Ancient History & Civilisation

Sources of Quotations

Quotations from Egyptian and other ancient texts have been made more comprehensible to nonscholars by omitting symbols such as brackets and parentheses and by a certain freedom of rendering when the meaning of the literal translation is not immediately apparent to a modern reader. I believe I can claim, however, that I have not altered the basic sense of the texts. Those who want to check up on me can refer to the following sources.

With the exceptions noted below, translations of literary texts are derived from the indispensable three-volume work of Miriam Lichtheim or the revised edition of W. K. Simpson, The Literature of Ancient Egypt (see Reading List).

Unfortunately there is no equivalent modern source for historical texts. James H. Breasted’s Ancient Records of Egypt, in five volumes, has never been supplanted, and although individual texts have been studied and revised, it remains a basic reference work. It has been reprinted by the University of Illinois Press (2001). A selection of Egyptian literary and historical texts can be found in the translations by John A. Wilson in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, edited by James B. Pritchard (Princeton University Press, 3rd ed., 1969).

My source for the Hekanakhte letters was H. E. Winlock, Excavations at Deir el Bahri, 19111931 (MacMillan, 1942); the translations are those of Battiscombe Gunn, who unfortunately died before completing them. Complete translations are those of T. G. H. James, The Hekanakhte Papers and Other Early Middle Kingom Documents (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1962), and, most recently, James P. Allen, The Heqanakht Papyri (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002).

The classic versions of religious texts are those of R. O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts (Oxford University Press, 1969); The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Text, 3 vols. (Warminster, 1975–78); and The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead(Chronicle Books, 1994). You can get a fancy new edition of the last, with a fake jewel on the cover (if that sort of thing appeals to you), from Barnes and Noble (2005), with an introduction by James P. Allen.

William Murnane, Texts from the Amarna Period in Egypt (Scholars Press, 1995), contains up-to-date translations of the restoration stela of Tutankhamon and other documents of the period, including Harmhab’s Karnak stela.

There are a number of editions of Manetho. The one I use is the Loeb Classical Library version.

The only complete translation of Edwin Smith (in English) is by J. H. Breasted, The Edwin Smith Surgical Papyryus, 2 vols. (University of Chicago Press, 1930). A recent study, with interesting additions and emendations, is John F. Nunn, Ancient Egyptian Medicine (University of Oklahoma Press, 1992).

Translations of the Dream Papyrus and the calendar of lucky and unlucky days may be found in McDowell, Village Life in Ancient Egypt (see Reading List). McDowell’s book, which focuses on materials from the workmen’s village at Deir el Medina, includes letters, prayers, and related texts. An accessible source of magical texts is Bob Brier’s Ancient Egyptian Magic, which includes translations of letters to the dead, the complete calendar of lucky and unlucky days, charms, and excerpts from the Book of the Dead and the Pyramid and Coffin Texts. Brier footnotes the original sources. The texts are discussed, but for some reason not translated, in Geraldine Pinch, Magic in Ancient Egypt (British Museum Press, 1994).

Arthur Weigall’s mummy story can be found in his Tutankhamen and Other Essays (Thornton Butterworth, 1923).

Neugebauer’s remarks on Egyptian mathematics come from his The Exact Sciences in Antiquity (Princeton University Press, 1952).

Sir James Frazer, The Golden Bough, is still of value for students of early religion and magic; volumes I and II of the complete edition (Macmillan and Co., 1913, 1920), The Magic Art, supplied much of the material I have quoted or mentioned. Another useful source is Bronislaw Malinowski, Science and Religion and Other Essays (Doubleday and Co., 1954).

More recent translations of various texts have appeared in articles in such journals as the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology and the Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, as well as in journals in languages other than English. I leave it to advanced and/or obsessed students to track them down.

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