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The Pyramid Texts are a collection of ancient Egyptian religious texts from the time of the Old Kingdom. The pyramid texts are the oldest known religious texts in the world.[1] Written in Old Egyptian, the pyramid texts were carved on the walls and sarcophagi of the pyramids at Saqqara during the 5th and 6th Dynasties of the Old Kingdom. The oldest of the texts date to between 2400-2300 BCE.[2] Unlike the Coffin Texts and Book of the Dead into which parts of the pyramid texts later evolved, the pyramid texts were reserved only for the pharaoh and were not illustrated.[3] Following the earlier Palermo Stone, the pyramid texts mark the next-oldest known mention of Osiris, who would become the most important deity associated with afterlife in the Ancient Egyptian religion.[4]

The spells, or "utterances", of the pyramid texts are primarily concerned with protecting the pharaoh's remains, reanimating his body after death, and helping him ascend to the heavens, which are the emphasis of the afterlife during the Old Kingdom. The spells delineate all of the ways the pharaoh could travel, including the use of ramps, stairs, ladders, and most importantly flying. The spells could also be used to call the gods to help, even threatening them if they did not comply.[5]

Versions

The texts were first discovered in 1881 by Gaston Maspero, and translations were made by Kurt Heinrich Sethe (in German), Louis Sleepers (in French), Raymond O. Faulkner, and Samuel A. B. Mercer.

The oldest version consists of 228 spells and comes from the pyramid of Unas, the last king of the 5th Dynasty. Other texts were discovered in the pyramids of the 6th Dynasty kings Pepi I, Pepi II and three of his queens, and Teti. Kurt Sethe's first edition of the pyramid texts contained 714 distinct spells; after this publication additional spells were discovered bringing the total to 759. No single collection uses all recorded spells.

Examples

After death, the king must first rise from his tomb. Utterance 373 describes:[3]

Oho! Oho! Rise up, O Teti!
Take your head, collect your bones,
Gather your limbs, shake the earth from your flesh!
Take your bread that rots not, your beer that sours not,
Stand at the gates that bar the common people!
The gatekeeper comes out to you, he grasps your hand,
Takes you into heaven, to you father Geb.
He rejoices at your coming, gives you his hands,
Kisses you, caresses you,
Sets you before the spirits, the imperishable stars...
The hidden ones worship you,
The great ones surround you,
The watchers wait on you,
Barley is threshed for you,
Emmer is reaped for you,
Your monthly feasts are made with it,
Your half-month feasts are made with it,
As ordered done for you by Geb, your father,
Rise up, O Teti, you shall not die!

The texts then describe several ways for the pharaoh to reach the heavens, and one of these is by climbing a ladder. In utterance 304 the king says:[3]

Hail, daughter of Anubis, above the hatches of heaven,
Comrade of Thoth, above the ladder's rails,
Open Unas's path, let Unas pass!

Another way is by ferry. If the boatman refuses to take him, the king has other plans:

If you fail to ferry Unas,
He will leap and sit on the wing of Thoth,
Then he will ferry Unas to that side!

The cannibal hymn

Utterances 273 and 274 are sometimes known as the "cannibal hymn", because it describes the king hunting and eating parts of the gods:[3]

A god who lives on his fathers,
who feeds on his mothers...
Unas is the bull of heaven
Who rages in his heart,
Who lives on the being of every god,
Who eats their entrails
When they come, their bodies full of magic
From the Isle of Flame...

The cannibal hymn later reappeared in the Coffin Texts as Spell 573. It was dropped by the time the Book of the Dead was being copied.

In popular culture

In the first scene of Philip Glass's opera Akhnaten, the phrase "Open are the double doors of the horizon" is a quotation from the Pyramid Texts. More specifically, it seems to come from Utterance 220.

The American death metal band Nile made a song, "Unas Slayer of the Gods" which contains many references to the Pyramid Texts, including the Cannibal Hymn.

See also

References

  1. Richard H. Wilkinson, The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, Thames and Hudson, New York, 2003, p 6
  2. Allen, James. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts. ISBN 1589831829. http://books.google.com/books?id=6VBJeCoDdTUC&pg=PA1&dq=2353+-+2323+%22pyramid+texts%22&ei=FW-BSL-rCpTyiwGJrcG8DQ&sig=ACfU3U1-mbNrZ44kBagmG86DWq7eAKXu1g. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Lichtheim, Miriam (1975). Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol 1. London, England: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-02899-6. 
  4. Goblet, Dr. Ogden, ET la (1994). The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. 
  5. Allen, James P. (2000). Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-77483-7. 

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