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Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt

By James Henry Breasted

The Emergence of the Moral Sense—Moral Worthiness and the Hereafter—Scepticism and the Problem of Suffering

Nowhere in ancient times has the capacity of a race to control the material world been so fully expressed in surviving material remains as in the Nile valley. In the abounding fulness of their energies they built up a fabric of material civilization, the monuments of which it would seem time can never wholly sweep away. But the manifold substance of life, interfused of custom and tradition, of individual traits fashioned among social, economic, and governmental forces, ever developing in the daily operations and functions of life—all that made the stage and the setting amid which necessity for hourly moral decisions arises—all that creates the attitude of the individual and impels the inner man as he is called upon to make these decisions—all these constitute an elusive higher atmosphere of the ancient world which tomb masonry and pyramid orientation have not transmitted to us. Save in a few scanty references in the inscriptions of the Pyramid Age, it has vanished forever; for even the inscriptions, as we have seen, are concerned chiefly with the material welfare of the departed in the hereafter. What they disclose, however, is of unique interest, preserving as it does the earliest chapter in the moral development of man as known to us, a chapter marking perhaps the most important fundamental step in the evolution of civilization. Moreover, these materials from the Pyramid Age have never been put together, and in gathering them together for these lectures I have been not a little surprised to find them as numerous as they are.

They are, indeed, sufficiently numerous, and so unequivocal as to demonstrate the existence nearly three thousand years before Christ of a keen moral discernment, already so far developed that we must conclude it had begun far back in the fourth millennium B.C. Indeed the Egyptian of the Pyramid Age had already begun to look back upon a time when sin and strife did not exist, to "that first body" of "the company of the just," "born before arose," "strife," "voice," "blasphemy," "conflict," or the frightful mutilations inflicted upon each other by Horus and Set. 1 With this age of innocence, or at least of righteousness and peace, we must associate also the time of which they spoke, "before death came forth."  The development of moral discernment had indeed gone so far in the Pyramid Age that the thought of the age was dealing with the origin of good and evil, the source of human traits. We recall that our Memphite philosopher and theologian attributed all these things to the creative word of his god, "which made that which is loved and that which is hated," "which gave life to the peaceful and death to the guilty."  Akin to this is the emergence, in this age, of the earliest abstract term discernible in the ancient world, the word for "truth, right, righteousness, justice," all of which are connoted by one word.

Furthermore, in the daily secular life of this remote age, even in administration, moral ideals already had great influence. In the Feudal Age, a thousand years after the rise of the Old Kingdom, at the installation of the vizier, that official used to be referred to the example of an ancient vizier who had already become proverbial in the Pyramid Age. The cause of his enduring reputation was that he had decided a case, in which his relatives were involved, against his own kin, no matter what the merits of the case might be, lest he should be accused of partial judgment in favor of his own family. A similar example of respect for moral ideals in high places is doubtless to be recognized in the Horus-name of king Userkaf (twenty-eighth century B.C.). He called himself "Doer-of-Righteousness" (or Justice).

Among the people the most common virtue discernible by us is filial piety. Over and over again we find the massive tombs of the Pyramid Age erected by the son for the departed father, as well as a splendid interment arranged by the son. 2 Indeed one of the sons of this age even surpasses the example of all others, for he states in a passage of his tomb inscription: "Now I caused that I should be buried in the same tomb with this Zau (his father), in order that I might be with him in the same place; not, however, because I was not in a position to make a second tomb; but I did this in order that I might see this Zau every day, in order that I might be with him in the same place." 

It is especially in the tomb that such claims of moral worthiness are made. This is not an accident; such claims are made in the tomb in this age with the logical purpose of securing in the hereafter any benefits accruing from such virtues. Thus, on the base of a mortuary statue set up in a tomb, the deceased represented by the portrait statue says: "I had these statues made by the sculptor and he was satisfied with the pay which I gave him." The man very evidently wished it known that his mortuary equipment was honestly gotten. A nomarch of the twenty-seventh century B.C. left the following record of his upright life: "I gave bread to all the hungry of the Cerastes-Mountain (his domain); I clothed him who was naked therein. I filled its shores with large cattle and its ⌈lowlands⌉ with small cattle. I satisfied the wolves of the mountain and the fowl of the sky with ⌈flesh⌉ of small cattle. . . . I never oppressed one in possession of his property so that he complained of me because of it to the god of my city; (but) I spake and told that which was good. Never was there one fearing because of one stronger than he, so that he complained because of it to the god. . . . I was a benefactor to it (his domain) in the folds of the cattle, in the settlements of the fowlers. . . . I speak no lie, for I was one beloved of his father, praised of his mother, excellent in character to his brother, and amiable to [his sister]." 

Over and over these men of four thousand five hundred to five thousand years ago affirm their innocence of evildoing. "Never did I do anything evil toward any person,"  says the chief physician of king Sahure in the middle of the twenty-eighth century before Christ, while a priest a little later says essentially the same thing: "Never have I done aught of violence toward any person." 4 A century later a citizen of little or no rank places the following address to the living upon the front of his tomb: "O ye living, who are upon earth, who pass by this tomb . . . let a mortuary offering of that which ye have come forth for me, for I was one beloved of the people. Never was I beaten in the presence of any official since my birth; never did I take the property of any man by violence; I was a doer of that which pleased all men."  It is evident from such addresses to the living as this that one motive for these affirmations of estimable character was the hope of maintaining the goodwill of one's surviving neighbors, that they might present mortuary offerings of food and drink at the tomb.

