EGYPTIANS, LITERATURE OF ANCIENT.
By the Literature of the Ancient Egyptians we understand the entire written remains of this peo ple. It came down partly as inscriptions upon hard material, partly on movable writing materials like leather and papyrus. Hard materials com prise, in the first place, stone and wood, but also metal, terra costa, cartonages, and even glass. Of stone are the temples and tombs, whose walls and ceilings, pillars and architraves were covered with inscriptions, then the sarcophagi and pillars of tombs; also many amulets and sacrificial ves sels. Of wood are the coffins, tablets and utensils. Regarding the exterior of the manuscripts, it may be said that leather was used previous to papyrus.
1. Early Documents. The document of the founding of the Temple of Heliopolis, even as late as in the twelfth dynasty, was written upon leather.
Papyrus did exist in that time, and much earlier, for even in the very oldest inscriptions which owe their existence to the builders of the pyramids of the fourth dynasty, hieroglyphics are found, which represent rolls of papyrus and writing ma terials in the same form which they retained much later.
(1) Styles of Writing. The nature of the dif ferent styles of writing may be briefly made plain by the following: The pure hieroglyphic script consists of pictures of concrete objects and of freely invented symbolic forms. The hieratic let ters are abbreviations of these pictures ; the de mode are a still greater simplifying of these. Concerning the application, the pure hieroglyphic script might be best compared with the uncials of the inscriptions upon our own monuments, the hieratic script with our print, and the demotic with our written characters.
The pure hieroglyphics were used as script for monuments, because they consisted, as before said, of pictures.and because the architects early learned to make use of them to cover the surfaces of the buildings which they erected with an ornamenta tion which was at the same time pleasing and full of meaning.
(2) Successive Periods. These three different kinds of script, the pure hieroglyphic, the hieratic and the demotic, were not used at the same period. The use of the hieroglyphics preceded that of any other ; they are as old as the oldest monu ment upon which we find them. We meet them
as complete as Pallas Athene came from the head of Zeus. To follow their development is impos sible. The hieratic script we first meet with upon the papyri of the twelfth dynasty. The demotic did not come into use until the eighth century before Christ. Nnr did all three of these scripts represent the same forms of language. The pure hieroglyphic script had for its founda tion the ancient sacred language. The same is true of the older hieratic, but since the nine teenth dynasty it rather accommodates itself (in the texts of narrative character) to the spoken language. The demotic represents, even as its name (meaning script of the people) indicates, only the mode of speech of the people. It was used to write letters, for which reason it was also called the epistolographic. It was also used to write contracts. last wills, and the like. The older scripts were used to reproduce religious texts, or to record historic memories. The hieratic is gen erally used to put in writing scientific or belletristic matter.
Up to the beginning of the nineteenth century a knowledge of the Egyptian language had not only actually perished, but the key to the decipherment of its writings was supposed to be it revocably lost. The hieroglyphic characters were looked upon as symbols under which the mysteries of the religion had been concealed from the vulgar, and several attempts had been made to explain them. All efforts however were destitute of any scientific basis until the discovery of the Rosetta stone. See cut on page 568.
2. Religious Works. On the basis of the three different kinds of script we obtain the three following main classes into which we may divide the entire Egyptian literature : Religious, Scien tific, and Belletristic matter. The religious part of the Egyptian literature throws all the others deeply into the shade, not only because The Books of the Dead, which were put into the graves of the deceased, were best guarded against destruc tion, and were therefore preserved in a thousand fold larger numbers than writings of a secular character, but because religion permeated the en tire life of the Egyptians.