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Tag: Thebes

Herodotus on E-Sagila

“181. This wall then which I have mentioned is as it were a cuirass for the town, and another wall runs round within it, not much weaker for defence than the first but enclosing a smaller space.

And in each division of the city was a building in the midst, in the one the king’s palace of great extent and strongly fortified round, and in the other the temple of Zeus Belos with bronze gates, and this exists still up to my time and measures two furlongs each way, being of a square shape: and in the midst of the temple is built a solid tower measuring a furlong both in length and in breadth, and on this tower another tower has been erected, and another again upon this, and so on up to the number of eight towers.

An ascent to these has been built running outside round about all the towers; and when one reaches about the middle of the ascent one finds a stopping-place and seats to rest upon, on which those who ascend sit down and rest: and on the top of the last tower there is a large cell, and in the cell a large couch is laid, well covered, and by it is placed a golden table: and there is no image there set up nor does any human being spend the night there except only one woman of the natives of the place, whomsoever the god shall choose from all the woman, as say the Chaldeans who are the priests of this god.

182. These same men say also, but I do not believe them, that the god himself comes often to the cell and rests upon the couch, as happens likewise in the Egyptian Thebes according to the report of the Egyptians, for there also a woman sleeps in the temple of the Theban Zeus (and both these women are said to abstain from commerce with men), and as happens also with the prophetess of the god in Patara of Lykia, whenever there is one, for there is not always an Oracle there, but whenever there is one, then she is shut up during the nights in the temple within the cell.

183. There is moreover in the temple at Babylon another cell below, wherein is a great image of Zeus sitting, made of gold, and by it is placed a large table of gold, and his footstool and seat are of gold also; and, as the Chaldeans reported, the weight of the gold of which these things are made is eight hundred talents.

Outside this cell is an altar of gold; and there is also another altar of great size, where full-grown animals are sacrificed, whereas on the golden altar it is not lawful to sacrifice any but young sucklings only: and also on the larger altar the Chaldeans offer one thousand talents of frankincense every year at the time when they celebrate the feast in honour of this god.

There was moreover in these precincts still remaining at the time of Cyrus, a statue twelve cubits high, of gold and solid. This I did not myself see, but that which is related by the Chaldeans I relate. Against this statue Dareios the son of Hystaspes formed a design, but he did not venture to take it: it was taken however by Xerxes the son of Dareios, who also killed the priest when he forbade him to meddle with the statue. This temple, then, is thus adorned with magnificence, and there are also many private votive-offerings.”

G.C. Macaulay, trans., The History of Herodotus, 1890, pp. Book 1, Clio, 180.

The Royal Library of Kalkhi

” … The prominence given to Nebo, the god of Borsippa, during the reign of Adad-nirari IV is highly significant.

He appears in his later character as a god of culture and wisdom, the patron of scribes and artists, and the wise counsellor of the deities. He symbolized the intellectual life of the southern kingdom, which was more closely associated with religious ethics than that of war-loving Assyria.

A great temple was erected to Nebo at Kalkhi, and four statues of him were placed within it, two of which are now in the British Museum. On one of these was cut the inscription, from which we have quoted, lauding the exalted and wise deity and invoking him to protect Adad-nirari and the lady of the palace, Sammu-rammat, and closing with the exhortation, “Whoso cometh in after time, let him trust in Nebo and trust in no other god.”

The priests of Ashur in the city of Asshur must have been as deeply stirred by this religious revolt at Kalkhi as were the priests of Amon when Akhenaton turned his back on Thebes and the national god to worship Aton in his new capital at Tell-el-Amarna.

It would appear that this sudden stream of Babylonian culture had begun to flow into Assyria as early as the reign of Shalmaneser III, and it may be that it was on account of that monarch’s pro-Babylonian tendencies that his nobles and priests revolted against him.

Shalmaneser established at Kalkhi a royal library which was stocked with the literature of the southern kingdom. During the reign of Adad-nirari IV this collection was greatly increased, and subsequent additions were made to it by his successors, and especially Ashur-nirari IV, the last monarch of the Middle Empire.

The inscriptions of Shamshi-Adad, son of Shalmaneser III, have literary qualities which distinguish them from those of his predecessors, and may be accounted for by the influence exercised by Babylonian scholars who migrated northward.

