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Culture of Ancient Egypt (review article)

Timeline and origins of ancient Egyptian culture

If it is possible to outline the temporal boundaries of the existence of ancient Egyptian civilization, then it is immeasurably more difficult to define the framework of ancient Egyptian culture. Its specific features were also formed before the formation of the Egyptian state, which had arisen before the accession of the I dynasty, and continued to exist after Egypt lost its independence, during the rule of the Lagids, in the Roman-Byzantine period. AD 394 the last hieroglyphic inscription is dated. In the perception of subsequent generations, Egyptian hieroglyphics becomes only the language of mystical symbols. In the V century. AD demotic writing disappears. In 535 AD, under Justinian, the Temple of Isis on the island of Phile, the last stronghold of ancient Egyptian paganism, ceased to exist. Ancient Egypt has become a myth. At the end of the XIX century. the Coptic language became a dead language – the heir to the ancient Egyptian language, which has survived now only in the worship of the Copts (the Bohair dialect). The decline of the civilization of Ancient Egypt did not mean the disappearance of the culture of its people without a trace. Transforming and melting into other forms, many of its elements were able to survive to this day, becoming one of the most important components of not only the culture of modern Egypt, but also the culture of the world.

The origins of Egyptian culture are lost in ancient times. Discovered in 1894-1895. English scientists Fl. Petrie and J. Quibell in Upper Egypt (Nagada), the prehistoric culture of Egypt was at first glance so different from the culture of Pharaonic times that they was quick to declare it non-Egyptian. This was the beginning of the subsequent numerous theories of the foreign origin of the Egyptian civilization, explaining any changes in Egyptian culture by migrations or influences from outside. Further study of the primitive cultures of Egypt raised the question of the autochthonous, African roots of Egyptian civilization. At the same time, great importance was attached to the ties of these cultures with the Sahara-Sudanese cultural area.

The ancient Egyptian culture of African origin did not immediately find its face. Only as we approach dynastic Egypt does the ethnic and cultural identity of the inhabitants of the Nile Valley become more noticeable.

The emergence of a kind of culture

With the gradual transition to irrigated agriculture and livestock raising and the retreat of hunting into the background, the settlements in the Nile Valley are becoming more permanent and long-term, the ethnic composition is more stable. Economic and ethnic stability is one of the most important conditions for the maturation of a solid cultural tradition, which, under appropriate conditions, gave that unexpected “explosion”, thanks to which Egypt crossed the line of prehistory. Only the centuries-old accumulation of elements of Egyptian civilization – in the material sphere –

  • gradual transition to copper tool making
  • improving the irrigation farming system,
  • development of cattle breeding, handicrafts, exchange;

in the field of social –

  • the emergence of property differentiation,
  • social hierarchy,
  • the emergence of urban population;

in the spiritual sphere –

  • development of memorial performances,
  • the cult of the deified ruler,
  • solar cult,
  • addition of specifically Egyptian art features;

and, finally, the emergence of hieroglyphic writing, dating back to pictography, allowed Egyptian culture to show its character, not so much African as it is Egyptian, and this crystallization falls on a relatively small segment of history – the end of the pre-dynastic (“protodynastic”) period (3300-3000 BC) and Early Kingdom – the time of the emergence and formation of a single Egyptian state.

Pre-dynastic period

Priest statue. Thebes. XXV dynasty.

Priest statue. Thebes. XXV dynasty.

It was during this period, which inherited much from earlier eras: stone tools, the cultural isolation of the regions that make up Egypt with their motley host of gods, magic, veneration of animals, plants, sacred objects, etc. – a number of features of Egyptian culture are revealed that are preserved until the end of the era of the pharaohs. And one of its most striking features was the bizarre combination of “primitiveness” with a complex and mature worldview that distinguishes a highly developed civilization.

At the same time, all types of signs of Egyptian writing appear, the counting system is formed, the first scroll of papyrus appears and, perhaps, the first attempts are made mummification, a strict canon of Egyptian art, so characteristic of it later, was formed, monumental structures – mastaba tombs – began to be erected – and the first characteristically static statues of officials were created.

In the “protodynastic” period, the dualism of statehood characteristic of Egypt, which goes back to a more distant time, is already being laid, at the basis of which, according to the most widespread point of view, is the coexistence of two kingdoms – the South and the North – before their unification by the South, as well as an economic, geographical and, possibly , cultural and ethnic. In the era of the Early Kingdom, the characteristic features of the sacred Egyptian monarchy were formed, where the king, the divine “lord of the Two Lands”, the bearer of the double crown of Egypt, appears as the embodiment of the god Horus. At the same time, the royal titulature of four names was first formed:

  1. “name of Horus” associated with the concept of Ka – the divine image of the king;
  2. “the name of the Two Ladies” – the goddess of the South Nehbet and the North – Wajit, personified in a double red and white Egyptian crown;
  3. “golden name”, symbolizing the divine flesh of the king;
  4. title of the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, preceding his personal name.

The first palaces and temples were erected, anthropomorphic gods appeared, and Horus became a great god – the patron saint of a single Egyptian kingdom.

Culture during the Old Kingdom

For several centuries, separating the epoch Ancient Kingdom from the time of the emergence of a dual state in the Nile Valley , Egyptian culture not only managed to acquire its unique appearance, but also rose immeasurably among the related cultures of neighboring African peoples.

  • From the first uncomplicated half-inscriptions, half-drawings, imprinted on the mace of the king of Scorpio or on the famous Palette “Narmer” – a kind of royal manifestos, where the very image of the king, defeating a pitiful enemy, is more eloquent than any words, and from the first laconic inscriptions with royal titles lengthy and detailed decrees of the kings;
  • from the first mentions of the name of the deceased and the sacrificial gifts intended for him – to detailed biographical inscriptions of nobles and complex religious texts, which capture the work of thought of a number of priestly schools (“Pyramid Texts”, “Memphis Theological Treatise”);
  • from the first brick mastabs to majestic stone structures: the pyramid Djoser, a huge tombstone in Medum, Red and Broken pyramids Sneferu in Dashur and from them – to the classical pyramids in Giza of the kings of the IV Khufu dynasty, Khafre and Menkaura;
  • from the modest archaic sanctuaries of the gods – to the temple complexes of the 5th dynasty, dedicated to the Sun, with open courtyards and chapels, with slender stone obelisks – symbols of the rising luminary;
  • from the first schematic images on palettes, steles and handicrafts – to multi-subject highly artistic compositions on the walls of the tombs of Ti, Mereruk in Sakkara (V, VI dynasty);
  • from the imperfect and conditional first cult statues of the deceased – to the complete unique, purely Egyptian originality of the statues-portraits of Tsarevich Rahotep and his wife Nofret, the Louvre scribe, the nobles of Khemiun and Kaaper (“The Village Headman”) and symbolic royal portraits ( , Khafra, overshadowed by the Choir, the huge stone Sphinx)

– these are just some of the milestones in the evolution of Egyptian culture over several long centuries.

This evolution was accompanied by significant internal changes that propelled Egypt into the ranks of the great ancient Eastern civilizations. The era of the Old Kingdom was perceived by the Egyptians themselves as the time of powerful kings and incomparable great sages – the demigod Imhotep and Dzhedefkhor, Kagemni and Ptahhotep, as the golden age of Egyptian culture. The Egyptians initially considered their civilization to be created by the gods. According to the chronology Manefon, based on the sacred texts, before the earthly kings, the gods ruled Egypt, then the demigods. In the “Memphis Theological Treatise”, the creation of the priests of Ptah, dating back to the era of the Old Kingdom, it is said: “Ptah was pacified by creating all things and divine words. He gave birth to gods, created cities, founded nomes, placed the gods in their sanctuaries, established their sacrifices, founded their temples, created their bodies for the pacification of their hearts ”.

