Ancient Egyptian Offering Basin

Ancient Egyptian Offering Basin

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Ancient Basin mainly consists of rocks and fossils with occasional roots scattered throughout the area. A Tram is located in the north part which leads to Deepnest and Kingdom's Edge. The western part of the Tram tunnel can be accessed and contains a rare Pale Ore.

A fountain with a statue of the Pale King in the central area of Ancient Basin grants a Vessel Fragment if a sum total of 3000 is dropped in it. If more geo than necessary is dropped, the remaining amount is not lost.

The western side of Ancient Basin is the most heavily Infected, littered with spikes, bulbs of Infection, and Infected enemies such as Infected Balloons. The boss Broken Vessel can be encountered here. After it is defeated, the Monarch Wings can be found at the end of this area.

The Palace Grounds are located in the eastern part of Ancient Basin, an area which can only be accessed with the Monarch Wings. This also contains a hidden Stag Station.

All the way at the bottom of Ancient Basin is the locked door which leads to the Abyss.

Former location of White Palace

An ancient area, Ancient Basin is filled with old structures and roads that were formed as if the rock itself possessed a will. Ώ]

The Pale King built his palace in Ancient Basin, and it was from there that the kingdom of Hallownest spread. ΐ] He ruled Hallownest from the White Palace, rarely leaving it. Α] The palace disappeared together with the Pale King after the Infection reappeared. ΐ]

The ancient Egypt/Nile Valley Origins of Bantu Speakers

Contrary to the popular belief that Bantus speakers of Southern, Central and Eastern Africa originated in modern day Cameroon or West Africa, most if not all Bantu and Niger-Congo speakers (Western Africa) have an oral tradition which maintains that they came from the North (in the case Bantu speakers) and that they came from the East/Nile Valley (West Africans). Here is an interesting article on the evidence suggesting this in the case of the Bantu Speakers:


For the first time ever the set of hieroglyphics above leaves an indelible print which traces back the existence of the Bantu people during ancient times in the Sudan and Egypt. The following variations in pronunciation of the word 'Bantu' give an insight on how the word may have been pronounced in different Bantu languages. The list of the various pronunciations was provided by Israel Ntangazwa. Some of the variations in pronunciation are new to me.


The Niger-Congo hypothesis developed by Joseph Greenberg on Bantu languages state that the Bantu originated in West Africa, the Cameroon, and migrated across the the Congo basin into Southern and East Africa.
Guthrie on the other hand did not commit himself but said that the Bantu dispersal lies within an elliptical area towards the centre, in the woodland region of Katanga.
The Niger-Congo hypothesis needs to be re-examined further as one has to take into account oral traditions from groups of present day Kenyan Bantu elders who recall a southerly migration from Egypt.
The following sources of accounts of migrations of some of the Bantu speakers in Kenya are taken from:

i) Kenya an official handbook
ii) Story of Africa from earliest times, Book one, A.J Willis
iii) Longman GHC, E.S Atieno Odhimbo, John N. B. N. I Were
Almost all the Bantu people living in Kenya speak of a migration from up North. The people of Marachi location are known to have come from Elgon although other clans of the same group came from Egypt. They came in canoes on the River Nile as far as Juja, Uganda and later moved eastward into lake Victoria. They changed course until Asembo and separated with the Luo who walked along the lake shore but the rest crossed into South Nyanza. They then turned northwards and reached Butere and then moved on to Luanda and to Ekhomo. The Luo people were behind them right from Egypt.

The Luhya oral literature of origin, suggest a migration into their present-day locations from the north. Virtually all sub-ethnic groups claim to have migrated first south from Misri, or Egypt. In one of the Luhya dialect the word 'Abaluhya' means 'the people of the North', or 'Northerns'

Other sources report that the following Bantu people, the Luhya, Baganda, Nyarwanda, Rundi of Burindi, Kikuyu, and the Zulu all claim a southerly migration from Egypt. Moreover there are many groups of Bantu speakers from Tanzania, Mozambique, Congo, Zambia, Malawi, South Africa, who testify a southerly migration from Egypt. There are even groups of people from West Africa who migrated from Egypt into their present day location.

Apart from the oral traditions provided by Bantu elders, the evidence is also based on linguistic, historical, scientific and cultural studies done by Cheikh Anta Diop.

The following maps are taken from Alfred M M'Imanyara 'The Restatement of Bantu Origin and Meru History' published by Longman Kenya, ISBN 9966 49 832 x

According to Alfred M M'Imanyra the following maps show the homeland of the original Bantu people in Egypt. This careful information has been derived from traditional sources provided by Bantu elders in the course of his research. I would like to support Alfred M M'Imanyara's work by sharing with him the important discovery of the of hieroglyphics above which mentions a Sudanic town of unknown situation. Clearly the town would have to be named after the people inhabiting the town, the 'BANTU' orthe 'BATU', the people.

Note: The settlements of the Bantu in West Africa may have been a result of two streams of Bantu emigrants: one from the Congo basin and the other directly from the Nile valley.

Genetic evidence supports this migration as well:

Note the migration directly from the Nile Valley into Western Africa which was noted at the end of the article:


Here are a few random cultural, religious, and linguistic similarities that between the ancient Egyptians and their descendants scattered throughout tropical Africa:

On the far left, is an ancient Egyptian "paddle" doll, courtesy of the British Museum in the middle, we have Ashanti examples of the fertility doll, and third image is yet another example of fertility dolls common amongst the Akan.

Fertility dolls are a fairly common theme in Africa, from the Akan speaking groups of Ghana to the Donguena, Evale, Hakawama, Himba, Humbe, Kwanyama, Mukubal, Mwila, Ndimba, Ngambwe, Ovambo and Zemba people of the semi-desert areas of Angola for example, and it appear that the ancient Egyptians were no different in this aspect.

More Links this time in the form of serekhs in both cases by an object or an animal and while the Kemetic symbols developed into a full writing system where the name could be read,the Beninese kings used theirs as a memory device.

Prince Gagni Xesu (1620) is symbolised by a bird and a drum.

Dyn 0 Kemet King Scorpion.

King Hwegbeadja (1645–1680) is represented by a fish and a fyke net.

Notes on one of the earliest civilization on Earth (Nigeria)


Old Kingdom Pharoaohs

Menes (First King of Kemet/Egypt)


Let's look at some Yoruba (largest ethnic group in Nigeria) Connections:

Yoruba Child of Obatala

The first one is a sculpture of a Yoruba figure called a Child of Obatala. Obatala is a Yoruba god. And the second one is the Egyptian god Bes. the third one is from the Kongo And all three are wearing a skull necklace.

The God Bes is connected to the Ba-Twa commonly known as Pygmies they were brought to Kush and Kemet to do the dances of the Gods,this pre-supposed some ancestral connections with that area especially when we factor in the Mountains of the moon and the source of the Nile

Ancient Egyptians and Yoruba Necklaces WITH the same Ram's head

Here are some Yoruba words which are rooted in ancient Egyptian:

1. Wu (rise) Wu (rise)
2. Ausa (Osiris, father of the gods) Ausa (father)
3. Ere (python/ Serpent) Ere (Python / Serpent)
4. Horise (a great god) Orise (a great god)
5. Sen (group of worshippers) Sen ( to worship)
6. Ged (to chant0 Igede (a chant)
7. Ta (sell / offer) Ta (sell/offer)
8. Sueg (a fool) Suegbe (a fool)
9. On ( living person) One ( living person)
10. Kum (a club) Kumo( a club)
11. Enru (fear / terrible) Eru (fear / terrible
12. Kun / qun (brave man) Ekun (title of a brave man)
13. Win (to be) Wino (to be)
14. Odonit (festival) Odon (festival)
15. Ma or mi (to breath) Mi. (to breathe)
16. Tebu (a town) Tebu (a town)
17. Adumu (a water god) Adumu (a water god)
18. Khu (to kill) Ku (die)
19. Rekha (knowledge> Larikha (knowledge)
20 Hika (evil) Ika (evil)
21 Mhebi (humble) Mebi, humble to ones family
22 Sata (perfect) Santan (perfect)
23 Unas (lake of fire) Una (fire)
24 Tan (complete) Tan (complete)
25 Beru (force of emotion) Beru (fear)
26 Em (smell) Emi (smell)
27 Pa (open) Pa (break open)
28 Bi (to become) Bi (to give birth, to become)
29 Hepi (a water god) Ipi (a water god)
30 Sami (water god) Sami (a water god)
31 Osiri (a water god) Oshiri (a water god)
32 Heqet &#8211 Re (frog deity) Ekere (the frog)
33 Feh (to go away) Feh (to blow away)
34 Kot (build) Ko (build)
35 Kot (boat) Oko (boat)
36 Omi (water) Omi (water)
37 Ra (time) Ira (time)
38 Oni (title of Osiris) Oni (title of the king of Ife)
39 Budo (dwelling place) Budo (dwelling place)
40 Dudu (black image of Osiris) Dudu (black person)
41 Un (living person) Una (living person)
42 Ra (possess) Ra (possess/buy)
43 Beka (pray/confess) Be or ka (to pray or confess)
44 Po (many) Po (many/cheap)
45 Horuw (head) middle Egyptian Oruwo (head) (Ijebu)
46 Min (a god) Emin (spirit)
47 Ash (invocation) Ashe (invocation)
48 Aru (mouth) Arun (mouth ) Ilaje
49 Do (river) Odo (river)
50 Do (settlement) Udo (settlement)
51 Shekiri (water god) Shekiri (a water god)
52 Bu (a place) Bu ,a place
53 Khepara (beetle Akpakara (beetle)
54 No (a water god Eno (a water god)
55 Ra -Shu (light after darkness Uran-shu (the light of the moon
56 Run-ka (spirit name) Oruko (name)
57 Deb/dib to pierce Dibi (to pierce)
58 Maat (goddess of justice Mate (goddess of justice)
59 Aru (rise) Ru (rise up)
60 Fa (carry) Fa (pull)
61 Kaf (pluck) Ka (pluck)
62 Bu bi (evil place) Bubi (evil place)
63 In- n (negation In-n (negation)
64 Iset (a water god) Ise (a water god)
65 Shabu (watcher) Ashonbo (watcher)
66 Semati (door keeper) Sema (lock/shut the door)
67 Khenti amenti (big words of Osiris Yenti &#8211 yenti (big, very big)
68 Ma (to know) Ma (to know)
69 Bebi, a son of osiris) Ube, a god
70 Tchatcha chief (they examined the death to see if they tricked tsatsa (a game of tricks, gambling )
71 Ren( animal foot) Ren (to walk)
72 Ka (rest) Ka (rest/tired)
73 Mu (water) Mu (drink water)
74 Abi (against) Ubi (against / impediment)
75 Reti (to beseech) Retin (to listen)
76 Hir (praise) Yiri (praise)
77 Ta(spread out) Ta (spread out)
78 Kurud (round) Kurudu (round)
79 Ak &#8211 male Ako (male)
80 Se &#8211 to create Se (to create)
81 Hoo (rejoice) Yo (rejoice)
82 Kamwr (black) Kuru (extremely black
83 Omitjener (deep water) Omijen (deep water)
84 Nen, the primeval water mother) Nene (mother
85 Ta (land) Ita (land junction)
86 Horiwo (head) Oriwo (head)
87 Ro (talk) Ro (to think)
88 Kurubu (round) Kurubu (deep and round)
89 Penka (divide) Kpen (divide)
90 Ma-su (to mould) Ma or su (to mould)
91 Osa (time) Osa (time)
92 Osa (tide) Osa ( tide)
93 Fare (wrap) Fari (wrap)
94 Kom (complete) Kon (complete)
95 Edjo (cobra) Edjo (cobra)
96 Didi (red fruit) Diden (red)
97 Ba (soul) Oba (king) soul of a people
98 Ke (hill) Oke( hill
99 Anubis (evil deity) Onubi (evil person)
100 Kan (one: Middle Egyptian) Okan one)
101 Nam (water god) Inama (water god)


The Nile and field planting Edit

The civilization of ancient Egypt developed in the arid climate of northern Africa. This region is distinguished by the Arabian and Libyan deserts, [3] and the River Nile. The Nile is the longest river in the world, flowing northward from Lake Victoria and eventually emptying into the Mediterranean Sea. The Nile has two main tributaries: the Blue Nile which originates in Ethiopia, and the White Nile that flows from Uganda. While the White Nile is considered to be longer and easier to traverse, the Blue Nile actually carries about two-thirds of the water volume of the river. The names of the tributaries derive from the color of the water that they carry. The tributaries come together in Khartoum and branches again when it reaches Egypt, forming the Nile delta. [4]

The Egyptians took advantage of the natural cyclical flooding pattern of the Nile. Because this flooding happened fairly predictably, the Egyptians were able to develop their agricultural practices around it. The water levels of the river would rise in August and September, leaving the floodplain and delta submerged by 1.5 meters of water at the peak of the flooding. This yearly flooding of the river is known as inundation. As the floodwaters receded in October, farmers were left with well-watered and fertile soil in which to plant their crops. The soil left behind by the flooding is known as silt and was brought from Ethiopian Highlands by the Nile. Planting took place in October once the flooding was over, and crops were left to grow with minimal care until they ripened between the months of March and May. While the flooding of the Nile was much more predictable and calm than other rivers, such as the Tigris and Euphrates, it was not always perfect. High floodwaters were destructive and could destroy canals that were made for irrigation. Lack of flooding created a potentially greater issue because it left Egyptians suffering from famine. [5]

Irrigation systems Edit

To make the best use of the waters of the Nile river, the Egyptians developed systems of irrigation. Irrigation allowed the Egyptians to use the Nile's waters for a variety of purposes. Notably, irrigation granted them greater control over their agricultural practices. [1] Floodwaters were diverted away from certain areas, such as cities and gardens, to keep them from flooding. Irrigation was also used to provide drinking water to Egyptians. Despite the fact that irrigation was crucial to their agricultural success, there were no statewide regulations on water control. Rather, irrigation was the responsibility of local farmers. However, the earliest and most famous reference to irrigation in Egyptian archaeology has been found on the mace head of the Scorpion King, which has been roughly dated to about 3100 BC. The mace head depicts the king cutting into a ditch that is part of a grid of basin irrigation. The association of the high ranking king with irrigation highlights the importance of irrigation and agriculture to their society. [5]