It is equally clear also that such moral worthiness was deemed of value in the sight of the gods and might influence materially the happiness of the dead in the hereafter. An ethical ordeal awaited those who had passed into the shadow world. Both the motives mentioned are found combined in a single address to the living on the front of the tomb of the greatest of early African explorers, Harkhuf of Elephantine, who penetrated the Sudan in the twenty-sixth century B.C. He says: "I was . . . one (beloved) of his father, praised of his mother, whom all his brothers loved. I gave bread to the hungry, clothing to the naked, I ferried him who had no boat. O ye living who are upon earth, [who shall pass by this tomb whether] going down-stream or going up-stream, who shall say, 'A thousand loaves, a thousand jars of beer for the owner of this tomb!' I will intercede for their sakes in the Nether World. I am a worthy and equipped Glorious One, a ritual priest whose mouth knows. As for any man who shall enter into (this) tomb as his mortuary possession, I will seize him like a wild fowl; he shall be judged for it by the Great God. I was one saying good things and repeating what was loved. Never did I say aught evil to a powerful one against anybody. I desired that it might be well with me in the Great God's presence. Never did I [judge two brothers] in such a way that a son was deprived of his paternal possession." 1 Here the threat of judgment is not only used to deter the lawless who might take possession of the dead man's tomb, but the thought of that judgment, meaning moral responsibility beyond the grave, is affirmed to have been the motive of the great explorer's exemplary life. That motive is thus carried back to the actual course of his daily, earthly life as when he says: "I desired that it might be well with me in the Great God's presence." 2 Throughout his life, then, he looked forward to standing in that dread presence to answer for the ethical quality of his conduct. As the earliest evidence of moral responsibility beyond the tomb, such utterances in the cemeteries of the Pyramid Age, nearly five thousand years ago, are not a little impressive. In other lands, for over two thousand years after this, good and bad alike were consigned to the same realm of the dead, and no distinction whatever was made between them. It is, as it were, an isolated moral vista down which we look, penetrating the early gloom as a shaft of sunshine penetrates the darkness.

It is of great importance to identify these ideas of a moral searching in the hereafter with one or the other of the two dominant theologies, that is with Re or Osiris. Unfortunately the god whose judgment is feared is not mentioned by name, but an epithet, "Great God," is employed instead. This is expanded in one tomb to "Great God, lord of the sky." 1 It is hardly possible that any other than Re can be meant. To be sure, the celestializing of Osiris has in one or two rare instances brought even him the title "lord of the sky" (see above, p. 149), but the unprejudiced mind on hearing the words "Great God, lord of the sky" would think of no other than Re, to whom it was and had been for centuries incessantly applied; and this conclusion is confirmed by all that we find in the Pyramid Texts, where, as we shall see, Re is over and over again the lord of the judgment. It is he who is meant when Inti of Deshasheh says: "But as for all people who shall do evil to this (tomb), who shall do anything destructive to this (tomb), who shall damage the writing therein, judgment shall be had with them for it by the Great God, the lord of judgment in the place where judgment is had." 

We have already followed the elaborate provision for all the contingencies of the hereafter which we find in the Pyramid Texts, and we recall how indispensable was the purification of the dead at some point in his transition from the earthly to the celestial realm. We stated in reference to that purification that its significance was not exhausted in purely physical and ceremonial cleansing. That to some extent it signified moral purification is evident from the fact that when the dead king in one passage is washed by "the Followers of Horus," "they recite the 'Chapter of the Just' on behalf of this king Pepi (whom they are washing); they recite the 'Chapter of Those Who Have Ascended to Life and Satisfaction' on behalf of this king Pepi."  The "Followers of Horus" who perform this ceremony are of course Solar, and thus moral purity in the hereafter is associated with the Sun-god at the very beginning. This connection between the Sun-god and moral requirements is clearly recognized in a number of important passages in the Pyramid Texts. "'Let him come, he is pure,' says the priest of Re concerning king Mernere. The door-keeper of the sky, he announces him (Mernere) to these four gods (the four Horuses) who are over the lake of Keneset. They recite (the chapter), 'How just is king Mernere for his father Geb!' 1 They recite (the chapter), 'How just is king Mernere for his father Re!'" 

The king, then, is not exempt from the requirement which the tombs of his nobles disclose them as so anxious to fulfil, and the god whom he satisfies, as in the case of his subjects, is Re. "There is no evil which king Pepi has done. Weighty is this word in thy sight, O Re."  In a typical Solar Utterance, an appendix to an untouched Solar Utterance preceding it, we find Re's ferryman thus addressed: "O thou who ferriest over the just who is without a ship, ferryman of the Field of Rushes, king Merire (Pepi) is just before the sky and before the earth. King Pepi is just before that island of the earth to which he has swum and arrived there."  When the righteous king has safely crossed, he furthermore finds a Solar Horus in charge of the celestial doors, who presides in what is evidently a building, of uncertain character, to which is appended the phrase "of righteousness."  Re has two barques of "Truth" or "Righteousness,"  and we remember that the goddess of Truth or Righteousness, a personification of one of the few abstractions existent in this early age, was a daughter of Re.

Similarly, the Morning Star, a Solar deity, takes due note of the moral status of the dead Pharaoh. "Thou (O Morning Star) makest this Pepi to sit down because of his righteousness and to rise up because of his reverence."  Sometimes his guiltlessness applies to matters not wholly within the moral realm from our modern point of view. Having become the son of Re, rising and setting like Re, receiving the food of Horus (son of Re), ministering to Re and rowing Re across the sky, it is said of the king: "This Pepi blasphemes not the king, he ⌈defames⌉ not Bastet, he does not make merry in the sanctuary." 

The moral worthiness of the deceased must of course, in accordance with the Egyptian's keen legal discernment, be determined in legal form and by legal process. We have seen that the nobles refer to the judgment in their tombs, and it would seem that even the king was subject to such judgment. Indeed not even the gods escaped it; for it is stated that every god who assists the Pharaoh to the sky "shall be justified before Geb."  In the same way the punishment of a refractory god is "that he shall not ascend to the house of Horus that is in the sky on that day of the (legal) hearing."  In a series of three Solar Utterances concerning the two celestial reed floats, the last one concludes with a refrain three times uttered: "This king Pepi is justified, this king Pepi is praised, the ka of this king Pepi is praised." When we note that the second of this coherent series of three Utterances is anti-Osirian, it is evident that the justification occurring in this connection is not Osirian but Solar, like the Utterance in which it is found. This conclusion is confirmed by another Solar Utterance on the two reed floats which affirms: "This Pepi is justified, the ka of this Pepi is justified." 