To the reign of Adad-nirari belongs also that important compilation the Synchronistic History of Assyria and Babylonia, which deals with the relations of the two kingdoms and refers to contemporary events and rulers.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 422-3.

Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Temple of E-sagila, Bel Merodach, Tower of Babel

” … In Greek times Babylon was famous for the hanging or terraced gardens of the “new palace,” which had been erected by Nebuchadnezzar II.

These occupied a square which was more than a quarter of a mile in circumference. Great stone terraces, resting on arches, rose up like a giant stairway to a height of about three hundred and fifty feet, and the whole structure was strengthened by a surrounding wall over twenty feet in thickness.

So deep were the layers of mould on each terrace that fruit trees were grown amidst the plants of luxuriant foliage and the brilliant Asian flowers. Water for irrigating the gardens was raised from the river by a mechanical contrivance to a great cistern situated on the highest terrace, and it was prevented from leaking out of the soil by layers of reeds and bitumen and sheets of lead.

Spacious apartments, luxuriously furnished and decorated, were constructed in the spaces between the arches and were festooned by flowering creepers. A broad stairway ascended from terrace to terrace.

The old palace stood in a square nearly four miles in circumference, and was strongly protected by three walls, which were decorated by sculptures in low relief, representing battle scenes and scenes of the chase and royal ceremonies. Winged bulls with human heads guarded the main entrance.

Another architectural feature of the city was E-sagila, the temple of Bel Merodach, known to the Greeks as “Jupiter-Belus.” The high wall which enclosed it had gates of solid brass. “In the middle of the precinct,” wrote Herodotus,

“there was a tower of solid masonry, a furlong in length and breadth, upon which was raised a second tower, and on that a third, and so on up to eight.

The ascent to the top is on the outside, by a path which winds round all the towers. When one is about halfway up, one finds a resting-place and seats, where persons are wont to sit some time on their way to the summit.

On the topmost tower there is a spacious temple, and inside the temple stands a couch of unusual size, richly adorned, with a golden table by its side.

There is no statue of any kind set up in the place, nor is the chamber occupied of nights by anyone but a single native woman, who, as the Chaldaeans, the priests of this god, affirm, is chosen for himself by the deity out of all the women of the land.”

A woman who was the “wife of Amon” also slept in that god’s temple at Thebes in Egypt. A similar custom was observed in Lycia.

“Below, in the same precinct,” continued Herodotus, “there is a second temple, in which is a sitting figure of Jupiter, all of gold. Before the figure stands a large golden table, and the throne whereon it sits, and the base on which the throne is placed, are likewise of pure gold….

Outside the temple are two altars, one of solid gold, on which it is only lawful to offer sucklings; the other, a common altar, but of great size, on which the full-grown animals are sacrificed.

It is also on the great altar that the Chaldaeans burn the frankincense, which is offered to the amount of a thousand talents’ weight, every year, at the festival of the god.

In the time of Cyrus there was likewise in this temple a figure of a man, twelve cubits high, entirely of solid gold…. Besides the ornaments which I have mentioned, there are a large number of private offerings in this holy precinct.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Procuring Dreams and Visions

Since dreams and visions in which the future might be revealed to the sleeper were greatly desired, the Egyptian magician set himself to procure such for his clients by various devices, such as drawing magical pictures and reciting magical words.

The following are examples of spells for procuring a vision and dreams, taken from British Museum Papyrus, No. 122, lines 64 ff. and 359 ff, (see Catalogue of Greek Papyri, vol. i. p. 118).

“To obtain a vision from [the god] Bes. Make a drawing of Besa, as shewn below, on your left hand, and envelope your hand in a strip of black cloth that has been consecrated to Isis (?) and lie down to sleep without speaking a word, even in answer to a question.”

“Wind the remainder of the cloth round your neck. The ink with which you write must be composed of the blood of a cow, the blood of a white dove, fresh (?) frankincense, myrrh, black writing-ink, cinnabar, mulberry juice, rain-water, and the juice of wormwood and vetch.”

