Egypt Literature Part V

By | January 18, 2022

Probably the Egyptian mythology was one of the richest in the world; but for now almost only allusions in the texts remain. Worthy of mention is the myth, preserved in three royal Theban tombs, which refers to the destruction of men, guilty of having offended the gods, and the retreat of these to heaven. Another, on a papyrus of Turin, tells how the shrewd goddess Ese, being the sun-god Rîe in pain from the bite of a snake, managed to have the true divine name revealed, which was endowed with a lot of magical power. Still another (copied in 310 BC) concerns the origin of the world and the fight against the serpent Apôpe. In the temple of Edfu the war of the sun against its enemies was told; pretext to interpret the rites and temples for the glory of the local god. The sanctuary of Per-śq̂pṭe was put by a legend in relation with the primordî and with the gods Šôw and Gêbb, the last of whom would have reigned there. A myth told of the adventures of the solar eye, a goddess, who went out to a foreign land to destroy the rebels against the god. Even of the theological literature, probably copious, only one example remains, a treatise contained in a black granite stone in the British Museum. The archaic text dates back to the 1st dynasty and, copied at the time of Šabako from a manuscript on worm-eaten skin, is composed in honor of the Memphite god Ptah, said creator of the world. An essay of the same kind offers Chapter XVII of the Book of the Dead. The text, in which the deceased is assimilated to the heliopolitan god Atûm, is commented step by step in various ways, introducing the glosses with the question: “Who is this?”.

According to, something was saved from the liturgy. The so-called “Ritual of daily worship” concerns the ceremonies performed in the morning in front of the tabernacle of the divinities; the “Ritual of the offerings”, partly copied in the pyramids of Saqqārah, offers the liturgy with which the deceased king was nourished, assimilated to the god Osiris. The “Book of the opening of the mouth” is the collection of the formulas recited on the dead man (and in his absence repeated on his statue) to restore the use of the senses to the body. The “Ritual of embalming” is connected to the wrapping of the corpse. Other rituals are related to the cult of Osiris. We have also been handed down the funeral lament that was made for the death of that god and which resembles the lullabies of the mourners. A papyrus found at Ramesseo reports the mimed ceremonies (the drama, as has been said), which were done for the elevation to the throne of the pharaoh. In Cairo and Turin there is a papyrus with the funerary liturgy for King Amenḥq̂tpe I.

Many documents in the tombs and often the stelae, manifest the different ideas about the afterlife and the hopes nurtured. A great part of the literary activity of the Egyptians turned to magic. Museums are full of magical texts, especially from the 19th dynasty onwards; it has been said that some of the medical papyri are also regurgitated by formulas. Some at least deserve to be remembered. One, in Berlin (b. 3027), is a collection of spells to combat the diseases of children and mothers. The Harris papyrus n. 501 (British Museum, no.10.042). Against the bites of snakes and scorpions, so frequent and lethal in Egypt, there is it was a collection of formulas (ancient for the language) which can often be seen in part or in whole reproduced on stelae of the low times, where the god Ḥôr is represented, trampling crocodiles and grabbing reptiles in his hand. The Berlin museum recently came into possession of numerous shards that belonged to vases, on which curses were repeated against the enemies of an Egyptian king (Nubians, Asians, Libîs, Egyptians) and which had then been smashed by imitative magic. They should belong to the end of the 11th dynasty. The so-called “Texts of the Pyramids” found in the pyramids of the last king of the fifth dynasty and of the first four of the sixth dynasty in Saqqārah must be ascribed to the magical-religious genre. Largely archaic, as we have said, they are a conspicuous collection of formulas, more than 700, with which one must procure the well-being of the deceased, provide for his needs, most of all food, make him go up to heaven, get him a place among the gods, fight every obstacle. Some passages were also copied later in Saitic-Ptolemaic papyri (Berlin, London, Turin). Identical are the so-called “Texts of the Sarcophagi”, which were drawn on the chests of the IX-XII dynasty. Later the habit arose of transcribing them on canvas and papyrus to place them next to the corpse. In this case they are called by Egyptologists, with an unfortunate name, “Book of the dead”. The number of chapters, or rather of the formulas, varies from manuscript to manuscript and so does the order. In the Empire it was fashionable to adorn texts with cartoons, which are often true masterpieces of art. In the Saitic-Ptolemaic time a canonical redaction was formed of which the most complete example is the Ef’onh papyrus in the Turin museum (n. 1791), 19 meters long and containing 165 chapters, from the Ptolemaic age. In these times, with the revival of archaic things, other compositions appear which, at least in part, date back to antiquity, such as the one called “May my name become firm”, which was already in the texts of the Pyramids. The “Book to breathe” and the “Book to spend eternity” also appear frequently. With the topography of the hereafter are connected: the “Book of the two ways” (already in the texts of the sarcophagi), the “Book of what is in the Tê’e”, which is a sometimes illustrated guide of the twelve caverns that the sun crosses the night to pass from the west to the Orient. The names of them, the measures, the residents, the different crews that guide the solar boat, must have been known by the dead. Even the “Book of Doors”, written like the previous species on the walls of the Theban royal tombs, makes known the geniuses who are placed to guard the 12 pillars of the underworld. It is often accompanied by “The descent of the Sun into the Tê’e”, which illustrates the same journey, and the “Litany of the sun”, a list of the 75 names of the god that the dead must invoke in the evening.

Egypt Literature 5