From Hieroglyphics to Hymns



The earliest poetry in Egypt was likely part of an oral tradition. Hymns, stories, and prayers were passed down from speaker to speaker. It’s likely that only one person out of every hundred could read and write, according to Jacco Dieleman, an Egyptologist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The Egyptian hieroglyphic writing system was likely invented to help with trade, allowing merchants to record their wares and account for their stock. Later hieroglyphic writing found on nobles’ tombs gave biographical accounts of the tombs’ occupants for passer-bys to read. Over time, longer biographies, narrative poems, and songs also began to appear.

To read ancient Egyptian poetry and other writings is a two-step process, Dieleman said. Much of the writing was done in hieratic script, a shorthand form of hieroglyphs. “When you have to write all of these beautiful [hieroglyphs] of birds, men, and women, it takes days to write a letter to your grandmother,” Dieleman said. To begin deciphering the ancient texts, Dieleman uses detailed photographs of excavated writings, along with his own observations of actual artifacts, if possible. He then translates hieratic writing into hieroglyphs.

From there, he gives sounds to the hieroglyphic consonants and pieces out words, sentences, and entire passages. Historical tales and hymns had been inscribed inside tomb walls, written on papyrus, and often scribbled onto shards of limestone pottery. “These shards are considered the scratch paper of the Egyptians,” said Terry Wilfong, an Egyptologist at the University of Michigan.

Source: National Geographic News



[A vizer feels the burden of his years and laments his fate to Pharaoh]

“O King, my lord, I draw nigh to life’s end,
To me the frailities of life have
And second childhood… Ah! the old lie down
Each day is suffering;
the vision fails,
Ears become deaf and strength declines apace.
The mind
is ill at ease…. An old man’s tongue
has naught to say because his thoughts
have fled,
And he forgets the day that has gone past….
Meanwhile his
body aches in every bone;
The sweet seems bitter, for taste is lost.
such are the afflictions of old age,
which work for evil…Fitful and
his breath becomes, standing or lying down.”

egyptian poetry 3


The dawn is all aglow

Weary am I with love, with love,

Oh, whither shall I go?

Not so, O beauteous bird above,

Is joy to be denied….

For I have found my dear, my love;

And I am by his side.

We wander forth, and hand in hand

Through flowery ways we go

I am the fairest in the land,

For he has called me so.

[Second Stanza, from Papyrus Chester Beatty I]



“Splendid you rise in heaven’s lightland, O living Aten, creator of life!

When you have dawned in eastern lightland, you fill every land with your beauty,

You are beautious, great, radiant, High over every land:

Your rays embrace the lands To the limits of all that you made…

All eyes are on your beauty until you set,

All labor ceases when you rest in the west:

When you rise you stir everyone for the King,

Every leg is on the move since you founded the earth.

You rouse them for your son who came from your body,

The King who lives by Maat, the Lord of the Two Lands”



My beloved torments my heart with his voice,
He makes sickness take hold of me;
He is neighbor to my mother’s house.
And I cannot go to him!
Mother is right in charging him thus:
“Give up seeing her!”

It pains my heart to think of him,
I am possessed by love of him.
Truly, he is a foolish one,
But I resemble him;
He knows not my wish to embrace him,
Or he would write to my mother.
Beloved, I am promised to you
By the golden of women!
Come to me that I see your beauty,
Father, mother will rejoice!

My people will hail you all together,
They will hail you, O my beloved!


[Second Stanza, from Papyrus Chester Beatty I]


Sing we Ausar (Osiris) dead, Lament the fallen head:

The light has left the world, the world is gray. Athwart the starry skies …

The web of darkness flies, And Auset weeps Ausar passed away.

Your tears, ye stars, ye fires, ye rivers shed,

Weep, children of the Nile, weep for your lord is dead!

Softly we tread, our measured footsteps falling

Within the sanctuary sevenfold;

Soft on the dead that liveth are we calling:

‘Return, Ausar, from thy Kingdom cold!

Return to them that worship thee of old.’

egyptian poetry 9

Within the court divine The sevenfold sacred shrine We pass,

while echoes of the temple walls Repeat the long lament

The sound of sorrow sent Far up within the imperishable halls,

Where, each in other’s arms, the sisters weep,

Auset and Nebt-Het o’er his unawakening sleep.

Softly we tread, our measured footsteps falling

Within the sanctuary sevenfold;

Soft on the dead that liveth are we calling:

‘Return, Ausar, from thy kingdom cold!

Return to them that worship thee of old.’

0 dweller in the west Lover and lordliest,

Thy love, thy sister Auset, calls thee home! Ausar (Osiris):

egyptian poetry7

The Holy Spirit Come from thy chamber dun,

Thou master of the sun,

Thy Shadowy chamber far below the foam!

With weary wings and spent Through all the firmament,

Through all the horror-haunted ways of hell,

I seek thee near and far, From star to wandering star,

Free with the dead that in Amenti dwell.

I search the height, the deep, the lands, the skies,

Rise from the dead and live, our lord Ausar, rise!

egyptian poetry 8~~~~~


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s