Egyptians’ concept of “god”

Order was often understood as law and order, justice; gods and kings – as rulers and founders of laws. It is no coincidence that Egyptian viziers, since the era of the Old Kingdom, have acted as priests of truth, which corresponded to their judicial duties. The concept of “Maat” becomes central to Egyptian ethics. One of the oldest teachings known to us – “The Wisdom of Ptahhotep” (V dynasty) – proclaims Maat as the principle on which correct human relationships are built: “Justice is great, and (its) superiority is unshakable. Unchanged (she) since the time of Osiris, and punish those who break the laws.”

For the ancient Egyptians, the gods were not only the creators of cities, nomes, rulers, their own cult, order and law, but also the creators of crafts and arts, writing and counting, science and magic. Hieroglyphic, that is, sacred, writing was understood as “the word of God”, and the most important role here belonged to the god of wisdom Thoth – the Lord of the word of God, the creator of writing, the patron saint of literature and scribes. He was also called the Lord of the Account and the Calculator of Years, he was the patron saint of doctors and magicians. He was credited with the power to bestow life on gods and people with the help of magic spells. According to legend, some of the most important ritual and magical texts were found at the foot of the statue of this god in Hermopolis (ancient Egyptian Shmunu) in the era of the Old Kingdom. The goddesses Maat and Seshat were often associated with Thoth, who was in charge of counting, writing, compiling chronicles and building. The patron of the oldest center of Egyptian artistic creativity, Ptah was considered the creator of arts and crafts.

The role of temples in the spiritual life of the era of the Old Kingdom was undoubtedly great. Even then, probably in close connection with them, special scriptoriums arose – “houses of life”, where religious-magical, literary, medical and other texts were composed. There were libraries, archives, records were kept on the years of the reign of the tsars, on the basis of which the chronicles were compiled. The “houses of life,” which played an important role in the preservation and transmission of written culture, according to the Egyptian tradition, were created by the gods or enjoyed their special patronage.

Link between Gods and Pharaohs

Hippopotamus hunting. Tomb of noble Ti in Saqqara. Dynasty 5.

Hippopotamus hunting. Tomb of noble Ti in Saqqara. Dynasty 5.

The maximum unity of the sacred culture of the Old Kingdom, apparently, falls on the reign of the kings of the III-IV dynasties, the period of the highest centralization of the state, the external expression of which was the construction of the pyramids.

The construction of these gigantic tombs is a vivid evidence of how great was the belief in Egypt in the special divine power of the king, which extended to his subjects even after his death. The Good God (or Good) during his lifetime, the Great God posthumously, the king was the focus of religious life, and, according to the Egyptians, the fate of the country depended on his earthly well-being and afterlife bliss.

At the end of Egyptian civilization, the great pyramids aroused among the Greeks and Romans not only admiration as the creation of human hands, one of the seven wonders of the world, but also a feeling of indignation (assimilated by the European tradition up to the French enlighteners), for they were also perceived as symbols of the cruelty and despotism of the kings. who doomed the people to incalculable suffering. It is likely that as a result of this exorbitant construction, a hole could have been made in the absolute belief of the Egyptians in the authority of deified rulers. The kings had to find other means both to ensure their posthumous existence, and to strengthen the somewhat shaken earthly foundation of their power. The sizes of the pyramids decrease over time. At the end of the 5th Dynasty, in the pyramid of King Unas, the formulas of the royal funeral ritual and related representations – “Pyramid Texts”, permeated with the idea of ​​immortality and the power of the king, who now rely on the eternity of the word imprinted in stone, were carved for the first time.

The central place in the “Texts of the Pyramids” is occupied by Heliopolis theology, which by the time of the accession of the 5th Dynasty had become nationwide and closely merged with the sacralized cult of the king. The significance of the veneration of the Sun (Ra) in connection with the deified royal person before this period can be judged by the place given to the name Ra and the associated representations in the titles and names of the kings. Already in the “golden name” Djoser the concepts of “gold” and “Sun” merged into indissoluble unity (“The sun is in gold”). The son of Khufu — Djedefra calls himself “the son of Ra”.

Thus, the “solar name” invades the royal title, finally giving it the appearance of a five-membered name. If earlier “Ra” was only occasionally found in the composition of royal names, then since the time of Khufu’s successors this is a constant phenomenon. The legend has been preserved about the first three kings of the 5th dynasty as “children of Ra, lord of Sahebu”, born by the wife of the priest Ra (papyrus Westcar).

Cult of Osiris

From the period of the 6th dynasty, the role of Abydos became more and more noticeable in the religious life of the country, for many centuries he was known as the most important cult center of Egypt, where Osiris was revered. From now on, they strive to build a tomb for themselves or put up a memorial plate, thus joining in the grace of God. In the possession of Osiris in Abydos, the dignitary Una, famous for his numerous travels to distant countries, built himself a tomb for himself, in order to be “revered by Osiris.” With this god, who died and then was reborn to a new life, hopes for immortality were connected. “If he (Osiris) lives, so will (king) Unas; if he (Osiris) does not die, Unas will not die either “, says the” Pyramid Texts “.

From later memorial texts, Osiris is known as the king of the afterlife, the arbiter of the posthumous fate of every Egyptian at the judgment of the gods. The concept of justice was associated with the image of Osiris even in the period of the V dynasty. At the same time, the growth of the ethical element in the general context of the religious culture of Egypt becomes noticeable. Actions and merits in earthly life, as evidenced by the “ideal” biographies of the nobles of the period of the 5th-6th dynasties, can already be assessed as pleasing to the king and the gods both in this world and in the afterlife. In the grave inscriptions, assurances appear that the deceased was “loved by his father and praised by his mother,” that he gave bread and clothes to the needy. “I am the one who says good and communicates what is desired. I have never said a bad ruler against any people, for I wanted it to be good for me before the Great God ”, – say the nobles Khufkhor and Pepinakht about themselves.

Various religious schools of ancient Egypt

During the creation of a single state, the cults of numerous gods of Egypt and related religious-mythological and cosmogonic views. The idea of ​​autocracy led to the rise of the cults of the gods of the largest religious and political centers, around which the main theological concepts were formed:

  • Heliopolis
  • Memphis
  • Germanopolskaya

The interaction of various priestly schools in the early stages of the Egyptian state was apparently intense. The texts from the pyramid of King Unas captured not only the fusion of the Axis myth and Hermopolitan priestly constructions with Heliopolis theology, but also the unification in one system of the gods of Hermopolitan teachings and the Theban gods, who then did not play a significant role in the religious life of the country.

The origins of the solar monotheism so characteristic of the Egyptian religion are also likely to be sought at a fairly early period. At least in the epoch of the 5th dynasty, Ra in the “Texts of the Pyramids” already appears as a single god in different hypostases – Ra-Atum, Atum-Khepra-Ra, Ra-Horakht, etc. Against the background of polytheism prevailing throughout the Egyptian history – heritage of the early eras – such complex theological concepts as, for example, Memphis, emerge, testifying to a special depth of mind that managed to rise above the confusion of polytheistic ideas, perceiving all the gods as an emanation of a single Ptah, who created the world by the power of his word, conceived by the “heart”.