“With this write your petition before the setting sun, [saying], “Send the truthful seer out of the holy shrine, I beseech thee, Lampsuer, Sumarta, Baribas, Dardalam, Iorlex: O Lord send the sacred deity Anuth, Anuth, Salbana, Chambré, Breïth, now, now, quickly, quickly. Come in this very night.'” (A sketch of the god Besa is given at the end of the papyrus. See the description of the “Metternichstele” above, p. 147 ff).

“To procure dreams: Take a clean linen bag and write upon it the names given below. Fold it up and make it into a lamp-wick, and set it alight, pouring pure oil over it.”

“The word to be written is this: ‘Armiuth, Lailamchoüch, Arsenophrephren, Phtha, Archentechtha.’”

“Then in the evening, when you are going to bed, which you must do without touching food [or, pure from all defilement], do thus.”

“Approach the lamp and repeat seven times the formula given below: then extinguish it and lie down to sleep. The formula is this: ‘Sachmu . . . epaëma Ligotereënch: the Aeon, the Thunderer, Thou that hast swallowed the snake and dost exhaust the moon, and dost raise up the orb of the sun in his season, Chthetho is thy name; I require, O lords of the gods, Seth, Chreps, give me the information that I desire.’”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 215-7.

In Which a Pharaoh Sends the Statue of a God on a Journey

The Prince of Bekhten, seeing that the priest was unable to afford relief to his daughter, sent once again to the king, and entreated him to send a god to his help.

When the ambassador from Bekhten arrived in Egypt the king was in Thebes, and on hearing what was asked he went into the temple of Khonsu Nefer-hetep, and besought that god to allow his counterpart Khonsu to depart to Bekhten and to deliver the daughter of the prince of that country from the power of the demon that possessed her.

It seems as if the sage Tehuti-em-heb had been sent to Bekhten by the advice of the god, for the king says, in addressing, the god, “I have come once again into thy presence”; but in any case Khonsu Nefer-hetep agreed to his request, and a fourfold measure of magical power was imparted to the statue of the god which was to go to Bekhten.

The god, seated in his boat, and five other boats with figures of gods in them, accompanied by chariots and horses on the right hand and on the left, set out from Egypt, and after travelling for seventeen months arrived in Bekhten, where they were received with great honour.

The god Khonsu went to the place where Bent-ent-resht was, and, having performed a magical ceremony over her, the demon departed from her and she was cured straightway.

Then the demon addressed the Egyptian god, saying, “Grateful and welcome is thy coming unto us, O great god, thou vanquisher of the hosts of darkness!”

“Bekhten is thy city, the inhabitants thereof are thy slaves, and I am thy servant; and I will depart unto the place whence I came that I may gratify thee, for unto this end hast thou come thither.”

“And I beseech thy Majesty to command that the Prince of Bekhten and I may hold a festival together.”

To the demon’s request Khonsu agreed, and he commanded his priest to tell the Prince of Bekhten to make a great festival in honour of the demon; this having been done by the command of Khonsu the demon departed to his own place.

When the Prince of Bekhten saw that Khonsu was thus powerful, he and all his people rejoiced exceedingly, and he determined that the god should not be allowed to return to Egypt, and as a result Khonsu remained in Bekhten for three years, four months, and five days.

On a certain day, however, the Prince was sleeping., and he dreamed a dream in which he saw the god Khonsu come forth from his shrine in the form of a hawk of gold, and having mounted into the air he flew away to Egypt.

The Prince woke up in a state of great perturbation, and having inquired of the Egyptian priest was told by him that the god had departed to Egypt, and that his chariot must now be sent back.

Then the Prince gave to Khonsu great gifts, and they were taken to Egypt and laid before the god Khonsu Nefer-hetep in his temple at Thebes.

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 211-3.

An Infamous Case of Demoniacal Possession

“Incidentally, however, we have one interesting proof that foreign peoples believed that the Egyptians were able to cure the diseases caused by demoniacal possession, and the exercise of their power on the occasion described was considered to be so noteworthy that the narrative of it was inscribed upon a stele (originally published by Prisse, Monuments Égyptiens, Paris, 1817, pl. 24) and setup in the temple of the god Khonsu at Thebes, so that all men might read and know what a marvellous cure his priests had effected.

(It is now preserved in the Bibliotèque Nationale at Paris; for a full description and translation of it see E. de Rougé, Étude sur une stele Égyptienne, Paris, 1858).

