in the Arabization...

 during the reign of Amenemhat III
Amenemhat III
Amenemhat III, also spelled Amenemhet III was a pharaoh of the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt. He ruled from c.1860 BC to c.1814 BC, the latest known date being found in a papyrus dated to Regnal Year 46, I Akhet 22 of his rule. He is regarded as the greatest monarch of the Middle Kingdom...

 (r. 1860–1814 BC). Epistles were also written during all three dynasties of the New Kingdom. While letters to the dead had been written since the Old Kingdom, the writing of petition letters in epistolary form to deities began in the Ramesside Period, becoming very popular during the Persian and Ptolemaic periods.

The epistolary Satirical Letter of Papyrus Anastasi I written during the Nineteenth dynasty
Nineteenth dynasty of Egypt
The Nineteenth Dynasty of ancient Egypt was one of the periods of the Egyptian New Kingdom. Founded by Vizier Ramesses I, whom Pharaoh Horemheb chose as his successor to the throne, this dynasty is best known for its military conquests in Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria.The warrior kings of the...

 was a pedagogical and didactic text copied on numerous ostraca by schoolboys. Wente describes the versatility of this epistle, which contained "...proper greetings with wishes for this life and the next, the rhetoric composition, interpretation of aphorism
Aphorism
An aphorism is an original thought, spoken or written in a laconic and memorable form.The term was first used in the Aphorisms of Hippocrates...

s in wisdom literature, application of mathematics
Egyptian mathematics
Egyptian mathematics is the mathematics that was developed and used in Ancient Egypt from ca. 3000 BC to ca. 300 BC.-Overview:Written evidence of the use of mathematics dates back to at least 3000 BC with the ivory labels found at Tomb Uj at Abydos. These labels appear to have been used as tags for...

 to engineering problems
Ancient Egyptian architecture
The Nile valley has been the site of one of the most influential civilizations which developed a vast array of diverse structures encompassing ancient Egyptian architecture...

 and the calculation of supplies for an army, and the geography of western Asia". Moreover, Wente calls this a "...polemical tractate" that counsels against the rote, mechanical learning of terms for places, professions, and things; for example, it is not acceptable to know just the place names of western Asia, but also important details about its topography
Topography
Topography is the study of Earth's surface shape and features or those ofplanets, moons, and asteroids...

 and routes. To enhance the teaching, the text employs sarcasm and irony.

Biographical and autobiographical texts


Catherine Parke, Professor Emerita of English and Women's Studies at the University of Missouri
University of Missouri
The University of Missouri System is a state university system providing centralized administration for four universities, a health care system, an extension program, five research and technology parks, and a publishing press. More than 64,000 students are currently enrolled at its four campuses...

 in Columbia, Missouri
Columbia, Missouri
Columbia is the fifth-largest city in Missouri, and the largest city in Mid-Missouri. With a population of 108,500 as of the 2010 Census, it is the principal municipality of the Columbia Metropolitan Area, a region of 164,283 residents. The city serves as the county seat of Boone County and as the...

, writes that the earliest "commemorative inscriptions" belong to ancient Egypt and date to the 3rd millennium BC. She writes: "In ancient Egypt the formulaic accounts of Pharaoh's lives praised the continuity of dynastic power. Although typically written in the first person, these pronouncements are public, general testimonials, not personal utterances." She adds that as in these ancient inscriptions, the human urge to "...celebrate, commemorate, and immortalize, the impulse of life against death", is the aim of biographies written today.

Olivier Perdu, a professor of Egyptology
Egyptology
Egyptology is the study of ancient Egyptian history, language, literature, religion, and art from the 5th millennium BC until the end of its native religious practices in the AD 4th century. A practitioner of the discipline is an “Egyptologist”...

 at the Collège de France
Collège de France
The Collège de France is a higher education and research establishment located in Paris, France, in the 5th arrondissement, or Latin Quarter, across the street from the historical campus of La Sorbonne at the intersection of Rue Saint-Jacques and Rue des Écoles...

, states that biographies did not exist in ancient Egypt, and that commemorative writing should be considered autobiographical. Edward L. Greenstein, Professor of Bible at the Tel Aviv University
Tel Aviv University
Tel Aviv University is a public university located in Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv, Israel. With nearly 30,000 students, TAU is Israel's largest university.-History:...

 and Bar-Ilan University
Bar-Ilan University
Bar-Ilan University is a university in Ramat Gan of the Tel Aviv District, Israel.Established in 1955, Bar Ilan is now Israel's second-largest academic institution. It has nearly 26,800 students and 1,350 faculty members...