The end of the Ancient Kingdom and the times of civil strife in culture

“What will become of this country when the sun disappears and no longer shines for people to see? They will not live, hidden by clouds, and everything will become numb, having lost it … The river of Egypt will become shallow, and they will be able to wade across the waters … The south wind will prevail against the north, and there will be no breath in the sky … Enemies from the East will come, they will descend Asians to Egypt … And the country will be in confusion, not knowing what will become of it … I will show you a son as an enemy, and a brother as an enemy, and a man who kills his father. All lips will pray for compassion, but everything good will disappear and the country will perish … “

This image of disaster, perceived as the end of the world, is a reminiscence of an unprecedented rebellion that ended the era of the Old Kingdom. Its description is put into the mouth of the great sage of antiquity Neferti as a prophecy to King Sneferu, during which nothing yet foreshadowed the coming trials. A similar picture, but no longer as a generalized, schematized prophecy, but as a document stunning in its historical reliability, was preserved in the famous “Speeches of Ipuver”, undoubtedly an eyewitness to civil strife, who is grievingly experiencing the decline of the country and the triumph of commoners over the nobility and the king.

“Maat is banished, lies in the Council Chamber. The destinies of the gods are violated, and their commandments are neglected. The country is in distress. Wailing everywhere. Cities and regions in sorrow. Every face is like (another) in evil, and there is (no more) reverence. The peace (even) of the rulers of silence has been disturbed ”, – as if the Heliopolis priest Hahaperrasenob (Anhu) echoes the words of Ipuver, also, obviously, a contemporary of the Troubles, whose writings survived him for many centuries.

Fratricidal enmity, the disintegration of the state, famine and deprivation, the growing importance of local centers and their rulers, who more and more usurp royal privileges, the strengthening of the positions of the middle strata of the population – all this could not but affect the general state of Egyptian culture. “Like a potter’s wheel”, during this period not only the country “turned”, but also the very perception of the Egyptians, who faced a number of socio-political, religious and moral problems. But even in times of decline, cultural values ​​created in the era of the Old Kingdom were not lost.

Underworld in teachings and Egyptian texts

From the time of troubles, no outstanding monuments of art have survived, which was then experiencing stagnation. But in the same period or immediately after it, in the era of the Middle Kingdom, appeared such deep compositions as “Teaching of the Heracleopolitan king to his son Merikar” and “ The Dispute between the Man and the Ba ”.

“The Teaching of the King of Herakleopolis” is the first didactic composition known to us, composed on behalf of the king. In the “Precept”, special emphasis is placed on the moral foundations of power. Calling on Merikar to treat the rebels with mercilessness and to beware of the rabble, the Heracleopolitan king at the same time advises to bring a person closer to him for his merits, not to punish unfairly and create Maat, to take care not only of his nobles, but also of all subjects, for all people are “The flock of God”, they are “likenesses that came out of his flesh.” Exhorting his son to follow the wise scriptures of his ancestors, he speaks of the special responsibility that his dignity imposes on the king, and points out to him that the good deeds of the ruler are the best memory of him among people and the guarantee of justification at the judgment of the gods in the afterlife, where virtue is valued above than the sacrificed “villainous bull”. So for the first time the idea of ​​the afterlife retribution, which, apparently, already existed in the second half of the Old Kingdom, takes on distinct outlines for us, testifying to the deepening of moral searches.

Numerous allusions to this idea are contained in the new memorial texts (“Texts of the sarcophagi”), designed to ensure their owners immortality. The line of succession of this idea stretches further, into the New Egyptian funeral literature, where it appears to have already been finally formed – into the famous 125th chapter of the Book of the Dead. But here, as in the “Texts of the Sarcophagi”, the ethical moment seems to be dissolved in magical formulas, without which, apparently, one cannot fully hope for salvation beyond the grave. Magic is stronger than any weapon in the earthly world and was created by the creator god initially for the sake of averting all evil, as emphasized in the “Teachings of the King of Hercules.”

The official ideology of the era of troubles seeks to revive the political and spiritual unity of the country, order and harmony, lost “because of the sinful nature of people”, calls for the restoration of the cults of the gods, and above all the veneration of Ra, closely intertwined with the idea of ​​monarchy, exhorts to strictly observe all rituals and make sacrifices. At the same time, in the depths of Egyptian culture, a different system of world perception is maturing, associated with ideas about the afterlife, which have always occupied a central place in Egyptian religion.

“You (no longer) will not go outside in order to see the Sun” – these lines from “The Dispute between Man and the Ba” are in complete contradiction with the memorial texts, one of the magical purposes of which is to enable the deceased to contemplate the Sun every day , without which life in the other world is inconceivable.

The idea of ​​the afterlife as a country of eternal sleep, painful darkness, where there is no water and air, the joys of love, were quite widespread in Egypt, even found in the grave inscriptions of the priests. And although such views met with resistance, although again and again it was reminded that the time of life on earth is a dream and that instead of water, air and love delight, “enlightenment” will be given, and instead of bread and beer – “pacification of the heart”, few respecting the necropolis were not translated.

“The Harper’s Song” from the tomb of King Antef calls to “celebrate a beautiful day” without thinking about the hour of death, for none of the dead returned to tell about their fate and reassure the living, none of them took their property and place into another world the posthumous pacification of even the great Imhotep and Dzhedefkhor disappeared from the face of the earth.

What does this mood mean? “Skepticism”, as they are usually called, or outright disbelief, absence or lack of piety, the hope that only the all-conquering word is eternal, and not stone tombs subject to destruction, whether there is a denial of the existence of the afterlife itself or associated with the transition to it a cumbersome ritual? It is not easy to answer these questions – our data is too fragmentary and stingy.

Nubian warriors. Wooden sculpture from the tomb of the nomarch in Siut. The beginning of the Middle Kingdom.

Nubian warriors. Wooden sculpture from the tomb of the nomarch in Siut. The beginning of the Middle Kingdom.

But they talk about how complex the Egyptians’ ideas about the problem of life and death were. And the fact that in the era of troubles, for the first time is perceptible to us, the Egyptian sacred culture no longer appears as a single whole, coexisting with unorthodox ideas, is in itself very significant. It is possible that unorthodox ideas arose much earlier, and the years of great social and spiritual upheaval only exposed these contradictory tendencies of Egyptian culture.

Age of the Middle Kingdom

The rise of culture in the era of Middle Kingdom seems especially impressive against the background of previous times. The Theban rulers in many ways sought to revive and continue the traditions of the kings of the Old Kingdom. But the changes that affected the way of life, language, art, religion, literature during the disintegration of the country left an indelible imprint on the culture of the era, and without them it is impossible to understand either the rapid flowering of secular artistic Middle Egyptian literature and scientific knowledge, or the intensification of the search for individual traits in the royal and private sculpture and their predominance at times over the internal, spiritual, ideal appearance, or rethinking the role of the king in Egyptian society, who is now increasingly seen not only as an unattainable deity, but also as a specific person.

Feeding antelope. Painting from the tomb of nomarch Khnumhotep II in Beni Hasan. XII dynasty.

Feeding antelope. Painting from the tomb of nomarch Khnumhotep II in Beni Hasan. XII dynasty.

Separated by an immeasurable distance from his subjects, the king, nevertheless, could experience the same feelings of fear, insecurity in front of the vicissitudes of fate, which were characteristic of an ordinary mortal. And in this sense, in the “Teachings of Amenemkhet I” one can feel the connection with the didactics of the times of troubles, with the “Teachings of the King of Heracleopolis.” The royal statues, previously hidden in the funeral structures, are now increasingly being taken out of their borders. They were addressed not so much to the other world as to the subjects, before whom, imprinted in stone, the power of the new rulers, the conquerors of Nubia, the pacifiers of the Bedouins of the deserts and the Asians, who had been fighting “since the time of Horus”, were glorified.

