Excerpt from Ancient History From Primary Sources: A Literary Timeline by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn
Here is a select list of literature from Egypt. We have chosen those works commonly considered to be culturally important, yet not inappropriate for students ages twelve and up. All this literature can be found on the DVD which accompanies Ancient History From Primary Sources: A Literary Timeline.
Egyptian Precepts (also called The Instruction of Ptah-Hotep)
Considered the oldest book in the world; thought to have been written c. 2450 and ascribed to Ptah-Hotep (a vizier of a king of the fifth dynasty); written on papyrus (now in the National Library in Paris); inscribed on tombs. It is a compilation of wise sayings.
Letter of Pepi II
Harkhuf received a letter from the Egyptian pharaoh Pepi II (ruled c. 2161-c. 2067 ) concerning a dwarf.
The Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus
The earliest known scientific document; written by someone who lived in the Old Kingdom. It is a treatise on surgery, in which the author draws conclusions from observed facts.
Epitaph of Beka
Inscription on a funeral pillar now in the Museum of Turin. Beka, the person who died, was the great steward of the Public Granary.
The Laboring Classes
From a papyrus in the British Museum written in the twelfth dynasty or earlier. This document compares the different occupations and their hardships with the easy occupation of a scribe.
Story of Sinuhe
Considered to be the oldest form of the novel. It is the story of an Egyptian official who goes into exile after the death of Pharaoh Amenemhat I (ruled c. 1796-1767 ), but returns to Egypt some years later. It is not known if this is fictional or biographical. It is considered to be the most accomplished piece of prose literature of this time period.
The Shipwrecked Sailor
Dates from the Middle Kingdom. A man tells of his fantastic adventure.
Products of Arabia
Inscription on the inner wall of an Egyptian temple, giving an account of the conquest of Arabia during the time of Thutmose III (ruled c. 1138-c. 1085 ).
Pharaoh Amenhotep II as a Sportsman
Inscription found on a stele describing Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep II (ruled c. 1085-1059 ) as a great sportsman.
Tablets of Tel El-Amarna
Letters from the Egyptian Governor of Palestine to Pharaoh Akhenaten (ruled c. 1022-1006 ), announcing a revolt. Palestine is under Egyptian rule, and the governor tells pharaoh of a general revolt of the natives.
Ramesses II, Son and Second Self of the God Ptah-Totunen
Inscription which glorifies the Pharaoh Ramesses II (ruled c. 940-873 ) as the son and incarnation of the chief deity.
Ramesses at Kadesh
Poem recording the battle between Pharaoh Ramesses II (ruled c. 940-873 ) and the Hittite King Muwatallis II.
Treaty between Ramesses II and the Hittite King Hattusilis III after the battle of Kadesh
Hattusilis was the brother of Muwatallis II. The oldest existing treaty between two nations. Ramesses II ruled Egypt from c. 940-873
Apology of Hattusilis III
One of the major Hittite historical texts. This text mentions the treaty between Ramesses II and Hattusilis III; and the battle between Ramesses II and Muwatallis II.
The Israel Stela of Merneptah
The earliest known document, outside of the Bible, to mention the name of Israel. The document records a military campaign of Merneptah, son of Ramesses II.
Spoliation of Tombs
Extract from a longer document from the time of Ramesses IX (ruled c. 835-816 ), showing that tomb robbery was common even during ancient times.
Book of the Dead
Collection of Egyptian magic spells, rubrics, prayers to the gods, poems, songs, and religious documents. It is believed by some that parts of this work were in general use before the rule of the pharaohs of the First Dynasty.
The Hymn to Aton
A song/prayer to the god Aton.
The Hymn to the Nile
A song/prayer praising and recognizing the wonders of the Nile.