The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians
Chapter V - Books Of The Dead Of The Græco-roman Period
From what has been said in the preceding chapter it will be clear that only wealthy people could afford to bury copies of the great Book of the Dead with their deceased relatives. Whether the chapters that formed it were written on coffins or on papyrus the cost of copying the work by a competent scribe must have been relatively very great.
Towards the close of the twenty-sixth dynasty a feeling spread among the Egyptians that only certain parts of the Book of the Dead were essential for the resurrection of the body and for the salvation of the soul, and men began to bury with their dead copies of the most important chapters of it in a very much abridged form.
A little later the scribes produced a number of works, in which they included only such portions of the most important chapters as were considered necessary to effect the resurrection of the body. In other words, they rejected all the old magical elements in the Book of the Dead, and preserved only the texts and formulæ that appertained to the cult of Osiris, the first man who had risen from the dead.
I. Book of Breathings
One of the oldest of these later substitutes for the Book of the Dead is the Shai en Sensen, or "Book of Breathings." Several copies of this work are extant in the funerary papyri, and the following sections, translated from a papyrus in the British Museum, will give an idea of the character of the Book:
"Hail, OsirisKersher, son of Tashenatit! Thou art pure, thy heart is pure.
Kersher is washed in the waters of the Field of Offerings, that lieth to the north of the Field of the Grasshoppers. The goddesses Uatchet and Nekhebet purify thee at the eighth hour of the night and at the eighth hour of the day.
Come then, enter the Hall of Truth, for thou art free from all offence and from every defect, and 'Stone of Truth' is thy name. Thou enterest the Tuat (Other World) as one exceedingly pure.
Thou art purified by the Goddesses of Truth in the Great Hall. Holy water hath been poured over thee in the Hall of Keb (i.e. the earth), and thy body hath been made pure in the Hall of Shu (heaven).
Thou lookest upon Rā when he setteth in the form of Tem at eventide. Amen is nigh unto thee and giveth thee air, and Ptah likewise, who fashioned thy members for thee; thou enterest the horizon with Rā.
Thy soul is received in the Neshem Boat of Osiris, thy soul is made divine in the House of Keb, and thou art made to be triumphant for ever and ever."
"Hail, Osiris Kersher!
Thy name flourisheth, thy earthly body is stablished, thy spirit body germinateth, and thou art not repulsed either in heaven or on earth.
Thy face shineth before Rā, thy soul liveth before Amen, and thy earthly body is renewed before Osiris.
Thou breathest the breath of life for ever and ever.
Thy soul maketh offerings unto thee in the course of each day....
Thy flesh is collected on thy bones, and thy form is even as it was upon earth.
Thou takest drink into thy body, thou eatest with thy mouth, and thou receivest thy rations in company with the souls of the gods. Anubis protecteth thee; he is thy protector, and thou art not turned away from the Gates of the Tuat.
Thoth, the most mighty god, the Lord of Khemenu (Hermopolis), cometh to thee, and he writeth the 'Book of Breathings' with his own fingers.
Then doth thy soul breathe for ever and ever, and thy form is renewed with life upon earth; thou art made divine with the souls of the gods, thy heart is the heart of Rā, and thy limbs are the limbs of the great god. Amen is nigh unto thee to make thee to live again. Upuat openeth a prosperous road for thee.
Thou seest with thine eyes, thou hearest with thine ears, thou speakest with thy mouth, thou walkest with thy legs.
Thy soul hath been made divine in the Tuat, so that it may change itself into any form it pleaseth. Thou canst snuff at will the odours of the holy Acacia of Anu (An, or Heliopolis).
Thou wakest each day and seest the light of Rā; thou appearest upon the earth each day, and the 'Book of Breathings' of Thoth is thy protection, for through it dost thou draw thy breath each day, and through it do thine eyes behold the beams of the Sun-god Aten.
The Goddess of Truth vindicateth thee before Osiris, and her writings are upon thy tongue. Rā vivifieth thy soul, the Soul of Shu is in thy nostrils.
Thou art even as Osiris, and 'Osiris Khenti Amenti' is thy name. Thy body liveth in Tatu (Busiris), and thy soul liveth in heaven....
Thy odour is that of the holy gods in Amentet, and thy name is magnified like the names of the Spirits of heaven.
Thy soul liveth through the 'Book of Breathings,' and it is rejoined to thy body by the 'Book of Breathings.'
These fine extracts are followed in the British Museum papyrus by the praises of Kersher by the gods, a prayer of Kersher himself for offerings, and an extract from the so-called Negative Confession, which has been already described.