The Middle Kingdom is rightfully considered the classic period of Egyptian culture. At this time, the Middle Egyptian language was finally formed, which, as the dominant written language, existed until the XIV century. BC, until the end of Egyptian history, retaining a predominantly religious and cult purpose. Cursive writing (hieratic writing) is developing, testifying to the rise of economic life.


In the era of the Old Kingdom, the main architectural forms were already created, embodied in monumental structures (a pyramid and a memorial temple, a solar temple with an obelisk) and their components (types of columns, building decor, etc.), in a combination of architecture, sculpture and relief. But at the beginning of the Middle Kingdom, marked by intensive temple construction, the architectural style of the Old Kingdom was not only revived, but also rethought, based on local political, religious and artistic needs. The combination of the traditions of the Old Kingdom with elements of local cultures gave such examples of art as painting from the tombs of the nomarchs of the Antelope Nome (Beni Hasan) or the funeral temple in Deir el-Bahri Mentuhotep. In this ensemble, harmoniously combining a pyramid and a type of rock tomb, a tendency inherent in the religious policy of the Theban kings to revive the solar cult, closely associated with the cult of the king and with the local tradition of worshiping Amun, was manifested. The same tendency manifested itself under Senusert I, who built the Temple of Atum in Heliopolis and the prayer house (White Temple) in Karnak, dedicated to Amon-Ra, who gave his “son” Senusret “the kingdom of the Two Lands.”

The pyramids of the kings of the XII dynasty, erected by them from Dashur to Fayum, looked much more modest than the pyramids of the Old Kingdom in terms of their size, material, and technique of execution. But the tsar’s plans to improve the irrigation system in Fayum oasis were grandiose.

Here, in the sacred lands of the crocodile god Sobek, near the new capital-fortress, which bore the name It-taui (who took possession of both lands), the funeral temple of Amenemkhet III, called the Labyrinth by the Greeks (from the throne name of the king – Ni-maat-Ra, pronounced by the Greeks like Lamares). This unique ensemble, which occupied a vast territory – 72 thousand square meters. m, has not survived to this day. According to the testimony of ancient authors, he was a pantheon of countless gods of the country, which aroused the admiration of foreigners. “I saw him, – wrote about the Labyrinth Herodotus, – < em> and found it above all description. Indeed, if we put together all the Hellenic fortifications and other structures, it would turn out that they cost less labor and money than the Labyrinth… The Labyrinth surpasses the pyramids themselves ”.

The labyrinth is the apogee of the architectural construction of the Middle Kingdom and, like the pyramids of the Old Kingdom, was a symbolic expression of the prosperity and unity of the country. Under Amenemhat III, it was as if the glory of the Memphis kings of the Old Kingdom was revived again, and in imitation of them the king appears in the guise of an all-powerful god. He is a radiant sun, “illuminating both Earths more than a solar disk, greening more than the Great Hapi” , – sang Amenemkhet III nobleman Schetepibra.

Scientific thought

The prosperity of the state in the era of the Middle Kingdom contributed to the rise of Egyptian culture, the development of specific scientific knowledge, if not yet opposed to magical knowledge, then at least in the future, liberation and separation from the latter. The very acquisition of knowledge – at the level of the school science of the Egyptian scribe – was considered purely utilitarian. Although bestowed by the gods, this knowledge was necessary only to achieve a high social and property status.

  • “The place of the scribe is in the capital, and he will not know the needs there”;
  • “If you comprehend the scriptures, it will be good for you, for there are no positions (other worthy ones) presented by me before you”;
  • “There is no position that is not subject to the chief, except for the (position) of a scribe, he is (himself) the boss”

– it was emphasized in “The Teachings of Akhtoy, son of Duauf, to his son Pepi.”

From the era of the Middle Kingdom and the time Hyksos came the first mathematical and medical texts containing practical and specific problems:

  • Moscow Mathematical Papyrus and
  • The British Museum’s Rind Mathematical Papyrus
  • Kahun Papyrus,
  • magical-medical papyri IV and V from Ramesseum et al.

The Ebers Large Medical Papyrus and Edwin Smith’s Surgical Papyrus are New Kingdom texts, although they undoubtedly date back to much older treatises. In the Ebers papyrus, where for the first time in the history of medicine the doctrine of blood vessels, the pulse and the heart is expounded, a glimpse of scientific generalizations is already visible in the general context of magical knowledge. In Edwin Smith’s papyrus, which contains the oldest doctrine of the brain, magical terminology almost completely gives way to practical terminology.

From the era of the Middle Kingdom, the most ancient record of measuring the country, and lists of constellations on sarcophagi, and the world’s first dictionary have been preserved; resembling an encyclopedia that was found in a library opened in one of the tombs of the Ramesseum. Along with religious, scientific and traditional didactic literature, masterpieces of Egyptian fiction of the Middle Kingdom were also found in the same library – “The History of Sinukhet” – “a real novel”, in the words of BA Turaev, “completely devoid of a fantastic element”, and ” An Eloquent Peasant “, a purely bookish composition containing accusatory speeches of an unjustly offended peasant, which he utters in accordance with all the rules of Egyptian rhetoric. These works, as well as “The Tale of a Shipwrecked”, reflecting in the spirit of folklore Egyptian ideas about the magical exoticism of the distant countries of the Red Sea, were the Egyptians’ favorite reading, especially “The History of Sinuhet”, judging by the number of surviving fragments of copies on papyri. For the later eras of the Egyptian state, the literature of the Middle Kingdom was a model worthy of emulation.

New kingdom

Interpenetration of Egyptian cultures and surrounding peoples

Goddess Neith, guarding the ark with the canopes of Tutankhamun. Dynasty XVIII.

Goddess Neith, guarding the ark with the canopes of Tutankhamun. Dynasty XVIII.

The era of Hyksos domination slowed down the natural evolution of Egyptian culture, but did not interrupt the line of its succession.

The new kingdom was a further significant stage not only in the internal development of Egyptian culture, but also in its previously unprecedented intensive spread outside Egypt, interaction with the cultures of neighboring peoples. Egypt’s position as a world power creates a particularly majestic style, vividly manifested in the monumental temple buildings in Thebes – “City of Amun”, in the solemn inscriptions of the conquering pharaohs, their annals and odes, in hymns to the gods, and above all to Amon the Victorious, whose name all military campaigns were consecrated. The dominant position of Egypt was reflected in temple and tomb scenes with images of the embassy from four countries of the world or in hymns, where the Egyptian gods were glorified as creators not only of Egypt, but also of other countries. The culture of other peoples, no matter how “miserable” and “despicable” they may seem to the Egyptians themselves, turned out to be not at all alien to them and was accepted the more easily, the closer to sunset the glory of the great power of the pharaohs was, forced to reckon more and more with its new political rivals – Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians.

The degree of penetration of Egyptian culture into another ethno-cultural environment was different. She found a particularly fertile ground among the peoples of Libya and Nubia, with whose culture the Egyptian civilization had many common roots and where the economic and political dominance of the Egyptians rested on a solid foundation. So, in Nubia, many elements of Egyptian statehood, art, religion and hieroglyphic writing were perceived. Only as the power of the Egyptians is weakening, the local, specific African culture breaks through here more and more persistently through the veneer of culture introduced. Through Nubia and Libya, Egyptian culture spread more and more deep into the African continent, and until recently, in Sudan, Ethiopia and West Africa, customs that were very reminiscent of ancient Egyptian were still alive.

Kneeling with naos. Dynasty XVIII.

Kneeling with naos. Dynasty XVIII.

