Ancient Egyptian Love Poems Reveal Jubilation in Life

Cameron Walker wrote in the April 20, 2004 National Geographic News

"Pyramids, mummies, tombs, and other icons of aristocracy and the afterlife dominate our images of ancient Egypt. But love poems composed thousands of years ago may provide a more intimate glimpse of the lives of everyday ancient Egyptians.

"'Poetry is perhaps the greatest forgotten treasure of ancient Egypt,' said Richard Parkinson, an expert on ancient Egyptian poetry at London's British Museum, home to the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts outside of Cairo.

"While historical accounts and biographies inscribed on the insides of tombs often give idealized accounts of ancient Egyptian life, poetry gives real insight into human nature and its imperfections, he said.

"A group of love poems have been found in an excavated workers' village on the outskirts of the Valley of Kings, where many pharaohs are entombed. The verses allow poetry lovers and Egyptophiles alike to tap into the emotional side of Egyptian daily life. "People tend to assume all ancient Egyptian writing is religious, so the secular nature of these songs and of much other poetry continue to surprise readers," Parkinson said.

"Written during Egypt's New Kingdom (1539-1075 B.C.) but likely composed much earlier, these songs are surprisingly direct about love and romance in ancient Egypt, using metaphors, repetition, and other poetic techniques familiar to poetry readers today.

"'The Flower Song (Excerpt)

To hear your voice is pomegranate wine to me:
I draw life from hearing it.
Could I see you with every glance,
It would be better for me
Than to eat or to drink.'

"(Translated by M.V. Fox)."

These Brothers and Sisters could write. While you're checking out the poems, check out some terrific historical texts, too, including an interview with Richard Poe, author of Black Spark, White Fire: Did African Explorers Civilise Ancient Europe?, and the classic The African Origin of Civilisation: Myth or Reality? by Cheikh Anta Diop.

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