, disagrees with Perdu's terminology, stating that the ancient world produced no "autobiographies" in the modern sense, and these should be distinguished from 'autobiographical' texts of the ancient world. However, both Perdu and Greenstein assert that autobiographies of the ancient Near East
Ancient Near East
The ancient Near East was the home of early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia , ancient Egypt, ancient Iran The ancient Near East was the home of early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia...

 should not be equated with the modern concept of autobiography.

In her discussion of the Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
The Book of Ecclesiastes, called , is a book of the Hebrew Bible. The English name derives from the Greek translation of the Hebrew title.The main speaker in the book, identified by the name or title Qoheleth , introduces himself as "son of David, king in Jerusalem." The work consists of personal...

of the Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

, Jennifer Koosed, associate professor of Religion at Albright College
Albright College
Albright College is a private, co-ed, liberal arts college affiliated with the United Methodist Church. It was founded in 1856 and is located in Reading, Pennsylvania, United States.-Overview:...

, explains that there is no solid consensus among scholars as to whether true biographies or autobiographies existed in the ancient world. One of the major scholarly arguments against this theory is that the concept of individual
Individual
An individual is a person or any specific object or thing in a collection. Individuality is the state or quality of being an individual; a person separate from other persons and possessing his or her own needs, goals, and desires. Being self expressive...

ity did not exist until the European Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

, prompting Koosed to write "...thus autobiography is made a product of European civilization: Augustine
Augustine of Hippo
Augustine of Hippo , also known as Augustine, St. Augustine, St. Austin, St. Augoustinos, Blessed Augustine, or St. Augustine the Blessed, was Bishop of Hippo Regius . He was a Latin-speaking philosopher and theologian who lived in the Roman Africa Province...

 begat Rosseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer of 18th-century Romanticism. His political philosophy influenced the French Revolution as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological and educational thought.His novel Émile: or, On Education is a treatise...

 begat Henry Adams, and so on". Koosed asserts that the use of first-person "I" in ancient Egyptian commemorative funerary texts should not be taken literally since the supposed author is already dead. Funerary texts should be considered biographical instead of autobiographical. Koosed cautions that the term "biography" applied to such texts is problematic, since they also usually describe the deceased person's experiences of journeying through the afterlife
Duat
In Egyptian mythology, Duat is the underworld. The Duat is a vast area under the Earth, connected with Nun, the waters of the primordial abyss. The Duat is the realm of the god Osiris and the residence of other gods and supernatural beings...

.

Beginning with the funerary stelas for officials of the late Third dynasty
Third dynasty of Egypt
For the Sumerian Renaissance, see Third Dynasty of Ur.The Third Dynasty of ancient Egypt is the first dynasty of the Old Kingdom. Other dynasties of the Old Kingdom include the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth...

, small amounts of biographical detail were added next to the deceased men's titles. However, it was not until the Sixth dynasty
Sixth dynasty of Egypt
The sixth dynasty of ancient Egypt is often combined with Dynasties III, IV and V under the group title the Old Kingdom.-Pharaohs:...

 that narratives of the lives and careers of government officials were inscribed. Tomb biographies became more detailed during the Middle Kingdom, and included information about the deceased person's family. The vast majority of autobiographical texts are dedicated to scribal bureaucrats, but during the New Kingdom some were dedicated to military officers and soldiers. Autobiographical texts of the Late Period place a greater stress upon seeking help from deities than acting righteously to succeed in life. Whereas earlier autobiographical texts exclusively dealt with celebrating successful lives, Late Period autobiographical texts include laments for premature death, similar to the epitaph
Epitaph
An epitaph is a short text honoring a deceased person, strictly speaking that is inscribed on their tombstone or plaque, but also used figuratively. Some are specified by the dead person beforehand, others chosen by those responsible for the burial...

s of ancient Greece.

Decrees, chronicles, king lists, and histories


Modern historians consider that some biographical—or autobiographical—texts are important historical documents. For example, the biographical stelas of military generals in tomb chapels built under Thutmose III provide much of the information known about the wars in Syria
Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

 and Palestine
Palestine
Palestine is a conventional name, among others, used to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands....

. However, the annals of Thutmose III, carved into the walls of several monuments built during his reign, such as those at Karnak, also preserve information about these campaigns. The annals of Ramesses II
Ramesses II
Ramesses II , referred to as Ramesses the Great, was the third Egyptian pharaoh of the Nineteenth dynasty. He is often regarded as the greatest, most celebrated, and most powerful pharaoh of the Egyptian Empire...

