This little book is intended to serve as an elementary introduction to the study of Egyptian Literature. Its object is to present a short series of specimens of Egyptian compositions, which represent all the great periods of literary activity in Egypt under the Pharaohs, to all who are interested in the study of the mental development of ancient nations. It is not addressed to the Egyptological specialist, to whom, as a matter of course, its contents are well known, and therefore its pages are not loaded with elaborate notes and copious references. It represents, I believe, the first attempt made to place before the public a summary of the principal contents of Egyptian Literature in a handy and popular form.
The specimens of native Egyptian Literature printed herein are taken from tombs, papyri, stelæ, and other monuments, and, with few exceptions, each specimen is complete in itself. Translations of most of the texts have appeared in learned works written by Egyptologists in English, French, German, and Italian, but some appear in English for the first time. In every case I have collated my own translations with the texts, and, thanks to the accurate editions of texts which have appeared in recent years, it has been found possible to make many hitherto difficult passages clear. The translations are as literal as the difference between the Egyptian and English idioms will permit, but it has been necessary to insert particles and often to invert the order of the words in the original works in order to produce a connected meaning in English. The result of this has been in many cases to break up the short abrupt sentences in which the Egyptian author delighted, and which he used frequently with dramatic effect. Extraordinarily concise phrases have been paraphrased, but the meanings given to several unknown words often represent guess-work.
In selecting the texts for translation in this book an attempt has been made to include compositions that are not only the best of their kind, but that also illustrate the most important branches of Egyptian Literature. Among these religious, mythological, and moral works bulk largely, and in many respects these represent the peculiar bias of the mind of the ancient Egyptian better than compositions of a purely historical character. No man was more alive to his own material interests, but no man has ever valued the things of this world less in comparison with the salvation of his soul and the preservation of his physical body. The immediate result of this was a perpetual demand on his part for information concerning the Other World, and for guidance during his life in this world. The priests attempted to satisfy his craving for information by composing the Books of the Dead and the other funerary works with which we are acquainted, and the popularity of these works seems to show that they succeeded. From the earliest times the Egyptians regarded a life of moral excellence upon earth as a necessary introduction to the life which he hoped to live with the blessed in heaven. And even in pyramid times he conceived the idea of the existence of a God Who judged rightly, and Who set "right in the place of wrong."
This fact accounts for the reverence in which he held the Precepts of Ptah-hetep, Kaqemna, Herutataf, Amenemhāt I, Ani, Tuauf, Amen-hetep, and other sages. To him, as to all Africans, the Other World was a very real thing, and death and the Last Judgment were common subjects of his daily thoughts. The great antiquity of this characteristic of the Egyptian is proved by a passage in a Book of Precepts, which was written by a king of the ninth or tenth dynasty for his son, who reigned under the name of Merikarā. The royal writer in it reminds his son that the Chiefs [of Osiris] who judge sinners perform their duty with merciless justice on the Day of Judgment. It is useless to assume that length of years will be accepted by them as a plea of justification. With them the lifetime of a man is only regarded as a moment. After death these Chiefs must be faced, and the only things that they will consider will be his works. Life in the Other World is for ever, and only the reckless fool forgets this fact. The man who has led a life free from lies and deceit shall live after death like a god.
The reader who wishes to continue his studies of Egyptian Literature will find abundant material in the list of works given on pp. 256-8.
E.A. WALLIS BUDGE.
April 17, 1914.