Basin irrigation Edit

Egyptians developed and utilized a form of water management known as basin irrigation. This practice allowed them to control the rise and fall of the river to best suit their agricultural needs. A crisscross network of earthen walls was formed in a field of crops that would be flooded by the river. When the floods came, the water would be trapped in the basins formed by the walls. This grid would hold water longer than it would have naturally stayed, allowing the earth to become fully saturated for later planting. Once the soil was fully watered, the floodwater that remained in the basin would simply be drained to another basin that was in need of more water. [5]

Horticulture Edit

Orchards and gardens were also developed in addition to field planting in the floodplains. This horticulture generally took place further from the floodplain of the Nile, and as a result, they required much more work. [6] The perennial irrigation required by gardens forced growers to manually carry water from either a well or the Nile to water their garden crops. Additionally, while the Nile brought silt which naturally fertilized the valley, gardens had to be fertilized by pigeon manure. These gardens and orchards were generally used to grow vegetables, vines and fruit trees. [7]

Food crops Edit

The Egyptians grew a variety of crops for consumption, including grains, vegetables and fruits. However, their diets revolved around several staple crops, especially cereals and barley. Other major grains grown included einkorn wheat and emmer wheat, grown to make bread. Other staples for the majority of the population included beans, lentils, and later chickpeas and fava beans. Root crops, such as onions, garlic and radishes were grown, along with salad crops, such as lettuce and parsley. [2]

Fruits were a common motif of Egyptian artwork, suggesting that their growth was also a major focus of agricultural efforts as the civilization's agricultural technology developed. Unlike cereals and pulses, fruit required more demanding and complex agricultural techniques, including the use of irrigation systems, cloning, propagation and training. While the first fruits cultivated by the Egyptians were likely indigenous, such as the palm date and sorghum, more fruits were introduced as other cultural influences were introduced. Grapes and watermelon were found throughout predynastic Egyptian sites, as were the sycamore fig, dom palm and Christ's thorn. The carob, olive, apple and pomegranate were introduced to Egyptians during the New Kingdom. Later, during the Greco-Roman period peaches and pears were also introduced. [8]

Industrial and fiber crops Edit

Egyptians relied on agriculture for more than just the production of food. They were creative in their use of plants, using them for medicine, as part of their religious practices, and in the production of clothing. Herbs perhaps had the most varied purposes they were used in cooking, medicine, as cosmetics and in the process of embalming. Over 2000 different species of flowering or aromatic plants have been found in tombs. [2] Papyrus was an extremely versatile crop that grew wild and was also cultivated. [9] The roots of the plant were eaten as food, but it was primarily used as an industrial crop. The stem of the plant was used to make boats, mats, and paper. Flax was another important industrial crop that had several uses. Its primary use was in the production of rope, and for linen which was the Egyptians' principal material for making their clothing. Henna was grown for the production of dye. [2]

Cattle Edit

Ancient Egyptian cattle were of four principal different types: long-horned, short-horned, polled and zebuine. [10] The earliest evidence for cattle in Egypt is from the Fayoum region, dating back to the fifth millennium BC. [10] In the New Kingdom, hump-backed zebuine cattle from Syria were introduced to Egypt, and seem to have replaced earlier types. [10]

Chickens Edit

Manmade hatching ovens, called Egyptian egg ovens, date back to the 4th century BC and were used to mass produce chickens. [11]

In ancient Egypt, religion was a highly important aspect of daily life. Many of the Egyptians' religious observances were centered on their observations of the environment, the Nile and agriculture. They used religion as a way to explain natural phenomena, such as the cyclical flooding of the Nile and agricultural yields. [12]

Although the Nile was directly responsible for either good or bad fortune experienced by the Egyptians, they did not worship the Nile itself. Rather, they thanked specific gods for any good fortune. They did not have a name for the river and simply referred to it as "River". The term "Nile" is not of Egyptian origin. [9]

Gods Edit

The Egyptians personified the inundation with the creation of the god called Hapi. Despite the fact that inundation was crucial to their survival, Hapi was not considered to be a major god. [9] He was depicted as an overweight figure who ironically made offerings of water and other products of abundance to pharaohs. [6] A temple was never built specifically for Hapi, but he was worshipped as inundation began by making sacrifices and the singing of hymns. [9]

The god Osiris was also closely associated with the Nile and the fertility of the land. During inundation festivals, mud figures of Osiris were planted with barley. [9]

Ancient Egyptian Offering Basin - History

see the god
in the hall underneath the trees

the Egyptian temple

"In ancient Egypt, festivals were celebrated (completely or partially) in temples. These were pure and sacred places, where (some) humans could approach the deities. Thus, it is very important to be clear about the character that the temples possessed as single entities separated from the world. This special character is acquired in the mythical foundation, because they are located in the lands that first emerged."
Serrano , 2002, p.1.

No other ancient culture constructed temples in such number. Beyond the physical stone of these temples, "we may still sense much of the symbolic nature of these structures, the deeper reasons for their construction." ( Wilkinson , 2000, p.6). They have been described as mansions of the deities, models of Egypt and the universe, focal points of worship, portals to the divine, islands of order amid the ocean of chaos, spiritual engines etc.

In functional terms, there were two types of temples : (a) the houses of the gods, serving their patron deities and (b) those serving the royal cult of the "son of Re" (before -for his Sed Festivals- and secret rituals and after he died, i.e. in his mortuary cult). Throughout Egypt's history, a thick curtain of silence was drawn between the sacred, pure temples and the outside, profane world.

"Never go about revealing
the rituals You see, in all mystery, in the temples."
Chassinat , 1928, p.361, line3 - temple of Edfu - Late Period.

The earliest traces are Predynastic (ca. 6000 - 6500 BCE - Nabta Playa), whereas the last temple (of Isis at Philae) was closed by Emperor Justinian in 535 CE (Theodosius in 384 CE had decreed the closing of the temples of Egypt, officially ending the Pagan Era).

"Within the walls of most of these monuments, sanctuaries and treasuries, offices and palaces, slaughterhouses and schools might be found. Not only were many of the religious complexes centres of government, economy and commerce, but also within these temples ancient science and scholarship thrived and the nature of existence itself was pondered by generations of learned priests."
Wilkinson , 2000, p.7.

Egyptian versus Greek initiation

Egyptologists like Morenz, Piankoff, Mercer, Frankfort, Faulkner, Assmann, Hornung or Allen have good reasons to stress the difference between the Greek and the Pharaonic perspective on initiation (from the Latin "initio", introduce into a new life). The Egyptians maintained a series of rituals aimed at "a constantly renewed regeneration" ( Hornung , 2001, p.14). At best, the Greeks induced the point of death in order to glimpse into its darkness, to "see the goddess" and renew. But they had no "science of the Hades" as in the Amduat. The active continuity between life and death found in Egypt, contradicts the closed and separated interpretation of the Greeks, fostering "escapism" (the "body" as a "prison" out of which one needs to escape). In Egypt, no "new" life was necessary. Death could bring "more" life. For both life and the afterlife depended on identical conditions : offerings either directly to the deities through Pharaoh or indirectly to the Ka of the deceased. If dualism fits the Greeks, triadism is Egyptian.

In their exclusive funerary interpretation of the religious literature of Ancient Egypt (Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts, Coming out into the Day, Amduat, Book of Gates), these great scholars evidence a Hellenocentrist prejudice. Although the Platonic philosopher "preparing for death and dying" is like the initiate of the Eleusinian mysteries (cf. Phaedrus and Phaedo), and may come to the point of death to see into the invisible (spiritual) worlds, he knows he will never find wisdom in all its purity in any other place than in the next world . So, according to these authors, sustaining the Hellenistic approach of contemporary Egyptology regarding religious experience in Ancient Egypt, the initiatic, this-life experiences of the king, of his priests and of his worshippers, found in the religious text and on the monuments of Egypt, do not reflect direct spiritual experiences, but are imaginal constructions and wishful thinking about the afterlife. The dogma being : Ancient Egyptian religion was funerary and mortuary. This position is rejected. It is not because a text is found in a tomb that it is necessarily funerary. In Egypt, Pharaoh encountered the deity "face to face" every day. He was a god on Earth, in the Duat and in the sky. His energy had no limitations and with it he sustained creation by offering the right order of nature. There was no question of initiation being linked with the separation caused by physical death. Physical death (of Osiris) was the gate to a resurrection for the benefit of the living (Horus). But the living king (Horus) could also ritually die (as Osiris) to resurrect (himself and Egypt).

"As we have already seen, it is perfectly feasible for the same pyramid to have been use both for the Sed festival, 'secret rites' and then subsequently as the tomb of the king."
Naydler , 2005, p.109.

Indeed, the validity of an exclusive funerary interpretation of the Pyramid Texts (or for that matter the complete corpus of religious texts, such as the Coffin Texts, the Book of Going out into the Day and the Amduat), popular in egyptology the last 50 years, has to be addressed : is there a mystical dimension or direct experiential contact with the divine beyond the first three studied by Egyptology (Assmann, 2002) ? To wit :

In the context of the New Solar Theology in general and Atenism in particular, the question whether Egyptian religion had religious subjects besides the dead has already been answered affirmatively, whereas the role of Osirian initiation was touched upon (cf. the Osireon). Akhenaten's return to the "pure" form of Solar worship allows us to work out the inner dynamics of the this-life mysteries celebrated by Pharaoh, "mysticism" being defined as the direct experience of the Divine. Atenism rejects the "hidden" and the "dark", and so cannot exist together with Osiris and Amun. It eliminates the "hidden" side of Re, returns to the exclusive worship of the lightlands of the horizon of both East and West (cf. Ra-Horakhety), and rejects all possible netherwordly interpretation by eliminating the Duat and bringing the sky on Earth, namely in Akhetaten, Akhenaten's City of the Aten. This is the Solar economy pushed to its limits. Its sole mooring-post being the king.

And the people ? They secretly continued to worship Osiris, even in Akhetaten, and likely elsewhere. Did they remember the failures of kingship (namely at the end of the Old Kingdom) ? Did they disbelieve Akhenaten ? If so, they still obeyed. Perhaps, for their own hearts, the certainty of a good place in the kingdom of Osiris gave greater comfort than the "new" heaven of Akhetaten ? Indeed, the second-best, Lunar heaven of the commoners had not lost its alluring power. But, touching Osiris, the issue of the mystic dimension is "demotized" : how could commoners directly experience and "see" the deities ? For Moret (1922), the mystery in Egypt revolved around the concept of "voluntary death", experienced before the actual physical death of the body. This "dead posture" preludes spiritual rebirth or "peret-em-heru" : going out into the day . For Wente (1982), the New Kingdom Amduat and Book of Gates bring "the future into the present" , so that rebirth "could have been genuinely experienced in this life now". And this, most likely through festivals, pilgrimage & personal piety. In these latter contexts, Osirian faith allowed non-royals to have direct spiritual access to the Duat, the world of magic and of the dead. The Books of the Netherworld are usually very explicit about this, but Egyptology has yet to take them serious.

"He who know these words will approach those who dwell in the Netherworld. It is very very useful for a man upon Earth."
Amduat, concluding text of the Second Hour.

"The mysterious Cavern of the West where the Great God and his crew rest in the Netherworld. This is executed with their names similar to the image which is drawn in the East of the Hidden Chamber of the Netherworld. He who knows their names while being upon Earth will know their seats in the West as a contented one with his seat in the Netherworld. He will stand among the Lord of Provision as one justified by the Council of Re who reckons the differences. It will be useful for him upon Earth . "
Amduat, introductory text of the Ninth Hour.

How can these texts not point to a this-life occult knowledge ? And once we acknowledge the presence of a mystical dimension, we beg the question of how to operate the magic ? Is there a particular series of rituals enabling one to experience the objective spiritual realities behind three thousand years of spirituality today ? Of course, the first thing to do is to lift the funerary restrictions put on the available corpora. Although found in tombs, they move beyond funerary concerns (cf. Wente, 1982), but also show us an initiatic and experiential register, albeit in ante-rational terms. But, in order to clarify our categories, we first will have to distinguish between psi-experiences (parapsychology), occultism (knowledge of the invisible worlds) and mysticism (direct experience of the Divine). Although in the earliest forms of meta-nominal experiences (outside the ordinary realms of sensoric awareness) these phenomena merge (cf. Shamanism), I do avoid adjectives as "shamanic" or "shamanistic" (cf. Naydler, 2005), and prefer "ecstatic", which is more neutral and devoid of the historical connotations implied by Shamanism (the art & science of controlled trance). In Ancient Egypt, the variety of ecstatic experience covers personal piety (offerings, prayers, festivals, mystery plays), magic (psi-events), the occult (entering and leaving the Duat) and mysticism proper (the spirituality of the king and his high priests, meeting the deity "face to face" or transforming into one). I definitely strongly disagree with my most rewarding source of inspiration, Erik Hornung, who wrote about the Egyptians :

". any sort of ecstasy appears quite alien to their attitudes."
Hornung , 1986.

Elsewhere, the reader may find my epistemological survey of mysticism. In the context of this paper, the term "ecstasy" (from the Greek "ex" or "out" + "stasis" or "standstill" "statikè" or "art of weighing") is defined as the class of events pertaining to rapture, the ravishing experience of sublime delight, bliss and joy, accompanied by very strong emotion and (stages or stations of) trance. One moves outside the "nominal" ego and "enters" the realm of a Higher Self, i.e. a witnessing focus of consciousness allowing for the direct perception of objective spiritual realities, hidden from ordinary consciousness as is dreamless sleep from waking (so far indeed for Socrates to compare the former with physical death). This realm can directly influence the immediate context in which events emerge and may be classified as psi-phenomena (cf. strong telekinesis and remote viewing), the manipulation of invisible realms of reality (cf. the occult, magic and necromancy) and the direct experience of the objective spiritual realities invoked by the religions of humanity (cf. mysticism in all its forms). The presence of magic, the study of the Duat, Temple ritual and funerary concerns highlight the highly ecstatic naturalism of the Ancient Egyptians.

