Ancient Egypt: History and culture
Ancient Egyptian Hymn to Hathor: The Egyptian agricultural cycle
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Hymn to Hathor:
The Egyptian agricultural cycle

 Hymn to Hathor
    You cause the flood flowing downriver in its season, an appropriate flood, devoid of calamities, in order to make it spread over both lands.
    You cause the sky to bring forth the northern wind, in the next season, to make the flood flow back upstream and prevent the waves of the sea from engulfing it (too soon)
    You cause the coastal lakes [connected to (?)] the Mediterranean river mouths build up dykes before it, preventing the Mediterranean from receiving it (at once)
    You cause the Mediterranean to receive it on the appropriate day without its course being held up (any longer).
 
- The inscription is engraved on a doorpost of the Hathor sanctuary at Denderah.
 
The first stanza deals with the inundation, vital to all life in Egypt, as rainfall is far too sparse and unreliable. The longer the water remains in the irrigation basins the more water is absorbed by the soil. The natural obstacles mentioned in the hymn would have had little effect on the flow of the Nile. But the artificial means of dykes and canals which were efficient could not be attributed to the deity.
-spread over both lands: Hapi of Upper and Lower Egypt, the personification of the rising Nile:
Hapi
-appropriate flood: neither too high nor too low.
-flow back upstream: no wind, however strong, will prevent a river from flowing downhill
    You cause the watered earth to close (?) over the seed when its right time has come and to gleam with all the grain it has received, which grow and mature, healthy and magnificent.
    You cause them (i.e. the men) to work in joy;
    You cause them to reap it in joy;
    You protect it against all inclemencies (coming) from the sky and against all calamities (coming) from the earth.
 
The second stanza describes the growth of the crops and their reaping.
-close (?) over the seed: the sown grain was generally trampled into the ground by herds of animals deliberately driven over the fields.
-reap it in joy: the Hebrew Bible, on the other hand, opposes the joy of reaping with the pain of growing the crop in the much harsher land of Israel: They that sow in tears shall reap in joy (Psalm 126). The Bible is much more down to earth than were the Egyptian upper classes who thought that their servants should be chanting their praises while happily toiling away: "May the gods give my master strength and health."
-inclemencies (coming) from the sky: hot desert winds blowing over sprouting crops might whither them. Rainstorms, at times quite a problem in Europe, would rarely have endangered the crops in Egypt.
    You cause the son of Re cartouche to offer (the produce of the earth), to (be depicted on y)our great and imposing offering tables;
    You receive them from his hand, favourably;
    You give him (in return) victory and courage, power, supremacy, and many years;
    You deliver to him the sovereigns of all the flat lands and all the mountainous lands, prostrate, while his mace is hovering above their heads.
The third stanza describes the boons the generous gods shower on the king who, as the representative of the Egyptian people, has shown them his gratitude for the gifts received.
-the son of Re: the Pharaoh, whose name was written inside a cartouche: cartouche
-favourably: the best offerings will do little good if the deity does not accept them.
-mace: the mace was early on abandoned as an effective weapon of war, but remained a symbol for the utter defeat of Egypt's enemies at the hands of victorious pharaohs.

After Serge Sauneron: Une page de géographie physique: Le cycle agricole égyptien, BIFAO 60 (1960), pp.11-17

 


Picture source: Jon Bodsworth

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