The work is closed by an address to the gods, in which it is said that Kersher is sinless, that he feeds and lives upon Truth, that his deeds have satisfied the hearts of the gods, and that he has fed the hungry and given water to the thirsty and clothes to the naked.
II. Book of Traversing Eternity
Another late work of considerable interest is the "Book of Traversing Eternity," the fullest known form of which is found on a papyrus at Vienna. This work describes how the soul of the deceased, when armed with the power which the Book of Traversing Eternity will give it, shall be able to travel from one end of Egypt to the other, and to visit all the holy places, and to assist at the festivals, and to enjoy communion not only with the gods and spirits who assemble there, but also with its kinsfolk and acquaintances whom it left behind alive on the earth. The object of the book was to secure for the deceased the resurrection of his body; it opens with the following words:
"Thy soul liveth in heaven in the presence of Rā.
Thy Ka hath acquired the divine nature of the gods.
Thy body remaineth in the deep house (i.e. tomb) in the presence of Osiris.
Thy spirit-body becometh glorious among the living.
Thy descendants flourish upon the earth, in the presence of Keb, upon thy seat among the living, and thy name is stablished by the utterance of those who have their being through the 'Book of Traversing Eternity.'
Thou comest forth by day, thou art joined to the Sun-god Aten."
The text goes on to state that the deceased breathes, speaks, eats, drinks, sees, hears, and walks, and that all the organs of his body are in their proper places, and that each is performing its proper functions. He floats in the air, hovers in the shadow, rises in the sky, follows the gods, travels with the stars, dekans, and planets, and moves about by night and by day on earth and in heaven at will.
Of the works that were originally composed for recitation on the days of the festivals of Osiris, and were specially connected with the cult of this god, three, which became very popular in the Graeco-Roman period, may be mentioned.
- The Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys;
- The Festival Songs of Isis and Nephthys;
- The Book of making splendid the Spirit of Osiris.
III. The Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys
The first of these works was recited on the twenty-fifth day of the fourth month of the season Akhet (October-November) by two "fair women," who personified Isis and Nephthys. One of these had the name of Isis on her shoulder, and the other the name of Nephthys, and each held a vessel of water in her right hand, and a "Memphis cake of bread" in her left.
The object of the recital was to commemorate the resurrection of Osiris, and if the book were recited on behalf of any deceased person it would make his spirit to be glorious, and stablish his body, and cause his Ka to rejoice, and give breath to his nostrils and air to his throat. The two "fair women" sang the sections alternately in the presence of the Kher-heb and Setem priests.
The two first sections, as they are found on a papyrus in Berlin, read thus:—Isis saith:
"Come to thy house, come to thy house, O An, come to thy house.
Thine enemy [Set] hath perished.
O beautiful youth, come to thy house.
Look thou upon me.
I am the sister who loveth thee, go not far from me.
O Beautiful Boy, come to thy house, straightway, straightway.
I cannot see thee, and my heart weepeth for thee; my eyes follow thee about.
I am following thee about so that I may see thee.
Lo, I wait to see thee, I wait to see thee; behold, Prince, I wait to see thee.
It is good to see thee, it is good to see thee; O An, it is good to see thee.
Come to thy beloved one, come to thy beloved one, O Un-Nefer, whose word is truth.
Come to thy wife, O thou whose heart is still.
Come to the lady of thy house;
I am thy sister from thy mother's [womb]. Go not thou far from me. The faces of gods and men are turned towards thee, they all weep for thee together. As soon as I saw thee I cried out to thee, weeping with a loud voice which pierced the heavens, and thou didst not hear my voice. I am thy sister who loved thee upon earth; none other loved thee more than [thy] sister, thy sister."
"O Beautiful Prince, come to thy house. Let thy heart rejoice and be glad, for thine enemies have ceased to be. Thy two Sisters are nigh unto thee; they guard thy bier, they address thee with words [full of] tears as thou liest prone on thy bier.
Look thou at the young women; speak to us, O our Sovereign Lord. Destroy thou all the misery that is in our hearts; the chiefs among gods and men look upon thee.
Turn thou towards us thy face, O our Sovereign Lord. At the sight of thy face life cometh to our faces; turn not thou thy face from us. The joy of our heart is in the sight of thee.
O Beautiful Sovereign, our hearts would see thee.
