The Pyramid Texts

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The Pyramid Texts

By Translation by Samuel A. B. Mercer


The famous Pyramid Texts herein translated for the first time in English with commentary were found inscribed on the walls of five pyramids at Sa??âreh, the ancient necropolis of Memphis in Egypt. These pyramids are those of the kings Unis of the Fifth Dynasty, and Teti, Pepi I, Merenre‘ and Pepi II of the Sixth Dynasty. To this translation has been added that of recently discovered additional texts, parallel and complementary, in the pyramids of Oudjebten, Neit, and Apouit, queens of Pepi II, and of Ibi, a king of the Seventh Dynasty, of whom little historically is known. Thus, according to the present generally accepted chronology, these pyramids were constructed, and apparently inscribed, between the years about 2350 to 2175 B.C. It is, however, certain that many of these texts came into existence before the final union of Upper and Lower Egypt, and perhaps long before that date, which is now put at about 3000 B.C. Indeed, some of them possibly existed in oral form before the art of writing was developed. These inscriptions together with others were after that probably written on papyrus and potsherds, many of which in time perished, the rest remaining in various forms until they were collected and incised on the walls of the Sa??âreh h pyramids. Evidence of a date previous to about 3000 B.C. is seen in passages which reflect events and conditions previous to the union of the two Lands, for example, the hostility between North and South, before the time of the first king, Menes; in the mode of burying bodies of the dead in the sand; in the pre-civilized era reflected in the so-called Cannibal Hymn; and in the many references to the assembling of the bones of the deceased, passages which indicate a pre-mummification period. And in the historic period various chronological points can be established with fair certainty, such as the time of the Second Dynasty, when both Horus and Set were in favour in royal circles; references to previously written material such as the "Chapter of those who ascend" and the "Chapter of those who raise themselves up," 1245d-e, indicating a time in the historic period in which writing became common; and the formulae for the protection of pyramids, such as, Uts. 600-601, which represent a date after the time of the construction of pyramids. So that the myths and legends, the history and philosophy, the hopes and fears of people (subjects as well as monarchs) of many hundreds of years were finally inscribed in enduring stone, which over four thousand years removed from our time, may now be read with comparative ease and certainty, thanks to the modern discipline of archaeological research and philology. The extent of this written material may be appreciated in saying that it takes well over a thousand pages of two quarto volumes to contain it. In the standard modern edition of the original text, together with parallels and additions from the pyramids of Pepi II, Neit, and others, there are about 7000 lines, most of which are parallels, of more or less completeness of the estimated 2500 lines, which occur in one or other of the pyramids; for most of the utterances occur in more than one pyramid, but very few are repeated in all these pyramids. Thus, the pyramid of Unis has only two hundred and eight utterances out of a total of over seven hundred and thirty; and they with those of the pyramid of Teti are among the oldest in the collection.

A general idea of the contents of this mass of literary material may be seen in the detailed list of Contents preceding this Introduction; but that does not mean that these texts present a coherent whole, for they do not; and while there are clearly three outstanding elements in them, namely, Solar Theology, Religion and Myths of Osiris, and the Political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, yet the following seven points may be taken to represent the whole collection with fair general accuracy: 1) A funerary ritual of mortuary offerings, connected with the corporeal reconstitution and resurrection of the deceased king, 2) Magical formulae to ward against harm and evil, 3) A ritual of worship, 4) Religious hymns, 5) Mythical formulae, identifying the deceased king with certain deities, 6) Prayers and petitions on behalf of the deceased king, and 7) The greatness and power of the deceased king in heaven.

These pyramid texts were royal texts, and during the Old Kingdom there is no evidence that the people ever took them to themselves and used them in their own tombs. However, at the end of the Sixth Dynasty, Neit, one of the queens of Pepi II, had them applied to herself, though the second person and third person masculine singular were often used and applied to her; but during the Middle Kingdom the use of them spread to the nobles, and in the New Kingdom parts of them were incorporated in the popular Theban Book of the Dead.