Egyptian initiations, unlike the Greek, were not meant to release the applicant from the solid chains of the world and its destiny, quite on the contrary. The initiate entered the invisible Duat at will and was free as a bird to stride and experience. He also returned, completing the standard cycle of human spirituality en vogue since the Cro-Magnon. Although the Egyptians, like other cultures contemporaneous with Pharaonic Egypt (like the Minoan, Mesopotamian, Hittite), understood that plunging into the spirit-world revitalized consciousness, they particularly focused on regeneration both in this life and in the afterlife. This happened by an "embrace" of objective spiritual principles projected upon recurrent natural cycles (like Horus and Osiris in the myth of Osiris, or the Ba of Re and Osiris in the Solar myths).

The verb "bs" ("bes") has two nuances : inductive and secretive :

What is revealed should never be said. It is a secret, or "bs" again, but with one more determinative added (that of a papyrus scroll, indicative of words related to writing and thinking). The "secret of secrets" was the secret image of the deity or "bsw" ("besu").

"I am a priest knowledgable of the mystery,
who's chest never lets go what he has seen !"
Chassinat , 1966, pp.11-12.

With the verb "bes", Middle Egyptian points to the Egyptian initiate as someone who had seen the hidden image of the deity "face to face", triggering a secret experience. Transformed, he or she had received more life-power, and had become more complete. The Egyptian initiate was prepared for the afterlife. He had faced judgment, had been regenerated and transformed on Earth as he would be in the afterlife.

Clearly then, the "initiates" were foremost the divine king and those Egyptian priests who belonged to the higher priesthood. Only they were allowed to enter the sanctuary of the temple and perform rituals there (the offering hall, the ambulatory, the inner sanctum). Only one member of this higher priesthood saw the deity "face to face", enthroned in its naos at the back end of the inner sanctum. This high priest was the representative of Pharaoh, the divine "son of Re" and the "Lord of the Two Lands".

Another word for "secret" is "StA" ("Shtah"), also meaning : "secretive, mysterious, inexplicable, hidden, hidden away." "Shtahu", in epithets of divine beings, refers to the mysterious secrets themselves. In Greek, the word "mustikoi" (root of "mystic, mystical, mysticism") also means "hidden".

In the Greek mysteries, the afterlife was depicted as a realm of shadows and any hope of individual survival was deemed ephemeral. Nobody escaped destiny, except the deities and the lucky few elected. The latter "escaped" from the world and its sordid entropic fate, misery and possible "eschaton" : a world-fire invoked by these wrathful deities themselves, unforgiving of man's tragi-comical sins, but able to recreate the world in a whim ! Escape from this fated comedy was offered through the mysteries. They would erase the cause of the heaviness of the soul and its attachment to Earth, and end the cycle of metempsychosis, the successive return of the soul in other physical bodies.

". what appears in the fifth century is not a complete and consistent doctrine of metempsychosis, but rather experimental speculations with contradictory principles of ritual and morality, and a groping for natural laws : the soul comes from the gods and after repeated trials returns to them, or else it runs forever in a circle through all spheres of the cosmos sheer chance decides on the reincarnation, or else a judgement of the dead it is morally blameless conduct that guarantees the better lot or else the bare fact of ritual initiation that frees from guilt."
Burkert, 1985, p.300, my italics.

The Greek spiritual experience was rational (decontextual). With the end of the Polis States, a great fear had taken hold. Late Hellenism was flooded by astral fatalism and Oriental mysteries adapted to Greco-Roman standards. Demons or deities were invoked to erase a preassigned fate. If the Greek initiate was deemed "liberated" from the world, then the Egyptian initiate was "deified" by the world.

The Egyptian initiate was not introduced to get rid of guilt, break away from the cycle of reincarnation or leave the Earth without ever returning. Neither did he enter the sanctuary with a confused concept regarding death. He did not believe life on Earth was better than the afterlife, and although he might have feared the "second death" (annihilation of his soul in the afterlife), the Egyptian initiate had a long-standing tradition of moral precepts and rituals to assure this would not happen. Indeed, his initiatoric rituals intended to prepare him for what was bound to happen in the afterlife. Thanks to a "general rehearsal" of what would happen, the adept would have no surprises in the afterlife. Indeed, the laws of life (the deities) were operational in the afterlife as well as on Earth, and the spirits of the deceased existed together with the living, albeit on another plane of existence (cf. hylemorphism).

In the "holy of holies", the highest Egyptian initiate (the high priest of the temple) came "face to face" with one of the divine hypostases of nature's elements & forces, namely the deity of the temple in its central shrine.

Only Pharaoh or his direct representative could offer Maat to the deity and thus return the given life to its source (to receive new life). This key ritual in Egyptian monarchical religion, is not focused on reception & the receiver (cf. "to receive in order to bestow" in Qabalah), but on the source of both (cf. "to present in order to receive"). On an individual level, this was a transforming experience insofar as the person was chosen from the higher priesthood. In that case, the confrontation "face to face" left a tremendous imprint on the heart of the individual.

The words of Re are before thee, (---) of my august father,
who taught me their , (. ) them to me. (. )
It was known in my heart,
opened to my face, I understood (---)

"Thy monuments shall endure like the heavens, for thy duration is like Aton therein. The existence of thy monuments is like the existence of the heavens thou art the Only One of , in possession of his designs."

Breasted , 2001, §§ 945-946 - tomb of the vizier Ramose - original lost - Akhenaten justifying Atenism to Ramose by referring to his personal & exclusive mystical experience - Beasted notes : "These accompanying inscriptions are directly below the upper row, depicting the decoration, and belong with a lower band connected with the same incident. They are only in ink and very faded I believe my copy of them is the first made. They have never been published." (p.389)

As a temple ritualist, the Egyptian initiate, in order to be transformed and "see" the deity directly, never left his physical body behind in a passive, trance-like state (compare this with what happens in the Poimandres or in Classical Yoga ). Fully awake, he enters into a deeper, more profound, mysterious layer of reality and contacted this plane directly, alone and without intermediaries, except for the doubles and the souls. His ritual actions made his body fully participate in this experience.

The contrast with the Greek mentality is marked : the Greeks had assimilated a rational distinction between the conditions of becoming and those of being, between potentiality and actuality (cf. Plato and Aristotle). In general, matter was perceived as "gross" and more in tune with the world of becoming. Concepts, ideas and their contemplation were deemed of a "higher" order, which meant done for their own sake. Linear order was the standard of Greek concept realism and the afterlife was envisaged as a gloomy land of no return, alien to the living.

"The living are not at the mercy of the dead the shades are without force and without consciousness. There are no ghostly terrors, no imaginings of decomposition, and no clatterings of dead bones but equally there is no comfort and no hope. The dead Archilles brushes aside Odysseus' words of praise, saying : 'Do not try to make light of death to me I would sooner be bound to the soil in the hire of another man, a man without lot and without much to live on, than ruler over all the perished dead.' In the dreary monotony everything becomes a matter of indifference."
Burkert, 1985, p.197, my italics.

The regular movements of the planets followed precise geometrical conditions. These were suggestive of the "perfect forms" of the world of ideas (or those perceived by the "active intellect"). Hence, in the Greek mysteries, astrology was used to divinate destiny and fate ("heimarmene" and "ananke"). Magic was addressed as a means to overcome one's preassigned fate, wiping out unluck, etc. Finally, theurgy came into being. A decisive release from the forces of fate & mortality was invisaged by working directly with the Deities. In Gnosticism, which had many branches, a "special knowledge" was aimed at. Again the material world appeared in negative, depreciative terms (cf. evil as "privatio boni" in Neoplatonism and Roman Catholicism on original sin and the cause of evil).

"And when, by drawing on repressed or non-Greek traditions, mysteries began to feed on the hopes of individuals with universal speculation and sought to overcome the chilling isolation of man in death, this was for a long time more a complement than a dangerous rival to the Greek system."
Burkert , 1985, p.203.

In the Egyptian conception, commoners sought a happy life to satisfy their souls (cf. the Discourse of a Man with his Ba ), while priests were consecrated in (local) induction rituals (leaving the "ultimate" experience to the high priest). Is it possible the higher priesthood also participated in the Osirian mysteries of death and resurrection, held in major temples of Egypt, like those of Abydos, Busiris and Karnak ? Such ritual activity would prepare them for the afterlife and transform them into "initiates" on Earth (adepts "justified" while alive) ?

"Follow the god as far as his place,
in his tomb which is found at the entrance of the cavern.
Anubis sanctifies the hidden mystery of Osiris,
(in) the sacred valley of the Lord of Life.
The mysterious initiation of the Lord of Abydos !"
Griffith , tombe I, 238, lines 238-239, ca.XIIth Dynasty.

But Egyptian and Greek initiations had this in common : both involved a confrontation with a symbolical death, followed by a new state of being alife.

"to die, that is to be initiated"

Although the first mortuary corpora (Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts & Book of the Dead) have distinct literary features, these utterances or spells have their recitation accompanied by rituals. Some Egyptologists conjecture that during the funeral, rituals took place in the various chambers, corridors and courts through which the procession passed on its way to the pyramid ( Schott , 1950 ).

Indeed, the tomb of Unis displays this care for rhythmical, procession-like spatialization, which -if we may believe the evidence from the Late Period- continued to be an essential part of Egypt's temple ceremonialism (cf. the walls of the Temple of Horus at Edfu). The dynamical notion evoked by a procession, is symbolical at many levels : it is the Nile, the eternal movement of Re in the sky, dynastic succession, the ordered sequence of existence and the principle of the adjacent probable (each figure focused on the one ahead).

The Temple of Horus at Edfu

In the Coffin Texts, as well as in the so-called Book of the Dead, remnants of "this life" ritual activity may be found. The Book of Coming out into the Day, as the latter corpus was named, has been called the "Egyptian Bible". Not for any literary resemblance with the historical Bible (there is hardly any to none), but because it was so dominant in funerary archeology, literature, anthropology & Osirian theology.

In the phrase "prt m hrw", the crucial word "prt", "coming out", or "going forth", also implies a ritual procession, an appearance of the deity (like the Heliacal rising of Sothis - Sirius) by day ("m hrw").

Chapter 17, a synopsis of the whole Peret em Heru, starts with the following enigmatic words :

"Here begin the praises and glorifications,
going out and in the domain of god,
having benefit in the beautiful West,
coming our by day,
taking any shape he likes,
playing at Senet, sitting in a booth,
and coming out as a living soul.
After he has arrived in port,
Osiris, the scribe Ani, said :
It is beneficial to him
who does it on Earth.'"
Book of the Dead
Chapter 17 (Ani & Nebseni), my italics.

Already during his lifetime did the archetypal Ani praise and glorify god and his company. It seems unlikely some of these texts would not have been used in certain priestly rituals (cf. the "great mix" of ante-rational cognition ), although most spells seem to serve the purpose of providing & protecting the deceased (or of Pharaoh during the Sed Festival ?). Perhaps some scenes were enacted (in ante-rational memorization - cf. the vignettes that accompany certain spells). That some spells were also intended for the living is however obvious :

"As for him who knows this chapter, he will be a worthy spirit in the domain of god, and he will not die again in the realm of the dead, and he will eat in the presence of Osiris. As for him who knows it on Earth, he will be like Thoth, he will be worshipped by the living, he will not fall to the power of the king or the hot rage of Bastet, and he will proceed to a very happy old age."
Book of the Dead, chapter 135.

induction versus initiation

Admission to priestly office was based on hereditary rights, cooption, purchase, royal appointment and induction. The induction rituals, unknown in details, seem to have implied a presentation in the temple, purification, anoitment of the hands and beholding the deity.

"I was presented before the god, being an excellent young man while I was introduced into the horizon of heaven (. ) I emerged from Nun, and I was purified of what ill had been in me I removed my clothing and ointments, as Horus and Seth were purified. I advanced before the god in the holy of holies, filled with fear before his power."
Sauneron , 2000, p.48 - statue - Cairo museum 42230.

Because induction involved the assumption of an office in a particular temple, it was a form of initiation, for it implied being introduced to a new kind of religious activity. However, did it aim at transforming consciousness ? Was this initiation also soteriological besides being consecrational ?

It is clear induction must have had an impact on the person consecrated. Perhaps the increased proximity to the deity automatically conferred certain new states of consciousness, a more deeper prehension of the divine ground of existence ? Indeed, after consecration, the new priest would have access to the most remote, secret and darkened areas of the temple and at times witness the presence of the deity from very nearby. It is impossible this experience did not affect the spiritual awareness of those installed. Hence, at every "level" of the temple hierarchy, it is fair to assume that consecrational initiations took place.

But induction was foremost aimed at assuring the continuity of the service payed to the deity (or the deceased). That it had an impact on the consecrated priest does not seem to have been the primary target, although it surely must have been a welcome side-effect. Did Egyptian religion develop "mysteries" which had a soteriological aim, i.e. which had the sole aim of -after having being performed- transform the consciousness of the priest permanently ?

We know "seeing" and "being near" the statue of the deity was also the main event when popular festivals were organized. During these popular manifestations the statue of the deity was moved around, either in the temple or to pay a visit to another deity (cf. the Opet festival). During these processions, commoners praised, worshipped and prayed. Being near to their deity enabled them to make their concerns heard and solved (cf. like the trance of enthusiasts glimpsing their idol, whether a pop-star or the Pope).

"Such processions were anything but rare. The religious calendars preserved in several temples demonstrate that according to the season, each month contained five to ten outings of this sort, devoted to one or another of the deities of the place. The route would vary according to the destination of the procession and the temple where the night was to be spent."
Sauneron , 2000, p.95, my italics.

the Osireion (the roof has gone)
Abydos - XIXth Dynasty

The original temple of Osiris in Abydos is destroyed. It has been suggested the construction erected by Pharaoh Seti I (ca. 1290 - 1279 BCE) in the XIXth Dynasty is a copy of this original, and has been called "the Osireion". Although supposedly a cenotaph of Seti I, later graffiti suggests it was dedicated to the cult of Osiris (cf. "the secret place of the netherworld", "Hail to thee, Isis, in the place of birth !"). Its architecture and inscriptions underline this.