IV. The Festival Songs of Isis and Nephthys
The second work, the "Festival Songs of Isis and Nephthys," was sung during the great festival of Osiris, which took place in the fourth month of the Season of Akhet and lasted five days (from the twenty-second to the twenty-sixth day). It was sung by two virgins who wore fillets of sheep's wool on their heads, and held tambourines in their hands; one was called Isis and the other Nephthys. According to the rubrical directions given in the British Museum papyrus, the sections were sung by both women together. The following passage will illustrate the contents of the work:
"Come, come, run to me, O strong heart! Let me see thy divine face, for I do not see thee, and make thou clear the path that we may see thee as we see Rā in heaven, when the heavens unite with the earth, and cause darkness to fall upon the earth each day.
My heart burneth as with fire at thy escape from the Fiend, even as my heart burneth with fire when thou turnest thy side to me; O that thou wouldst never remove it from me!
O thou who unitest the Two Domains (i.e. Egypt, North and South), and who turnest back those who are on the roads, I seek to see thee because of my love for thee....
Thou fliest like a living being, O Everlasting King; thou hast destroyed the fiend Anrekh.
Thou art the King of the South and of the North, and thou goest forth from Tatchesert.
May there never be a moment in thy life when I do not fill thy heart, O my divine brother, my lord who goest forth from Aqert....
My arms are raised to protect thee, O thou whom I love. I love thee, O Husband, Brother, lord of love; come thou in peace into thy house....
Thy hair is like turquoise as thou comest forth from the Fields of Turquoise, thy hair is like unto the finest lapis-lazuli, and thou thyself art more blue than thy hair. Thy skin and body are like southern alabaster, and thy bones are of silver. The perfume of thy hair is like unto new myrrh, and thy skull is of lapis-lazuli."
V. The Book of Making Splendid the Spirit of Osiris
The third work, "The Book of making splendid the Spirit of Osiris," was also sung at the great festival of Osiris that took place during the November-December at Abydos and other great towns in Egypt, and if it were sung on behalf of any man, the resurrection and life, constantly renewed, of that man were secured for his soul and spirit. This Book, written in hieratic, is found in a papyrus in Paris, and the following extract will illustrate its contents:
"Come to thy house, come to thy house, O An. Come to thy house, O Beautiful Bull, lord of men and women, the beloved one, the lord of women.
O Beautiful Face, Chief of Akert, Prince, Khenti Amentiu, are not all hearts drunk through the love of thee, O Un-Nefer, whose word is truth? The hands of men and gods are lifted up and seek thee, even as the hands of a babe are stretched out to his mother. Come thou to them, for their hearts are sad, and make them to rejoice.
The lands of Horus exult, the domains of Set are overthrown because of their fear of thee.
Hail, Osiris Khenti Amentiu!
I am thy sister Isis.
No god and no goddess have done for thee what I have done.
I, a woman, made a man child for thee, because of my desire to make thy name to live upon the earth.
Thy divine essence was in my body, I brought him forth on the ground. He pleaded thy case, he healed thy suffering, he decreed the destruction of him that caused it. Set fell under his knife, and the Smamiu fiends of Set followed him.
The throne of the Earth-god is thine, O thou who art his beloved son....
There is health in thy members, thy wounds are healed, thy sufferings are relieved, thou shalt never groan again in pain. Come to us thy sisters, come to us; our hearts will live when thou comest.
Men shall cry out to thee, and women shall weep glad tears, at thy coming to them....
The Nile appeareth at the command of thy mouth; thou makest men to live on the effluxes that proceed from thy members, and thou makest every field to flourish. When thou comest that which is dead springeth into life, and the plants in the marshes put forth blossoms.
Thou art the Lord of millions of years, the sustainer of wild creatures, and the lord of cattle; every created thing hath its existence from thee. What is in the earth is thine. What is in the heavens is thine. What is in the waters is thine.
Thou art the Lord of Truth, the hater of sinners, whom thou overthrowest in their sins.
The Goddesses of Truth are with thee; they never leave thee. No sinful man can approach thee in the place where thou art. Whatsoever appertaineth to life and to death belongeth to thee, and to thee belongeth everything that concerneth man."
During the period of the occupation of Egypt by the Romans, the three last-named works were still further abridged, and eventually the texts that were considered essential for salvation were written upon small sheets of papyrus from 9 to 12 inches high, and from 5 to 10 inches wide.
Footnotes and references:
The deceased is always supposed to be identified with Osiris.
The second version here states that the name of Nebertcher is Ausares (Osiris), who is the oldest god of all.
A papyrus at Florence contains a copy of Part II. of The Book of Breathings. The fundamental ideas are the same as those in Part I., but the forms in which they are expressed are different. The deceased is made to address several gods by name, and to declare that he himself is those gods. "I am Rā, I am Atem, I am Osiris, I am Horus, I am Thoth," &c.