And doubtless because of their sanctity little attempt was made to put them in accord with changed circumstances.

When these small pyramids were built and inscribed the age of the great pyramids, like those at Giza, had passed, and with it the sense of royal security after this life. The great pyramids had been entered in spite of their thousands of tons of masonry, and kings came to look elsewhere for the assurance of a happy and glorious hereafter. They turned to religion and magic. By mortuary offerings and funerary rites the deceased king was armed for his future life; and by magic he was endowed with physical and spiritual power, becoming a great god and associating with the gods, to avoid whatever in the world to come might otherwise compromise his destiny. The purpose of these royal texts then was to guarantee the deceased king's resurrection and new-birth, his transfiguration and divinity, his successful journey to heaven, and his immortality there with the other gods. There in heaven as a great god, sometimes as the greatest of all the, gods, the deceased king was believed to be able to overcome all difficulties by his own might, or by identifying himself with other gods.

In the earliest of these texts two very ancient doctrines may be discerned: that of the old heaven-god, perhaps Horus the elder, in which the deceased king as a star was prominent, and that of the sun-god where the deceased as the sun-god was contemplated. But the two were harmonized doubtless at a very early period, when the celestial abode of the heaven- and star-gods became identified with that of the solar deities. But what we do see more clearly in the Pyramid Texts are the two opposing systems of theological thought, that of Re‘ of Heliopolis and that of Osiris. The Pyramid Texts were largely solar, but long before the texts were inscribed in the pyramids of Sa??âreh, there existed Osirian texts as well as Solar ones, though there is reason to believe that the learned men and scribes of Heliopolis were the first to make collections of their texts. And gradually as such collections were being made, there was a tendency to include Osirian texts, as well as, an effort on the part of Osirians to facilitate the entrance of their texts into the great Solar collections (cf. Excursus XXVII), with the result that there was a redaction continually going on, in which not only was the name of Osiris introduced into the collections, especially as an epithet of the king, such as Osiris Teti, but also the name of the solar king was introduced into original Osirian texts. However, the great bulk of the texts remained solar and celestial with comparatively little trace of the underworld character of the Osirian faith. There are also traces in these texts of other systems of theological thought than the Heliopolitan and Osirian, namely, those of Memphis and Hermopolis.

As one reads these ancient texts, there is a primitiveness about them which is not unexpected, though they are never naive. There is much repetition, not much order, contradictions, errors, and sometimes what appear to be ridiculous statements, but in spite of all that, real poetic passages and consistent reasoning are not lacking. There is the art to create images, figures of speech, and metaphores in beautiful and choice language. There are paronomasiae, parallelisms, litanies, and hymns. There are poetic expressions, such as 567a-c; real lyrics, like Ut. 362; symbolical expressions, such as 681d; and really fine bits, like 307a-c. There are proverbs, such as 396d; and adages, such as 444e. The most symmetrically and mechanically arranged utterance in the whole collection is Ut. 575, which reminds one of Ps. 119. But the overall characteristic of these texts is their religious and funerary, their magical, mythological, and astronomic expressions, interpretations, and predispositions.

Auguste Mariette had the distinction, in the later part of his life, of being the modern discoverer of the inscribed pyramids at Sa??âreh,, but it was Maspero in 1880 working under Mariette's direction, who discovered the first set of Pyramid Texts. They were those inscribed on the walls of the sarcophagus chamber of the pyramid of Pepi I. Following that, he found texts in the pyramids of Unis of the Fifth Dynasty, as well as in the pyramids of Teti, Merenre‘, and Pepi II, in addition to Pepi I, all of the Sixth Dynasty. This work of discovery of pyramid texts did not find a continuation until the years 1920 and 1936, when the Swiss Egyptologist, Jéquier, discovered texts in the pyramids of Oudjebten, Neit, and Apouit, queens of Pepi II, and in that of Ibi, an obscure king of the Seventh Dynasty, besides clearing that of Pepi II, whom Sethe records as N. (Neferkare‘).

