Egyptian Literature Comprising Egyptian Tales, Hymns, Litanies, Invocations, the Book of the Dead and Cuneiform Writings
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The wonders of Egyptian archæology are the latest and most precious harvest of scholars and explorers. From Belzoni to Flinders Petrie there has been a succession of discoveries in the valley of the Nile with which it is hard for ordinary students to keep pace. Our knowledge of Egyptian life to-day is far clearer and more complete than Bentley's or Porson's acquaintance with the antiquities of Greece and Rome, and we have far more complete access to the treasures of Egyptian literature than Dante or Thomas Aquinas had to the remains of Attic poets and mystics. We know exactly how an Egyptian of the twelfth dynasty dressed; what was the position of women in Egypt; and what uniform was worn by the Egyptian soldiers who took part in the campaign against Khitasis. We can see Rameses II riding in his war-chariot; we know the very names of the horses by whose side his tame lion is running and thirsting for the blood of his master's foes. We know all about the domestic animals, the funeral customs, the trades, the gods, the agriculture of the Nile valley thirty centuries ago. We see the whole many-sided civilization portrayed in the brightest colors in the poetry, the books of ritual, the hieratic inscriptions, the tablets, papyri, and hieroglyphics which day by day come to light in exhaustless abundance from the mounds and ruins of that fertile plain that stretches from Thebes to the Mareotic lake.
For instance, we can learn exact particulars about the mode in which Rameses II made war, from the poem of Penta-Our, a Theban writer of the fourteenth century b.c. It is only by a figure of speech that this poem can be called an epic; it is rather a historical narrative couched in terms of poetic exaggeration with the object of flattering the royal vanity of Pharaoh.
The campaign in which Rameses then engaged was directed against Kadesh, a city built on an island in the Orontes. It is, according to Penta-Our, inhabited by a people known as Khita, whose spies are brought into the tent of Rameses and questioned as to the whereabouts of the King of Kadesh. The spies are forced by blows to answer, and they tell the Egyptian monarch that the King of the Khita “is powerful with many soldiers, and with chariot soldiers, and with their harness, as many as the sand of the seashore, and they are ready to fight behind Kadesh.” The King is very angry; for he had been deceived by false news to the effect that his enemy had fled in terror to Khilibu. “The fault is great,” he cries, “that the governors of the land and the vassal princes of Pharaoh have committed, in neglecting to watch the movements of the Khita.” He sends to bring back the legions he had sent away, and meanwhile the approach of the enemy is announced. The camp of Rameses is surprised by the Asiatics; many foot-soldiers are killed before they can seize their weapons, but a faithful band rallies in front of the royal quarters. Suddenly a cry is heard; Rameses has quickly put on his armor, seized his lance, ordered his war lion to be loosed, and dashed into the fight. Pharaoh with his master of the horse, Menni, is soon hemmed in by foes. “My Lord, O generous King!” cries Menni, “Egypt's great protector in the day of battle! behold we stand alone in the midst of the enemy, for the archers and the chariots have left us. Let us return, that our lives may be saved. Save us, O my Lord, Rameses Miamun!” Then Rameses called upon Amen, his god, and under his protection charged the enemy, and “his hand devoured them in the space of an instant.” Five times he rushed upon them, and five times they repulsed him. The sixth time he breaks their ranks and regains his own lines. Then the legions of Ptah, which had returned to the camp, join the battle, and the Asiatics are routed. The first care of Rameses is to refresh his brave horses, Victory-in-Thebes and Maut-is-Satisfied. Neither they nor Rameses and his lion are wounded, though all stained with blood and dust, while the head-plumes of the team are torn and tattered and their caparison broken.