Posted by: gdevi | January 25, 2010

Ancient Egyptian Love Poetry Study Notes

English 220

Dr. G. Devi

Ancient Egyptian Love Poetry

Fragments recovered from excavations in Deir el-Medina; collections in the Chester Beatty papyri and the University of Michigan collection; circa 1300-1100 BCE.

An useful way to read love poetry from any culture and any century is to approach them as records and perceptions of relationships between men and women, or in the case of homoerotic poetry, between men and men or women and women. Little is known about the context of ancient Egyptian poetry; did poets write them? Did ordinary people write them? We don’t know for sure. But they reflect a wide gamut of emotions related to love and the modern translations render them a relevance and immediacy that is quite contemporary.

Keep these questions in mind as you work through these poems:

  1. Who are the speakers? Are they mostly men? Mostly women? Does this frequency tell us anything useful about which gender was favored in representing romantic love in the ancient Egyptian society?
  2. How do women speak about their beloved? What aspects of the beloved are drawn for discussion?
  3. How do men speak about their beloved? What aspects of the beloved are drawn for discussion?
  4. Love poems can be romantic or erotic. Where do these poems fall?
  5. What can we infer about the social roles of men and women as depicted in these poems? Did men and women mix easily? Were there boundaries?
  6. What do the similes, images and metaphors tell us about how men and women regarded each other?
  7. Listen to the playfulness in some of these poems (“Love, how I’d love to slip down to the pond,” “I think I’ll go home and lie very still”) — what poetic conceits create this tone?
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