Essential Classics: Ancient Egyptian Literature

Miriam Lichtheim has collected a lot of ancient Egyptian writings into three slim (200+ pages each) volumes, covering the Old and Middle Kingdoms, the New Kingdom and the Late Period.  There are a lot of reasons you should read the literature of old Egypt, and here are some:

  • It sheds light on the Bible, and therefore on the early history of Bible-related, Abrahamic religions.
  • We don’t see back any further than Egypt (and Sumeria and a few other coeval cultures), so these writings are, practically speaking, the roots of our civilization.
  • All writing constitutes, in some sense, the field notes of the human species.  Living an informed life requires that we check our predecessors’ logs and adjust our own course accordingly.
  • This is a blog about writing, so here’s the writer’s point: in ancient Egypt, we see a lot of writing firsts, and a lot of things written really well.  The Story of Wenamun, for instance, is a historical novel that predates Homer by several hundred years (and the Tale of Genji by thousands).  Ramses II’s account of the Battle of Kadesh is an important primary source for a pivotal historical event, and is also a piece of blatant and entertaining propaganda, which claims that the Pharaoh’s men all fled and he fought off the enemy hordes single-handed.  It’s a great piece of writing for insight into the psychology of kings, and the need many of them have shown to claim the mantle of military hero.

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One Response to Essential Classics: Ancient Egyptian Literature

  1. Kevin says:

    Great tip, I concur!

    Merry Christmas to you and your family!

    Kevin

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