 (r. 1279–1213 BC), recounting the Battle of Kadesh
Battle of Kadesh
The Battle of Kadesh took place between the forces of the Egyptian Empire under Ramesses II and the Hittite Empire under Muwatalli II at the city of Kadesh on the Orontes River, in what is now the Syrian Arab Republic....

 against the Hittites
History of the Hittites
Hittites were an ancient people who spoke an Indo-European language and established a kingdom centered in Hattusa in northern Anatolia from the 18th century BC. In the 14th century BC, the Hittite Kingdom was at its height, encompassing central Anatolia, south-western Syria as far as Ugarit, and...

 include, for the first time in Egyptian literature, a narrative epic poem
Epic poetry
An epic is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, and Albert Lord and Milman Parry have argued that classical epics were fundamentally an oral poetic form...

, distinguished from all earlier poetry, which served to celebrate and instruct.

Other documents useful for investigating Egyptian history are ancient lists of kings found in terse chronicle
Chronicle
Generally a chronicle is a historical account of facts and events ranged in chronological order, as in a time line. Typically, equal weight is given for historically important events and local events, the purpose being the recording of events that occurred, seen from the perspective of the...

s, such as the Fifth dynasty
Fifth dynasty of Egypt
The fifth dynasty of ancient Egypt is often combined with Dynasties III, IV and VI under the group title the Old Kingdom. Dynasty V dates approximately from 2494 to 2345 BC.-Rulers:...

 Palermo stone
Palermo stone
The Palermo Stone is a large fragment of a stele known as the Royal Annals of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt. It contains records of the kings of Egypt from the first dynasty through the fifth dynasty....

. These documents legitimated the contemporary pharaoh's claim to sovereignty. Throughout ancient Egyptian history, royal decree
Decree
A decree is a rule of law issued by a head of state , according to certain procedures . It has the force of law...

s recounted the deeds of ruling pharaohs. For example, the Nubia
Nubia
Nubia is a region along the Nile river, which is located in northern Sudan and southern Egypt.There were a number of small Nubian kingdoms throughout the Middle Ages, the last of which collapsed in 1504, when Nubia became divided between Egypt and the Sennar sultanate resulting in the Arabization...

n pharaoh Piye
Piye
Piye, was a Kushite king and founder of the Twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt who ruled Egypt from 747 BCE to 716 BCE according to Peter Clayton. He ruled from the city of Napata, located deep in Nubia, Sudan...

 (r. 752–721 BC), founder of the Twenty-fifth dynasty
Twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt
The twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt, known as the Nubian Dynasty or the Kushite Empire, was the last dynasty of the Third Intermediate Period of Ancient Egypt....

, had a stela erected and written in classical Middle Egyptian that describes with unusual nuances and vivid imagery his successful military campaigns.

An Egyptian historian, known by his Greek name as Manetho
Manetho
Manetho was an Egyptian historian and priest from Sebennytos who lived during the Ptolemaic era, approximately during the 3rd century BC. Manetho wrote the Aegyptiaca...

 (c. 3rd century BC), was the first to compile a comprehensive history of Egypt. Manetho was active during the reign of Ptolemy II (r. 283–246 BC) and used The Histories
Histories (Herodotus)
The Histories of Herodotus is considered one of the seminal works of history in Western literature. Written from the 450s to the 420s BC in the Ionic dialect of classical Greek, The Histories serves as a record of the ancient traditions, politics, geography, and clashes of various cultures that...

by the Greek Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 (c. 484 BC–c. 425 BC) as his main source of inspiration for a history of Egypt written in Greek. However, the primary sources for Manetho's work were the king list chronicles of previous Egyptian dynasties.

Tomb and temple graffiti


Fischer-Elfert distinguishes ancient Egyptian graffiti
Graffiti
Graffiti is the name for images or lettering scratched, scrawled, painted or marked in any manner on property....

 writing as a literary genre. During the New Kingdom, scribes who traveled to ancient sites often left graffiti messages on the walls of sacred mortuary temple
Mortuary temple
Mortuary temples were temples constructed adjacent to, or in the vicinity of, royal tombs in the Ancient Egypt. The temples were designed to commemorate the reign of the pharaoh by whom they were built, as well as for use by the pharaoh's cult after death.-History:Mortuary temples were built...

s and pyramids
Egyptian pyramids
The Egyptian pyramids are ancient pyramid-shaped masonry structures located in Egypt.There are 138 pyramids discovered in Egypt as of 2008. Most were built as tombs for the country's Pharaohs and their consorts during the Old and Middle Kingdom periods.The earliest known Egyptian pyramids are found...