In Asia, the main focus of Egyptian culture remained Bible, with which Egypt had close trade ties since ancient times. The kings of Byblos often made inscriptions in Egyptian, prayed to the local goddess Baalat Gebal in the guise of Hathor, in whose honor one of the most ancient Egyptian temples in Asia was built here. The cultural influence of Egypt in Syria and Phenicia was often a tribute to the recognition of Egyptian suzerainty over local rulers and was limited to external forms: decorative elements of buildings, household items, tomb steles, features of the iconography of deities. Here, undoubtedly, the stable local ancient tradition, opposing the deep introduction of an alien culture into it, has affected.

Egypt, on the contrary, borrowed much more from Asia, although it “melted” the Asian elements of culture in the bosom of its own culture. The veneration of the militant Asian gods and goddesses of Baal, Reshef, Ishtar, Anat and others, often compared with the Egyptian, “Semitisms” in Egyptian literature, especially spread after the campaigns of the pharaohs in Asia, without changing the specific appearance of Egyptian culture, told her in comparison with the past at times more “eastern” orientation, especially in the northern regions, in the Delta region, from time immemorial more gravitated towards the East than the distinctive Egyptian South.

The expansion of the geographical horizon, interaction with the culture of other peoples, the influx of enormous wealth into Egypt stimulated an unprecedented flourishing of Egyptian culture. The era of the New Kingdom is especially notable for the grandiose construction of temples in Egypt (Thebes, Abydos) and in Nubia (Abu Simbel, Buchen, Soleb, Beit el-Wali, Aksha); further improvement of the art of relief, painting, plastics, jewelry; development of multi-genre literature (“The Tale of Two Brothers”, “Truth and Krivda”, “The Tale of the Doomed Tsarevich”, “The Myth of the Extermination of People”, “The Legend of Apopi and Sekenenra”, “The Taking of Jaffa”, “The Journey of Unu-Amon to Bible “, the fable” Litigation of the stomach with the head “, religious poetry, numerous autobiographical inscriptions, instructions to scribes, love lyrics).

Osiris' judgment. "Book of the Dead". Papyrus. XXI dynasty.

Osiris’ judgment. “Book of the Dead”. Papyrus. XXI dynasty.

New elements in the visual arts

In the New Egyptian texts, the motives of intoxication with military glory, lost during the years of the domination of the Hyksos, are revived and multiplied. The walls of temples and tombs captured endless scenes of feasts, images of war booty, solemn ceremonies for accepting tribute from foreign ambassadors, expeditions to a distant, fabulously rich Punt (reliefs of the funeral temple of Hatshepsut in Deir el-Bahri), scenes of sacrifices, various gifts, cattle, captives to the Egyptian gods who shared military glory with the conquering pharaohs. New trends even invade such a conservative area of ​​ancient Egyptian literature as memorial texts: the hymns to the gods included in the Book of the Dead, as if pushing ritual into the background, coincide with the solemn mood of the official literature of that period.

Funeral procession. Relief. Dynasty XVIII.

Funeral procession. Relief. Dynasty XVIII.

The most talented artists worked in the capitals of the New Kingdom – Thebes, Akhetaton, Memphis, Per-Ramses. The inscriptions of the XVIII-XIX dynasties brought to us the names of outstanding cultural figures: the chronicler Chanini, a witness to the military exploits of Pharaoh Thutmose III, the architects Ineni, Senmut, Jkhuti, Amenhotep, the son of Hapu (a “representative” to the gods, appointed by the king), whose cult existed to the end Egyptian history, the sculptor Thutmose, who is credited with creating the famous portraits of Nefertiti, the architect Maya, who built in Karnak, the main cult center of the country of the New Kingdom era, the residence of Amon-Ra, the largest columned hall at that time with an area of ​​5 thousand square meters. m., the inventor of the improved water clock Amenemhat.

Reforms of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten)

Peace and external stability, which seemed to be established for a long time in Egypt with the accession of Amenhotep III after long wars, were suddenly destroyed during the reign of his son and successor Amenhotep IV. Having changed the faith of his ancestors, this pharaoh-reformer in the twelfth year of his reign finally breaks with traditional Egyptian polytheism and establishes the cult of the solar disk – Aton. By order of the king, attempts are made in Egyptian inscriptions to destroy not only the names of the gods, but also the very concept of “god”. They strive to replace this word with the word “ruler”, and the sign of God – with the sign denoting Pharaoh. The sun itself at the final stage of the reform is not thought of as a god, but as a king. From now on, only two kings rule the world: the Sun-Aton and his son Akhenaten – “Pleasant to Aton”.

The religious reform of Akhenaten is an exceptional phenomenon in the history of not only Egyptian, but, possibly, the entire ancient Eastern culture. Until now, her motives and peculiar character, like the very personality of the tsar, are the subject of heated debate. On the one hand, in Akhenaten’s “sun worship” one cannot fail to see the stream of solar monotheism, traditional in Egyptian religion, associated with the Heliopolis priestly doctrine, but freed from the mythological “ballast” in the reformed religion. Akhenaten seemed to bring to its logical conclusion the concept of the king as a “son of the Sun” dating back to the era of the great pyramids and the no less ancient concept of the Sun as a king. On the other hand, Akhenaten’s complete disregard for the Osiric notions, which became the central moment of the Egyptians’s belief in the afterlife transformation, the destruction of the word “god” and the signs denoting God in the inscriptions at the final stages of the reform, give Akhenaten’s teachings a touch of deliberate theomachy. Akhenaten, “the enemy from Akhetaton,” as later texts branded him, “the first individualist and religious genius in history,” according to BA Turaev, one of the most cruel Egyptian rulers, creating “force against those who do not know his teachings” and “condemning darkness” to his opponents, at the end of his reign very much resembles not just an apostate, a heretic, but also a subverter of faith in God, who overshadows his “father” Aten with his own personality, despite strict adherence to religious rituals in serving Aten.

Sarcophagus of Mahu, a farmer from the House of Amun. Dynasty XVIII.

Sarcophagus of Mahu, a farmer from the House of Amun. Dynasty XVIII.

The social reasons for Akhenaten’s reform have been written many times; it is much more difficult to comprehend the ideological reasons for it. And although it is clear from the texts of the Amarna period that the king himself was the only creator of the “doctrine of life”, it is unlikely that the latter would have managed to carry out his bold “experiment”, had it not been for a favorable environment in the immediate royal environment, which is entirely indebted to Akhenaten for his rise and for the sake of worldly benefits ready to accept or reject Aten or Amun. It should be borne in mind that immediately before the accession to the throne of Amenhotep IV, the cult of the Sun acquired special significance in the royal family. The father of the reformer king, unlike his predecessors, called himself “the image of Ra” with special consistency, taking to the extreme the cult of his own statues (manifestations of his divine essence). He was called “the Sun – the lord of Maat”, a name very reminiscent of the name Living Maat, characteristic of the title of Akhenaten.

The Amarna period was a short but extremely bright stage in ancient Egyptian history and, despite the apical nature of the reform, had important consequences for all spheres of Egyptian culture.