It appears that king Rameses I was in Mesopotamia “according to his wont, year by year,” and all the chiefs of the countries round about came to pay their respects to him, and they sought to obtain his goodwill and protection, probably even an alliance, by bringing to him gifts of gold, and lapis-lazuli, and turquoise, and of every kind of valuable thing which the land produced, and every man sought to outdo his neighbour by the lavishness of his gifts.

Among others there came the Prince of Bekhten, and at the head of all the offerings which he presented to His Majesty he placed his eldest daughter, who was very beautiful.

When the king saw her he thought her the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, and he bestowed upon her the title of “Royal spouse, chief lady, Râ-neferu” (i.e., “the beauties of Râ,” the Sun-god), and took her to Egypt; and when they arrived in that country the king married her.

One day during the fifteenth year of the king’s reign, when His Majesty was in Thebes celebrating the festival of Amen-Râ, a messenger came to the king and reported the arrival of an ambassador from the Prince of Bekhten who had brought rich gifts for the royal lady Râ-neferu.

When he had been led into the king’s presence, he did homage before him, saying, “Glory and praise be unto thee, O thou Sun of the nations; grant that we may live before thee!”

Having said these words be bowed down and touched the ground with his head three times, and said, “I have come unto thee, O my sovereign Lord, on behalf of the lady Bent-ent-resht, the younger sister of the royal spouse Râ- neferu, for, behold, an evil disease hath laid hold upon her body; I beseech thy Majesty to send a physician (Bekh khet, “knower of things”) to see her.”

Stele recording the casting out of the devil from the Princess of Bekhten. On the right the king is offering Incense to Khonsu Nefer-hetep, and on the left a priest is offering incense to Khonsu, "the great god who driveth away devils." (From Prisse, Monuments, plate 24.)

Stele recording the casting out of the devil from the Princess of Bekhten. On the right the king is offering Incense to Khonsu Nefer-hetep, and on the left a priest is offering incense to Khonsu, “the great god who driveth away devils.” (From Prisse, Monuments, plate 24.)

Then the king straightway ordered the books of the “double house of life” to be brought and the learned men to appear, and when they had come into his presence he ordered them to choose from among their number a man “wise of heart and cunning of finger,” that he might send him to Bekhten; they did so, and their choice fell upon one Tehuti- em-heb.

This sage having come before the king was ordered to set out for Bekhten in company with the ambassador, and he departed; and when they had arrived there the Egyptian priest found the lady Bent-ent-resht to be possessed of a demon or spirit over which he was powerless.”

 E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 206-11.

Excerpt from the Papyrus of Hunefer, BC 1350

“But it must be remembered that hitherto only the “bull of the south” has been sacrificed, and that the “bull of the north” has yet to be offered up; and all the ceremonies which have been already performed must be repeated if the deceased would have the power to go forth at will over the whole earth.

From the earliest times the South and the North were the two great sections into which the world was divided, and each section possessed its own special gods, all of whom had to be propitiated by the deceased; hence most religious ceremonies were ordered to be performed in duplicate.

In later days each section was divided into two parts, and the four divisions thus made were apportioned to the four children of Horus; hence prayers and formulæ were usually said four times, once in honour of each god, and the rubrical directions on this point are definite.

The ceremony of "opening the mouth" being performed on the mummy of Hunefer, about B.C. 1350 (From the Papyrus of Hunefer, sheet 5)

The ceremony of “opening the mouth” being performed on the mummy of Hunefer, about B.C. 1350 (From the Papyrus of Hunefer, sheet 5)

In the limited space of this book it is not possible to reproduce all the scenes of the ceremony of opening the mouth and the eyes which are depicted in the tombs and elsewhere, but on page 199 is a general view of the ceremony as it is often given in the papyri of the XVIIIth and XIXth dynasties.

On the right we see the pyramidal tomb in the Theban hill with its open door, and by the side of it is the funeral stele with a rounded top inscribed with a figure of the deceased standing in adoration before Osiris, and with a prayer to the god for sepulchral offerings.

Anubis, the god of the dead, embraces the mummy, thus indicating his readiness to take the deceased under his protection.