, usually in commemoration of these structures. Modern scholars do not consider these scribes to have been mere tourists, but pilgrim
Pilgrim
A pilgrim is a traveler who is on a journey to a holy place. Typically, this is a physical journeying to some place of special significance to the adherent of a particular religious belief system...

s visiting sacred sites where the extinct cult centers could be used for communicating with the gods. There is evidence from an educational ostracon found in the tomb of Senenmut
Senenmut
Senenmut was an 18th dynasty ancient Egyptian architect and government official. His name translates literally as "mother's brother."- Family :...

 (TT71
TT71
Theban Tomb TT71 is located in the Theban Necropolis, on the west bank of the Nile, opposite to Luxor. It was the tomb chapel of Senenmut, who was the steward and architect of Hatshepsut....

) that formulaic graffiti writing was practiced in scribal schools. In one graffiti message, left at the mortuary temple of Thutmose III at Deir el-Bahri
Deir el-Bahri
Deir el-Bahari or Deir el-Bahri is a complex of mortuary temples and tombs located on the west bank of the Nile, opposite the city of Luxor, Egypt....

, a modified saying from The Maxims of Ptahhotep
The Maxims of Ptahhotep
The Maxims of Ptahhotep or Instruction of Ptahhotep is an ancient literary work attributed to Ptahhotep, a vizier under King Isesi of the Egyptian Fifth Dynasty . It is a collection of maxims and advice in the sebayt genre on human relations, that are directed to his son...

is incorporated into a prayer written on the temple wall. Scribes usually wrote their graffiti in separate clusters to distinguish their graffiti from others'. This led to competition among scribes, who would sometimes denigrate the quality of graffiti inscribed by others, even ancestors from the scribal profession.

Legacy, translation and interpretation



After the Copt
Copt
The Copts are the native Egyptian Christians , a major ethnoreligious group in Egypt....

s converted to Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 in the first centuries AD, their Coptic Christian literature became separated from the pharaonic and Hellenistic
Hellenistic period
The Hellenistic period or Hellenistic era describes the time which followed the conquests of Alexander the Great. It was so named by the historian J. G. Droysen. During this time, Greek cultural influence and power was at its zenith in Europe and Asia...

 literary traditions. Nevertheless, scholars speculate that ancient Egyptian literature, perhaps in oral form, had an impact on Greek
Greek literature
Greek literature refers to writings composed in areas of Greek influence, typically though not necessarily in one of the Greek dialects, throughout the whole period in which the Greek-speaking people have existed.-Ancient Greek literature :...

 and Arabic literature
Arabic literature
Arabic literature is the writing produced, both prose and poetry, by writers in the Arabic language. The Arabic word used for literature is adab which is derived from a meaning of etiquette, and implies politeness, culture and enrichment....

. Parallels are drawn between the Egyptian soldiers sneaking into Jaffa
Jaffa
Jaffa is an ancient port city believed to be one of the oldest in the world. Jaffa was incorporated with Tel Aviv creating the city of Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel. Jaffa is famous for its association with the biblical story of the prophet Jonah.-Etymology:...

 hidden in baskets to capture the city in the story Taking of Joppa and the Mycenae
Mycenae
Mycenae is an archaeological site in Greece, located about 90 km south-west of Athens, in the north-eastern Peloponnese. Argos is 11 km to the south; Corinth, 48 km to the north...

an Greeks sneaking into Troy
Troy
Troy was a city, both factual and legendary, located in northwest Anatolia in what is now Turkey, southeast of the Dardanelles and beside Mount Ida...

 inside the Trojan Horse
Trojan Horse
The Trojan Horse is a tale from the Trojan War about the stratagem that allowed the Greeks finally to enter the city of Troy and end the conflict. In the canonical version, after a fruitless 10-year siege, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse, and hid a select force of men inside...

 in Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

's Iliad
Iliad
The Iliad is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles...

. The Taking of Joppa has also been compared to the Arabic story of Ali Baba
Ali Baba
Ali Baba is a fictional character from medieval Arabic literature. He is described in the adventure tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves...

 in One Thousand and One Nights. It has been conjectured that Sinbad the Sailor
Sinbad the Sailor
Sinbad the Sailor is a fictional sailor from Basrah, living during the Abbasid Caliphate – the hero of a story-cycle of Middle Eastern origin...

may have been inspired by the pharaonic Tale of the shipwrecked sailor. Some Egyptian literature was commented on by scholars of the ancient world. For example, the Jewish Roman historian Josephus
Josephus
Titus Flavius Josephus , also called Joseph ben Matityahu , was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, which resulted in the Destruction of...

