Ancient Egypt: History and culture
Ancient Egyptian texts: Lay of the Harper
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Harpist
Excerpt, from the Napoleonic Reports about Egypt
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Lay of the Harper

'Tis well with this good prince; his day is done,
His happy fate fulfilled. So one goes forth
While others, as in days of old, remain.
The old kings slumber in their pyramids,
Likewise the noble and the learned, but some
Who builded tombs have now no place of rest,
Although their deeds were great.
Lo! I have heard the words Imhotep and Hordadaf spake
Their maxims men repeat - Where are their tombs?
Long fallen - e'en their places are unknown,
And they are now as though they ne'er had been.
No soul comes back to tell us how he fares
To soothe and comfort us ere we depart
Whither he went betimes. But let our minds
Forget of this and dwell on better things.
Revel in pleasure while your life endures
And deck your head with myrrh. Be richly clad
In white and perfumed linen; like the gods
Anointed be; and never weary grow
In eager quest of what your heart desires
Do as it prompts you - until that sad day
Of lamentation comes, when hearts at rest
Hear not the cry of mourners at the tomb,
Which have no meaning to the silent dead.
Then celebrate this festal time, nor pause
For no man takes his riches to the grave;
Yea, none returns again when he goes hence.

Song from the Tomb of King Intef, c. 2000 BCE
Donald Mackenzie, Egyptian Myth and Legend, pp.246f, [1907]

-   Imhotep: Third dynasty official, was deified
  Hordadaf: Son of Khufu
  Their maxims: The reconstructed Instruction of Hordedef:
Beginning of the Instruction made by the Hereditary Prince, Count, King's Son, Hardjedef, for his son, his nursling, whose name is Au-ib-re. [He] says:
Cleanse yourself before your (own) eyes,
Lest another cleanse you.
When you prosper, found your household,
Take a hearty wife, a son will be born you.
It is for the son you build a house,
When you make a place for yourself.
Make good your dwelling m the graveyard,
Make worthy your station in the West.
Given that death humbles us,
Given that life exalts us,
The house of death is for life.
Seek for yourself well-watered fields,
------.
Choose for him a plot among your fields,
Well-watered every year.
He profits you more than your own so
Prefer him even to your [heir].
M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol.1, p.58f.

  Revel in pleasure ...: Follow your heart as long as you live! (M. Lichtheim)
Harper songs were initially sung to praise the eternal life, but became increasingly hedonistic as scepticism about a life after death took hold.
  Which have no meaning to the silent dead: The weary-hearted hears not their mourning ( Lichtheim)
  nor pause: Do not weary of it! (Lichtheim)


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January 2004

 

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