Egyptian Literature: Ancient dreams influence modern writers

Papyrus scrolls. Elaborate tombs. Unparalleled prosperity. Ancient Egyptians spent much of their time day dreaming about the after life. This, no doubt, influenced their literature; writing is a reflection of the times.

The restless streets of Cairo have a beguiling charm. The vast history of the country unravels itself to newcomers through their unique hieroglyphics, sweet hibiscus tea, bustling traffic, refreshing wafts from the Nile river, and echoes of the call to prayer throughout the day and night.

Egypt thrived for thousands of years and made great advances in every area of human knowledge. Ancient Egypt also had several revivals in pop culture, especially during the 19th and 20th centuries, with Cleopatra and King Tut becoming household names. Not to mention the pyramids of Giza are one of the seven wonders of the world.

As a second installment in my series of researching noteworthy literature in the countries I visit, I’ll share some recommendations I found whilst on my trip to Egypt.

1. Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher

Sunset Oasis received the first ever “Arabic Booker Prize.” As one of the most widely read authors in the contemporary Arabic world, Taher has only recently returned to Egypt. He spent many years in Switzerland in exile for his role in the left-wing and avant-garde literary circles during Anwar Sadat’s government of Egypt the in the 1970s. He worked as a translator for the United Nations in Switzerland, and has since been very active in cultural circles upon returning to Cairo.

This piece of historical fiction is set in the late nineteenth century Egypt. It follows the story of a disgraced Egyptian military officer and his wife moving to a posting in Siwa. It explores the themes of identity, multi-cultural is, and love in exile.

“The desert is a place in which people discover themselves.” [[giving me The Alchemist vibes]]

Bahaa Taher

2. Dispute Between a Man and his Ba by an unknown author

Written during Egypt’s classical age, a conversation between the narrator and his soul unfolds about the travesties of life. It’s the oldest written work about suicide in the world. It was composed sometime during the 12th Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom in Egypt, about 1937–1759 B.C.

It’s interesting because the man’s soul, his Ba, tells him he won’t move onto the afterlife if he takes his own life. The afterlife was a huge importance in the lives of ancient Egyptians, so it’s interesting to read a written contemplation of a man questioning it.

“Whether you bear down on life, as you say, love me here when you have set aside in the West! But when it is wished that you attain the West, that your body joins the earth, I shall alight after you have become weary, and then we shall dwell together!”

A Man and his Ba

3. Women in Islam: A Companion Book by Khaled Fahmy

I picked this book up in an Egyptian papyrus shop and thought it would be a good cultural read while I was in the country. This book paints the landscape of women during the origins of Islam. Women had barely any rights in history up to this point. The Islamic religion was the first to give rights to their women which included inheritance under certain conditions, encouragement to pursue an education, the rights to choose and leave a marriage, among more. The author goes on to outline the rights and expectations of Muslim women in their belief and culture.

Growing up in a very different culture and belief system, it’s experiences like these and reading outside of my comfort zone that has impact my point of view as a human being more than anything.

Have you read any of these works, or do you have any other recommendations? Let’s discuss below πŸ™‚

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8 thoughts on “Egyptian Literature: Ancient dreams influence modern writers

    1. Thanks I hope you like some of them. At least read some more quotes from the dispute between a man and his soul/ba. I like seeing his thought process and contemplative state, somewhere I find myself quite often. Happy reading!

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