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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

66                      Writing and Literature
had to be the inspirers of Greek literature is indicated by the
assertion of Heliodorus, in the third century of our era, that
Homer was the son of the god Thoth by the wife of an Egyptian
Nevertheless, in a vaguer and less direct way, it is barely
deniable that the earlier literatures of Egypt and Babylonia
supplied something of the stimulus which spurred on the Greeks
to their sublime achievements in the fields of poetry and prose.
Our own ignorance until comparatively recently prevented us
from realizing how far those older civilizations formed for the
Greeks themselves their conscious intellectual background. The
Phoenicians must have carried tidings of the vast learning and
ceaseless scribal activity of the Egyptians. Distorted versions
of genuine Egyptian stories will have been wafted to the shores
of Greece—who knows to what extent an imperceptible and
undefinable literary pressure starting in the old Egyptian culture
may not there have been exerted? It is useless, however, to
dwell upon possibilities so intangible, and we pass on, therefore,
to a more profitable topic, namely the question as to what
influence Egypt may have had upon the Old Testament, and
through this upon our own literary tradition.
Excavation has revealed ever more clearly the extent to which
Palestinian culture was dependent upon the land of the
Pharaohs. The most obvious evidence is of a material kind—
scarabs, pottery, faience, ivories, and weapons. These must
necessarily, however, have had an intellectual counterpart.
There was opportunity enough for both the Israelites and their
predecessors in Canaan to become acquainted with Egyptian
literature. Whatever the reality behind the Exodus narratives,
the fact of the invasion of the Delta by the Hyksos and their sub-
sequent expulsion is sufficient guarantee that southern Palestine
was largely inhabited by descendants of a people that had once
dwelt in Egypt. From the Eighteenth Dynasty onward right
down to Greek times the Egyptians were in constant contact