(after Wilkinson , 2000, p.36)

The construction was originally completely subterranean (underneath a hill with trees) and accessed via a long (128m) corridor (decorated by Pharaoh Merneptah on the left wall the Book of Caverns and on the right the Book of Gates), which gave access to a large hall filled with water. In the middle of this basin emerges a rectangular island bordered by heavy granit pillars, to which two staircases grant access (while there is no staircase to enter the basin).

(after Frankfort , 1933, plate II)

Did the two rectangular cavities hold the "sacred image" of Osiris, his bark, head & funerary bed ? On the Eastern side of the construction is a large, empty rectangular room (like those found as chapels in the Old Kingdom Saqqara tombs).

"(the ritual), I know it,
for I have been initiated into it by the Sem-priest,
and I have not spoken to anybody,
neither repeated it to the god(s)."
Coffin Texts, spell 156.

We conjecture (together with Stricker and Guilmot ) that between the popular, festive "seeing" and the sacerdotal "deification" (of the high priest "face to face" with his deity), a soteriological (salvic) Osirian initiation existed. In it, the higher priesthood was confronted with the passion, restoration and resurrection of Osiris, the popular Egyptian ecstatic par excellence : murdered, resurrected and Lord of Dead and the magic of the night. By enacting the stages of this myth, the initiate would "consecrate" his own priestly state and be better prepared for the afterlife, as well as realize a personal transformation in consciousness in this life.

the architect Amenhotep - XVIIIth Dynasty

"(. ), but into the divine book,
I have been initiated.
Of Thoth, I have seen glory,
and among mystery, I introduced myself."
Statue of Amenhotep, son of Hapu

This Osirian initiation was accessible, ex hypothesi, to the permanent higher priesthood, as a "consecration" of their task to serve the light of the deity by offering Maat. Hence, this initiation had salvic intentions and involved initiatoric mysteries performed in conjunction with popular festivals honoring Osiris and Isis, popular in all historical periods. Special chapels were erected for these mysteries at Denderah, Esna, Edfu & Philae and Osirian mysteries were celebrated in Busiris, Karnak and, of course, Abydos, "land of justice, island of the just, exempt of lies" . They allowed the priests to experience the different phases of the Osirian drama for themselves, including the restoration and resurrection of the god. In this way, they had been prepared on Earth for what was going to happen to them in the afterlife.

"(. ) as for the Island of Maat, it is Abydos !"
Book of the Dead, chapter 17.

An essential element in this intiation was justification and the declaration this had happened, so the adept was called a "maakheru" or "true of voice", a title ordinarily only given to the deceased after a favorable judgement of the balance (in the "Hall of Maat").

"(Anubis) : Numerous are (your) good actions,
(yes) numerous are (your) good actions,
which are placed in the Balance !"
East Wall of central hall of Osireon

That this was a title given to initiates, can only be confirmed by fragments and circumstancial evidence. The vow of silence reigned. But it would not be surprising, if such were the case. If so, the so-called "cenotaph" of Seti I may be understood as the netherworldly stage for the "grand finale" of the annual Osirian mysteries, as well as a permanent service payed to Osiris, both events visited by the higher priesthood of Egypt. But nothing is certain.

"You shall say to Horus
that I was rejoiced
at his 'voice-becomes-true.'"
Louvre Stela C 10 - Gardiner , § 329.

Several papyri were found in the tomb of Horsiesis, a priest of Amun-Re and "Conductor of the Mysteries", who was fifty years of age when Jesus was crucified. Papyrus Leiden T 32 contains his catalogue of Osirian initiations or proclamations of piety. In it, standard language is used (also found on early stelae and papyri) to convey, albeit in an "idealized autobiography", initiations which he himself might have experienced during his lifetime in Abydos, Busiris and Karnak. Egyptologists have argued these experiences are literary fictions. However, the correlation between the text and certain spatial characteristics of the Osireion at Abydos, as well as scattered fragments about such initiations, allow for reasonable doubt.

"You reach the central hall under the trees.
Near the god (Osiris) You arrive
(the god) who sleeps in his tomb.

His venerable image
rests on his funerary bed.
(Then), in the holy place,
you are accorded (the title) :
Maakheru !

Your body is purified
in Ra-Anedjeti
your whole flesh is purified
in the basin of Heket."
Papyrus Leiden 32 T - IV

A late papyrus (Papyrus Leiden 32 T) makes it clear that three fundamental events were enacted : justification (Judgment of the Balance), rejuvenation (Sacred Lake) and illumination (Opening the Doors of Heaven).

continuous ritual

Life was the cornerstone of Ancient Egyptian theology and philosophy. Life was deemed to be the origin of order and not vice versa. The creator evolved himself because of the activity of his life in the primordial egg hidden in the limitless waters. Life is the active polarity of limitless inertia, darkness and chaos. It is chaos reversed by what it harbored as absolute complement of itself. When the cosmic egg hatches, Shu, the god of life, springs forth together with order, his spouse. Light (Atum), Life (Shu) and Order/Moist (Tefnut) were the first generations of gods.

"I adore your majesty with choice expressions and prayers,
that magnify your prestige in all your great names
and in all the holy forms of manifestation,
in which you revealed yourself in the first moment."
the morning invocation at the quaters in the temple of Edfu

The cult of Re is fundamentally a diurnal cult of life, whereas Osiris is the nocturnal cycle (the regenerative power of the netherworld, of sleep, dreams and death). Life and order were in the company of the creator before anything else was born, but life was first, most active, airy & verbal.

Let us distinguish between different cycles of rituals :

It seems unlikely a processional & ritual construction as the Osireon would not have been used for a netherworldy Osirian mystery drama. As no other evidence of the sort of papyrus Leiden 32 T has (yet) been found, no final conclusions are at hand. But even if these Egyptian initiation rituals are historical (which to me seems likely), they differ from the intent of the Greek mysteries and should neither be confused with Hermetic and other highly syncretic rituals (like the cult of Serapis). In these latter ceremonies, native Egyptian thought was Hellenized and modified to satisfy the Greek "noetic" mentality.

initiated : 04 VII 2003 - last update : 28 VI 2016

© Wim van den Dungen

Ancient Egyptian Offering Basin - History

"Chapter 6: The Literature and Religion of Ancient Egypt." by Amelia Ann Blanford Edwards (1831-1892)
Publication: Pharaohs Fellahs and Explorers. by Amelia Edwards. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1891. (First edition.) pp. 193-233.


THAT the first people who possessed letters in the literal sense should also be the first people to possess letters in the literary sense, is no more than we should expect. Not, indeed, that the possession of an alphabet necessarily implies literary activity on the part of those who possess it. The Romans engraved their codes on tablets of stone and brass, and sculptured inscriptions on their public buildings, for centuries before they wrote histories and dramas, odes and satires. The Oscans, the Etruscans, and other early nations of Italy, never, so far as we know, got beyond mere inscriptions. Even the Greeks of the Ægean, as we are now just beginning to find out, were in possession of the Cadmæan alphabet some five or six centuries before the time of Homer and yet we have no evidence that the Iliad was committed to writing earlier than some four hundred years after the death of the poet. Literature is, in fact, the fruit of leisure. Nations which are going through the struggle for existence call for soldiers, not scribes. The bard, the rhapsodist, the extemporaneous singer of war-chants and dirges, is the only representative of literature at that early stage in the history of a people and it is not till the arts of peace have taken their place side by side with the arts of war, that poems are written, not sung–that histories are recorded with the pen, not carved out by the sword. [Page 194]

But when we are dealing with the origin and evolution of national literatures, there is yet another factor to be taken into the account namely, the possession of a cheap and convenient material upon which to write. This is a very commonplace and vulgar necessity yet it is one of paramount importance. So long as stone and metal are the only available substances, so long will they be used for inscriptions and state documents only. It is not till papyrus, and parchment, and finally paper, become current articles of commerce, that writing as a career or a recreation is even possible. Without papyrus or parchment, we should never have had a literature of Egypt, Greece, or Rome. Without paper, we could never have had the magnificent literary efflorescence of the Renaissance. Fancy Anacreon and Sappho, Martial and Horace, laboriously scratching their poems on tablets of limestone, or plates of bronze ! How the perfume of the roses and the sting of the epigrams and the aroma of the Sabine wine would have evaporated under such a process!

So far as we know, the people of ancient Egypt had to make no struggle for existence at the outset of their career. Hemmed in between two vast and pathless deserts, their fertile valley was so strongly fortified by nature herself that they had little cause to fear danger from without. It is not, in fact, till thirteen royal dynasties, comprising about two hundred kings, have passed in shadowy succession across the stage of Egyptian history, that we hear of the Hyksôs invasion.

The Egyptians of the first twelve dynasties, and, indeed, the bulk of the nation at all times, were a pastoral and peaceful people, well content with their lot in this life, and much occupied with preparations for the next. They were naturally averse to soldiering, and the armies of the great military Pharaohs of the Nineteenth and Twentieth dynasties were largely composed of foreign auxiliaries. What the native-born Egyptian most dearly loved was to cultivate his paternal acres, to meditate on morals and religion, and to prepare a splendid tomb for his mummy when the inevitable summons should come. [Page 195]

And he not only loved meditation, but he loved to record his meditations in writing, for the benefit of posterity.

How early the Egyptians began to cut and press the stalks of the papyrus plant in order to make a material for the use of the scribe, it is impossible to say. But we know that material to have been already employed for literary purposes in the time of the Third Dynasty that is to say, some three thousand eight hundred years before the Christian era. There is at this present time, in the archives of the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris, a papyrus written by a scribe of the Eleventh Dynasty, which contains copies of two much more ancient documents, one dating from the Third, and one from the Sixth Dynasty. This most precious document (known as the Prisse Papyrus) is the only Eleventh Dynasty papyrus yet discovered. It has been well styled "the oldest book in the world" (49) and it is, at all events, the oldest papyrus known.

When I say that it is the oldest papyrus known, it is not to be inferred that the Prisse Papyrus is the oldest specimen of Egyptian writing yet discovered. If we turn to inscriptions cut in stone–as, for instance, to the Fourth Dynasty tombs of Ghizeh, which are contemporary with the Great Pyramid or to the famous Second Dynasty tablet of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford–we can point to inscriptions dating from 4000 B.C. and 4200 B.C. But stone cut inscriptions, even when they run to a considerable length, are not what we naturally classify under the head of literature. When we speak of the literature of a nation, we are not thinking of inscriptions graven on obelisks and triumphal arches. We mean such literature as may be stored in a library and possessed by individuals. In a word, we mean books –books, whether in the form of clay cylinders, of papyrus rolls, or any other portable material.

The Egyptians were the first people of the ancient world who had a literature of this kind: who wrote books, and read books who possessed books, and loved them. And their literature, which grew, and flourished, and decayed with [Page 196] the language in which it was written, was of the most varied character, scientific, secular, and religious. It comprised moral and educational treatises state-papers works on geometry, medicine, astronomy, and magic travels, tales, fables, heroic poems, love-songs, and essays in the form of letters hymns, dirges, rituals and last, not least, that extraordinary collection of prayers, invocations, and religious formulæ known as The Book of the Dead . Some of these writings are older than the pyramids some are as recent as the time when Egypt had fallen from her high estate and become a Roman province. Between these two extremes lie more than five thousand years. Of this immense body of literature we possess only the scattered wrecks–mere "flotsam and jetsam," left stranded on the shores of Time. Even these disjecta membra , though they represent so small a proportion of the whole, far exceed in mere bulk all that remains to us of the literature of the Greeks. Every year, moreover, adds to our wealth. No less than a dozen papyri of the remote Twelfth Dynasty period were found by Mr. Petrie in the season of 1888-1889 among the ruins of an obscure little town in the Fayûm. How precious these documents are may be judged from the fact that only three or four papyri of that period were previously known and that Abraham's visit to Egypt is believed to have taken place during the reign of a Pharaoh of this line. In the course of the same season, and of the previous season, Mr. Petrie discovered at least as many papyri of later dynasties, besides hundreds of fragments of Greek papyri of Ptolemaic and Roman times. These consist chiefly of accounts, deeds, royal edicts, and the like, not forgetting a magnificent fragment containing nearly the whole of the Second Book of the Iliad. Nor is this the first time that Homer has been found in Egypt. The three oldest Homeric texts previously known come from the land of the Pharaohs. To those three Mr. Petrie has now added a fourth. (50) Other papyri found within the present century contain fragments of Sappho, Anacreon, Thespis, Pindar, Alcæus, and Timotheus and all, without exception, [Page 197] come from graves. The great Homer Papyrus of 1889 was rolled up as a pillow for the head of its former owner and its former owner was a young and apparently a beautiful woman, with little ivory teeth, and long, silky black hair. The inscription on her coffin was illegible, and we are alike ignorant of her name, her nationality, and her history. She may have been an Egyptian, but she was more probably a Greek. We only know that she was young and fair, and she so loved her Homer that those who laid her in her last resting-place buried her precious papyrus in her grave. That papyrus is now among the treasures of the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and all that is preserved of its possessor–her skull and her lovely hair–are now in the South Kensington Museum, London.

But we are not now concerned with the transcripts of foreign classics which have been found on Egyptian soil. Our subject is the native literature of that ancient and wonderful people whose immemorial home was the Valley of the Nile.

The two most important subjects in the literature of a nation are, undoubtedly, its history and its religion and up to the present time nothing in the shape of an Egyptian history of Egypt has been found. We have historical tablets, historical poems, chronicles of campaigns, lists of conquered cities, and records of public works sculptured on stelæ, written on papyrus, and carved on the walls of temples and tombs. But these are the materials of history–the bricks and blocks and beams with which the historian builds up his structure. Brugsch, in his Geschichte Aegyptens Unter Den Pharaonen , has brought together all such documents as were known at the time when he wrote it but no one can read that excellent work without perceiving that it is but a collection of inscriptions, and not a consecutive narrative. Whole reigns are sometimes represented by only a name or a date whole dynasties are occasionally blank. This is no fault of the learned author. It simply means that no monuments of those times have been discovered. Yet we cannot doubt that histories of Egypt were written at various periods by qualified scholars. We know of one only–the work of Manetho, who was High [Page 198] Priest of Ra, and Keeper of the Archives in the Great Temple of Heliopolis, in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus, some two hundred and fifty years before our era. Manetho, though a true-born Egyptian, wrote his history in Greek, which was the native tongue of the Ptolemies and the language of the court. He wrote it, moreover, by the royal command. Now, the Sacred College of Heliopolis was the most ancient home of learning in Egypt. Its foundation dated back to the ages before history the oldest fragments embedded in The Book of the Dead being of Heliopolitan origin. Manetho had, therefore, the most venerable, and probably the largest, library in Egypt at his command and whatever histories may have been written before his time, we may be very certain that his was the latest and the best. But of that precious work, not a single copy has come down to our time. A few invaluable fragments are preserved in the form of quotations by later writers–by Josephus, for instance, in his Antiquities of the Jews , by George the Syncellus, by Eusebius–and by various chronologers but the work itself has perished with the libraries in which it was treasured and the scholars by whom it was studied.