These texts usually occupy the walls of the sarcophagus chamber except the west side, and are so disposed that the deceased king in his sarcophagus might spiritually see and read them. Texts are also on the walls of the antechamber, on the horizontal passages, and some are on the walls of the vestibule and even on those of the ramp. They are normally in vertical columns, incised on the limestone walls, some excellently done as in the pyramids of Unis and Pepi II, others very crudely done as in that of Ibi.

As Maspero was the discoverer of the Pyramid Texts, so be was the first to make an edition and translation of them. These were all the pyramid texts which were known at the time of their publication in 1894. And in view of what we now know about the difficulties of the Pyramid Texts, this edition and translation were evidence of the genius of the great master. Even today many of his translations accord with the best that is known on those passages, which is an indication of his great learning and insight.

For years before the beginning of this century Kurt Sethe, whose name will be forever associated with the Pyramid Texts, was deeply interested in everything which concerned them. He as well as other trained Egyptologists realized that the earlier copy of the texts was often incorrect, and that a new and scientifically copied edition was a necessity. Accordingly, taking advantage of the work of Dr. Heintze and Ludwig Borchardt, who were in Egypt taking impressions and photographs of the Pyramid Texts for slips in preparation for the making of the great Berlin Wörterbuch der Aegyptischen Sprache, Sethe made use of their material in preparing a new edition of the Pyramid Texts. And no Egyptologist was more thoroughly prepared for such an undertaking than Kurt Sethe. And so he began the critical and exacting task of constructing a text principally on the basis of the five versions Unis, Teti, Pepi I, Merenre‘, and Pepi II, which was finished and published in 1908-1910 in two great quarto volumes of over a thousand pages of hieroglyphic text, which is now the standard text. To accompany the text, he followed them with a third volume of critical apparatus in 1922 and a fourth of epigraphy in the same year. Thus the great work of giving to the world the text of the oldest collection of mythical, religious, and literary material in existence was finished. However, the text was marred by one blemish, but not due to the science of Sethe. It was due to the fact that a considerable Portion of the texts in the five pyramids was broken, damaged and destroyed--a condition which may never be completely remedied. It is along this line that Egyptologists who were specialists in these texts have been working since the time of Sethe. Already considerable progress has been made in the discovery of texts, anciently copied from the texts in these five pyramids, before they were damaged, and recorded elsewhere; in a further study of the walls of the five pyramids themselves; and in the discovery and publishing of new pyramids and tombs with parallel and additional texts, all which will be used in the future, but not till after many years of archaeological research in Egypt, in the construction of a more complete text. Already between 1920 and 1936 Jéquier discovered at Sa??âreh similar texts in the pyramids of Oudjebten, Neit, and Apouit of the Sixth Dynasty and of Ibi of the Seventh Dynasty; in 1932 the Egyptian Expedition of the Metropolitan Museum of Art discovered in the cemetery surrounding the pyramid of Se’n-Wosret I at Lisht the tomb of an official of the Twelfth Dynasty named Se’n-Wosret-‘Ankh, containing a long series of inscriptions drawn from the Pyramid Texts, and published in 1937; and in 1935 William C. Hayes published the "Royal Sarcophagi of the Eighteenth Dynasty," containing parts of the Pyramid Texts, which are useful in filling some lacunae in the Sa??âreh texts. Then older publications are useful, such as that of de Morgan in 1894-1895 of similar texts in a private tomb at Dahshûr; that of Firth and Gunn in 1926 of texts in the Teti Pyramid Cemeteries at Sa??âreh; and that of Borchardt in 1913 of similar texts in the mortuary temple of Sahure‘ at Abu?îr. Then there are the Coffin Texts of the Middle Kingdom and the Theban Book of the Dead of the New Kingdom, which contain Pyramid Texts in modified and further modified form; as well as tombs of kings, such as that of Seti I, and of private individuals, which contain Pyramid Texts sometimes in quite exact quotation. All these and others may be drawn upon in the future construction of a still more perfect version of the famous ancient Pyramid Texts of Sa??âreh. Quite recently T. G. Allen of the University of Chicago has published a most useful guide to all parallel and illustrative Egyptian texts at present known in his valuable book, Occurrences of Pyramid Texts with cross Indexes of these and other Egyptian Mortuary Texts, Chicago, 1950.