 (37 –c. 100 AD) quoted and provided commentary on Manetho's historical texts.

The most recently carved hieroglyphic inscription of ancient Egypt known today is found in a temple of Philae
Philae
Philae is an island in the Nile River and the previous site of an Ancient Egyptian temple complex in southern Egypt...

, dated precisely to 394 AD during the reign of Theodosius I
Theodosius I
Theodosius I , also known as Theodosius the Great, was Roman Emperor from 379 to 395. Theodosius was the last emperor to rule over both the eastern and the western halves of the Roman Empire. During his reign, the Goths secured control of Illyricum after the Gothic War, establishing their homeland...

 (r. 379–395 AD). In the 4th century AD, the Hellenized
Hellenistic civilization
Hellenistic civilization represents the zenith of Greek influence in the ancient world from 323 BCE to about 146 BCE...

 Egyptian Horapollo
Horapollo
Horapollo is supposed author of a treatise on Egyptian hieroglyphs, extant in a Greek translation by one Philippus, titled Hieroglyphica, dating to about the 5th century.-Horapollo:...

 compiled a survey of almost two hundred Egyptian hieroglyphs and provided his interpretation of their meanings, although his understanding was limited and he was unaware of the phonetic uses of each hieroglyph. This survey was apparently lost until 1415, when the Italian Cristoforo Buondelmonti
Cristoforo Buondelmonti
Cristoforo Buondelmonti was an Italian monk and traveler, and a pioneer in promoting first-hand knowledge of Greece and its antiquities throughout the Western world....

 acquired it at the island of Andros
Andros
Andros, or Andro is the northernmost island of the Greek Cyclades archipelago, approximately south east of Euboea, and about north of Tinos. It is nearly long, and its greatest breadth is . Its surface is for the most part mountainous, with many fruitful and well-watered valleys. The area is...

. Athanasius Kircher
Athanasius Kircher
Athanasius Kircher was a 17th century German Jesuit scholar who published around 40 works, most notably in the fields of oriental studies, geology, and medicine...

 (1601–1680) was the first in Europe to realize that Coptic
Coptic language
Coptic or Coptic Egyptian is the current stage of the Egyptian language, a northern Afro-Asiatic language spoken in Egypt until at least the 17th century. Egyptian began to be written using the Greek alphabet in the 1st century...

 was a direct linguistic descendant of ancient Egyptian. In his Oedipus Aegyptiacus
Oedipus Aegyptiacus
Oedipus Aegyptiacus is Athanasius Kircher's supreme work of Egyptology.The three full folio tomes of ornate illustrations and diagrams were published in Rome over the period 1652–54...

, he made the first concerted European effort to interpret the meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphs, albeit based on symbolic inferences.

It was not until 1799, with the Napoleonic discovery of a trilingual (i.e. hieroglyphic, Demotic, Greek) stela inscription on the Rosetta Stone
Rosetta Stone
The Rosetta Stone is an ancient Egyptian granodiorite stele inscribed with a decree issued at Memphis in 196 BC on behalf of King Ptolemy V. The decree appears in three scripts: the upper text is Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the middle portion Demotic script, and the lowest Ancient Greek...

, that modern scholars were able to decipher ancient Egyptian literature. The first major effort to translate the hieroglyphs of the Rosetta Stone was made by Jean-François Champollion
Jean-François Champollion
Jean-François Champollion was a French classical scholar, philologist and orientalist, decipherer of the Egyptian hieroglyphs....

 (1790–1832) in 1822. The earliest translation efforts of Egyptian literature during the 19th century were attempts to confirm Biblical events
The Bible and history
The Bible from a historical perspective, includes numerous fields of study, ranging from archeology and astronomy to linguistics and methods of comparative literature. The Bible may provide insight into pursuits, including but not limited to; our understanding of ancient and modern culture,...

.

Before the 1970s, scholarly consensus was that ancient Egyptian literature—although sharing similarities with modern literary categories—was not an independent discourse, uninfluenced by the ancient sociopolitical order. However, from the 1970s onwards, a growing number of historians and literary scholars have questioned this theory. While scholars before the 1970s treated ancient Egyptian literary works as viable historical sources that accurately reflected the conditions of this ancient society, scholars now caution against this approach. Scholars are increasingly using a multifaceted hermeneutic approach to the study of individual literary works, in which not only the style and content, but also the cultural, social and historical context of the work are taken into account. Individual works can then be used as case studies for reconstructing the main features of ancient Egyptian literary discourse.

External links