Still, there is always room for hope in Egypt and it may yet be reserved for some fortunate explorer to discover the grave of a long-forgotten scribe whose head shall be pillowed, not on a transcript of Homer, but upon a copy of the lost History of Manetho.

Of the numerous historic documents which remain to us, the three most interesting are perhaps the celebrated "Chant of Victory" of King Thothmes III., the "Epic of Pentaur," and the great international treaty between Rameses II. and the allied Princes of Syria.

The first of these is engraved on a large black granite tablet found in the Great Temple of Karnak, at Thebes. It records the conquests of Thothmes III. and Thothmes III. was the Alexander of ancient Egypt. He was possessed by the same insatiable thirst for conquest, by the same storm-driven restlessness. Ever on the march and ever victorious, [Page 199] he conquered the known world of his time. It was his magnificent boast that he planted the frontiers of Egypt where he pleased and he did so. Southward as far, apparently, as the great equatorial lakes which have been rediscovered in our time northward to the islands of the Ægean and the upper waters of the Euphrates over Syria and Sinai, Mesopotamia and Arabia in the east over Libya and the North African coast as far as Scherschell in Algeria on the west, he carried fire and sword, and the terror of the Egyptian name. He was by far the greatest warrior-king of Egyptian history, and his "Chant of Victory," though rhapsodical and Oriental in style, does not exaggerate the facts. This chant, written by the laureate of the day, is one of the finest example extant of the poetry of ancient Egypt. For the Egyptians, notwithstanding the poverty of their grammar and the cumbrous structure of their language, had poetry, and poetry of a very high order. It was not like our poetry. It had neither rhyme nor metre but it had rhythm. Like the chants of the Troubadours and Trouvères, it was largely alliterative, cadenced, symmetrical. It abounded in imagery, in antithesis, in parallelisms. The same word, or the same phrase, was repeated at measured intervals. In short, it had style and music and although the old Egyptian language is far more literally dead than the languages of Greece and Rome, that music is still faintly audible to the ears of such as care to listen to its distant echo.

A two-fold bas-relief group at the top of the tablet of Thothmes III. represents the King in adoration before Amen-Ra and the context shows the poem to have been composed in commemoration of the opening of the Hall of Columns added by this Pharaoh to the Temple of Amen at Karnak. It is the god who speaks. He begins with a few lines of prose thus:


" 1. I came ! I gave thee might to fell the princes of Taha. &dagger [Page 201] I cast them beneath thy feet, marching across their territories. I made them to behold thy Majesty as a Lord of Light, shining in their faces, even in my own likeness!

" 2. I came! I gave thee might to fell the nations of Asia. Thou hast reduced to captivity the chiefs of the Rotennu.* I made them to behold thy Majesty in the splendor of thy panoply of war, wielding thy weapons and combating in thy war-chariot.

" 3. I came! I gave thee might to fell the people of the far East ! Thou hast traversed the provinces of the Land of the Gods. &dagger I made them to behold thee like unto the Star of Morning, shedding radiance and showering dew!

" 4. I came! I gave thee might to fell the nations of the West! Phoenicia and Cyprus have thee in terror. I made them to behold thy Majesty even as a young Bull, bold of heart, horned, and unconquerable!

" 5. I came! I gave thee might to fell the dwellers in the harbors of the coast-lands ! The shores of Maten &Dagger tremble before thee. I made them to behold thy Majesty even as the Crocodile, the Lord of Terror of the water, whom none dare to encounter.

" 6. I came! I gave thee might to fell those who dwell in their islands! Those who live in the midst of the great deep hear thy war-cry and tremble. I made them to behold thy Majesty as an avenger who bestrides the back of his victim.

" 7. I came! I gave thee might to fell the people of Libya! The isles of the Danæans are under the power of thy will. I made them to behold thy Majesty as a furious Lion, crouching over their corpses and stalking through their valleys.

" 8. I came! I gave thee might to fell those beyond the limits of the sea! The circuit of the great waters lies within [Page 202] thy grasp. I made them to behold thy Majesty as the Hawk which hovers on high, beholding all things at his pleasure.

" 9. I came! I gave thee might to fell the tribes of the marsh-lands,* and to bind in captivity the Herusha, &dagger lords of the desert sands. I made them to behold thy Majesty as the Jackal of the South, Lord of Swiftness, who scours the plains of the upper and lower country.

" 10. I came ! I gave thee might to fell the nations of Nubia, even to the barbarians of Pat! I made them to behold thy Majesty like unto thy two brothers, Horus and Set, whose arms I have united to give thee power and strength."

The poem concludes with a few lines of peroration in measured prose, in which the god approves the additions which Thothmes had made to his temple. "Longer is it and wider," he says, "than it has ever been till now. Great is its gateway. I bade thee make it, and thou hast made it. I am content."

Mariette wrote of this ancient Hymn of Praise as being "redolent with the perfume of Oriental poetry" while Brugsch ranks it with the heroic poem of Pentaur and a few other similar compositions, as destined for ever to remain one of the representative specimens of ancient Egyptian literature at its finest period.

The poem of Pentaur, which is sometimes called the Egyptian Iliad, is in a quite different style. It is much longer than the chant of Thothmes. It is full of incident and dialogue, and it recites, not a mere catalogue of victories, but the events of a single campaign and the deeds of a single hero. That hero is Rameses II., and the campaign thus celebrated was undertaken in the fifth year of his reign, against the allied forces of Syria and Asia Minor. The coalition thus formed included the vassal princes of Karkhemish, Kadesh, [Page 203] Aradus, and Kati, all tributaries of Egypt, headed by the Prince of the Kheta, or Hittites, with a large Hittite army, and an immense following of the predatory and warlike Græco-Asiatic tribes of Mysia, Lydia, Pedasos, and the Troad.

From the Great Tableau in the Temple of Abû-Simbel.
The rectangular space enclosed on three sides by a row of shields represents the royal camp. The oblong structure to the right of the centre is the pavilion of Rameses five attendants kneel before the entrance to an inner apartment, surmounted by a royal oval watched over by winged genii. This represents the sleeping-place of the King. The pavilion appears to be a movable structure raised on arches it was probably of wood, and was constructed in such wise as to be easily taken to pieces and put together again. To the left, the horses of the charioteers are feeding in mangers and attended by grooms. Bales of fodder lie on the ground. A blacksmith with his brazier prepares to shoe a horse near the middle of the camp. Elsewhere we see charioteers dragging away empty chariots, a soldier mending a hoe, a man carrying a pair of water-buckets suspended at each end of a pole across his shoulders infantry and charioteers arriving in camp soldiers squatting round a bowl at their supper officers chastising lazy or recalcitrant subordinates, and the like. Close above and behind the royal pavilion there is a brawl among the king's officers, one of whom is in the act of being stabbed. Just below this group a horse prepares to lie down, bending its fore-legs with a remarkably natural action while in the foreground to the right, we see the two Syrian spies being soundly bastinadoed, in order to force the truth from them. All the busy life of a great camp is depicted in this wonderful section of the largest battle-subject in the history of art.

Rameses took the field in person with the flower of the Egyptian army, traversing the Land of Canaan, which still remained loyal, and establishing his Syrian headquarters at Shabtûn, a fortified town in a small valley a short distance to the south-west of Kadesh. Here he remained stationary for a few days, reconnoitring the surrounding country, and [Page 204] endeavoring, but without success, to learn the whereabouts of the enemy. The latter, meanwhile, had their spies out in all directions, and knew every movement of the Egyptian host. Two of these spies, being previously instructed, allowed themselves to be taken by the King's scouts. Introduced into the royal presence, they prostrated themselves before Pharaoh, declaring that they were messengers from certain of the Syrian chiefs, their brothers, who desired to break their pact with the Kheta, and to serve the great King of Egypt. They further added that the Khetan host, dreading the approach of the Egyptian army, had retreated to beyond Aleppo, forty leagues to the northward. Rameses, believing their story, then pushed confidently onward, escorted only by his body-guard. The bulk of his forces, consisting of the brigade of Amen, the brigade of Ptah, and the brigade of Ra, followed at some little distance the brigade of Sutekh, which apparently formed the reserve, lingering far behind on the Amorite frontier.

From the Great Tableau in the Temple of Abû-Simbel.

Meanwhile two more spies were seized, and the suspicions of the Egyptian officers were aroused. Being well bastinadoed, the Syrians confessed to the near neighborhood of the allied armies, and Rameses, summoning a hasty council of war, despatched a messenger to hurry up the brigade of Amen. At this critical juncture the enemy emerged from his ambush, and by a well-executed flank movement interposed between Pharaoh and his army. Thus surrounded, [Page 205] Rameses, with right royal and desperate valor, charged the Hittite war-chariots. Six times, with only his household troops at his back, he broke their lines, spreading disorder and terror and driving many into the river. Then, just at the right moment, one of his tardy brigades came hurrying up, and forced the enemy to retreat. A pitched battle was fought the next day, which the Egyptians claimed for a great victory.

Such would appear to be the plain, unvarnished facts. The poet, however, takes some liberties with the facts, as poets are apt to do even now. He abolishes the household troops, and leaves Rameses to fight the whole field single-handed. Nor is the Deus ex machina wanting–that stock device which the Greek dramatists borrowed from Egyptian models. Amen himself comes to the aid of Pharaoh, just as the gods of Olympus do battle for their favorite heroes on the field of Troy.

This poem is certainly the most celebrated masterpiece of Egyptian literature I therefore make no apology for quoting at some length from the original. We will take up the narrative at that critical point where the Hittites are about to execute their flank movement, and so isolate Rameses from his army.

" Now had the vile Prince of Kheta, and the many nations which were leagued with him, hidden themselves at the north-west of the city of Kadesh. His Majesty was alone none else was beside him. The brigade of Amen was advancing behind. The brigade of Ra followed the watercourse which lies to the west of the town of Shabtûn. The brigade of Ptah marched in the centre, and the brigade of Sutekh took the way bordering on the land of the Amorites. *

" Then the vile Prince of Kheta sent forth his bowmen and his horsemen and his chariots, and they were as many as the [Page 206] grains of sand on the sea-shore. Three men were they on each chariot and with them were all the bravest of the fighting-men of the Kheta, well armed with all weapons for the combat.

" They marched out on the side of the south of Kadesh, and they charged the brigade of Ra and foot and horse of King Rameses gave way before them.

" Then came messengers to his Majesty with tidings of defeat. And the King arose, and grasped his weapons and donned his armor, like unto Baal, the war-god, in his hour of wrath. And the great horses of his Majesty came forth from their stables, and he put them to their speed, and he rushed upon the ranks of the Kheta.

Four of the King's spearsmen and two of his Sardinian body-guard await his approach. From the Great Temple of Abû-Simbel.

" Alone he went–none other was beside him. And lo! he was surrounded by two thousand five hundred chariots his retreat cut off by all the fighting-men of Aradus, of Mysia, of Aleppo, of Caria, of Kadesh, and of Lycia. They were three on each chariot, and massed in one solid phalanx."

Here the form changes, and Rameses breaks forth into an impassioned appeal to Amen.

" None of my princes are with me," he cries. " Not one of my generals–not one of my captains of bowmen or chariots. My soldiers have abandoned me–my horsemen have [Page 207] fled–there are none to combat beside me! Where art thou, oh Amen, my father? Hath the father forgotten his son ? Behold! have I done aught without thee ? Have I not walked in thy ways, and waited on thy words? Have I not built thee temples of enduring stone ? Have I not dedicated to thee sacrifices of tens of thousands of oxen, and of every rare and sweet-scented wood ? Have I not given thee the whole world in tribute ? I call upon thee, oh Amen, my father! I invoke thee! Behold, I am alone, and all the nations of the earth are leagued against me! My foot-soldiers and my chariot-men have abandoned me! I call, and none hear my voice! But Amen is more than millions of archers –more than hundreds of thousands of cavalry! The might of men is as nothing–Amen is greater than all!"

Then, suddenly, Rameses becomes aware that Amen has heard his cry–is near him–is leading him to victory.


"Lo! my voice hath resounded as far as Hermonthis! Amen comes to my call. He gives me his hand–I shout aloud for joy, hearing his voice behind me!"

" Oh, Rameses, I am here ! It is I, thy father! My hand is with thee, and I am more to thee than hundreds of thousands. I am the Lord of Might, who loves valor. I know thy dauntless heart, and I am content with thee. Now, be my will accomplished."

Then Rameses, inspired with the strength of a god, bends his terrible bow and rushes upon the enemy. His appeal for divine aid is changed to a shout of triumph.

" Like Menthu, I let fly my arrows to right and left, and mine enemies go down! I am as Baal in his wrath! The two thousand five hundred chariots which encompass me are dashed to pieces under the hoofs of my horses. Not one of their warriors has raised his hand to smite me. Their hearts die in their breasts–their limbs fail–they can neither hurl the javelin, nor wield the spear. Headlong I drive them to the water's edge ! Headlong they plunge, as plunges the crocodile! They fall upon their faces, one above the other, and I slay them in the mass ! No time have they to turn back–no time to look behind them! He who falls, falls never to rise again !"

Then the Kheta, and the Kadeshites, and the warriors of Karkhemish and Aleppo, and the princes of Mysia, and Ilion, and Lycia, and Dardania turned and fled, crying aloud:

" It is no man who is in the midst of us! It is Sutekh the glorious ! It is Baal in the flesh! Alone–alone, he slays hundreds of thousands ! Let us fly for our lives !"

" And they fled and the King pursued them, as he were a flame of fire!"

