In Praise of the Land of the Dead – a Harper’s Song – Egypt c.1300 B.C.

Some scholars consider that the description of a disease in the medical work known as the Ebers Papyrus (c.1500 B.C. but believed to be copied from earlier texts) refers to bubonic plague. It occurred to me that if this were the case, or if epidemics had been a feature of Pharaonic Egypt, there should be prayers or invocations, begging for the aid of the gods, and inscriptions recording the event. I could not find any evidence of such texts – which does not mean they do not exist.

This Funerary or Harper’s Song, dating from the time of the Pharoah Horemhab, successor after a brief period, to Tutankhamun, comes from the tomb of the Priest Neferhotep (Theban Tomb No.50). Perhaps because of the religious uncertainty provoked by Tutankhamun’s father Akhenaten, this was a time when songs played by harpers during the funeral rites had begun to question the traditional view of the afterlife. The tomb records three Harper’s Songs: one presenting the classic view, one sceptical and this one, firmly rejecting the current trend towards disbelief in the nature of the world to come.

All ye excellent nobles and gods of the graveyard,

Hearken to the praise-giving for the divine Father,

The worship of the honoured noble’s excellent ba [soul],

Now that he is a god ever-living, exalted in the West;

May they become a remembrance for posterity,

For everyone who comes to pass by.

I have heard those songs that are in the tombs of old,

What they tell in extolling life on earth,

In belittling the land of the dead.

Why is this done to the land of eternity?

The right and just that has no terrors?

Strife is abhorrent to it,

No one girds himself against his fellow;

This land that has no opponent.

All our kinsmen rest in it.

Since the time of the first beginning.

Those to be born to millions of millions,

All of them will come to it;

No one may linger in the land of Egypt,

There is none who does not arrive in it.

As to the time of deeds on earth;

It is the occurrence of a dream;

One says: “Welcome safe and sound”,

To him who reaches the West.

From: Ancient Egyptian Literature vol. II The New Kingdom, Miriam Lichtheim, University of California Press, 1984 pp.115-6.

N.B. In case I have infringed copyright on any occasion, please notify me and I will immediately delete the post.

For those interested in the medical aspect, a translation of the Ebers Papyrus is available on-line at www.hathitrust.org.

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