Writings from Ancient Egypt
By Toby Wilkinson, tr. and intro.
2017, Penguin Classics, 978-0-14139-595-1, $17 pb.
Reviewed by TOM VERDE on January 15, 2019
Ancient Egypt was awash in writing, from the surfaces of its monuments to its reams of papyri. Yet “the impenetrability” of ancient Egyptian script (hieroglyphs)—fully deciphered only two centuries ago—largely restricted its meaning to scholars. This title offers general readers access to myriad selections from the “surprisingly rich and varied corpus” of ancient Egyptian writing. Here are stories of adventure as well as dramatic accounts of battles, practical advice, and windows into “the world of everyday life under the pharaohs.” Twelfth Dynasty (second century BCE) maxims remind us that “there is no job without a boss,” that “hippos are grievous” for the farmer, and that “friends are a well-watered field, greater than riches.” Via edict, the 14th-century BCE pharaoh Horemheb sought to “drive out chaos and destroy falsehood.” This is an engaging and entertaining encounter with the distant past—one that sometimes seems to mirror the present.