Nasha, the wife of the deceased, stands weeping before the mummy, and at his feet kneels another weeping woman, probably his daughter.

Anubis and the mummy stand upon a layer of sand which has been placed there with the object of sanctifying the ground.

A priest clad in a panther’s skin holds a censer containing burning incense in one hand, and a vase, from which he sprinkles water, in the other.

One ministrant holds the two instruments “Tun-tet” and “Seb-ur” in the right hand, and the “Ur hekau” instrument in the left; and another offers four vases of unguent.

In the lower register are a cow and her calf, and two men are carrying along to the mummy the haunch which we must assume to have been recently cut from the slaughtered bull, and the heart which has just been taken out of him.

On a table we see lying a number of objects, the “Meskhet,” and Pesh-en-kef,” and other instruments, two sets of four vases for holding unguents and oil, the bags of colour, the iron of the south and north, etc.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 198-202.

Legend of the Destruction of Mankind

The text containing the Legend of the Destruction of Mankind is written in hieroglyphs, and is found on the four walls of a small chamber which is entered from the “hall of columns” in the tomb of Seti I., which is situated on the west bank of the Nile at Thebes.

On the wall facing the door of this chamber is painted in red the figure of the large “Cow of Heaven.” The lower part of her belly is decorated with a series of thirteen stars, and immediately beneath it are the two Boats of Ra, called Semketet and Mantchet, or Sektet and Matet.

Each of her four legs is held in position by two gods, and the god Shu, with outstretched uplifted arms, supports her body. The Cow was published by Champollion, [Monuments, tom., iii., p. 245] without the text.

[ … ]

The legend takes us back to the time when the gods of Egypt went about in the country, and mingled with men and were thoroughly acquainted with their desires and needs. The king who reigned over Egypt was Ra, the Sun-god, who was not, however, the first of the Dynasty of Gods who ruled the land.

His predecessor on the throne was Hephaistos, who, according to Manetho, reigned 9000 years, whilst Ra reigned only 992 years; Panodorus makes his reign to have lasted less than 100 years.

Be this as it may, it seems that the “self-created and self-begotten” god Ra had been ruling over mankind for a very long time, for his subjects were murmuring against him, and they were complaining that he was old, that his bones were like silver, his body like gold, and his hair like lapis-lazuli.

When Ra heard these murmurings he ordered his bodyguard to summon all the gods who had been with him in the primeval World-ocean, and to bid them privately to assemble in the Great House, which can be no other than the famous temple of Heliopolis. This statement is interesting, for it proves that the legend is of Heliopolitan origin, like the cult of Ra itself, and that it does not belong, at least in so far as it applies to Ra, to the Predynastic Period.

When Ra entered the Great Temple, the gods made obeisance to him, and took up their positions on each side of him, and informed him that they awaited his words. Addressing Nu, the personification of the World-ocean, Ra bade them to take notice of the fact that the men and women whom his Eye had created were murmuring against him. He then asked them to consider the matter and to devise a plan of action for him, for he was unwilling to slay the rebels without hearing what his gods had to say.

In reply the gods advised Ra to send forth his Eye to destroy the blasphemers, for there was no eye on earth that could resist it, especially when it took the form of the goddess Hathor. Ra accepted their advice and sent forth his Eye in the form of Hathor to destroy them, and, though the rebels had fled to the mountains in fear, the Eye pursued them and overtook them and destroyed them.

Hathor rejoiced in her work of destruction, and on her return was praised by Ra, for what she had done. The slaughter of men began at Suten-henen (Herakleopolis), and during the night Hathor waded about in the blood of men. Ra asserted his intention of being master of the rebels, and this is probably referred to in the Book of the Dead, Chapter XVII., in which it is said that Ra rose as king for the first time in Suten-henen.

Osiris also was crowned at Suten-henen, and in this city lived the great Bennu bird, or Phoenix, and the “Crusher of Bones” mentioned in the Negative Confession.

E.A. Wallis Budge, Legends of the Gods: The Egyptian Texts, edited with Translations, London, 1912. (No page numbers are given in my edition).

