The Hymn to the Nile is, properly speaking, not a religious document like those, for example, of the Funerary Ritual, whose history can be followed from century to century, but a religious poem in the same sense as that in which the Poem of Pentaur is a historical poem. It is the work of the scribe Ennana, the author of the Story of the Two Brothers and of several other fragments contained in the papyri of the British Museum. We possess two copies of it in the papyri Sallier II and Anastasi VII; both texts, however, are extremely poor. Prof. Maspero was the first to translate them in 1868, 1 and to show from an examination of the variant readings that they must have been transcribed from dictation by pupils in the schools of the scribes, though not from the same original text. The translation of Prof. Maspero has often been reproduced in works on Egypt, and Canon Cook has given a translation which differs from it but little. 2 In the present translation notice has been taken, as far as possible, of the recent progress of Egyptological knowledge; it will appear with a complete transcription of the two texts in the Recueil des Travaux relatifs à l’Egyptologie.
The text of the Hymn is divided into fourteen verses, introduced by red letters, and each, with two exceptions, containing the same number of complete phrases, separated from one another by red points. Unfortunately we are still ignorant of the rules of Egyptian poetry; but as the variant readings show that the number of syllables in one and the same sentence is not the same in the different texts, it is probable that the tonic accent played a chief part in it. We find, however that the order of the words is clearly not the same as in ordinary prose.
The author has developed the idea, well-known even to classical antiquity, that the Nile is the source of all life in Egypt, that it is the supreme god, mysterious, uncreated, the father of the gods and all things else, into whose secrets none can penetrate. He describes in a lofty style the benefits conferred by the Nile when it spreads its waters over the country at its annual return, and the miseries of the land when the inundation has not exercised its fertilising influence, as well as the joy of the inhabitants of Egypt and their gratitude when the Nile has answered their prayers.
46:1 Hymne au Nil. Franck, Paris 1868.
46:2 Records of the Past, IV. Bagster & Sons, London 1875.
47:1 Vol. xiii. Bouillon, Paris 1890.
47:2 Notably in verse 2, phrases 7 and 8, and in verse 14, phrase 1.
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