The rest of the poem is necessarily somewhat of an anteclimax. It tells how the Egyptian brigades come up towards evening, and are filled with wonder as they wade through the blood of the slain, and behold the field strewn with dead [Page 209]

From the Great Temple of Abû-Simbel.
This sculptured tableau is divided horizontally by the river Orontes, represented by the zigzag lines. The fortified city of Kadesh occupies a projecting tongue of land, almost surrounded by the great bend of the river. To the right, where there is apparently a ford, some Egyptian chariots are dashing across in pursuit of a Khetan chariot, in which are seen three warriors. The Egyptian chariots are distinguished from those of the Kheta by containing only two. In the top register, to right, an aide-de-camp on horseback gallops off with orders for the tardy rear-guard, and we see a horse running away with an empty saddle. To the left Rameses (depicted of colossal size) pursues the flying foe to the water's edge. Some lie trampled under his chariot-wheels, and some are drowning in the river. A drowning chief is dragged to shore by a soldier of the garrison. Forming a frieze round the end of the tableau to left is a squadron of Egyptian chariots in single file.

"What will the whole world say," he asks, " when it is known that you left your King alone, with none to second him ?–that not a prince, not a charioteer, not a bowman was there to join his hand with mine ? I fought alone ! Alone, I overthrew millions! It was only my good horses who obeyed my hand, when I found myself alone in the midst of the foe. Verily, they shall henceforth eat their corn before me daily in my royal palace, for they alone were with me in the hour of danger."

From the great Abû-Simbel Tableau.

The next day at sunrise Rameses assembles his forces, and, according to the chronicler, achieves a signal victory, fol- [Page 211] lowed by the submission of the Prince of Kheta and the conclusion of a treaty of peace. This treaty was shortly confirmed by the marriage of Rameses with a Khetan princess and the friendship thus cemented continued unbroken throughout the rest of his long reign.

The foregoing passages are much abridged, but they fairly represent the fervent diction and the dramatic action of this celebrated poem. The style is singularly capricious, narrative and dialogue succeeding each other according to the exigencies of the situation. These changes are unmarked by any of those devices whereby the modern writer assists his reader they must therefore have been emphasized by the reciter.

From the great Abû-Simbel Tableau.

To use a very modern word in connection with a very ancient composition, one might say that Rameses "published" this poem in a most costly manner, with magnificent illustrations. And he did so upon a scale which puts our modern publishing houses to shame. His imperial edition was issued on sculptured stone, and illustrated with bas-relief subjects gorgeously colored by hand. Four more or less perfect copies of this edition have survived the wreck of ages, and we know not how many have perished. These four are carved on the pylon walls of the Great Temples of Luxor and the Ramesseum at Thebes, on a wall of the Great Temple of Abydos, and in the main hall of the great rock-cut Temple of Abû-Simbel in Nubia. One of the tableaux in this hall is fifty feet in length by about forty feet in height, and it contains many thousands of figures. A fifth copy is also graven [Page 212] without illustrations on a side-wall of the Great Temple of Karnak and some remains of a great battle-scene with defaced inscriptions appear to belong to another copy, on one of the walls of the Temple of Derr, in Nubia. In these temple-copies, the poem is sculptured in hieroglyphs.

But there were also popular editions of this immortal poem–copies written on papyrus by professional scribes and one of these copies is in the British Museum, a fragment of the beginning of the same copy being in the Museum of the Louvre. The British Museum document contains one hundred and twelve lines of very fine hieratic writing, and the last page ends with a formal statement that it was "written in the year VII., the month Payni, in the reign of King Rameses Mer-Amen, Giver of Life eternal like unto Ra, his father. For the chief librarian of the royal archives . . . by the Royal Scribe, Pentaur."

From the original hieratic papyrus in the British Museum.

Whether this Pentaur was, as it is generally supposed, the [Page 213] author of the poem, or but a copyist in the employment of the King's principal librarian, is perhaps an open question. As, however, the colophon is unmistakably clear as to date, and as that date is but two years subsequent to the events narrated in the poem, we may at least assume that the papyrus is a contemporary document. (51)

It is from the huge battle-piece sculptured on the north wall of the great hall at Abû-Simbel that we derive many minor details not recorded by the poet. In this elaborate composition the events of the first and second engagements are combined in a single subject. In one place we see Rameses, single-handed, rushing upon the foe in his chariot, and driving them head-long into the river in another we behold the pitched battle of the following morning. Every circumstance of that momentous fight is shown with the most painstaking fidelity. The chariots start first, an officer of bowmen leading the way on foot.

From the great Abû-Simbel Tableau.

Next follow the infantry, marching in a solid square, and protected, van, flank, and rear, by a force of chariots. The infantry are armed with only spear and shield. This is a very interesting section of the great tableau, as it shows us the Egyptian order of battle.

Next comes the encounter with the enemy–the shock of chariots–the overthrow of the Hittite warriors. Part of this fight is arbitrarily introduced into that section of the subject where Rameses is performing his great feat of arms on the preceding day but merely to fill the spaces with figures. In some of these minor episodes we see the Egyptian warriors descending from their chariots and attacking the enemy on foot. The Hittite chariots are clumsily built, the wheels being cut from a solid block of wood, like millstones, and working on a central pivot. The Khetan soldiers wear a scalp-lock, and are three in a chariot.

From the great Abû-Simbel Tableau. In this section of the great tableau the Egyptian artist depicts the incidents of the battle-field after the victory is won. We see the charioteers and infantry returning in order, and the enemy's cattle being driven to the camp. Long files of prisoners are brought along, some tied together by the neck, others with their arms bound behind their backs. In the lowest register a captain of archers brings in a string of eight captives, and is greeted by his comrades with acclamations. In the second register, to the right, Rameses sits in his chariot with his back to the horses and witnesses the counting of the hands of the slain, while three scribes enter the numbers on their tablets.

Finally, the field is fought–the battle is won, and the King, seated in his chariot with his back to the horses, witnesses the bringing in of the prisoners and the counting of the hands of the slain. Three officers cast the severed hands in a heap before the feet of the conqueror, while the captives, strung together by the neck, are brought into his presence with their arms fast bound behind their backs.

In the last scene of all, Rameses, depicted of colossal size, sits enthroned, and receives the congratulations of his great officers of state. His fan-bearer and his bow-bearer stand behind his chair, and his chariot and horses are taken back with honor to the royal stables.

From the great Abû-Simbel Tableau.

It is evident that the artists who designed the sculptured illustrations at Abû- [Page 216] Simbel and Thebes were not dependent on only the text of the poem for the subject-matter of their battle-scenes. They were familiar with incidents of which the poet takes no note, and of which we could know nothing had they not been recorded by the chisel of the sculptor and the brush of the painter. In that spirited scene where Rameses, Phoebus-like, stands erect in his chariot, bending his great bow and chasing the enemy into the water (page 209), we see, for instance, a half-drowned chieftain being dragged to land by one of the Hittite garrison, and we learn that he was no less a personage than the Prince of Aleppo. A hieroglyphic inscription engraved over the head of the rescued man in the Abû-Simbel tableau runs thus: "The Great of Aleppo. His warriors lift him up after the King has flung him into the water." Now, it is certain that this is no merely fanciful

From the Pylon of the Ramesseum, Thebes. Photographed by Mr. W. M. F. Petrie.

The scientific literature of the Egyptians is extremely interesting, inasmuch as it illustrates that eager spirit of inquiry which is the mainspring of intellectual effort, and without which there can be no intellectual progress. But its value to us is, of course, purely archæological. We have nothing to learn from these earliest pioneers of astronomy, of mathematics, of medicine. We smile at their childlike and fanciful speculations but we are sometimes amazed to find how near they were to grasping many truths which we have been wont to regard as the hard-won prizes of modern research.

This is especially true of ancient Egyptian astronomy. Their observations were singularly exact. They understood perfectly well the difference between the fixed stars and the planets the first being "the genii which never move," and the last "the genii which never rest." They even knew that our own earth forms part of the planetary system, and is subject to the same law of motion. In a hieratic inscription of [Page 218] the Pyramid Period, for instance, it is said that "the earth navigates the celestial ocean in like manner with the sun and the stars." (53) Again, in a remarkable passage of the Great Harris Papyrus, we read how Ptah, the primordial god, "moulded man, created the gods, made the sky, and formed the earth revolving in space. " Unhappily, no papyrus treating of astronomy has yet been discovered but zodiacs, calendars, and astronomical tables, showing the divisions of the year, the phases of the moon and the dates and hours of the rising and setting of certain planets, abound on the walls of temples and tombs.

Two mathematical papyri have been found. One was discovered by Mr. Petrie in the ruins of a buried house in Tanis. This papyrus is the property of the Egypt Exploration Fund, and Prof. Eugène Revillout, of the Egyptian Department of the Louvre, has undertaken to translate it. The other mathematical papyrus was found by Mr. Rhind at Thebes. It belongs to the British Museum, and has been translated by Dr. August Eisenlohr, of Heidelberg. This curious document treats of plane trigonometry and the measurement of solids and it contains not only a system of reckoning by decimals, but a series of problems for solution by the student. Of the practical geometry of the Egyptians, we have a magnificent example in the Pyramids, which could never have been erected by builders who were not thoroughly conversant with the art of measuring surfaces and calculating the bulk and weight of materials.

Works on medicine abounded in Egypt from the remotest times, and the great medical library of Memphis, which was of immemorial antiquity, was yet in existence in the second century before our era, when Galen visited the Valley of the Nile. The Egyptians seem, indeed, to have especially prided themselves on their skill as physicians, and the art of healing was held in such high esteem that even kings made it their study. Ateta, third king of the First Dynasty, is the reputed author of a treatise on anatomy. He also covered himself with glory by the invention of an infallible hair-wash, [Page 219] which, like a dutiful son, he is said to have prepared especially for the benefit of his mother.

No less than five medical papyri have come down to our time, the finest being the celebrated Ebers papyrus, bought at Thebes by Dr. Ebers in 1874. This papyrus contains one hundred and ten pages, each page consisting of about twenty-two lines of bold hieratic writing. It may be described as an Encyclopædia of Medicine as known and practiced by the Egyptians of the Eighteenth Dynasty and it contains prescriptions for all kinds of diseases–some borrowed from Syrian medical lore, and some of such great antiquity that they are ascribed to the mythologic ages, when the gods yet reigned personally upon earth. Among others, we are given the recipe for an application whereby Osiris cured Ra of the headache.

The Egyptians attached great importance to these ancient medical works, which were regarded as final. The physician who faithfully followed their rules of treatment might kill or cure with impunity but if he ventured to treat the patient according to his own notions, and if that patient died, he paid for the experiment with his life. Seeing, however, what the canonical remedies were, the marvel is that anybody ever recovered from anything. Raw meat horrible mixtures of nitre, beer, milk, and blood, boiled up and swallowed hot the bile of certain fishes and the bones, fat, and skins of all kinds of unsavory creatures, such as vultures, bats, lizards, and crocodiles, were among their choicest remedies. What we suffer at the hands of the faculty in this nineteenth century is bad enough but we may rejoice that we have escaped the learned practitioners of Memphis and Thebes.

The moral philosophy of the ancient Egyptians is peculiarly interesting to us of a later age. It is not a profound philosophy. On the contrary, it is simple, practical, and very much to the point. We have several papyri containing collections of moral precepts, and most of them are written in the form of aphorisms on the conduct of life, [Page 220] addressed by a father to his son. Such are the Maxims of the Scribe Ani, the Maxims of Ptah-hotep, and others. The Maxims of Ptah-hotep are contained in the famous Prisse Papyrus, which has been styled "The Oldest Book in the World." This papyrus dates from the Twelfth Dynasty, and is copied from a yet more ancient document of the Fifth Dynasty, written some three thousand eight hundred years before our era. It is one of the treasures of the Bibliothèque Nationale, in Paris.

" Be not proud because of thy learning," saith Ptah-hotep. "Converse with the ignorant as freely as with the scholar, for the gates of knowledge should never be closed. "

" If thou art exalted after having been low, if thou art rich after having been needy, harden not thy heart because of thy elevation. Thou hast but become a steward of the good things belonging to the gods."

" If thou wouldst be of good conduct and dwell apart from evil, beware of bad temper for it contains the germs of all wickedness. When a man takes Justice for his guide and walks in her ways, there is no room in his soul for bad temper."

" If thou art a leader doing those things which are according to thy will, do for the best, which shall be remembered in time to come, so that the word which flatters, or feeds pride, or makes for vainglory, shall not weigh with thee."

" Treat well thy people, as it behooves thee this is the duty of those whom the gods favor."

" Do not disturb a great man do not distract the attention of the busy man. His care is to accomplish his task. Love for the work they have to do brings men nearer to the gods."

" Do not repeat the violent words [of others]. Do not listen to them. They have escaped a heated soul. If they are repeated in thy hearing, look on the ground and be silent."

" Take care of those who are faithful to thee, even when thine own estate is in evil case. So shall thy merit be greater than the honors which are done to thee." (54)

These, taken at random, are some of the wise words writ- [Page 221] ten by Ptah-hotep when, as he himself tells us, he had reached the patriarchal age of one hundred and ten years.

The Scribe Ani, who lived about one thousand years later, preaches the same just and gentle gospel. He says:

" Beware of giving pain by the words of thy mouth, and make not thyself to be feared."

" He who speaks evil, reaps evil."

" Work for thyself. Do not count upon the wealth of others it will not enter thy dwelling-place."

" Do not eat bread in the presence of one who stands and waits, without putting forth thine hand towards the loaf for him."

" Enter not into a crowd if thou art there in the beginnings of a quarrel."

Good manners are the minor morality of life, and Ani was not only a sage but a man of the world. He has something to say on the subject of etiquette:

" Be not discourteous to the stranger who is in thy house. He is thy guest."

" Do not remain sitting when thy elder or thy superior, is standing."

" If a deaf man is present, do not multiply words it is better thou keep silent "

A demotic papyrus (55) of comparatively recent date (in the Louvre collection) contains a series of maxims of much the same character as those propounded by Ptah-hotep in the time of the Ancient Empire, and by the Scribe Ani under the New Empire thus proving that the moral code of the Egyptians remained in all essential points the same, from the earliest to the latest chapter of their national history.