Influence of the Amarna period on culture

Having absorbed the most vivid realistic plots, compositions and stylistic techniques of Egyptian art, Amarna developed and consolidated them and, having passed the grotesque stage, created a gallery of sculptural masterpieces – portraits of Akhenaten and members of his family, graceful reliefs, multicolored paintings, among which landscape compositions stand out … It was under the influence of Amarna in Egyptian art that the secular images of the king and queen appeared for the first time, depicted in an everyday, relaxed atmosphere. Amarna was a turning point in the history of the New Egyptian language, and since the reign of Akhenaten, it has become a written language. The New Egyptian language was much more different from the Middle Egyptian than the Middle Egyptian from the Old Egyptian. Undoubtedly, Amarna was also a stimulus for the appearance of many manuscripts of secular literature in the New Egyptian language, and among them – love lyrics, “songs of delight of the heart.” The non-cult lyrics of Egypt are a unique phenomenon in the ancient East, where love poetry is entirely subordinated to sacred goals and, as a rule, is included in the rhythm of the life of the temple. Egyptian love lyrics, as well as a realistic sculptural portrait, differ significantly from the traditional art of the ancient East, recalling, in our opinion, rather the secular art of Western Europe.

Having significantly strengthened the realistic, secular direction in art and literature, Akhenaten’s reform at the same time provoked a negative reaction from the traditional sacred culture, one of the most staunch adherents of which was the Theban priesthood. In the religion of Amun of Thebes, which became a whole stage in the history of the country’s cultural development, the powerful force of the Egyptian tradition was clearly expressed, for Theban theology absorbed the ideas of the priestly schools that arose at the dawn of Egyptian civilization.

Canopy cover of Prince Nebi. II millennium BC

Canopy cover of Prince Nebi. II millennium BC

Under the influence of the ideas of imperial autocracy, the features of solar monotheism were especially manifested in the religion of Amun. In some texts bearing a clear imprint of Amarna, Amon, like Aton, is even called “the only one with many hands” (Aton was represented as a solar disk with rays-arms). Having organically absorbed the heritage of the ancient priestly schools and Amarna, Theban theology nevertheless was a new step in the development of Egyptian religious and philosophical thought. In the hymns of the post-Amarnae period, Amon is more and more praised as a single, eternal god, whose essence is unknown and incomprehensible and whose manifestation is all the gods. At the same time, Amon appears more and more often in hymns as a god merciful to the wretched and oppressed. And in this it is impossible not to see the impact of the changed socio-political situation, when the external invincibility of the empire was replaced by years of trials. The gradual loss of the conquered territories, growing internal contradictions, increased corruption forced the society to turn again to the omnipotent gods, and first of all to Amon, the recent warlike ruler of the world, now the all-good judge, “who comes to the call of the one who is in oppression.”

Strengthening the ethical element in Egyptian religion in the era of the New Kingdom against the background of ever more complex magical knowledge, deepening of theological thought and religious feeling, on the one hand, the growth of free-thinking sentiments, on the other – these are the main tendencies in the spiritual life of this controversial period. It was then that the 125th chapter of the “Book of the Dead” appears with its idea of ​​a moral judgment beyond the grave, and ritual and magical compositions are created that are available initially to a narrow circle of initiates (“Book of Amduat”, “Book of Gates”, “Book of the Day”, “Book of Night” and etc.). In the texts of the tombs of Theban priests and secular persons, in the prayers of the ministers of the Theban necropolis – “obedient to the call in the Place of Truth” – more and more often there are religious motives of repentance, and as the state religion declines, the piety of an individual grows.

And at the same time, the “Song of the Harper” from the tomb of King Antef is being rewritten, the polemic of official theology flares up with contradictory ideas, and this polemic even penetrates into the funeral literature (Chapter 175 of the “Book of the Dead”, Ani Papyrus, XVIII Dynasty). The idea of ​​the eternity of monuments not made by hands – the creations of ancient sages-scribes, not subject to destruction, in contrast to temples and tombs (“Glorification of the scribes”, XIX-XX dynasties), sounds again. It was in the epoch of the New Kingdom that “songs of heart’s delight” became so popular; even the pharaoh “Mekhi” (Horemheb?) Could now be a hero in them, the beauty yearning for him dreams of getting into his harem. In the same era, a clearly parodic work “Dispute between Horus and Seta” appears, where the gods are sometimes presented in an unsightly guise and the noble myth of Osiris loses its sacred pathos.

Post-Amarna culture

Blind Harper. Relief of the tomb of Pa-Aten-emheba in Sakkara. Dynasty XVIII.

Blind Harper. Relief of the tomb of Pa-Aten-emheba in Sakkara. Dynasty XVIII.

After the Amarna period, a kind of gigantomania in temple construction, which began under Amenhotep III, intensified, which also manifested itself in the construction of royal colossus statues. Suffice it to recall the huge Luxor columned courtyards and pylons with monumental statues of Ramses II, the gigantic scale of the buildings in Karnak of the first pharaohs of the 19th dynasty, who completed the construction of the hypostyle hall undertaken here by Horemheb, the famous Ramesseum on the west bank of Thebes, the cave temple of Ramses II in Abu Simbel with the majestic statues of the king. The construction of the fortress-like ensemble of Ramses III in Medinet Abu (XX dynasty) completes this brilliant era of temple construction.

Images of grandiose battles with Asians, Libyans and the “peoples of the sea”, capture of enemy fortresses and ships, embassies of defeated countries and rows of prisoners, depicted in temple reliefs, tomb paintings with scenes of feasts and papyrus drawings depicting harem entertainment, scandalous trials of tomb robberies, preserved in the records of the papyri of the Ramessid era – all this, as it were, merges into one huge canvas, on which the greatness and decline of the empire already coexist in indissoluble unity.

Lady and maid. Painting from the tomb of Dzheserkar-Seneb in Thebes. Dynasty XVIII.

Lady and maid. Painting from the tomb of Dzheserkar-Seneb in Thebes. Dynasty XVIII.

The glorification of military valor degenerates into a parody of them (“Taking the cat’s fortress”). The warrior’s fate is condemned in the teachings of the scribes, who are sensitive to changes in the situation. Gigantomania, like the wars of the kings of the 19th dynasty, turns out to be a ghostly reflection of its former greatness; fascination with magnificent phraseology in the inscriptions of the kings and their associates, the grace of the syllable in the teachings-letters and the external decorativeness in art – a cover for the increasingly lost content. The special worship of the Asian gods of war is not only a tribute to the era of war, but also a concession to the culture of peoples who are now recognized as equal partners.

A little more than a century will pass, and in Asia the power of the pharaoh will turn into a fiction, and only the messenger of Amun, the priest of Unu-Amon (“Journey of Unu-Amon to Byblos”, XI century BC) will still be tolerated here at the end in the end they will fulfill his request, recognizing the greatness of the imperial god and the ancient culture of the country under his control.

“Amon created all the lands. He created them, but the land of Egypt, from which you came, – says the ruler of Byblos, referring to Unu-Amon, – he created before anyone else. Art came out of it to reach the place where I am, and knowledge came out from there to reach the place where I am ”.

Striving for archaization in culture

With the extinction of the Egyptian civilization, its most ancient features unexpectedly manifested with renewed vigor, which was caused by the desire of the Egyptians to defend their identity in the face of the threat of military and cultural conquest.

  • the conquest of new lands by the Egyptians in the era of the New Kingdom,
  • trading settlements of immigrants from other countries,
  • increased incidence of mixed marriages,
  • education of foreign nobles
  • and the acceptance of political refugees at the court of the pharaoh,
  • the penetration of foreigners into the state apparatus and the Egyptian army,
  • increasing inter-language communication,
  • translations of Asian mythological texts into Egyptian, etc.

– all this contributed to the acceleration of the process of interaction and assimilation of cultures. On this wave of intensifying international contacts, a new tendency in Egyptian culture emerges – deliberate archaization.

Battle scene. Painting on a wooden casket from the tomb of Tutankhamun. Dynasty XVIII.

