Ten Ancient Egyptian Stories


Joshua J. Mark
published on 14 January 2024

Stories in ancient Egypt were first written in the Early Dynastic Period (c. 6000-c. 3150 BCE) in the form of the Offering List and autobiography (or pseudo-autobiography) carved on one’s tomb, cataloging what gifts, and how many of each, were due the deceased and providing a brief summary of the person’s life and why they deserved remembrance.

The Offering List/Autobiography became more elaborate during the time of the Old Kingdom (c. 2613 – c. 2181 BCE), developing into the detailed autobiographies/biographies and tales of the king’s journey to the afterlife that are now known as the Pyramid Texts which inspired the later, and better-known, Egyptian Book of the Dead (The Book of Coming Forth by Day), a manual for the soul to navigate the afterlife and arrive at the paradise of the Field of Reeds, which reached its height of development in the New Kingdom (c. 1570-c. 1069 BCE).

Between the time of the early Offering Lists and the elaborate manuscripts of the Book of the Dead, ancient Egyptian literature developed in the form of autobiographies, biographies, essays, fiction, histories, hymns, myths, letters, personal essays, philosophical dialogues and admonitions, poetry, religious texts, and wisdom manuscripts. The literary merit of even court records has led modern-day Egyptologists to expand the definition of literature to include all the written works of ancient Egypt, not only the masterpieces of fiction from the Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 BCE), which is considered the apex of ancient Egyptian literature, inspired by the deities Thoth and Seshat.

The ten stories of this collection, however, are examples of Egyptian literature in the narrowest sense of the term as, even if some are based on actual events, they are all recognized as fiction/myth except for Letters to the Dead, included because it illustrates how the people of ancient Egypt understood the written word as powerful enough to transcend the boundary between the living and the dead.

The pieces of this collection date from the time of the Old Kingdom through the Late Period of Ancient Egypt (525-332 BCE), Letters to the Dead as the earliest and Tales of Prince Setna the latest.



Questions & Answers

When was ancient Egyptian literature written?

Ancient Egyptian literature was written between the Early Dynastic Period (c. 6000-c. 3150 BCE) and the Ptolemaic Period (323-30 BCE).

What was the greatest period of ancient Egyptian literature?

The greatest period of ancient Egyptian literature was the Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 BCE).

What are some of the most popular stories from ancient Egypt?

Popular stories from ancient Egypt include "The Tale of Sinuhe", "The Satire of the Trades", "The Eloquent Peasant", "The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor", "Stories from the Westcar Papyrus", and "The Tales of Prince Setna" among others.

When was the most fiction and poetry produced in ancient Egypt?

More ancient Egyptian fiction and poetry was composed in the time of the Middle Kingdom and the time of the New Kingdom than at any others.
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About the Author

Joshua J. Mark
Joshua J. Mark is World History Encyclopedia's co-founder and Content Director. He was previously a professor at Marist College (NY) where he taught history, philosophy, literature, and writing. He has traveled extensively and lived in Greece and Germany.

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