Ancient Civilizations > Egypt > Egyptian Literature




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


Aldine House, Bedford Street, W.C.



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

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

In selecting the texts for translation in this book an attempt has been made to include compositions that are not only the best of their kind, but that also illustrate the most important branches of Egyptian Literature. Among these religious, mythological, and moral works bulk largely, and in many respects these represent the peculiar bias of the mind of the ancient Egyptian better than compositions of a purely historical character. No man was more alive to his own material interests, but no man has ever valued the things of this world less in comparison with the salvation of his soul and the preservation of his physical body. The immediate result of this was a perpetual demand on his part for information concerning the Other World, and for guidance during his life in this world. The priests attempted to satisfy his craving for information by composing the Books of the Dead and the other funerary works with which we are acquainted, and the popularity of these works seems to show that they succeeded. From the earliest times the Egyptians regarded a life of moral excellence upon earth as a necessary introduction to the life which he hoped to live with the blessed in heaven. And even in pyramid times he conceived the idea of the existence of a God Who judged rightly, and Who set "right in the place of wrong." This fact accounts for the reverence in which he held the Precepts of Ptah-hetep, Kaqemna, Herutataf, Amenemhāt I, Ani, Tuauf, Amen-hetep, and other sages. To him, as to all Africans, the Other World was a very real thing, and death and the Last Judgment were common subjects of his daily thoughts. The great antiquity of this characteristic of the Egyptian is proved by a passage in a Book of Precepts, which was written by a king of the ninth or tenth dynasty for his son, who reigned under the name of Merikarā. The royal writer in it reminds his son that the Chiefs [of Osiris] [vii]who judge sinners perform their duty with merciless justice on the Day of Judgment. It is useless to assume that length of years will be accepted by them as a plea of justification. With them the lifetime of a man is only regarded as a moment. After death these Chiefs must be faced, and the only things that they will consider will be his works. Life in the Other World is for ever, and only the reckless fool forgets this fact. The man who has led a life free from lies and deceit shall live after death like a god.

The reader who wishes to continue his studies of Egyptian Literature will find abundant material in the list of works given on pp. 256-8.


British Museum,
April 17, 1914.



The Elysian Fields of the Egyptians according to the Papyrus of Ani.
The Elysian Fields of the Egyptians according to the Papyrus of Ani.
1. Ani adoring the gods of Sekhet-Aaru.3. Ani ploughing in the Other World.
2. Ani reaping in the Other World.4. The abode of the perfect spirits, and the magical boats.
I.  Thoth, the Author of Egyptian Literature.
Writing Materials, Papyrus, Ink and Ink-pot, Palette, &c.
II.  The Pyramid Texts:9
The Book of Opening the Mouth13
The Liturgy of Funerary Offerings16
Hymns to the Sky-goddess and Sun-god18
The King in Heaven20
The Hunting and Slaughter of the Gods by the King21
III.  Stories of Magicians who Lived under the Ancient Empire:25
Ubaaner and the Wax Crocodile25
The Magician Tchatchamānkh and the Gold Ornament27
Teta, who restored Life to Dead Animals, &c.29
Rut-tetet and the Three Sons of Rā33
IV.  The Book of the Dead:37
Summary of Chapters42
Hymns, Litany, and Extracts from the Book of the Dead44
The Great Judgment51
V.  Books of the Dead of the Græco-Roman Period:59
Book of Breathings59
Book of Traversing Eternity61
The Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys62
The Festival Songs of Isis and Nephthys64
The Book of Making Splendid the Spirit of Osiris64
VI.  The Egyptian Story of the Creation67
VII.  Legends of the Gods:71
The Destruction of Mankind71
The Legend of Rā and Isis74
The Legend of Horus of Behutet77
The Legend of Khnemu and the Seven Years' Famine83
The Legend of the Wanderings of Isis87
The Legend of the Princess of Bekhten92
VIII.  Historical Literature:98
Extract from the Palermo Stone100
Edict against the Blacks101
Inscription of Usertsen III at Semnah101
Campaign of Thothmes II in the Sūdān102
Capture of Megiddo by Thothmes III103
The Conquests of Thothmes III summarised by Amen-Rā106
Summary of the Reign of Rameses III110
The Invasion and Conquest of Egypt by Piānkhi116
IX.  Autobiographical Literature:126
The Autobiography of Una127
The Autobiography of Herkhuf131
The Autobiography of Ameni Amenemhāt135
The Autobiography of Thetha137
The Autobiography of Amasis, the Naval Officer140
The Autobiography of Amasis, surnamed Pen-Nekheb143
The Autobiography of Tehuti, the Erpā145
The Autobiography of Thaiemhetep149
X.  Tales of Travel and Adventure:155
The Story of Sanehat155
The Story of the Educated Peasant Khuenanpu169
The Journey of the Priest Unu-Amen into Syria185
XI.  Fairy Tales:196
The Tale of the Two Brothers196
The Story of the Shipwrecked Traveller207
XII.  Egyptian Hymns to the Gods:214
Hymn to Amen-Rā214
Hymn to Amen219
Hymn to the Sun-god220
Hymn to Osiris221
Hymn to Shu222
XIII.  Moral and Philosophical Literature:224
The Precepts of Ptah-hetep225
The Maxims of Ani228
The Talk of a Man who was tired of Life with His Soul231
The Lament of Khakhepersenb, surnamed Ankhu235
The Lament of Apuur236
XIV.  Egyptian Poetical Compositions:241
The Poem in the Tomb of Antuf242
XV.  Miscellaneous Literature:244
The Book of Two Ways244
The Book "Am Tuat"244
The Book of Gates246
The Ritual of Embalmment247
The Ritual of the Divine Cult248
The Book "May My Name Flourish"250
The Book of Āapep250
The Instructions of Tuauf250
Medical Papyri252
Magical Papyri252
Legal Documents253
Historical Romances254
Mathematical Papyri254
Editions of Egyptian Texts, Translations, &c.256



The Elysian Fields of the EgyptiansFrontispiece
Thoth, the Scribe of the Gods3
Thoth and Amen-Rā succouring Isis5
Egyptian Writing PalettesTo face6
Vignette from the Book of the Dead (Chapter XCII)To face42
Her-Heru and Queen Netchemet reciting a HymnTo face44
Her-Heru and Queen Netchemet standing in the Hall of OsirisTo face52
Stele relating the Story of the Healing of Bentresht94
Stele on which is cut the Speech of Amen-Rā107
A Page from the Great Harris PapyrusTo face110
Stele on which is cut the Autobiography of Thaiemhetep150
A Page of the Tale of the Two BrothersTo face196