After the publication of his text, Sethe's next concern was to prepare a translation with a commentary. The central thought in his busy years of research as soon as the text was published was directed towards that purpose, and by 1929 he was ready to begin. He was master of an immense accumulation of philological, historical, and religious facts in the field of ancient Egyptian literature, and with him were associated co-workers and colleagues, such as Lange, Grapow, and Sander-Hansen. He began with Ut. 2 13 and by the time of his death in 1934 had finished up to and including Ut. 506, or less than one half of the text as he had published it. It remained for a commission of his associates to carry on the work. This they began to do immediately after the great master's death.

Sethe's translation and commentary on Uts. 213-506 was not ready for the printer. It needed revising, especially in the later portions, and writing. The Commission received the material left by Sethe and published it much as it was. Before the beginning of the war in 1939 four volumes of translation and commentary were published, which included Uts. 213-506, or between one-third and one-half of the whole. A fifth volume is said to be in preparation.

Not counting the early and tentative translation by Maspero in 1894, Sethe's is the only translation--itself only between one-third and one-half of the whole--in any language of the Pyramid Texts, except one made in French by L. Speleers, a Belgian Egyptologist in 1923-1924, remade in 1934, but without a commentary. No translation in any other language has so far been published. Individual scholars have translated portions here and there for their use in works on various aspects of ancient Egyptian religion and thought, philology and literature, customs and history, such as Kees, Junker, Drioton, Weill, Breasted, Gardiner, Gunn, Sander-Hansen, etc.

The present translation is thus, the only complete one with full commentary in any language. It is not as full as that part of Sethe's which is finished, but it has been planned to be more concise in its comments, leaving longer comments on important points for a series of Excursuses, so as not to interfere with the proportioned flow of comment on the current text. But it has been able to make use of large portions of the pyramids of Pepi II and Neit as well as of publications of other pyramids, tombs, and sarcophagi brought to light since Sethe's day. It has thus added over four hundred lines to the text, besides, filling some smaller lacunae here and there.

It is not claimed to be a definitive translation, because we have not yet a definitive text. Such a text and translation may never be able to be made, because of quite natural causes. But with the further discovery of new texts and a complete comparison with all extant later parallels in texts already published as well as yet unpublished a future text and translation will be called for. For that reason, in this present translation use has been made of material later than the time of the Pyramid Texts themselves only when it was thought to have some light to throw upon a problem difficult of solution, or when it gave a new meaning to a passage. In other words, this is an interim translation and commentary of the Pyramid Texts for the use not only of Egyptologists but likewise of students of religions and comparative religions, of literature and comparative literature, of the history of ideas and customs, and of culture and civilization in general.

There is published with it a complete apparatus for general use such as an analysis of each utterance with a discussion of its date, a series of Excursuses on important subjects, a full glossary of useful terms, phrases, and subjects, and a full index to the translation.

In translating and interpreting these texts many things have had to be taken into consideration and many allowances have had to be made. It must he remembered that many of these old utterances or discourses are veritable magic formulae to procure for the deceased king all kinds of material satisfaction, to protect him against any enemies he may meet on his way to the other world, and to procure for him an eternal life; and that very often place names refer to celestial locations and not to ancient places in Egypt. In keeping with their general magical character, most if not all of these utterances begin with the expression dd mdw, which is a rubrical direction "to say," that is, the words are to be spoken or recited by someone, often a lector-priest, sometimes the deceased king himself, and sometimes by him in the first person. The rubric sometimes directs that the petition be repeated four times. There is evidence that some of the utterances were written in the first person singular, and were later changed to the third person singular. Ut. 506 is a good example of a text which was surely in the first person singular originally, but in general in translations the third person has been used unless the form of the first person has been reproduced in the hieroglyphic text. It has been useful to notice when the first person is used, for it is one of the signs of an early date for the text in which it is found, for example, Uts. 325 and 563 are late, and one of the indications is that the third person singular is always used. On the whole, the determination of the date of a text is rather uncertain, and sometimes impossible. There can be no systematic ordering of the dates as J. E. D. P. of Old Testament criticism. Nor is n, the sign of the genitive, a sure guide of date, its presence indicating a late and its absence an early date, as the occurrence and the absence of the n in the same sentence or compound sentence proves, Cf. 2056c.

