The Ancient Egyptian “Song of the Harper”

by Esteban

“More interesting than any of the above songs is the so-called “Song of the Harper,” of which two copies are known: the first is found in the papyrus Harris 500, already mentioned, and the second in a papyrus at Leyden.

Extracts of this poem are also found on the walls of the tomb of Nefer-hetep at Thebes. The copy in the papyrus reads:

THE POEM THAT IS IN THE HALL OF THE TOMB OF [THE KING OF THE SOUTH, THE KING OF THE NORTH], ANTUF, [He was one of the kings of the eleventh dynasty, about 2700 B.C.] WHOSE WORD IS TRUTH, [AND IS CUT] IN FRONT OF THE HARPER.

“O good prince, it is a decree, And what hath been ordained thereby is well, That the bodies of men shall pass away and disappear, Whilst others remain.

Since the time of the oldest ancestors, The gods who lived in olden time, Who lie at rest in their sepulchres, The Masters and also the Shining Ones, Who have been buried in their splendid tombs, Who have built sacrificial halls in their tombs, Their place is no more. Consider what hath become of them!

I have heard the words of Imhetep [A high official of Tcheser, a king of the third dynasty] and Herutataf, [Son of Khufu, the builder of the Great Pyramid (fourth dynasty)].

Which are treasured above everything because they uttered them. Consider what hath become of their tombs! Their walls have been thrown down; Their places are no more; They are just as if they had never existed.

Not one [of them] cometh from where they are. Who can describe to us their form (or, condition), Who can describe to us their surroundings, Who can give comfort to our hearts, And can act as our guide To the place whereunto they have departed?

Give comfort to thy heart, And let thy heart forget these things; What is best for thee to do is To follow thy heart’s desire as long as thou livest.

Anoint thy head with scented unguents. Let thine apparel be of byssus Dipped in costly [perfumes], In the veritable products (?) of the gods.

Enjoy thyself more than thou hast ever done before, And let not thy heart pine for lack of pleasure.

Pursue thy heart’s desire and thine own happiness. Order thy surroundings on earth in such a way That they may minister to the desire of thy heart; [For] at length that day of lamentation shall come, Wherein he whose heart is still shall not hear the lamentation. Never shall cries of grief cause To beat [again] the heart of a man who is in the grave.

Therefore occupy thyself with thy pleasure daily, And never cease to enjoy thyself.

Behold, a man is not permitted To carry his possessions away with him. Behold, there never was any one who, having departed, Was able to come back again.”

–E.A. Wallis Budge, The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, pp. 109-10.