Weighing the Heart in the Balance

“From the extract from the Chapter of Sekhet-Aaru and Sekhet-hetepet given above, it is quite clear that the followers of Osiris hoped and expected to do in the next world exactly what they had done in this, and that they believed they would obtain and continue to live their life in the world to come by means of a word of power; and that they prayed to the god Hetep for dominion over it, so that they might keep it firmly in their memories, and not forget it.

This is another proof that in the earliest times men relied in their hope of a future life more on the learning and remembering of a potent name or formula than on the merits of their moral and religious excellences. From first to last throughout the chapter there is no mention of the god Osiris, unless he be the “Great God” whose birthplace is said to be in the region Unen-em-hetep, and nowhere in it is there any suggestion that the permission or favour of Osiris is necessary for those who would enter either Sekhet-Aaru or Sekhet-hetep.

This seems to indicate that the conceptions about the Other World, at least so far as the “realms of the blest” were concerned, were evolved in the minds of Egyptian theologians before Osiris attained to the high position which he occupied in the Dynastic Period. On the other hand, the evidence on this point which is to be deduced from the Papyrus of Ani must be taken into account.

At the beginning of this Papyrus we have first of all Hymns to Ra and Osiris, and the famous Judgment Scene which is familiar to all. We see the heart of Ani being weighed in the Balance against the symbol of righteousness in the presence of the Great Company of the Gods, and the weighing takes place at one end of the house of Osiris, whilst Osiris sits in his shrine at the other.

The “guardian of the Balance” is Anubis, and the registrar is Thoth, the scribe of the gods, who is seen noting the result of the weighing. In the picture the beam of the Balance is quite level, which shows that the heart of Ani exactly counterbalances the symbol of righteousness.

This result Thoth announces to the gods in the following words, “In very truth the heart of Osiris hath been weighed, and his soul hath stood as a witness for him; its case is right (i.e., it hath been found true by trial) in the Great Balance. No wickedness hath been found in him, he hath not purloined the offerings in the temples, (Ani was the receiver of the ecclesiastical revenues of the gods of Thebes and Abydos, and the meaning here is that he did not divert, to his own use any portion of the goods he received) and he hath done no evil by deed or word whilst he was upon earth.”

The gods in their reply accept Thoth’s report, and declare that, so far as they are concerned, Ani has committed neither sin nor evil. Further, they go on to say that he shall not be delivered over to the monster Amemet, and they order that he shall have offerings, that he shall have the power to go into the presence of Osiris, and that he shall have a homestead, or allotment, in Sekhet-hetepet for ever.

We next see Ani being led into the presence of Osiris by Horus, the son of Isis, who reports that the heart of Ani hath sinned against no god or goddess; as it hath also been found just and righteous according to the written laws of the gods, he asks that Ani may have cakes and ale given to him, and the power to appear before Osiris, and that he may take his place among the “Followers of Horus,” and be like them for ever.

Now from this evidence it is clear that Ani was considered to have merited his reward in Sekhet-hetepet by the righteousness and integrity of his life upon earth as regards his fellow-man, and by the reverence and worship which he paid to every god and every goddess; in other words, it is made to appear that he had earned his reward, or had justified himself by his works. Because his heart had emerged triumphantly from its trial the gods decreed for him the right to appear in the presence of the god Osiris, and ordered him to be provided with a homestead in Sekhet-hetep.

There is no mention of any repentance on Ani’s part for wrong done; indeed, he says definitely, “There is no sin in my body. I have not uttered wittingly that which is untrue, and I have committed no act having a double motive [in my mind].” As he was troubled by no remembrance of sin, his conscience was clear, and he expected to receive his reward, not as an act of mercy on the part of the gods, but as an act of justice.

Thus it would seem that repentance played no part in the religion of the primitive inhabitants of Egypt, and that a man atoned for his misdeeds by the giving of offerings, by sacrifice, and by worship. On the other hand, Nebseni is made to say to the god of Sekhet-hetep, “Let me be rewarded with thy fields, O Hetep; but do thou according to thy will, O lord of the winds.”

This petition reveals a frame of mind which recognizes submissively the omnipotence of the god’s will, and the words “do thou according to thy will” are no doubt the equivalent of those which men of all nations and in every age have prayed–“Thy will be done.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Egyptian Heaven and Hell, 1905, pp. 49-52.

The Ancient Egyptian “Song of the Harper”

“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:


“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.