" Associate not thyself with the evil-doer," says this last moralist. " Ill-treat not thine inferior respect the aged."

" Ill-treat not thy wife, whose strength is less than thine. Be thou her protector."

" Save not thine own life at the expense of the life of another." [Page 222]

It is such brief and simple sayings as these which bring us nearest to the hearts of the old Egyptian people. We see them "as in a glass," and we see them at their best: a gentle, kindly, law-abiding race, anxious to cultivate peace and good-will, and to inculcate those rules of good conduct whereby their own lives had been guided. Their philosophy was not profound. They were not tormented by "the burden and the mystery of all this unintelligible world." They made no attempt to formulate or to solve those deeper problems which have perplexed the students of humanity since their time. To live happily, to live long, to deserve the favor of their superiors, to train their children in sane thinking and right-doing, to be respected in life and honorably remembered by posterity, represented the sum of their desires. It is a philosophy of utility and good-will, in which the ideal has no part.

The ancient Egyptians would have been unlike all other Orientals if they had not loved stories and songs yet it was not till the first ancient Egyptian romance was discovered that any one dreamed of a popular literature of the days of the Pharaohs. We had, I suppose, been so accustomed to think of the ancient Egyptians as mummies that we scarcely remembered they were men. Those mummies, it is true, had once been alive in a solemn, leathery, unsympathetic way, as became a people who were destined to be spiced, bandaged, and ultimately consigned to glass-cases in modern museums. But as for an ancient Egyptian in love, chanting a sonnet to his mistress's eyebrow and accompanying himself on the lute–we should have blushed to think of him in connection with so trivial an occupation!

And yet, within the last five-and-thirty years, no less than fifteen or sixteen romantic stories, and almost as many love-songs, have been brought to light. (56) Some had been lying undeciphered in the learned dust of various museums. Others were found in graves–buried, strange to say, with the mummies of their former owners. Some are as old as the Twelfth Dynasty others are as recent as the time of Alex- [Page 223] ander and the Ptolemies. In some we recognize stories familiar to us from childhood as old nursery tales, and as stories first read in the Arabian Nights Entertainments in others we discover the originals of legends which Herodotus, with a credulity peculiar to the learned, accepted for history. Even some of the fables attributed to Æsop are drawn from Egyptian sources older by eight hundred years than the famous dwarf who is supposed to have invented them. The fable of "The Lion and the Mouse" was discovered by Dr. Brugsch in an Egyptian papyrus a few years ago. "The Dispute of the Stomach and the Members" has yet more recently been identified by Professor Maspero with an ancient Egyptian original. (57) When we remember, however, that tradition associates the name of Æsop with that of Rhodopis, who lived at Naukratis in the time of Amasis, we seem to be within touch of the actual connection between Æsop and Egypt.

Of this same Rhodopis it is said, in an ancient Egyptian story repeated by Herodotus, that an eagle flew away with her sandal while she was bathing, and dropped it at the feet of the Egyptian King, at Memphis. Struck by its beauty, he sent out his messengers in all directions to find the owner of this little sandal and when they had found her, he made her his queen. In another Egyptian story, called "The Tale of the Two Brothers," a lock of hair from the head of a beautiful damsel is carried to Egypt by the river, and its perfume is so ravishing that the King despatches his scouts throughout the length and breadth of the land, that they may bring to him the owner of this lock of hair. She is found, of course, and she becomes his bride. In these tales we have apparently the germ of Cinderella.

In another story, called "The Taking of Joppa," we meet with what is unquestionably the original source of the leading incident in the familiar story of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves." One Tahuti, a general of Thothmes III., who is sent to lay siege to the city of Joppa, conceals two hundred of his soldiers in two hundred big jars, fills three hun- [Page 224] dred other jars with cords and fetters, loads five hundred other soldiers with these five hundred jars, and sends them into the city in the character of captives. Once inside the gates, the bearers liberate and arm their comrades, take the place, and make all the inhabitants prisoners. Now, although the King and the General are both historical personages, and although Joppa figures in the lists of cities conquered by Thothmes III., the story itself is evidently pure romance. As for the big jars with their human cargoes, they are clearly the forefathers of the jars which housed the "Forty Thieves."

We turn to another story, called "The Doomed Prince," and we are at once reminded of the story of "Prince Agib and the Lodestone Mountain." After years of hope deferred, a king and queen are blessed with a beautiful son. The seven Hathors, who play the part of fairy godmothers in these old Egyptian stories, predict that the prince will die from the bite of a crocodile, a serpent, or a dog. The King accordingly builds a castle on the top of a lofty mountain, and there makes a state-prisoner of his son. His precautions are, of course, in vain. The young man escapes from durance vile, and becomes the husband of a lovely princess and the master of a faithful dog. The princess kills the serpent the dog kills the crocodile and, although the end of the story is unfortunately lost, it is evident that the dog, by some fatal accident, will fulfill his master's doom, just as the doom of Agib is fulfilled by his friend.

Another tale of extreme antiquity, entitled "The Shipwrecked Mariner," tells of a seaman cast on the shores of a desolate island abounding in delicious fruits, and inhabited by a limited population of seventy-five amiable and intelligent serpents. The head of this charming family was thirty cubits long. His body was incrusted with gold and lapis lazuli , and nature had adorned him with a magnificent beard. He talks like a book treats the seaman with distinguished hospitality and when a ship comes that way, dismisses his guest with gifts of perfumes, incense, rare woods, elephant [Page 225] tusks, baboons, and all kinds of precious things. Here is probably the starting-point of our dear old friend, "Sindbad the Sailor," who was also cast among a population of serpents.

In others of these ancient fictions, King Khufu, the builder of the Great Pyramid Prince Kha-em-uas, the favorite son of Rameses the Great King Amasis, who gave Naukratis to the Greeks and even the great Alexander himself, figure among the dramatis personæ.

Of the popular poetry of those far-off times we will take but two specimens, the one a love-song, from a papyrus in the British Museum the other a rustic ditty, supposed to be sung by the driver of a pair of oxen, while they tread out the corn on the threshing-floor.

The love-song is sung by a girl to her lover. Each strophe begins with an invocation to a flower, thus curiously resembling the stornelli of the Tuscan peasantry, of which every verse begins and ends with a similar invocation to some familiar blossom or tree:

" Oh, flower of henna!
My heart stands still in thy presence.
I have made mine eyes brilliant for thee with kohl.
When I behold thee, I fly to thee, oh my Beloved!
Oh, Lord of my heart, sweet is this hour. An hour passed with thee is worth an hour of eternity!

" Oh, flower of marjoram !
Fain would I be to thee as the garden in which I have planted flowers and sweet-smelling shrubs! the garden watered by pleasant runlets, and refreshed by the north breeze!
Here let us walk, oh my Beloved, hand in hand, our hearts filled with joy !
Better than food, better than drink, is it to behold thee.
To behold thee, and to behold thee again!"

This is literally "the old, old story" and the story this time is yet older than the song. (58) [Page 226]

Our threshing-song dates from about 1650 B.C. It is carved on the walls of the tomb of one Pahiri, at El Kab in Upper Egypt, and it belongs to the early years of the Eighteenth Dynasty. In the wall-painting which illustrates the text, we see the oxen at work, just as in the Egypt of today, treading in a measured circle, with the driver seated on his revolving stool in the middle.

It is a simple chant of but four lines many times repeated. (59) We know not the air to which it was sung but no one who has listened to the monotonous songs of the Egyptian laborers as they ply the shadûf or the waterwheel, can fail to be struck by their evident antiquity. Doubtless, the cadenced chant intoned of old by Pahiri's laborers survives to this day among those so often heard by the modern traveller, as his boat glides along the broad waters of the sacred river. These are the words:

" Thresh the corn, oh ye oxen !
Thresh for yourselves, oh oxen!
The fodder for eating,
The grain for your master!"

It has been thus paraphrased by Mr. Gliddon:

" Hie along oxen,
Tread the corn faster !
The straw for yourselves
The grain for your master!"

The Religion of ancient Egypt is still very imperfectly understood. Every year, almost every day, we find ourselves compelled to abandon some long-established theory which, up to that moment, we had believed to be as self-evident as the pyramids, and as well understood as the law of gravitation. The opening of a tomb, the discovery of a papyrus, may at any moment put us in possession of religious texts older than the oldest yet known, and subversive, perhaps, of our best-founded assumptions. [Page 227]

This is precisely what happened when the pyramids of Unas, Teta, and other very early kings were excavated in 1881 and 1882. Because the Great Pyramids of Ghizeh are destitute of inscriptions, it had been rashly concluded that all pyramids must be blank. Great, therefore, was the stupefaction of those who pinned their faith upon that theory, when the sepulchral chambers and passages of this group were found to be lined with graven prayers and invocations, some of which are more ancient than any religious texts previously known. Again, it had been laid down as one of the fundamental facts of the Egyptian religion that certain gods, whose renown was great at a later period, were as yet unborn, so to speak, in the time of the Pyramid Kings. Thebes was not founded till the beginning of the Eleventh Dynasty, and Amen was the Great God of Thebes. Consequently, Amen had no existence when the pyramids of Unas, Teta, and Pepi, of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties, were built. But when those pyramids were laid open, Amen was found there as a member of the cycle of great deities.

We cannot, in fact, exercise too much caution in formulating general rules, or in making use of elastic definitions. We speak, for instance, of "the Egyptian religion" but there can hardly be a much more misleading phrase. Just as Professor Revillout has said of the Egyptian language that "it is not one language, but a whole family of languages," so I would say of the Egyptian religion, that it is not one religion, but a whole family of religions. This family springs, it is true, from one very ancient stock but it branches out into innumerable varieties. It is not too much to say that there was in Egypt a Religion of the Pyramid Period, a Religion of the Theban Period, a Religion of Saïs, a Religion of the Ptolemaic age, a Popular Religion, a Sacerdotal Religion, a Religion of Polytheism, a Religion of Pantheism, a Religion of Monotheism, and a Religion of Platonic Philosophy. And these religions were not revolutionary. The new did not drive out the old, as the bud pushes off the dead leaf in autumn. On the contrary, the Egyptians, who were nothing [Page 228] if not conservative, clung with the strictest fidelity to the old, even while ardently embracing the new. It did not matter in the least, if the dogmas of one school were diametrically opposed to the dogmas of half a dozen other schools they continued to believe them all. (60)

The one great and crucial question–the question which we are most keenly concerned to resolve–is whether the ancient Egyptians believed in one God, or in many gods. In Ra, the supreme solar deity, are we to recognize the Egyptian synonym for "Almighty God, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and of all that in them is ?" Are the other deities of the Egyptian Pantheon mere personifications of his divine attributes ? Does Knum represent his creative power? Does Amen, the Hidden One, signify his unsearchable mystery ? Does Thoth, the ibis-headed god of letters, typify his wisdom, and the bull Apis his strength, and the jackal Anubis his swiftness ? Are these animal-headed and bird-headed and reptile-headed forms mere hieroglyphs, of which the secret meaning is the unity and omnipresence of God ?

This theory was elaborated in the first instance by M. Pierret, in his Essai sur la Mythologie Egyptienne and it has been still further developed by Dr. Brugsch in his recent work on The Religion and Mythology of the Ancient Egyptians. As it is the most attractive exposition of the Egyptian Pantheon, so it is undoubtedly the most popular, and I therefore doubly regret that I am unable to follow M. Pierret and Dr. Brugsch in their proposed solution of this deeply interesting problem. This solution is founded on the assumption that the religion of the Egyptians was, from first to last, absolutely homogeneous and that in all its complex developments it merely presented varying aspects of one simple, fundamental, and God-given truth. In this sense, all the gods of Egypt are one and the same, the name merely changing with the seat of worship. Animal worship becomes mere symbolism and Knum, Sebek, Horus, Thoth, Anubis, and the rest, are but reflections of an omnipresent Deity. [Page 229]

The Egyptians were, unquestionably, the most wonderful people of antiquity but they would have been infinitely more wonderful had they started in life with notions so just, so philosophic, so exalted, as these. The earliest Egyptian monuments to which we can assign a date are the monuments of a people already highly civilized, and in the possession of an alphabetic system of writing, a grammar, a government, and a religion. It must have taken them long ages to arrive at this advanced stage of their national development and of those ages a few vague traditions and the names of three dynasties of kings have alone survived. Yet there must have been a time when these people were mere unlettered barbarians, like the forefathers of other nations. They did not spring fully civilized from the mud of the inundation, like Athena from the head of Zeus. As a matter of fact, the barbarian origin of the Egyptians is more distinctly traceable than the barbarian origin of any other highly civilized nation of antiquity. It is traceable in their laws, in their customs, and even in their costumes. Above all, it is traceable in their religion.

We have but to turn our eyes to the far West of America in order to discover the living solution of some of our most puzzling Egyptian problems. Just as the northern half of that great continent was originally possessed by tribes of Indians, so the land of Egypt, in the ages before history, was divided into many small territories, each territory peopled by an independent clan. The red man had, and has, his "totems," or clan crests these "totems" being sometimes animals, as the bear, the wolf, the beaver, the deer and sometimes birds, as the snipe, the hawk, the heron. So, in like manner, the prehistoric tribes of ancient Egypt will have had their "totems," taken from the familiar beasts, birds, and reptiles of the Nile Valley–the jackal, the crocodile, the ibis, and so forth.

Now, a distinctive appellation is one of the first necessities of life, whether savage or civilized and in an age when proper names, and the occupations from which proper names [Page 230] are largely derived, are yet unknown, the tribal name is of extreme importance. For this tribal name, the savage naturally adopts that of some creature whose strength, subtlety, swiftness, or fearlessness may symbolize such qualities in himself. These facts are true of barbarian and semi-civilized races in all parts of the world. The Bechuanas of South Africa, the Kols of Khota Nagpar in Asia, the Yakats of Siberia in Northern Europe, the aborigines of Australia, are all divided into clans, each clan being affiliated to some beast, bird, fish, or reptile. They all regard the "totem" animal as sacred. They forbear to eat it and if compelled in self-defence to kill it, they ask its pardon for the act.

Here, then, we have the origin of animal worship–animal worship being the direct outcome of totemism.