Battle scene. Painting on a wooden casket from the tomb of Tutankhamun. Dynasty XVIII.

The desire for archaization is noticeable already in Egypt from the era of the XXV dynasty. One of the best historical and literary monuments of this period – the stele of Pianhi from Gebel-Barkal, a colorful story about the conquest of Egypt by the king of Napata – in its lines repeatedly reveals a connection with the classical literary and religious texts that had become by that time. In the same era, by order of King Shabaka, the famous “Theological Treatise of Memphis” was copied from the ancient original.

Sennedjen and his wife in the fields of Ialu. Tomb of Sennejen in Deir el-Medina. XIX dynasty.

Sennedjen and his wife in the fields of Ialu. Tomb of Sennejen in Deir el-Medina. XIX dynasty.

During the reign of the XXVI dynasty, during which Egypt once again experienced a short-term economic and cultural upsurge, archaization became the basis of official policy (“Sais renaissance”). The glory of Thebes is a thing of the past; grandiose buildings in honor of Amun are no longer erected here. The city of Sais in the Delta, the cult center of the warrior goddess Neith, becomes the cultural center of the country, whose ancient features of veneration as the great mother of the gods again acquire special significance.

Archaization of culture, the struggle for its “purity”, originality in the Sais period manifested itself –

  • in the restoration of ancient state titles and offices,
  • in reference to the samples of the Old Kingdom in art (the revival of the ideal portrait),
  • in literature (imitation of classical texts or their reproduction),
  • in countering the Asian influence in the language (expulsion of Semitisms),
  • in religion (the desire to eliminate Asian gods from the Egyptian pantheon),
  • in particular interest in the ancient priestly teachings and cults of ancient kings,
  • in a sharp strengthening and taking to the extreme of the cult of animals, which has always played an important role in the Egyptian religion and gave it a special mystery in the eyes of the Greeks.
The statue of the queen. IV century BC

The statue of the queen. IV century BC

The inscriptions of the Sais period amaze with a pile of titles, images – with a mixture of styles, external stylization to the detriment of individualization. special grace and perfection of execution, testifying to centuries of grinding. In the Sais era, a sense of connection with the past intensifies, which manifested itself, in particular, in the awakening of interest in the genealogies of people and gods, the syncretic tendency in Egyptian religion is intensifying, expressed in a bizarre fusion of images of various gods, in the veneration in one temple along with the main deity of many others gods of the pantheon, who are seen as manifestations of its essence.

The “nationalism” of the Sais period was an artificial phenomenon and could not resist the penetration of other cultures into the country. At this time, trading settlements of the Greeks were founded in Egypt for the first time, among which Navcratis was destined to play a special role in the process of the formation of Greek-Egyptian cultural syncretism and in the spread of elements of ancient Egyptian culture outside Egypt.

The conquest of Egypt by the Achaemenids

After the conquest by the Persians, Egypt, being one of the most developed satrapies of the Achaemenid state, was directly involved in the life of a number of peoples united in the Kingdom of countries with which it previously had mostly indirect contacts. Now Egypt was inhabited by an even greater number of immigrants from Asia: Jews, Arameans, Phoenicians, Babylonians, Moabites, Persians, Medes, Khorezmians, inhabitants of distant India, who brought their customs and beliefs with them. The Egyptians, for one reason or another, who left their homeland, became more and more familiar with the culture of the countries where they settled, changed their names, began to live a new life, but retained their ethnic identity.

Since the Sais period, the heir to the New Egyptian language, the demotic one, has become the official written language in Egypt. Having arisen at a turning point in the country’s history under the influence of the rapid development of trade contacts, this language during the period of Persian domination actively included words from the Aramaic language, which was then widespread in the western part of the Persian state, into its vocabulary.

Praying in front of the altar. XXII dynasty.

Praying in front of the altar. XXII dynasty.

The Persians did not pursue the goal of changing the language of Egypt and the specifics of its culture, and in order to consolidate their dominance here, they had to reckon with local traditions. Darius I, for the sake of these traditions, was sometimes portrayed in Egyptian military attire. Cambyses was initiated into the mystery of Neith and, like the Sais kings, bore the title “son of Ra, likeness of Neith,” thus supporting, not without the influence of the Egyptian priesthood, the idea of ​​the continuity of Pharaoh’s dominion. At first, the Persian kings erected temples to the ancient gods of Egypt. Under Darius I, one of the hymns to this god was written on the walls of the temple of Amun in the Great Oasis (El-Kharga), where he is sung as a deity identical to nature ( “You are the sky, you are the earth, you are the underworld, you are water, you are the air between them ”).

Literature Development

During the period of Persian rule, demotic literature was further developed. During the reign of Darius I, the “Tale of Peteis III” was recorded. This work-chronicle is, as it were, an involuntary testimony to the spiritual degradation of the Egyptian priesthood in the late Egyptian period, for its focus is on the criminal intrigues of the clergy fighting for the possession of the priesthood, which promises considerable income.

The heyday of demotic literature falls on the VII-II centuries. BC, but it continues its life until the Roman conquest, reflecting the main features of the culture of this era: the deepening of moral searches and at the same time an increase in the craving for magical knowledge (“The Legends of Satni-Hemois”, “The Tsar’s Book” – papyrus Insinger), an ever-sharpening interest in antiquity, the idealized past and the impact of the cultures of other peoples (The Legends of Petubast, The Demotic Chronicle, The Tale of Bokhoris and the Lamb, etc.). These works, going beyond the time frame of the independent existence of Egyptian civilization, are the final stage of the daytime Egyptian literature, nourished by the historical realities of the pharaohs’ Egypt that is going into the past.

Late Egyptian culture

Late Egypt lives a hectic life: constant changes of dynasties, from decline and collapse – to new ups, seeming rebirth. Instability, the expectation of the arrival of conquerors, turmoil between the owners of the state disintegrating into separate regions caused a wave of unprecedented enthusiasm for miracles, oracles of the gods, led to an increase in apocalyptic moods. At this time, the grandiose temple construction was no longer carried out. In literature, generally established genres develop, in art, established artistic methods are taken as a model.

Impact of Egyptian culture on the rest of the world

God Ptah. Ptolemaic time. IV-I centuries BC.

God Ptah. Ptolemaic time. IV-I centuries BC.

However, it would be wrong to assess the late Egyptian era only as a time of epigonism, eclecticism and the gradually increasing archaization of culture. Propylaea of ​​the temple on the island of File and the Karnak pylon of Nektaneba (XXX dynasty), sculptural portraits from the dark green stone of the Sais period, hymns to the gods, the power of poetry at times reminiscent of biblical psalms, the appearance of such literary texts as “Ani’s Admonition to her Son Honsuhotep” (XXI dynasty) or “The Teaching of Amenemope” (XXII-XXVI dynasties), reflecting the incomparably higher level of ethical ideas of the Egyptians than the ancient works of a similar genre, the strengthening of cosmic dualism and ethical dualism in the sphere of religion under the influence of the “great horror” of foreign oppression, the increase the role of the cult of Osiris and the gods of his circle – all this testifies to the far from exhausted possibilities of Egyptian culture. Even at the time of its extinction, it continued to be a life-giving source for the cultures of other peoples, in whose eyes Egypt was still a country of secret wisdom, deep mystical experience and priceless knowledge.

It is no coincidence that so many correspondences are found between the “Teaching of Amenemope” and the “Book of Proverbs of Solomon”. And how ambiguous are the words that echoed the Old Testament tradition in the Acts of the Apostles: “And Moses was taught all the wisdom of Egypt, and was mighty in words and deeds” . Egyptian didactics and mysticism, religious poetry, the prevailing verbal forms could serve as a model for Old Testament literature for correlating with their own ethical and religious ideas and methods of their literary fixation.