The translated Pharaoh, who is thus declared just, continues to exhibit the same qualities in the exercise of the celestial sovereignty which he receives. "He judges justice before Re on that day of the feast, (called) 'First of the Year.' The sky is in satisfaction, the earth is in joy, having heard that king Neferkere (Pepi II) has placed justice [in the place of injustice]. They are satisfied who sit with king Neferkere in his court of justice with the just utterance which came forth from his mouth."  It is significant that the king exercises this just judgment in the presence of Re the Sun-god. Similarly in a Solar Utterance we find it affirmed that "king Unis has set justice therein (in the isle where he is) in the place of injustice." 

There can be no doubt that in the Old Kingdom the sovereignty of Re had resulted in attributing to him the moral requirements laid upon the dead in the hereafter, and that in the surviving literature of that age he is chiefly the righteous god rather than Osiris. Righteousness is a quality which is associated with several gods in the Old Kingdom, but none of the others approaches the prominence of Re in this particular. We find the four genii, the sons of Horus, who, as we have seen, were not improbably Solar in origin, though later Osirianized, called "these four gods who live in righteousness, leaning upon their sceptres, guarding the Southland."  These gods are once associated with Letopolis,  and it is perhaps a connected fact that officiating before Khenti-yerti of Letopolis we find a god called "Expeller of Deceit," using the word for "deceit" which is correlated with "Truth or Righteousness" in the Pyramid Texts as its opposite. 3 These four sons of Horus are mortuary gods, and one of the old mortuary gods of Memphis, Sokar, possessed a barque which was called the "Barque of Truth (or Righteousness)."  To this barque or its presiding divinity the dead king is compared: "The tongue of this king Pepi is (that of) 'The-Righteous-One (a god) -Belonging-to-the-Barque-of-Righteousness.'"  The Osirian Horus once receives the epithet "the justified" in the Pyramid Texts;  and Osiris likewise is, though very rarely, called "Lord of Truth (or Righteousness)."  In connection with the Osirian litigation at Heliopolis three statements regarding the legal triumph of the king are made which, because of the legal character of the victory, may not be exclusively ethical. The passage says of the king: "He is justified through that which he has done."  Again, he "comes forth to the truth (or 'righteousness' in the sense of legal victory), that he may take it with him";  and finally the king "goes forth on this day that he may bring the truth with him."  The later rapid growth of ethical teaching in the Osiris faith and the assumption of the rôle of judge by Osiris is not yet discernible in the Pyramid Age, and the development which made these elements so prominent in the Middle Kingdom took place in the obscure period after the close of the Pyramid Age. Contrary to the conclusion generally accepted at present, it was the Sun-god, therefore, who was the earliest champion of moral worthiness and the great judge in the hereafter. A thousand years later Osiris, as the victorious litigant at Heliopolis, as the champion of the dead who had legally triumphed over all his enemies, emerged as the great moral judge. In the usurpation of this rôle by Osiris we have another evidence of the irresistible process which Osirianized Egyptian religion. To these later conditions from which modern students have drawn their impressions, the current conclusion regarding the early moral supremacy of Osiris is due. The greater age of the Solar faith in this as in other particulars is, however, perfectly clear. 

These early moral aspirations had their limitations. Let us not forget that we are dealing with an age lying between five thousand and forty-five hundred years ago. The chief conquests of man in this remote age had been gained in a struggle with material forces. In this struggle he had issued a decisive victor, but nevertheless it was amid the tangle of a host of obscuring influences into which we cannot enter here; it was, as it were, through the dust of an engrossing conflict that he had caught but faintly the veiled glory of the moral vision. Let us not imagine, then, that the obligations which this vision imposed were all-embracing or that it could include all that we discern in it. The requirements of the great judge in the hereafter were not incompatible with the grossest sensuality. Not only was sensual pleasure permitted in the hereafter as depicted by the Pyramid Texts, but positive provision was made for supplying it.  The king is assured of sensual gratification in the grossest terms, and we hear it said of him that he "is the man who takes women from their husbands whither he wills and when his heart desires." 

Nevertheless that was a momentous step which regarded felicity after death as in any measure dependent upon the ethical quality of the dead man's earthly life; and it must have been a deep and abiding moral consciousness which made even the divine Pharaoh, who was above the mandates of earthly government, amenable to the celestial judge and subject to moral requirements. This step could not have been taken at once. It is possible that even in the brief century and a half covered by the Pyramid Texts we may discern some trace of the progress of ethical consciousness as it was involving even the king in its imperious demands. We have already noted above the statement regarding the king, "This king Pepi is justified." Now, it happens that the Utterance in which this statement occurs is found in a variant form in the pyramids of Unis and Teti, two kings earlier than Pepi. Neither of these earlier forms contains this statement of justification, and within a period of sixty to eighty years the editors deemed it wise to insert it. 

