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

Songs to the Harp

By Egyptian Literature

  • Translation of Francis Llewellyn Griffith
  • [Frequently in the tombs is figured a scene in which a harper plays before the deceased. His song is ever on the same theme: Enjoy life while it lasts, for all things pass away, and are succeeded by others which also perish in their turn. Such were the encouragements to conviviality which the Egyptians put into the mouths of their minstrels.
  • One of these songs was apparently engraved in front of the figure of a harper in the tomb or pyramid of King Antef (of the XIth or perhaps XIIIth Dynasty, not less than 2000 B.C.), and a copy of it has been handed down to us on a papyrus of the XVIIIth Dynasty: fragments of the same song are moreover preserved at Leyden on slabs from a tomb of the same period.
  • Part of another song of the same kind may be read on the walls of the fine tomb of Neferhetep at Thebes (temp. XVIIIth Dynasty). This song was a long one, but the latter part of it is now mutilated and hopelessly destroyed; yet enough of the sequel remains to show that it rose to a somewhat higher level of teaching than the first song, and counseled men to feed the poor and to win a good name to leave behind them after death.
  • The songs seem to fall naturally into stanzas of ten lines each, though the inscriptions and papyri on which they are preserved to us are not punctuated to indicate these divisions. In the first song the ten lines fall readily into pairs, thus producing five-line stanzas.]

  • I
    Songs which are in the tomb of King Antef, justified, which are in front of the singer on the harp

    HAPPY is this good lord! &pipe; A goodly fate is spoiled.

    One body passeth &pipe; and others are set up since the time of the ancestors.

    The gods who were aforetime &pipe; rest in their sepulchres,

    So also the nobles glorified &pipe; buried in their sepulchres.

    Palaces are built and their places are not &pipe; behold what hath been done with them!

    I have heard the words of Imhetep and Herdedef &pipe; who spake thus continually in their sayings:

    “Behold their places, their walls are ruined &pipe; their places are not, as though they had not been.

    None cometh thence to tell their lot &pipe; to tell their estate,

    To strengthen our hearts &pipe; until ye approach the place to which they have gone.”

    Be thou of good cheer thereat &pipe; [as for me] my heart faileth me in singing thy dirge.

    Follow thy heart so long as thou existest &pipe; put frankincense on thy head;

    Be clothed in fine linen, be anointed with pure ben oil &pipe; things fit for a god.

    Enjoy thyself beyond measure &pipe; let not thy heart faint.

    Follow thy desire and thy happiness while thou art on earth &pipe; fret not thy heart till cometh to thee that day of lamentations.

    The Still-of-Heart heareth not their lamentations &pipe; the heart of a man in the pit taketh no part in mourning.

    With radiant face, make a good day,

    And rest not on it.

    Behold, it is not given to a man to carry his goods with him!

    Behold, there is none who hath gone,

    And cometh back hither again!

    [Saith the player on the harp who is in the tomb of the Osirian, the divine father of Amen, Neferhetep, Justified, he saith:—]

    O how weary! Truly a prince was he!

    That good fate hath come to pass.

    Bodies pass away since the time of God,

    The youthful come in their place.

    Ra presenteth himself every morning,

    Tum setteth in the Mountain of the West,

    Men beget and women conceive;

    Every nostril tasteth the breath of sunrise;

    Those whom they bring forth—all of them—

    They come in their stead.

    Make holiday, O divine father!

    Set gums and choice unguents of every kind for thy nose,

    Garlands of lotuses on the shoulders,

    And on the breast of thy sister, who is in thy heart,

    Who sitteth at thy side.

    Set singing and music before thy face,

    Put all sorrow behind thee,

    Bethink thyself of joys,

    Until there cometh that day on which thou moorest at the land that loveth silence,

    Before the heart of the son whom thou lovest is still.

    Make holiday, O Neferhetep, Justified! &pipe; the excellent divine father, pure of hands!

    There are heard all the things &pipe; that have happened to the ancestors who were aforetime;

    Their walls are ruined &pipe; their places are not;

    They are as though they had never been &pipe; since the time of the god.

    May thy walls be established &pipe; may thy trees flourish on the bank of thy pond!

    May thy soul sit beneath them &pipe; that it drink their waters!

    Follow thy heart greatly &pipe; while thou art on earth.

    Give bread to him &pipe; who is without plot of land.

    Mayest thou gain a good name &pipe; for the eternal future!

    Mayest thou …