Home  »  library  »  poem  »  Hymn to the Aten

C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Hymn to the Aten

By Egyptian Literature

  • Translation of Francis Llewellyn Griffith
  • The following hymn addressed by King Akhenaten (B.C. 1450) to his one god, the visible Sun itself, was perhaps originally written in ten-line stanzas like the ‘Hymn to Usertesen III.,’ but the known texts of it are all too mutilated and uncertain for us to attempt any thorough restoration of the composition at present. A good edition of the hymn has been published by Professor Breasted of Chicago, and his text is here followed.
  • King Akhenaten was one of the most original minds known to us in Egyptian history. His bringing up was probably far more favorable to awakening powers of thought than was usually the case with the Pharaohs. Through his mother, Queen Tiy, he had been in close contact with the religions of Mesopotamia, perhaps even with Israelite monotheism; suddenly he cast off the traditions of his own country and all its multitudinous deities of heaven, earth, and the underworld, and devoted himself to the worship of one god, visible and exalted, before whom all else seemed either petty, gross, or unreal. His motto, as Professor Petrie has remarked, was “living in truth”; and according to his lights he lived up to it. Fervently he adored his god; and we may well believe that the words of this hymn are those which flowed from his own heart as he contemplated the mighty and beneficent power of the Sun.
  • This heretical doctrine roused the passions of the orthodox, who, triumphing over Akhenaten’s reform, condemned his monuments to systematic destruction.

  • BEAUTIFUL is thy resplendent appearing on the horizon of heaven,

    O living Aten, thou who art the beginning of life.

    When thou ascendest in the eastern horizon thou fillest every land with thy beauties;

    Thou art fair and great, radiant, high above the earth;

    Thy beams encompass the lands to the sum of all that thou hast created.

    Thou art the Sun; thou catchest them according to their sum;

    Thou subduest them with thy love.

    Though thou art afar, thy beams are on the earth;

    Thou art in the sky, and day followeth thy steps.

    When thou settest on the western horizon of heaven,

    The land is in darkness like unto death;

    They sleep in their chambers;

    Their heads are covered, their nostrils are closed, the eye seeth not his fellow;

    All their goods are stolen from under their heads, and they know it not.

    Every lion cometh forth out of its cave,

    All creeping things bite.

    The earth is silent, and he that made them resteth on his horizon.

    At dawn of day thou risest on the horizon and shinest as Aten by day.

    Darkness flees, thou givest forth thy rays, the two lands are in festival day by day;

    They wake and stand upon their feet, for thou hast raised them up;

    Their limbs are purified, they clothe themselves with their garments;

    Their hands are uplifted in adoration at thy rising.

    The whole land goeth about its several labors.

    Flocks rest in their pastures;

    Trees and plants grow green;

    Birds fly forth from their nests,—

    Their wings are adoring thy Ka.

    All flocks leap upon their feet;

    All flying things and all hovering things, they live when thou risest upon them.

    Ships pass down-stream, and pass up-stream likewise,

    Every way is open at thy rising.

    The fishes on the river leap up before thee;

    Thy rays are within the great waters.

    It is thou who causest women to be fruitful, men to beget.

    Thou quickenest the child in its mother’s womb;

    Thou soothest it that it cry not;

    Thou dost nurture it within its mother’s womb,

    Thou givest breath to give life to all its functions.

    It cometh forth from the womb upon the day of its birth.

    Thou openest its mouth, that it may speak;

    Thou providest for its wants.

    When there is a chick within an egg, cheeping as it were within a stone,

    Thou givest it breath therein to cause thy handiwork to live;

    It is full-formed when it breaketh through the shell.

    It cometh out of the egg when it cheepeth and is full-formed;

    It runneth on its feet when it cometh out thence.

    How manifold are thy works,

    … O one god who hast no fellow!

    Thou createdst the earth according to thy will, when thou wast alone,—

    [Its] people, its herds, and all flocks;

    All that is upon earth going upon feet,

    All that is on high and flieth with wings,

    The countries of Syria, of Ethiopia, of Egypt.

    Thou settest each person in his place,

    Thou providest for their wants,

    Each one his circumstances and the duration of his life,

    Tongues distinct in their speech,

    Their kinds according to their complexions—

    O distinguisher who distinguishest the races of mankind.

    Thou makest the Nile in the deep,

    Thou bringest it at thy pleasure,

    That it may give life to men, even as thou hast made them for thyself—

    O Lord of them all who art outwearied for them!

    O Lord of earth who risest for them!

    O Aten of day that awest all distant countries!

    Thou makest their life;

    Thou placest the Nile in heaven, that it may descend to them,

    That it may rise in waves upon the rocks like the sea,

    Watering their fields in their villages.

    How excellent are thy ways, O Lord of Eternity!

    A Nile in heaven poureth down for nations,

    For all manner of animals that walk upon feet.

    [But] the Nile cometh from the deep to the land of Egypt.

    Thy rays nourish every field;

    Thou risest and they live for thee.

    Thou makest the seasons to bring into existence all that thou hast made:

    The winter season to refresh them, the heat [to warm them].

    Thou madest the heaven afar off, that thou mightest rise therein,

    That thou mightest see all thou didst make when thou wast alone,

    When thou risest in thy form as the living Aten,

    Splendid, radiant, afar, beauteous—

    [Thou createdst all things by thyself]

    Cities, villages, camps, by whatsoever river they be watered.

    Every eye beholdeth thee before it;

    Thou art the Aten of day above the earth.


    Thou art in my heart.

    There is none other that knoweth thee but thy son, Fairest of the Forms of Ra, the Only One of Ra;

    Thou causest him to be exercised in thy methods and in thy might.

    The whole earth is in thy hand even as thou hast made them;

    At thy rising all live, at thy setting they die.