Among the texts of the Sa??âreh pyramids there is evidence of redaction of some of them, thus, Ut. 55 is a re-writing for kings of the historic period of an older text, composed for the predynastic kings of Buto; and some long utterances are made up of independent short parts, with some changes added by the redactor, e.g. Ut. 468. Indeed the Pyramid Texts are to a large extent a composition, compiling, and joining of earlier texts. Moreover, there are corruptions in the texts, mistakes in writing, errors in grammar and syntax, contradictions and confusions, expressions which seem ridiculous, and illogical expressions, most of which have been referred to in the Commentary on the text where they occur. There are numerous paronomasiae and words of double meaning; and superstition led to the mutilation of hieroglyphic signs of creatures which were thought, if left whole, may be capable of injuring the deceased king, and the fish for the same reason was used only once (218c, N.) in the inscriptions in his burial chamber.

As there is a minimum of classification and order in the sequence of the texts, a list of Contents of the Pyramid Texts precedes this Introduction. Therein an attempt has been made to find groups of texts without disturbing the sequence of the text in Sethe's edition. Consequently it often happens that we are obliged to group some texts under the heading "Texts of Miscellaneous Contents." However, there are many instances where texts grouped in Sethe's edition form a natural and often perfect group, e.g. the Serpent Charms of Uts. 226-244, or the Ferryman Texts, Uts. 300-337.

In translations an honest effort has been made to express the sense of the original in English, with the result that many translations are literal instead of free, thus in 1004d the original is translated "at the voice of lamentation" instead of "at the sound of lamentation," so that the English will be apt to be stilted instead of elegant. As in all ancient languages, particles, such as adverbs, and conjunctions are rare, with the result that it is often not easy to make the correct sequence or dependence, rendering the sense of the sentence or passage uncertain. Again the same word in different contexts may require varied renderings, such as the word ?gb which means "flood," "abundance," or "violence," in accordance with the context. To save as much space as possible, very few alternative translations have been introduced, where in many cases the same phrase or sentence could be rendered in different ways. In most lines of the Pyramid Texts the line as it appears in two or more pyramids is given; in other words, in Sethe's edition every line is given in as many pyramids as it occurs; so as a rule the earliest text is the one followed in translating the line unless one of the other pyramids has decidedly the best text. Where important differences occur, they are pointed out in the commentary; but where differences are not helpful in interpretation they are not always noted. Nor are variants in other texts not in the Sethe edition referred to unless they are useful in a better understanding of the meaning of the text. Whenever "to say" occurs if in only one of the parallel pyramids, it is used in the translation. In the Commentary on Uts. 213-506, Sethe's discussions were ever before me, and I felt myself constrained by his logic and learning to follow him, but wherever I felt that another solution to a problem of interpretation was better though different from his I have not hesitated to use it. In other words, in those utterances, Sethe became my standard unless I could improve on it, as I often did, I believe, in the light of additional Nt. or N. texts, or still later texts, or comparative literature or religion. In all my comments, I have felt free to draw upon any sources, especially ancient ones, whenever I felt the need of an illustrative idea or custom. But I have been unable to take advantage of some of the new points made by my colleagues in their Excursuses, due to a difference of date in the completion of the earlier parts of this work and the arrival of their manuscript. At the same time, obvious remarks have been avoided as much as possible, and only important differences and similarities between lines, paragraphs, and utterances have been noted. Minor errors, whether in the original hieroglyphics, or in Sethe's text, are not always noted, neither are the presence or absence of an ’i prosthetic, or a genitival n always mentioned, nor has the analysis of the utterances been too meticulous in unessential matters, for as the German proverb has it:

"Wer auf jede Feder acht,
Nie das Bette fertig macht."