Now, what is true of these American, South African, Asiatic, European, and Australian tribes, must surely be true also of the prehistoric Egyptians. They began with totemism–the Bull-clan at Memphis, the Crocodile-clan in the Fayûm, the Ibis-clan at Hermopolis, and so forth. (61) As time went on and civilization progressed, they explained away the grosser features of this creed by representing the totem animal as the symbol, or incarnation, of an unseen deity and there is no clearer proof of the extreme antiquity of their civilization than the fact that they had already reached this point in their spiritual career when Mena, the first king of the First Dynasty, laid the foundation-stone of the Temple of Ptah, at Memphis.

But, having started from totemism, animal worship, and polytheism, did they not rise at last to higher things–to monotheism, pure and simple ?

Yes they did rise to monotheism but not, I think, to monotheism pure and simple. Their monotheism was not exactly our monotheism: it was a monotheism based upon, and evolved from, the polytheism of earlier ages. Could we question a high-priest of Thebes of the time of the Nineteenth or Twentieth Dynasty on the subject of his faith, we should be startled by the breadth and grandeur of his views touch- [Page 231] ing the Godhead. He would tell us that Ra was the Great All that by his word alone he called all things into existence that all things are therefore but reflections of himself and his will that he is the creator of day and night, of the heavenly spheres, of infinite space that he is the eternal essence, invisible, omnipresent, omniscient in a word, that he is God Almighty.

If, after this, we could put the same questions to a high-priest of Memphis, we should receive a very similar answer, only we should now be told that this great divinity was Ptah. And if we could make the tour of Egypt, visiting every great city, and questioning the priests of every great temple in turn, we should find that each claimed these attributes of unity and universality for his own local god. All, nevertheless, would admit the identity of these various deities. They would admit that he whom they worshipped at Heliopolis as Ra was the same as he whom they worshipped at Memphis as Ptah, and at Thebes as Amen. We have proof of their catholicity in this respect. Ptah and Apis were, of course, one and the same but Apis was also recognized as "The Soul of Osiris, and the Life of Tum." Again, Amen and Knum and Sebek were made one with Ra, and became Amen-Ra, Knum-Ra, and Sebek-Ra. This, however, was but a compromise, and they never got beyond it. That individual theologians rose to the height of pure monotheism cannot be doubted. Those who conceived and formulated the exalted pantheism of Ra-worship cannot have failed to go that one step further but that one step further would be heresy, and heresy was not likely to leave records for future historians in a land where the governing classes were all members of the priesthood. In a word, it is certain–absolutely certain–that every great local deity was worshipped as the "one God " of his own city or province and it is also certain that, to whatever extent these gods were identified one with another, the Egyptians never agreed to abolish their Pantheon in favor of one, and only one, supreme deity. (62) [Page 232]

There is, however, one central fact which must never be overlooked in any discussion of the religion of the old Egyptian people. They were the first in the history of the world who recognized, and held fast by, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Look back as far as we will into the darkness of their past, question as closely as we may the earliest of their monuments, and we yet find them looking forward to an eternal future.

Their notions of Man, the microcosm, were more complex than ours. They conceived him to consist of a Body, a Soul, a Spirit, a Name, a Shadow, and a Ka–that Ka which I have ventured to interpret as the Life* and they held that the perfect reunion of all these parts was a necessary condition of the life to come. Hence the care with which they embalmed the Body hence the food and drink offerings with which they nourished the Ka hence the funerary texts with which they lined the tomb, and the funerary papyri which they buried with the mummy for the instruction of the Soul. But none of these precautions availed, unless the man had lived a pure and holy life in this world, and came before the judgment-seat of Osiris with clean hands, a clean heart, and a clean conscience.

" Glory to thee, O thou Great God, thou Lord of truth and justice !" says the dead man, when brought into the presence of the eternal Judge. "Lo ! I have defrauded no man of his dues. I have not oppressed the widow. I have not borne false witness. I have not been slothful. I have broken faith with no man. I have starved no man. I have slain no man. I have not enriched myself by unlawful gains. I have not given short measure of corn. I have not tampered with the scales. I have not encroached upon my neighbor's field. I have not cut off the running water from its lawful channel. I have not turned away the food from the mouths of the fatherless. Lo ! I am pure ! I am pure !"

This is from the Negative Confession in the 125th chapter [Page 233] of the most famous religious book of the ancient Egyptians– The Book of the Dead. It gives the measure of their standard of morality. The teachers who established that standard, and the people who endeavored faithfully to live up to it, may have had very childish and fantastic notions on many points they may in one place have put gold rings in the ears of their sacred crocodiles they may have shaved their eyebrows when their cats died but as regards uprightness, charity, justice, and mercy, they would not, I think, have much to learn from us, if they were living to this day beside the pleasant waters of the Nile.

Ancient Egyptian Food and Drink

Pin The kneaded dough was then shaped into round, flat loaves and baked on hot stones. Leavened bread incorporating yeast arrived around 1500 B.C.

In the Old Kingdom, researchers discovered references to 15 forms of bread. The baker’s repertoire had increased to more than 40 types of bread in the New Kingdom. The wealthy ate bread sweetened with honey, spices, and fruit. Bread came in many shapes and sizes. Temple offerings of bread were often sprinkled with cumin. Bread used in sacred or magical rituals was shaped into an animal or human form.

Vegetables and Fruit

The vegetables of ancient Egypt would have been familiar to us today. Forms of beans, carrots, lettuce, spinach, radishes, turnips, onions, leeks, garlic, lentils, and chickpeas all featured in their everyday diet. Melons, pumpkins, and cucumbers grew profusely on the banks of the Nile.

Less familiar to us today were lotus bulbs, and papyrus rhizomes, which were also part of the Egyptian diet. Some vegetables were sun-dried and stored for the winter. Vegetables were made into salads and served with dressings of oil, vinegar, and salt.

Commonly eaten fruits included plums, figs, dates, grapes, persea fruit, jujubes and the fruit of the sycamore tree, while palm coconuts were a treasured luxury.

Apples, pomegranates, peas, and olives appeared in the New Kingdom. Citrus fruits were not introduced until after the Greco-Roman time.

Beef from wild oxen was the most popular meat. Goat, mutton, and antelope were also eaten regularly, while ibex, gazelle, and oryx were more exotic meat choices. Offal, particularly the liver and spleen was highly desirable.

Poultry was widely eaten by ancient Egyptians, particularly domesticated ducks and geese. Wild geese together with wild quail, pigeons, cranes, and pelicans were caught in huge numbers in the Nile Delta marshes. The late Roman era saw chickens added into Egyptian diets. Eggs were plentiful.

Fish formed part of peasant diets. Those not eaten fresh were dried or salted. Typical fish table species included mullet, catfish, sturgeon, carp, barbi, tilapia, and eels.

Dairy Products

Despite the lack of refrigeration, milk, butter and cheese were widely available. A variety of cheese was processed using milk from cows, goats, and sheep. The cheese was churned in animal skins and rocked. Milk and cheese dating back to the First Dynasty have been found in tombs in Abydos.

Spices and Seasonings

For cooking, ancient Egyptians used both red salt and northern salt. They also used sesame, linseed, ben-nut oil and olive oil. Frying was done with goose and beef fat. There was light and dark honey. Spices included coriander, cumin, fennel, juniper berries, poppy seeds, and aniseed.

Beer was drunk by both the rich and the poor alike. Beer was the preferred drink of ancient Egyptians. Records indicate there were five common styles of beer in the Old Kingdom including red, sweet and black. Beer produced in Qede was popular during the New Kingdom.

Barley was primarily used in brewing beer. Combined with yeast, the barley was handmade into a dough. This dough was placed in clay pots and partly baked in an oven. The baked dough was then crumbled into a large tub, water was then added and the mixture allowed to ferment before being flavored with honey, pomegranate juice or dates.

Wine was made using grapes, dates, pomegranates or figs. Honey, pomegranate and date juice was often used to spice the wine. First Dynasty excavation sites have turned up wine jars still sealed with clay. Red wine was popular in the Old Kingdom while white wine had overtaken them by the time of the new Kingdom.

Palestine, Syria, and Greece all exported wine to Egypt. Due to its cost, wine was most popular with the upper classes.

Reflecting On The Past

With the abundance of food available to them, did the ancient Egyptian eat better than many of our children do with today’s high sugar, high fat and high salt diets?

Header image courtesy: Anonymous Egyptian tomb artist(s) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Mummified Kitten Served As Egyptian Offering

Two thousand years ago, an Egyptian purchased a mummified kitten from a breeder, to offer as a sacrifice to the goddess Bastet, new research suggests.

Between about 332 B.C. and 30 B.C. in Egypt, cats were bred near temples specifically to be mummified and used as offerings.

The cat mummy came from the Egyptian Collection of the National Archeological Museum in Parma, Italy. It was bought by the museum in the 18th century from a collector. Because of how the museum acquired it, there's no documentation about where the mummy came from.

The cat mummies from this period are common, especially kittens. "Kittens, aged 2 to 4 months old, were sacrificed in huge numbers, because they were more suitable for mummification," the authors write in the paper, published in the April 2012 issue of the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.

The researchers did a radiograph &mdash similar to an X-ray &mdash of the mummy, to see under the wrappings, finding the small cat was actually a kitten, only about 5 or 6 months old.

"The fact that the cat was young suggests that it was one of those bred specifically for mummification," study researcher Giacomo Gnudi, a professor at the University of Parma, said in a statement.

The cat was wrapped as tightly as possible, and had been placed in a sitting position before mummification, similar to the seated cats depicted in hieroglyphics from the same era. To make the cat take up as little space as possible, the embalmers fractured some of the cat's bones, including a backbone at the base of the spine to position the tail as close to the body as possible, and ribs to make the front limbs sit closer to the body.

A hole in the cat's skull may have been the cause of death, or it could have been created during the mummification process to drain the skull's contents.

"The arrangement of the mummy's wrappings is intricate, with various geometrical patterns. The eyes are depicted in black ink on small round pieces of linen bandage," the researchers write. "The cat skeleton is also complete, meaning that it is one of the most valuable types."

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A rectangular limestone offering table with deeply recessed square section to the center for offerings, flat rim to the sides engraved with hieroglyphs raised border to the edge engraved with hieroglyphs to the top upper register decorated with three offering vessels traces of red and black pigment to the hieroglyphs chamfered edge with deeply sloping slides to a flat base. 5.01 kg

Offerings of food were basic to the continued existence of the gods and the dead alike. They were often presented to them on special tables. In the homes these might stand in niches in a room used as a domestic shrine, in temples in rooms dedicated to offerings and in funerary chapels above the tomb, otherwise it was placed on the ground on top of the grave. The offering tables were decorated with food stuffs and inscribed with the offering prayers, which would nourish the deceased through their magic, if real foodstuffs were not provided. In depictions the offering tables are laden with a great variety of exquisite foodstuffs, and quite possibly that was the quality and quantity of offerings customary among the rich.

The ancient Egyptians held feasts on a variety of occasions, most of which were connected to religious observances or commemorations of the dead. These banquets ideally featured large gatherings of family members and close associates, music and dance, and copious amounts of food.

The Nile River in Ancient Egyptian Civilization

The importance of the Nile River in the ancient Egyptian civilization cannot be overstated. The Greek historian Herodotus is often credited with stating that Egypt was “the gift of the Nile.” Flowing into Egypt from an elevation of 6,000 feet above sea level, Nile waters deposited silt, natural fertilizer, along its banks in Lower Egypt, turning the land green and agriculturally prosperous. The sacred waters of the Nile characterized every important aspect of Egyptian civilization.

The Nile River and Egyptian Agriculture

Flowing downward into the Mediterranean Sea, Africa’s longest river becomes one great water source at the ancient city of Khartoum where the Blue Nile and the White Nile merge. The Blue Nile begins at Lake Tana in Ethiopia, where yearly rains produce the waters that would inundate Egypt at the start of their 365 day calendar marking the day that Sirius rose at dawn. The White Nile originates in sub-tropical Africa at Lake Victoria.

Egyptians developed methods of predicting the impact of yearly inundations, recording yearly water levels. The Old Testament story of Joseph in Egypt, most probably as a Vizier to the Pharaoh, illustrates Egyptian concerns regarding the flow of the Nile and its impact on future harvests. Although the story is not corroborated by other historical sources, there were documented periods when Egypt, through careful planning, had sufficient wheat and barley while other areas of the ancient world were experiencing famine conditions.

During the period or season of “inundation,” when Egypt became a virtual sea, the Egyptians used their time to work on state building projects. During the Old Kingdom, the pyramids were constructed through the labor of Egyptians, usually during periods when the Nile flooded its banks. In the Middle Kingdom, flood periods produced canals, temples, and other official edifices that served the entire community.

Sacredness of the Nile

According to Rundle Clark, “the harvest is the peculiar property of Osiris. The Divine Command, the Logos which determines the life-principle in the world is reasserted annually in the flood.” Osiris was the god who taught the Egyptians agriculture. The overflowing of Egypt’s banks by the Nile also recreated the Egyptian creation story which reminded every Egyptian that the Nile waters were linked to life.

According to one of the Pyramid Texts, the Spirit of the Nile declares, “Canal of happiness will be the name of this canal as it floods the fields with plenty.” Interestingly, in the Old Testament story of the Exodus, one of the “plagues” upon Egypt was the turning of the Nile waters into blood. The Old Testament symbolism should not be lost. While the Nile was sacred to the Egyptians, blood, associated with the remission of sins, was a vital part of Hebrew belief.

Disruption of the Nile

The Aswan High Dam was completed in 1971, effectively ending the flooding that for centuries had provided Egypt with fertile, naturally fertilized land. The dam was constructed to control flooding, which had become a problem in Cairo, as well as to provide energy needs. Unfortunately, the disruption of the Nile led to the use of chemical fertilizing which has, over the years, led to toxic repercussions.


Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1994).

Sigrid Hodel-Hoenes, Life and Death in Ancient Egypt (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000), translated by David Warburton.

Johr Ray, Reflections of Osiris: Lives From Ancient Egypt (Oxford University Press, 2002).

R. T. Rundle Clark, Myth and Symbolism in Ancient Egypt (London: Thames and Hudson, 1995) p. 84.

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