As we have so often said, it is not easy to read the spiritual and intellectual progress of a race in monuments so largely material as contrasted with literary documents. It is easy to be misled and to misinterpret the meagre indications furnished by purely material monuments. Behind them lies a vast complex of human forces and of human thinking which for the most part eludes us. Nevertheless it is impossible to contemplate the colossal tombs of the Fourth Dynasty, so well known as the Pyramids of Gizeh, and to contrast them with the comparatively diminutive royal tombs which follow in the next two dynasties, without, as we have before hinted, discerning more than exclusively political causes behind this sudden and startling change. The insertion of the Pyramid Texts themselves during the last century and a half of the Pyramid Age is an evident resort to less material forces enlisted on behalf of the departed Pharaoh as he confronted the shadow world. On the other hand, the Great Pyramids of Gizeh represent, as we have said before, the struggle of titanic material forces in the endeavor by purely material means to immortalize the king's physical body, enveloping it in a vast and impenetrable husk of masonry, there to preserve forever all that linked the spirit of the king to material life. The Great Pyramids of Gizeh, while they are to-day the most imposing surviving witnesses to the earliest emergence of organized man and the triumph of concerted effort, are likewise the silent but eloquent expression of a supreme endeavor to achieve immortality by sheer physical force. For merely physical reasons such a colossal struggle with the forces of decay could not go on indefinitely; with these reasons political tendencies too made common cause; but combined with all these we must not fail to see that the mere insertion of the Pyramid Texts in itself in the royal tombs of the last century and a half of the Pyramid Age was an abandonment of the titanic struggle with material forces and an evident resort to less tangible agencies. The recognition of a judgment and the requirement of moral worthiness in the hereafter was a still more momentous step in the same direction. It marked a transition from reliance on agencies external to the personality of the dead to dependence on inner values. Immortality began to make its appeal as a thing achieved in a man's own soul. It was the beginning of a shift of emphasis from objective advantages to subjective qualities. It meant the ultimate extension of the dominion of God beyond the limits of the material world, that he might reign in the invisible kingdom of the heart. It was thus also the first step in the long process by which the individual personality begins to emerge as contrasted with the mass of society, a process which we can discern likewise in the marvellous portrait sculpture of the Pyramid Age. The vision of the possibilities of individual character had dimly dawned upon the minds of these men of the early world; their own moral ideals were passing into the character of their greatest gods, and with this supreme achievement the development of the five hundred years which we call the Pyramid Age had reached its close.

When Egypt emerged from the darkness which followed the Pyramid Age, and after a century and a half of preparatory development reached the culmination of the Feudal Age (Twelfth Dynasty), about 2000 B.C., the men of this classic period looked back upon a struggle of their ancestors with death—a struggle whose visible monuments were distributed along a period of fifteen hundred years. The first five hundred years of this struggle was still represented by the tombs of the first two dynasties in Abydos and vicinity, but it was veiled in mist, and to the men of the Feudal Age its monuments were mingled with the memorials of the gods who once ruled Egypt. Of the thousand years which had elapsed since the Pyramid Age began, the first five hundred was impressively embodied before their eyes in that sixty-mile rampart of pyramids sweeping along the margin of the western desert. There they stretched like a line of silent outposts on the frontiers of death. It was a thousand years since the first of them had been built, and five hundred years had elapsed since the architects had rolled up their papyrus drawings of the latest, and the last group of workmen had gathered up their tools and departed. The priesthoods too, left without support, had, as we have already seen, long forsaken the sumptuous temples and monumental approaches that rose on the valley side. The sixty-mile pyramid cemetery lay in silent desolation, deeply encumbered with sand half hiding the ruins of massive architecture, of fallen architraves and prostrate colonnades, a solitary waste where only the slinking figure of the vanishing jackal suggested the futile protection of the old mortuary gods of the desert. Even at the present day no such imposing spectacle as the pyramid cemeteries of Egypt is to be found anywhere in the ancient world, and we easily recall something of the reverential awe with which they oppressed us when we first looked upon them. Do we ever realize that this impression was felt by their descendants only a few centuries after the builders had passed away? and that they were already ancient to the men of 2000 B.C.? On the minds of the men of the Feudal Age the Pyramid cemetery made a profound impression. If already in the Pyramid Age there had been some relaxation in the conviction that by sheer material force man might make conquest of immortality, the spectacle of these colossal ruins now quickened such doubts into open scepticism, a scepticism which ere long found effective literary expression.

Discernment of moral requirements had involved subjective contemplation. For the first time in history man began to contemplate himself as well as his destiny, to "expatiate free o’er all this scene of man." It is a ripe age which in so doing has passed beyond the unquestioning acceptance of traditional beliefs as bequeathed by the fathers. Scepticism means a long experience with inherited beliefs, much rumination on what has heretofore received unthinking acquiescence, a conscious recognition of personal power to believe or disbelieve, and thus a distinct step forward in the development of self-consciousness and personal initiative. It is only a people of ripe civilization who develop scepticism. It is never found under primitive conditions. It was a momentous thousand years of intellectual progress, therefore, of which these sceptics of the Feudal Age represented the culmination. Their mental attitude finds expression in a song of mourning, doubtless often repeated in the cemetery, and as we follow the lines we might conclude that the author had certainly stood on some elevated point overlooking the pyramid cemetery of the Old Kingdom as he wrote them. We possess two fragmentary versions of the song, one on papyrus, the other on the walls of a Theban tomb.  But the papyrus version was also copied from a tomb, for the superscription reads: "Song which is in the house (tomb-chapel) of king Intef  the justified, which is in front of the singer with the harp." The song reads:

"How prosperous is this good prince! 
 It is a goodly destiny, that the bodies diminish,
 Passing away while others remain,
 Since the time of the ancestors,
 The gods who were aforetime,
 Who rest in their pyramids,
 Nobles and the glorious departed likewise,
 Entombed in their pyramids.
 Those who built their (tomb)-temples,
 Their place is no more.
 Behold what is done therein.
 I have heard the words of Imhotep and Hardedef, greatly celebrated as their utterances.
 Behold the places thereof;
 Their walls are dismantled,
 Their places are no more,
 As if they had never been.
"None cometh from thence
 That he may tell (us) how they fare;
 That he may tell (us) of their fortunes,
 That he may content our heart,
 Until we (too) depart
 To the place whither they have gone.

"Encourage thy heart to forget it,
 Making it pleasant for thee to follow thy desire,
 While thou livest.
 Put myrrh upon thy head,
 And garments on thee of fine linen,
 Imbued with marvellous luxuries,
 The genuine things of the gods.

"Increase yet more thy delights,
 And let [not] thy heart languish.
 Follow thy desire and thy good,
 Fashion thine affairs on earth
 After the mandates of thine (own) heart.
 (Till) that day of lamentation cometh to thee,
 When the silent-hearted hears not their lamentation,
 Nor he that is in the tomb attends the mourning.