The abbreviations of the pyramids in which texts so far have been found are: W. = Unis, T. = Teti, P. = Pepi I, M. = Merenre‘, N. = Pepi II (Neferkare‘), Nt. = Neit, Ip. = Apouit, Wd. = Oudjebten, Ib. = Aba, Se’n = Se’n-Wosret-‘Ankh. In the translations of the texts of these pyramids, instead of using the different abbreviations for the different sovereigns, the letter N. (nomen) is used throughout. Other abbreviations may be seen in the "List of Abbreviations" of literature. The square brackets [ ] are used to designate a conjecture made by Sethe, or by me, which has not with satisfaction been textually verified; the round brackets ( ) are used for explanatory words or phrases or for alternative translations. Capitalization is used as sparingly as possible in the translation and commentary, but when common nouns referring to things are personified, or deified, or both, they are written with a capital letter; but punctuation marks are used somewhat excessively, especially where they aid the meaning. I have always made a slight departure from the orthodox method of transliterating hieroglyphics, in the interest of simplicity, in that I have used the accepted ’i when it is initial, but i otherwise; and I use the grammatical word "gentilic" instead of the word "nisbé." In case of the two words usually translated, the first "soul" and the other "double," I use the transliterated forms b? and k?, or ba and ka, to avoid misunderstanding in the supposed English equivalents. In the case of the plural of ka, I use the form ka's or kas, which others also use. Any differences in the transliteration of words, in abbreviations, and in modes of reference, etc., in the Excursuses of authors other than myself are ordinarily retained. In broken passages, the approximate length of the broken line is indicated by ------------

The Excursuses are meant to treat subjects ordinarily too large for the Commentary, but the discussion is confined to the Pyramid Texts, except for parallel and illustrative matter. The Glossary is meant to give a brief description or definition of important words, names, phrases, and subjects which occur in the Translation and Commentary, with as a rule only one reference, usually the most important one. Other references may be found in the Commentary, in the Index, or in Speleers' excellent Vocabulary. The List of Abbreviations applies to the chief works actually used in this book; and the Index which follows is that to the Translation alone, but which naturally serves the Commentary as well. On account of the lack of hieroglyphic type only a few hieroglyphs, considered essential in the comments, have been used, and are collected together on three plates at the end of the work, but referred to in the Commentary by plate and number. With a few exceptions of names of a general character, only those found in the Translation and Commentary are entered in the map, which appears at the end of the last volume.

As noted above, the only scientific edition of the hieroglyphic texts of the inscribed pyramids was made by Sethe in 1908-1910. The texts form a collection of 714 utterances or chapters, and although most of the utterances occur in more than one pyramid and very few are repeated in all the pyramids in which the texts are found, many of them are damaged and incomplete wherever they are found in the texts published by Sethe. However, since the time of Sethe's publication similar texts have been found in other pyramids at Sa??âreh of the Sixth and Seventh Dynasties as well as in private tombs of the Middle Kingdom, and which have been published, and are specified above. A study of these additional texts has made it possible for me to add in translation 386 lines to the approximately 6500 lines in Sethe's hieroglyphic edition, and to make 57 larger restorations, besides many smaller ones, amounting to about 40 additional lines, making in all an addition of about 426 lines, in translation, to Sethe's original edition. The confirmation from texts not available to Sethe of his restorations are not recorded in these lists, but they are given in the Commentary (e.g. that in 130, while emendations and restorations as well as all substantial additions are mentioned in the comments on the lines where they occur. Therefore, for convenience of reference to the published hieroglyphic texts, there follow here two lists, the first a list of the added lines, and the second a list of the larger restorations. The additions as well as the restorations, larger and smaller, are also recorded, at their appropriate places in the Commentary:




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