Ancient Egyptian Literature Volume II (Book Review)

41pTk89KEBL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_About a year ago I began exploring my interest in ancient Egyptian culture and history beyond what I had already learned from various documentaries and museum exhibits. I started out with Nicolas Grimal’s history from 1988 and this in turn introduced me to ancient Egyptian literature. In particular, the Harper’s song from the tomb of Neferhotep intrigued me the most with its sensitive reflection on death and the afterlife. This and many other pieces relieved to me a dimension of the ancient world I was previously ignorant of but, in hindsight, should have expected. In many respects, we are not so different from our distant ancestors.

Choosing a collection of translations was difficult. I avoid E. A. Wallis Budge, despite his reputation, because his translations are not longer regarded as the most accurate. I paused several other collections, most of which of recent publication, but end up choosing a copy of Miriam Litcheim’s second volume of ancient Egyptian literature, fornicating on the new kingdom. It is the second of three volumes published in between 1973 and 1980 by the University of California Berkeley Press.

Over all I have enjoyed her translations, although I certainly cannot judge them in an kind of authoritative way, but I have come across what seems like a discrepancy in her translations. Several other collections of ancient Egyptian literature include the love songs, which are known for their evidently erotic content. However, the translations Lictheim includes of these songs are incomplete, whereas in other collections they are included intact (such as in the Yale University anthology of 2003). The excluded sections just so happen to be those containing the erotic passages. I am left wondering whether this was a conscious exclusion on her part, impelled by a prudish attitude towards sexuality. In her introduction to the love songs, she even refers to other translations including the erotic content as “so unfaithful to the letter and spirit of the originals” and dismisses them entirely (Ancient Egyptian Literature Volume II, pg. 182). If she had given alternative translations of the omitted sections, I might be able to deem her decisions as reasonable but without them I cannot tell; and with so many other authorities favoring the erotic content of these songs I am inclined to regard her choice as biased and unreliable.

Since I am not very familiar with Egyptology and am a newcomer to ancient Egyptian literature, I am posting this here to illicit thoughts from others who might possess more information on the subject.

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