"Celebrate the glad day,
 Be not weary therein.
 Lo, no man taketh his goods with him.
 Yea, none returneth again that is gone thither."

[paragraph continues]Such were the feelings of some of these men of the Feudal Age as they looked out over the tombs of their ancestors and contemplated the colossal futility of the vast pyramid cemeteries of the Old Kingdom. Even the names of some of the wise men of a thousand years before, whose sayings had become proverbial, and who thus had attained more than a sepulchral immortality in some colossal tomb, arose in the recollection of the singer. It can hardly be a matter of chance that Imhotep, the first of the two whom the singer commemorates, was the earliest architect in stone masonry on a large scale, the father of architecture in stone. As the architect of king Zoser of the thirtieth century B.C., he was the builder of the oldest superstructure of stone masonry still surviving from the ancient world, the so-called "terraced pyramid" of Sakkara. It was a peculiarly effective stroke to revert to the tomb of this first great architect, and to find it in such a state of ruin that the places thereof were "as if they had never been." Indeed, to this day its place is unknown. Hardedef, too, the other wise man whom the poem recalls, was a son of Khufu, and therefore connected with the greatest of the pyramids. The fact, too, that these two ancient sages had survived only in their wise sayings was another illustration of the futility of material agencies as a means of immortality. At the same time the disappearance of such souls as these to a realm where they could no longer be discerned, whence none returned to tell of their fate, strikes the sombrest and most wistful note in all these lines. It is a note of which we seem to hear an echo in the East three thousand years later in the lines of Omar Khayyam:

"Strange, is it not? that of the myriads who
 Before us passed the door of Darkness through,
 Not one returns to tell us of the Road
 Which to discover we must travel too."  Here is bared a scepticism which doubts all means, material or otherwise, for attaining felicity or even survival beyond the grave. To such doubts there is no answer; there is only a means of sweeping them temporarily aside, a means to be found in sensual gratification which drowns such doubts in forgetfulness. "Eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow we die."

The other version of the song, from the tomb of the "divine father (priest) of Amon, Neferhotep," at Thebes, is hardly as effective as the first, and unhappily is very fragmentary. It contains, however, some valuable lines which should not be overlooked.

"How rests this just prince!
 The goodly destiny befalls,
 The bodies pass away
 Since the time of the god,
 And generations come into their places.
"Re shows himself at early morn,
 Atum goes to rest in Manu. 
 Men beget and women conceive,
 Every nostril breathes the air.
 Morning comes, they bear numerously,
 They (the new-born) come to their (appointed) places.

"Celebrate the glad day, O divine father.
 Put the finest spices together at thy nose,
 Garlands of lotus flowers at thy shoulder, at thy neck.
 Thy sister who dwells in thy heart,
 She sits at thy side.
 Put song and music before thee,
 Behind thee all evil things,
 And remember thou (only) joy.

"Till comes that day of mooring,
 At the land that loveth silence,
   .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
 (Where) the heart is quiet
 Of the son whom he loves.
"Celebrate the glad day,
 O Neferhotep, justified, divine father,
 Excellent and pure of hands.
 I have heard all that befell Those . . .
 Their houses are dismantled,
 The place of them is no more,
 They are as if they had never been,
 Since the time of the god, Those lords . . .

"[Wilt thou plant for thee pleasant trees] 
 Upon the shore of thy pool,
 That thy soul may sit under them,
 That he may drink their water?
 Follow thy desire wholly,
   .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
 Give bread to him who hath no field.
 So shalt thou gain a good name
 For the future forever. 

"Thou hast seen [⌈the tombs of the great⌉]
 [⌈Where priests offer, wearing skins of⌉] the panther;
 Their libation vessels are on the ground,
 And their bread of their food-offerings.

Songstresses ⌈weep⌉ . . .
 Their mummies are set up before Re,
 Their people are in lamentation without (ceasing).
". . . comes in her season;
 Fate numbers his days.
 Thou hast waked . . .
   .    .    .    .    ."

The song continues with reflections on the vanity of riches, as if in expansion of the single line in the other version referring to the fact that no man may take his goods with him when he departs. Wealth is fruitless, for the same fate has overtaken

"Those who had granaries,
 Besides bread for offerings,
 And those [who had none] likewise."
[paragraph continues]Hence the rich man is admonished:

"Remember thou the day
 When thou art dragged
 To the land of . . .
 [Follow thy desire] wholly.
 There is none that returns again." 
It is evident that the men of this age were reflecting deeply on the human state. The singer of this second version finds no hope in the contemplation of death, but suggests that it is well in any case to leave an enduring good name behind; not because it necessarily insures the good man anything in the world to come, but rather that it may abide in the minds of those who remain behind. Indeed, the obligation to a moral life imposed by the

"Great God" whose judgment is yet to come, as well as the benefits in the world of the dead, resulting from the fulfilment of this obligation, play no part in this sceptic's thought. The gods are largely ignored. The only one mentioned is the Sun-god, who appears even in connection with the mummy, where we should have expected the appearance of Osiris. Self-indulgence and a good name on earth hereafter may be said to summarize the teaching of these sceptics, who have cast away the teaching of the fathers.

Nevertheless there were those who rejected even these admonitions as but a superficial solution of the dark problem of life. Suppose that the good name be innocently and unjustly forfeited, and the opportunities for self-indulgence cut off by disease and misfortune. It is exactly this situation which is presented to us in one of the most remarkable documents surviving from this remote age. We may term it "The Dialogue of a Misanthrope with his Own Soul," though no ancient title has survived. The general subject is the despair resulting from the situation mentioned, a despair which turns to death as the only escape. It is perhaps hardly necessary to call attention to the remarkable choice of such a subject in so remote an age, a subject which is essentially a state of mind, the inner experience of an unjust sufferer. It is our earliest Book of Job, written some fifteen hundred years before a similar experience brought forth a similar book among the Hebrews.