Egyptian medicine was of particular importance for the peoples neighboring Egypt. Her achievements, primarily in the field of surgery, were valued at the courts of foreign rulers, and the glory of Egyptian healers, like the “great healer” Ujahorresent, the priest of the goddess Neith, the confidant of the Persian kings, outlived them for a long time. Medieval Arabic and European medical texts contain many recipes borrowed from Egyptian medical papyri and magical texts.

Long before the dawn of ancient civilization rose, Egypt accumulated the most important practical knowledge in the field of mathematics and astronomy (determining the area of ​​a circle, the volume of a truncated pyramid, the surface area of ​​the hemisphere, the solar calendar, dividing the day into 24 hours, the signs of the zodiac, etc. ). The cultural heritage of Egypt continued to live in the Julian calendar and, perhaps, in Heron’s “Geometry”, in the studies of fractions by Greek mathematicians and in the problem of solving the arithmetic progression by the Armenian mathematician of the 7th century. n. e. Anania of Shirak.

Egyptian norms of law and government were, to one degree or another, adopted by the Napata-Meroite kings, the Achaemenid power and the Hellenistic monarchies, the Arshakids and Sassanids, the Romans and Byzantium, the peoples of the Christian East, Russia.

The treasures of Egyptian thought – scientific, practical and mystical – turned out to be an attractive source for prominent Greek scientists, philosophers, statesmen who visited Egypt to join this knowledge and make it the property of their culture. According to ancient tradition, Solon, Thales, Pythagoras, Hecateus of Miletus visited Egypt. Plutarch reports that “Eudoxus studied with Xenophon of Memphis, Solon – with Sonkhit of Sais, Pythagoras – with heliopolite Oinufei. Especially, it seems, this latter, delightful and admired by the priests, imitated their mysterious symbolism, cloaking the teaching in an allegory “.

Deceased, Osiris and Anubis. Burial shroud. Mid-2nd century AD

Deceased, Osiris and Anubis. Burial shroud. Mid-2nd century AD

Egyptian art with its characteristic monumental architecture and static sculpture was a role model in ancient times and was reinterpreted in the Cretan-Mycenaean culture (III-II millennium BC), which also bore traces of Egyptian influence in the field of jewelry craftsmanship, in subjects of fresco and vase painting, in religion and writing. Certain features of Egyptian culture can be traced in the art of the Near East in the 2nd millennium BC. among the peoples of Syria, Phenicia, the Hittites, Assyrians, etc. The tradition of the Egyptian burial mask, combined with the traditions of Hellenistic art, brought to life such an amazing phenomenon as the Fayum portrait. Egyptian sculptural portrait, landscape, pyramidal tomb, obelisk and other elements of architecture, lions and sphinxes were perceived by ancient art, and through it – by European art, especially at the time of fascination with the exotic and mysticism of the East.

The oldest homeland of didactics and messianic writings, beloved by the Egyptians, the cradle of fables and historical stories, fairy tales and love lyrics, Egypt could not help nourishing the literature of neighboring peoples. According to the French scientist J.-F. Champollion, “Europe, which received the beginnings of science and art from Ancient Egypt, owes it another boon – alphabetical writing” . Egypt not only influenced the Phoenician writing and, through it, the European writing system, the Sinai writing and the formation of the most ancient alphabet in Africa (the Meroite script), but also made a certain contribution to the vocabulary of neighboring peoples. Some words from Egyptian, through the Greek, Coptic and Arabic languages, penetrated into European dictionaries.

Greek and Roman rule

Goddess Nut is framed by the signs of the zodiac. Sarcophagus of Soter from El Qurna. II century. AD

Goddess Nut is framed by the signs of the zodiac. Sarcophagus of Soter from El Qurna. II century. AD

The development of the culture of Egypt was not limited under the Greco-Macedonian rule. Having come into contact with another civilization, it experienced a new kind of flourishing, already being a part of the general Hellenistic culture. The conquerors adopted the Egyptian idea of ​​a sacred kingdom, worshiped sacred bulls and rams, built temples to Egyptian gods, rivaling in their monumentality with the buildings of the era of the pyramids and the New Kingdom.

But the days of Egyptian pagan culture were already numbered, despite all its desire to defend its position. Fading antiquity seems to be in a hurry to complete its “memoirs”: the walls of the temples of Ptolemaic Egypt are becoming real inexhaustible archives of accumulated knowledge, reference books like encyclopedias are multiplying. And, as a testament to future cultures, Egyptian literary and religious-mythological texts are hastily translated into Greek.

Egyptian history in Greek verbal guise continues to live in the writings of Manetho, the spirit of independence and faith in the arrival of the king-messiah – a deliverer from the troubles of a foreign yoke (the traditional image of Egyptian prophecies) – are revived with renewed vigor in the “Apology of the potter before King Amenophis about the future fate of Egypt”… The Egyptian religion, with its idea of ​​immortality, conquers the Greco-Roman world, which has lost faith in its own earthly and heavenly rulers.

The decline of Egyptian culture and its transformation into new directions

“City by the Sea” – Alexandria, whose imminent death is predicted in “Apology”, still sends its messengers carrying the cult of Isis and the gods of her circle outside Egypt, and magnificent festivities are held in the streets of Rome in honor of the “mistress of the world”. But a little time will pass, and the center of the Greek-Egyptian pagan culture, late antique philosophy, literature and science, the great city, where the destinies of the East and the West first merged, will become the triumph of Christianity and turn into the most important center of Christian theology and missionary activity. Demetrius of Phaler, the founder of the Muséion of Alexandria, the Greek-Jewish theologians Philo of Alexandria and Aristobulus, the Gnostics Valentinus and Basilides, will be replaced by passionate preachers of the new faith: Paul Thebes, the first hermit of the Upper Thebais, and Anthony, the founder of the desert-living ascetic monasticism, Macharius “Cynovite” (communal) monasticism, Athanasius of Alexandria, Shenoute, Archbishop Cyril, Clement of Alexandria. Egyptian mysticism, the centuries-old refinement of the culture of the religious text will receive a second life, being transformed in the Alexandrian symbolic school of theology, in the Monophysitism of the Copts. And do not the ideas of Christian monasticism and desert dwelling, first born in Egypt, go back to their innermost roots in the ancient belief of the Egyptians in the posthumous transformation, “enlightenment” in the deserts of the West and in the fact that earthly life is only a dream? And “nowhere , – according to Eusebius of Caesarea, – the words of the Gospel doctrine, over no one showed so much power as in Egypt” , because there, thousands of years before the first Christians experienced the great mystery of overcoming death.

Coptic crosses. Tombstone. IV century AD

Coptic crosses. Tombstone. IV century AD

Ancient Egypt, with its rich fairy-tale literature, teeming with miracles, will come to life again in the monuments of Coptic hagiography. Egyptian magic, never submitting to the ethical principle and always pushing it into the background in pagan culture, will penetrate into Gnostic writings, into Coptic and Ethiopian apocryphal literature. Ancient Egypt will live in the blood of the Copts, in their language and way of life, in liturgical chants, iconography. Ancient Christian Egypt will unexpectedly revive in our time in the Coptic practice of desert dwelling and asceticism, in the recreation of the ancient monasteries of the Nitrian Valley and the Western Desert … and the beliefs of a fellah Muslim. The culture of Pharaonic Egypt, the connection with which was initially rejected by both Christians and Muslims, is now considered by all Egyptians as an integral part of their historical and spiritual tradition.

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