Ancient Egyptian Love Poetry at The Met

papyrus
Photo from: Metropolitan Museum of Art

FROM THE DESK OF: Deo

 

Somewhere in between the ancient monumental architecture, the enormous statues of gods and pharaohs, the stylized sculptures, reliefs, and carvings displayed at the Egyptian art section of The Met is a small, easily forgettable room. Most visitors pass through only to touch the tomb in the middle before continuing on their way, understandably, to see the grander pieces next door. But what’s displayed here, although certainly not as awe-inspiring, is perhaps equally as resplendent: “Romance along the Nile: Ancient Egyptian Love Poetry”.

What’s really amazing about this section, for me at least, is that this poetry is over 3,000 years old. For reference, Shakespeare, who is credited with inventing our notion of modern love, wrote during the 16th Century—that’s 2,800 years after these were written. For more perspective, it also precedes all of the epics written by Homer for over 1,000 years. This has to be like the earliest form of poetry right?

The Met seems to think so. Their description writes “During the Middle Kingdom, and especially during the Ramesside period (ca. 1295 – 1070 B.C.), scribes recorded a new form of literature that explored through poetry the nature of love from a personal and often explicit perspective.”

The ancient Egyptians were not really that different from us, and if you read some of these poems, you’d realize they’re not even that different today’s 13 year olds. In one poem, a girl writes “My mother is right in commanding me: ‘Avoid seeing him.’ But, my heart is smitten by his memory, My love for him has seized me.“ You’d think this was written by a teenager with posters of One Direction all over her wall… except she lived 3,000 years ago.

The Met writes “the subjects of the poems range from ardent descriptions of a beloved and the intoxication of love to the difficulties and challenges of pursuing a love interest, as well as illness caused by unrequited love. The words chosen to voice these concepts draw on the ancient Egyptian world, including using flowers, fruit, and honey as comparisons to a woman’s charms or the physical dangers of crossing the Nile to express a lover’s devotion to his beloved.”

I took pictures with my phone and retyped the poetry. The poems are paired with paintings from the same period. They are named here because of the title of the paintings, but really, all of these are untitled. While some poems maybe over the top expressive, they all have just the right amount of enchantment.

Troop of Female Musicians

New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, reign of Thutmose IV (ca, 1400-1390 B.C.)

2016-03-17 22.36.45

Seeing you, my beloved, is a festive day.

Regarding you is a great favor

May you come to me with beer,

Musicians equipped with instruments,

Their mouths with songs of love,

For joy and jubilation.

Your excellent beloved is in adoration before you,

Kissing the ground at seeing you.

Receive her with beer and incense,

Like offerings to a god.

 

Façade of a House

New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, reign of Thutmose III – Amenhotem II (ca. 1458-1410 B.C.)

facadeofhouse

I pass by her house at night,

I knock, (but) no one opens.

A good night for our doorkeeper!

Bolt, I will open (you),

Latch, my fate is yours,

(Latch), my very soul is yours…

 

A Decorated Doorway

New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, joint reign of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III (ca. 1479 – 1458 B.C.)

adecoratedoorway

I pass by his house,

Finding its door open.

My beloved stands beside his mother,

His siblings all around him.

He looks at me as I pass,

(But) I alone rejoice.

Had his mother known my heart,

She would have gone inside for a moment.

O Golden One, put that in her heart,

            So I may hurry to my beloved,

            And kiss him before his companions!

 

Two Women Sitting in the Shade of a Sycamore Tree

New Kingdom, Ramesside Period, Dynasty 19, reign of Seti I (ca, 1294 – 1279 B.C.)

twowomensycamore

The little sycamore that she herself planted

Opens its mouth to speak.

The words coming forth from its mouth

Overflow with honey.

It is perfect, its branches beautiful,

Blooming and strong,

Laden with ripe and unripe figs

That are redder than jasper.

Its leaves like turquoise,

With the gleam of glass.

It attracts those who have yet come:

“Come spend a day of beauty,

Morning after morning, up to three days, While

Seated in (my) shade. . .

I am discreet and do not say what I see.

I will not breathe a word.”

 

Decorative Border Featuring Hathor, the Golden Goddess

New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, joint reign of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III (ca. 1479 – 1458 B.C.)

decorativeborderhathor

My beloved stirs my heart with his voice,

He causes illness to seize me. . .

My mother is right in commanding me:

“Avoid seeing him.”

But, my heart is smitten by his memory,

My love for him has seized me.

Look, he is a fool

But I am just like him.

He does not know my desire to embrace him,

He does (not) send word to my mother.

Oh, my beloved! I am destined for you,

By the Golden (Goddess) of Women.

 

Lector Priest Holding a Papyrus Scroll

New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, joint reign of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III (ca. 1479 – 1458) lactorpriest

For seven days I have not seen my beloved,

Illness has overcome me. . .

If the chief physicians came to me,

My heart would not respond to their remedies.

Even the lector priests could not find the way,

My illness is not diagnosed.

The one who tells me, “Look, it is she” is the one

who will revive me,

Her name is what will cure me. . .

My beloved is more beneficial for me than any

remedy. . .

I see her—and I become healthy.

She opens her eyes—my limbs are young.

She speaks—I am strong.

I hug her—she drives away evil from me.

(But) seven days ago, she left me.

 

A Beautifully Adorned Woman

New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, reign of Thutmose IV – Amenhotep III (ca. 1400 – 1532 B.C.)

beautifullyadornedwoman

The love of my beloved is there, on the (other) side,

The river swallows my body.

Nun (flood) is strong in (this) season,

(And) a crocodile is waiting on the sandbank.

(still) I go down to the water,

Wading through the waves. . .

The crocodile, I find is like a mouse,

The floodwaters like land under my feet.

It is her love that makes me strong.

So she will cast a water-spell for me.

And I will see the one whom my heart loves,

Standing right before me.

 

Wine Making

New Kingdom, Ramesside Period, Dynasty 19, reign of Ramesses II (ca. 1279 – 1213 B.C.)

winemaking

I sail north on the river, In the manner of a captain.

My bundle of reeds on my shoulder,

I am headed to Memphis.

I will say to Ptah, Lord of Maat,

“Give me my beloved tonight!”

The river—it is wine,

Ptah is its reed.

Sakhmeet—its lotus leaf.

ladet—its lotus flower.

Nefertem is its blooming blossom.

The land lights up with her beauty.

Memphis is a bowl of mandrakes,

Set before the Beautiful-of-Face (Ptah).

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s