Ancient Egyptian philosophy revealed in a hieroglyphic text.
Classicist and linguist Morrow (Wolves and Honey: A Hidden History of the Natural World, 2004, etc.) offers a meticulous exegesis of the Pyramid Texts, a manuscript of hieroglyphics inscribed on stone walls within the Pyramid of Unis in the Saqqara Plateau. Unearthed in 1880 and 1881, the text “is the earliest surviving body of written poetry and religious philosophy in the world.” The author insists that previous translators, believing ancient Egyptians to be wholly materialistic, with no interest except for “earthly pursuits and pleasures,” have starkly “misunderstood, misrepresented, and marginalized” the inscriptions as “violent, pornographic, and stupid.” Morrow, however, bringing to bear her own exaltation of Egyptian culture, sees them as “superbly lucid” and “supremely intelligent” considerations of philosophical and religious questions: “What is life on earth, how does it relate to time and the interrelationship of all things, what is death, what survives death?” Her new translation comprises the central 90 pages of the book, framed by an introductory section analyzing the intricate composition of each hieroglyphic and a concluding section investigating the “deeper design” of Egyptian religious belief. “Hieroglyphs are simple,” the author claims. “The multiplicity unfolds in the meaning.” Steeped as she is in mythology, history, archaeology, the Egyptian landscape and natural environment, and other religious practices, such as tantric yoga, Morrow deduces poetic, multilayered meaning that is sometimes challenging to follow. She is persuasive, nevertheless, in demonstrating that hieroglyphics “are metaphors drawn from physical reality itself, tactile, observable, knowable.” The inscriptions, for example, make repeated references to astronomy, particularly the changing constellations marking the seasons. As a whole, she argues, the Pyramid Texts seek “the magical key, the pattern that lies beyond form, the invisible, eternal structure of life.”
An erudite investigation that rewards patient, careful reading.