The introduction narrating the circumstances which brought about this spiritual convulsion is unhappily lost. 1 The prologue of the book is therefore lacking, but some of the facts which it must have contained, setting forth the reasons for the reflections offered by the book, can be drawn from these reflections themselves. Our unfortunate (we never learn his name) was a man of gentle spirit who nevertheless was overtaken by blighting misfortunes. He fell sick only to be forsaken by his friends, and even by his brothers, who should have cared for him in his illness. No one proved faithful to him, and in the midst of his distress his neighbors robbed him. The good that he had done yesterday was not remembered, and although a wise man, he was repelled when he would have plead his cause. He was unjustly condemned, and his name, which should have been revered, became a stench in the nostrils of men.

At this juncture, when in darkness and despair he determines to take his own life, the document as preserved to us begins. Then, as he stands on the brink of the grave, his soul shrinks back from the darkness in horror and refuses to accompany him. In a long dialogue which now sets in, we discern the unfortunate man discoursing with himself, and conversing with his soul as with another person. The first reason for his soul's unwillingness is apprehension lest there should be no tomb in which to dwell after death. This, at first, seems strange enough in view of the scepticism with which such material preparation for death was viewed by just such men as our unfortunate proved himself to be. We soon discover, however, that this, like another which follows, was but a literary device intended to offer opportunity for exposing the utter futility of all such preparations. It would seem that the soul itself had before advised death by fire; but that it had then itself shrunk back from this terrible end. As there would be no surviving friend or relative to stand at the bier and carry out the mortuary ceremonies, the misanthrope then proceeded to adjure his own soul to undertake this office. The soul, however, now refuses death in any form and paints the terrors of the tomb. "My soul opened its mouth and answered what I had said: 'If thou rememberest burial it is mourning, it is a bringer of tears, saddening a man; it is taking a man from his house and casting him upon the height (the cemetery plateau). Thou ascendest not up that thou mayest see the sun. Those who build in red granite, who erect the ⌈sepulchre⌉ in the pyramid, those beautiful in this beautiful structure, ⌈who have become like⌉ gods, the offering-tables thereof are as empty as (those of) these weary ones who die on the dike without a survivor, (when as he lies half immersed on the shore) the flood has taken (one) end of him, the heat likewise; those to whom the fish along the shore speak (as they devour the body). Hearken to me—lo, it is good for men to hearken—follow the glad day and forget care.'" 

This then is the reply of the soul when the conventional view of death has been held up before it. The misanthrope has affirmed that he is fortunate "who is in his pyramid over whose coffin a survivor has stood," and he has besought his soul to be the one "who shall be my ⌈burier,⌉ who shall make offering, who shall stand at the tomb on the day of burial, that he may ⌈prepare⌉ the bed in the cemetery."  But like the harper in the two songs we have read, his soul remembers the dismantled tombs of the great, whose offering-tables are as empty as those of the wretched serfs dying like flies among the public works, along the vast irrigation dikes, and who lie there exposed to heat and devouring fish as they await burial. There is but one solution: to live on in forgetfulness of sorrow and drown it all in pleasure.

Up to this point the Dialogue, with its philosophy of "Eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow we die," has gone no further than the Song of the Harper. It now proceeds to a momentous conclusion, going far beyond that song. It undertakes to demonstrate that life, far from being an opportunity for pleasure and unbridled indulgence, is more intolerable than death. The demonstration is contained in four poems which the unhappy man addresses to his own soul. These constitute the second half of the document, 1 and are fortunately much more intelligible than the first half.  The first poem portrays the unjust abhorrence in which our unfortunate's name is held by the world. Each three-line strophe begins with the refrain, "My name is abhorred," and then, to enforce this statement, adduces for comparison some detestible thing from the daily life of the people, especially the notorious stench of fish and fowl so common in the life of the Nile-dweller.


"Lo, my name is abhorred,
 Lo, more than the odor of birds
 On summer days when the sky is hot.

"Lo, my name is abhorred,
 Lo, more than a fish-receiver
 On the day of the catch when the sky is hot.
"Lo, my name is abhorred,
 Lo, more than the odor of fowl
 On the willow-hill full of geese.

"Lo, my name is abhorred,
 Lo, more than the odor of fishermen
 By the shores of the marshes when they have fished.

"Lo, my name is abhorred,
 Lo, more than the odor of crocodiles,
 More than sitting under the ⌈bank⌉ full of crocodiles.

"Lo, my name is abhorred,
 Lo, more than a woman,
 Against whom a lie is told her husband."

Two more strophes follow, but they are too obscure to be rendered. They exhibit the same structure, and evidently were similar in content to the others. While this poem is but a reiteration of the fact that the unhappy man's name has become a stench in the nostrils of his fellows, in the second poem he turns from himself to characterize those who are responsible for his misery. He looks out over the society of his time and finds only corruption, dishonesty, injustice, and unfaithfulness even among his own kin. It is a fearful indictment, and as he utters it he asks himself in an ever-recurring refrain which opens each strophe, "To whom do I speak to-day?" His meaning probably is, "What manner of men are those to whom I speak?" and following each repetition of this question is a new condemnation.


"To whom do I speak to-day?
 Brothers are evil,
 Friends of to-day are ⌈not of love⌉.
"To whom do I speak to-day?
 Hearts are thievish,
 Every man seizes his neighbor's goods.

"To whom do I speak to-day?
 The gentle man perishes,
 The bold-faced goes everywhere.

"To whom do I speak to-day?
 He of the peaceful face is wretched,
 The good is disregarded in every place.

"To whom do I speak to-day?
 When a man arouses wrath by his evil conduct,
 He stirs all men to mirth, (although) his iniquity is wicked.

"To whom do I speak to-day?
 Robbery is practised,
 Every man seizes his neighbor's (goods).

"To whom do I speak to-day?
 The pest is faithful,
 (But) the brother who comes with it becomes an enemy.

"To whom do I speak to-day?
 Yesterday is not remembered,
 Nor is . . . in this hour.

"To whom do I speak to-day?
 Brothers are evil,
    .    .    .    .    .    .    .

