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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

72                     Writing and Literature
be doubted whether either the one or the other would have been what
it is had it not been for Egypt.'
Having taken the word 'legacy' in the title of this book more
seriously than was perhaps intended by the publishers of the
series, I have left myself but little space for dealing with the
second kind of inheritance adumbrated in my opening para-
graph. This omission is the less serious, however, because the
English reader has now access, not only to the lectures by Peet
just mentioned, where the literary merits of three ancient litera-
tures are carefully examined and appraised, but also to Adolf
Erman's Literature of the Ancient Egyptians (translation by
A. M. Blackman), in which all the principal pieces known up to
about fifteen years ago may be read in their entirety. It will
perhaps best serve the purpose of this book if I give a brief
sketch of the history of literary activity in Egypt, interspersed
with some observations on the value to ourselves of its
manifestations.
The literature of Ancient Egypt appears to be a wholly indi-
genous product. That there was some mutual influence between
Babylonia and Egypt near the beginning of the dynastic period
is now certain, and it is even not impossible that the impulse
which led to the evolution of hieroglyphic writing came from
the Sumerians. But just as the art and architecture of Egypt,
once started upon their course, rapidly found characteristic
forms, and soon surpassed all rivals, so too, though a good deal
more slowly, did Egyptian literature. What folk-tales, hymns,
ritual compositions, and the like may have been current orally
before the emergence of the hieroglyphs we can never know,
but it seems likely that the newly acquired technique of writing
was felt rather as an embarrassment than otherwise. The earliest
attempts at autobiography found in the tombs are bald in the
extreme, and if the letter from a king of the Sixth Dynasty to
a noble who had returned from the Sudan with a 'dwarf of the
dances' for his lord's delectation, pleases on account of its pictur-