"To whom do I speak to-day?
 Faces pass away,
 Every man with face lower than (those of) his brothers.

"To whom do I speak to-day?
 Hearts are thievish,
 The man upon whom one leans has no understanding.
"To whom do I speak to-day?
 There are no righteous,
 The land is left to those who do iniquity.

"To whom do I speak to-day?
 There is dearth of the faithful,
    .    .    .    .    .    .    .

"To whom do I speak to-day?
 There is none here of contented heart;
 Go with him (the apparently contented) and he is not here.

"To whom do I speak to-day?
 I am laden with wretchedness,
 Without a faithful one.

"To whom do I speak to-day?
 Evil smites the land,
 It hath no end."

The soul of the sufferer had shrunk back from death, and, like the Song of the Harper, proposed a life of pleasure as a way of escape. Then moved by the terror of death, and the hopelessness of material preparations to meet it, the unhappy man recoiled for a moment and turned to contemplate life. The two poems we have just read depict what he sees as he thus turns. What follows is the logical rebound from any faint hope that life may be possible, to the final conviction that death alone is the release from the misery in which he is involved. This third poem is a brief hymn in praise of death. It is not an exalted contemplation of the advantages of death, such as we find fifteen hundred years later in Plato's story of the death of Socrates; nor is it comparable to the lofty pessimism of the afflicted Job; but as the earliest utterance of the unjustly afflicted, as the first cry of the righteous sufferer echoing to us from the early ages of the world, it is of unique interest and not without its beauty and its wistful pathos. It is remarkable that it contains no thought of God; it deals only with glad release from the intolerable suffering of the past and looks not forward. It is characteristic of the age and the clime to which the poem belongs, that this glad release should appear in the form of concrete pictures drawn from the daily life of the Nile-dweller.


"Death is before me to-day
 [Like] the recovery of a sick man,
 Like going forth into a garden after sickness.
"Death is before me to-day
 Like the odor of myrrh,
 Like sitting under the sail on a windy day.

"Death is before me to-day
 Like the odor of lotus flowers,
 Like sitting on the shore of drunkenness.

"Death is before me to-day
 Like the course of the freshet,
 Like the return of a man from the war-galley to his house.

"Death is before me to-day
 Like the clearing of the sky,
 Like a man ⌈fowling therein toward⌉ that which he knew not.

"Death is before me to-day
 As a man longs to see his house
 When he has spent years in captivity."

In spite of the fact that these pictures are drawn from the life of a distant world, for the most part unfamiliar to us, they do not altogether fail of their effect. Life as a long sickness from which we recover at death as the convalescent enters a beautiful garden; death as the odor of myrrh borne on the fresh Nile wind, while the voyager sits beneath the bellying sail; death as the return of a war-worn wanderer in far waters approaching his home, or the glad restoration of the captive from foreign exile—these are figures of universal appeal in any age or clime. 

Tale forward glance into the ultimate future, which is so noticeably lacking in the preceding song, is the theme of the fourth poem. Each of its three strophes begins with the refrain, "He who is yonder," a common phrase, especially in the plural, "those who are yonder," for "the dead." "He who is yonder" shall himself be a god and "inflict the punishment of wickedness on the doer of it," not, as in the life of our misanthrope, on the innocent. "He who is yonder" embarks with the Sun-god in his celestial ship, and shall see that the best of offerings are offered to the temples of the gods, and not (by implication) be spent in corrupt rewards or diverted by thieving officials. "He who is yonder" is a respected sage, not repelled as he appeals to the corrupt officials, but directing to the Sun-god (Re) his appeals for which his daily presence with the god affords him opportunity.

Earlier in the struggle with his soul, the sufferer had expressed the conviction that he should be justified hereafter. 1 He now returns to this conviction in this fourth poem, with which the remarkable document closes. It therefore concludes with a solution likewise found among those discerned by Job—an appeal to justification hereafter, although Job does not necessarily make this a reason for seeking death, thus making death the vestibule to the judgment-hall and therefore to be sought as soon as possible.


"He who is yonder
 Shall seize (the culprit) as a living god,
 Inflicting punishment of wickedness on the doer of it.
"He who is yonder
 Shall stand in the celestial barque,
 Causing that the choicest of the offerings there be given to the temples.

"He who is yonder
 Shall be a wise man who has not been repelled,
 Praying to Re when he speaks."

Thus longing for the glad release which death affords and confident of the high privileges he shall enjoy beyond, the soul of the unhappy man at last yields, he enters the shadow and passes on to be with "those who are yonder." In spite of the evident crudity of the composition it is not without some feeling that we watch this unknown go, the earliest human soul, into the inner chambers of which we are permitted a glimpse across a lapse of four thousand years.

It is evident that the men of the Feudal Age took great pleasure in such literary efforts. This particular Berlin papyrus was copied by a book-scribe, whose concluding remark is still legible at the end of the document: "It is finished from beginning to end like that which was found in writing."  He copied it therefore from an older original, and doubtless many such copies were to be found on the shelves of the thinking men of the time. The story of the Misanthrope was one which owed its origin to individual experiences through which the men of this time were really passing, and they found profit in perusing it. It is a distinct mark in the long development of self-consciousness, the slow process which culminated in the emergence of the individual as a moral force, an individual appealing to conscience as an ultimate authority at whose mandate he may confront and arraign society. In this document, then, we discern the emergence of a new realm, the realm of social forces; for while it is the tragedy of the individual unjustly afflicted, his very affliction places him in the inexorable grip of social forces, calling for a crusade of social righteousness. The dawn of that social crusade and the regeneration which followed are still to be considered.

166:1 Pyr. § 1463.

166:2 Pyr. § 1466 d.

166:3 See above, p. 45.

167:1 Sethe, Untersuchungen, V, 99.

167:2 BAR, I, 382.

167:3 BAR, I, 383.

168:1 Statue in the Leipzig University Collection. Steindorff, Zeitschr. für aegypt. Sprache, 48, 156.

168:2 BAR, I, 281.

168:3 BAR, I, 240.

168:4 BAR, I, 252.

169:1 BAR, I, 279.

170:1 BAR, I, 328–331. The threat will also be found, BAR, I, 253 and 338.

170:2 This statement is also found in another Aswan tomb, BAR, I, 357.

171:1 BAR, I, 338.

171:2 Petrie, Deshasheh, pl. vii.

171:3 Pyr. § 921.

172:1 The Osirian editor of the only other text of this Utterance (510), that of Pepi, has inserted Osiris over Geb here, and then incorrectly added "Pepi," making "Osiris Pepi." The text thus made nonsense, viz., "How just is king Pepi for Osiris Pepi!" The passage incidentally furnishes one of the best examples of Osirian editing. That the text had nothing to do with Osiris in this passage, but concerned solely Geb and Re, is shown by the following context: "His (the king's) boundaries exist not, his landmarks are not found; while Geb, with his arm to the sky and his (other) arm to the earth, announces king Mernere to Re."

172:2 Pyr. §§ 1141–2.

172:3 Pyr. § 1238.

172:4 Pyr. § 1188.

173:1 Pyr. § 815.

173:2 Pyr. §1785 b.

173:3 Pyr. §1219 a.

173:4 Pyr. Ut. 467. Does the blaspheming refer to Re? For Pepi is himself the king!

173:5 Pyr. § 1327.

173:6 Pyr. § 1027.

173:7 Pyr. Ut. 263–5.

174:1 Pyr. § 929 a.

174:2 Pyr. §§ 1774 a-1776 b.

174:3 Pyr. § 265. "Justice" in both these passages may be translated also "truth" or "righteousness." As the correlated opposite means "falsehood," it is perhaps more nearly correct to render "truth" and "falsehood."

175:1 Pyr. § 1483.

175:2 Pyr. § 2078.

175:3 Pyr. § 2086.

175:4 Pyr. § 1429 c.

175:5 Pyr. § 1306 c.

175:6 Pyr. § 2089 a.

175:7 Pyr. § 1520 a.

175:8 Pyr. § 316.

175:9 Pyr. § 319.

176:1 Pyr. § 323.

176:2 In my History of Egypt I have accepted the conclusion that the Osirian litigation at Heliopolis is the incident in the career of Osiris which resulted in the introduction of powerful ethical motives into Egyptian religion. A further study of the Pyramid Texts and the collection of all the data they contain on the subject, as presented above, demonstrate in my judgment the incorrectness of this conclusion as well as the early moral superiority of the Solar religion.

177:1 In Pyr. § 123 the Pharaoh is supplied with a mistress in the hereafter.

177:2 Pyr. § 510.

178:1 The Utterances are 263 (Unis), 264 (Teti), and 265–6 (Pepi). Unis, the oldest king, died about 2625 B.C., and Pepi I about 2570.

182:1 They have been edited by W. M. Mueller in his Liebespoesie. The first version is found among the love-songs of Papyrus Harris, 500, in the British Museum, pl. vi, 1. 2, to pl. vii, 1. 3 (part of a duplicate on a fragment of tomb wall in Leyden). See Mueller, pls. xii–xv. The other version is in the tomb of Neferhotep, Mueller, pl. i. For the older publications see Mueller.

182:2 This is one of the Eleventh Dynasty Intefs.

182:3 Meaning the dead king in whose tomb the song was written.

182:4 Imhotep was grand vizier, chief architect, and famous wise man under king Zoser of the Third Dynasty (thirtieth century B.C.). He was the first great architect in stone-masonry construction, the father of stone architecture. The futility of the massive building methods which he introduced is thus brought out with double effectiveness. He has not escaped the fate of all the rest in the Old Kingdom cemetery. Hardedef was a royal prince, son of Khufu of Gizeh, and hence connected with the greatest pyramid. He lived about a century after Imhotep. Both of them had thus become proverbial wise men a thousand years after they had passed away.

184:1 Fitzgerald, Rubaiyat, 64.

185:1 These two lines merely recall the ceaseless rising and setting of the sun. Manu is the mountain of the west.

186:1 As Mueller has noticed, there was some reference to the well-known mortuary grove in this lacuna; he refers to Maspero, in Recueil de travaux, II, pp. 105–7; Rougé, Inscr. hierogl., CV; Mém. Miss. franç., V, 300, 330. But I cannot agree with Mueller in making it an injunction to equip the futile tomb with a grove equally futile, and supposing it to be an insertion by a later orthodox scribe. This can be avoided by making it a question.

186:2 While a tomb and the grove attached to it are fruitless trouble, moral worthiness, kindness to the poor, and the resulting good name shall endure.

187:1 The upper ends of the remaining six lines are too fragmentary to yield any certain or connected sense.

188:1 The document is a papyrus of the Middle Kingdom in Berlin (P. 3024). It was first published by Lepsius over fifty years ago p. 189 (Denkmaeler, VI, Taf., 111–112). Its content is so difficult that it remained unintelligible until republished by Erman in 1896, "Gespraech eines Lebensmueden mit seiner Seele," Abhandl. der koenigl. Preuss. Akad., Berlin, 1896. From Erman's treatise the above presentation draws substantially.

190:1 Misanthrope, ll. 56–68.

190:2 Ibid., ll. 52–55.

191:1 Lines 85–147.

191:2 In structure these poems are as follows:

The first has eight three-line strophes.

The second has sixteen three-line strophes.

The third has six three-line strophes.

The fourth has three three-line strophes.

196:1 Two of the figures are obscure: "the course of the freshet" is perhaps a reference to the dry water-course comparable with life, while its sudden filling by the waters of the freshet is the welcome refreshing corresponding to death. "A man fowling therein toward that which he knew not" may perhaps refer to the approach of the hunter to unfamiliar regions. "Sitting on the shore of drunkenness" is a picture of sensual pleasure in a drinking-booth on the dike or highway, here called "the shore."

197:1 Lines 23–27.

198:1 Lines 154–5.



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