Ancient Egypt


Ancient Egypt Essay, Research Paper

One of the greatest and most enduring human civilizations

established itself in the Nile Valley. Over thousands of years

the Egyptians shaped their civilization and have portrayed their

canonical nature within their art, literature, and architecture.

The Egyptians adhered to their rules and their standards of

belief and behavior in their daily lives. The artistic canon is

well represented in Egyptian tomb paintings. For the Egyptians,

art was made to serve a particular purpose, usually a religious

one. Religious beliefs largely dictated what artists created,

especially the paintings that filled Egyptian temples and tombs.

Temples were decorated with paintings and filled with statues of

gods and kings in the belief that doing this served the gods,

showed devotion to the king, and maintained the order of the

universe. The Egyptian belief in life after death was perhaps

the most important part of their culture and probably helped to

stabilize their society for so many centuries. The laws and rules

of code the ancient Egyptian’s lived by daily also helped them to

understand the seemingly ambiguous nature in The Tale of Sinuhe

(1875 BC). The Egyptian pyramids were royal tombs for pharaohs.

The Great Pyramid is considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of

the Ancient World. The pyramids are said to have built Egypt by

being the force that knit together the kingdom’s economy. These

building projects took a high degree of architectural and

engineering skill, and the organization of a large workforce

consisting of highly trained craftsmen and laborers. Ancient

Egypt has captured the imagination of scholars and laymen alike

because of the canonical nature which surrounds its art, its

literature, and its monumental architecture.

In ancient Egypt, there was a strong belief in the

afterlife. Death was considered a necessary transition to the

next world where the dead would lead a life similar to life as

they knew it. This belief was the reason for the embalming of

bodies, the abundance of funerary offerings, the statues, the

relief carvings, the inscriptions and, of course, the paintings.

The relief painting “Ti Watching a Hippopotamus Hunt” was painted

in the year 2400 BCE. This was during the time of the Old

Kingdom ( Dynasty V), when Egyptians were constructing their

mastabas (or tombs) out of limestone (Lesko). The Egyptians

built their mastabas as comfortable homes for the dead to live in

during the afterlife. These tombs were filled with many

treasures, paintings and messages. The painting “Ti Watching a

Hippopotamus Hunt” is from one such tomb at Saqqara; The Mastaba

of Ti. Ti was the royal hairdresser during the early V Dynasty,

as well as the controller of the farms and stock that belonged to

the royal family. In the tomb paintings, the important people

portrayed were given a large, out of scale size. The overlapping

of outlines was avoided and all parts of the body were

represented as flatly as possible. By portraying the Egyptians

in this way [Profile of the face, frontal view of the eye,

frontal view of the upper body, arms - one in front, one at the

side, and a profile of the legs] all the body parts needed in the

afterlife would be properly expressed and thus, available to the

deceased (Lesko). The consistency of ancient Egyptian funerary

traditions as well as the consistency within the tomb paintings

clearly define the artistic canon found in ancient Egyptian


Egyptian writers created many stories that featured

imaginary characters, settings, or events. The Tale of Sinuhe

(1875 BC), has been acclaimed as the masterpiece of Ancient

Egyptian poetry and a passionate probing of its culture’s ideals.

Written by an anonymous author in the form of an autobiography

the tale tells how the courtier Sinuhe flees Egypt at the death

of his king. Sinuhe was an official of the harem maintained for

Amenemhet I by his queen. While on an expedition to Libya he

learned of the king’s assassination (1908 BC) and fled, either

from fright or because of his complicity. In his reply to the

decree sent by King Senusret he states, “I do not know what

separated me from my place. It was like some sort of dream, as

when a man of the Delta marshes sees himself in Elaphantine, or a

man of the northern swamps in Nubia. I did not take fright, no

one was pursuing me, I had heard no reviling word. My name had

not been heard in the mouth of the herald.”(Legacy) He intended

to travel southward but was blown to the north while crossing the

Nile, and he passed into Palestine. After much wandering in

Palestine and Lebanon, he was invited to settle with a chieftain

of southern Syria, who adopted him and married him to his eldest

daughter. In that land he raised a family and became a

patriarch. He defended his father-in-law’s territory and

entertained emissaries traveling to and from Egypt. The pharaoh

Sesostris I invited Sinuhe to return to Egypt and Sinuhe

accepted. The king forgave him his real or imagined crimes and

welcomed him with rich gifts; thereafter Sinuhe remarried in his

homeland, while the pharaoh ordered a tomb be built for him.

While this story may seem ambiguous and obscure, the Egyptians

rules and codes for daily life may have helped them to understand

why Sinuhe fled. The canonical nature and way of life of the

Egyptians helped them to perceive the author’s intended messages.

The Ancient Egyptians canonical nature is depicted well in

the design, construction and the functions of the pyramids. The

Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest monument of the Seven Ancient

Wonders. The monument was built by the Egyptian pharaoh Khufu of

the Fourth Dynasty around the year 2560 BC to serve as a tomb

when he died. The tradition of pyramid building started in

Ancient Egypt as a sophistication of the idea of a mastaba or

“platform” covering the royal tomb. The Great Pyramid is believed

to have been built over a 20 year period. Several theories have

been proposed to conclude how the blocks were put in place for

the pyramid. One theory involves the construction of a straight

or spiral ramp that was raised as the construction proceeded.

This ramp, coated with mud and water, eased the displacement of

the blocks which were pushed into place. A second theory suggests

that the blocks were placed using long levers with a short angled

foot (Clare). When it was built, the Great pyramid was 481 ft

high. Each side is carefully oriented with one of the cardinal

points of the compass. The horizontal cross section of the

pyramid is square at any level, with each side measuring 751 ft

in length. The structure consists of approximately two million

blocks of stone, each weighing more than two tons. The

overwhelming scientific and historic evidence still supports the

conclusion that, like many smaller pyramids in the region, the

Great Pyramids were built by the Ancient Egyptian civilization

off the West bank of the Nile as tombs for their Kings; Tombs

where Khufu, Khefre, and Menkaure could start their mystic

journey to the afterlife. After a ruler died, his or her body

was carefully treated and wrapped to preserve it as a mummy.

According to ancient Egyptian belief, the pyramid, where the

mummy was placed, provided a place for the monarch to pass into

the afterlife. In temples nearby, priests performed rituals to

nourish the dead monarch’s spirit, which was believed to stay

with the body after death. In the Old Kingdom, Egyptian artists

painted and carved on the walls of the burial chamber, designed

to safeguard the dead monarch’s passage into the afterlife

(Macaulay). All the pyramids were aligned to the cardinal

directions, meaning that their sides ran almost exactly due

north-south and east-west. Most pyramids rose from desert

plateaus on the west bank of the Nile River, behind which the sun

set. The Egyptians believed that a dead monarch’s spirit left

the body and traveled through the sky with the sun each day.

When the sun set in the west, the royal spirits settled into

their pyramid tombs to renew themselves.

The Egyptians canonical nature was well represented in their

art, literature, and clearly in the pyramids. The methods used

to create the Egyptian tomb paintings as well as the messages

embedded within them are excellent representations of the

artistic canon in Egyptian life as well as Egyptian after-life.

The seemingly ambiguous “Tale of Sinhue” may have been much less

ambiguous to the ancient Egyptian civilizations due to their

daily rules and codes to which they firmly abided by. The design

and construction of the Great Pyramid clearly portray the

canonical nature of the ancient Egyptians. The Ancient Egyptian

civilization that inhabited the Nile Valley clearly adhered to

their canonical nature in their daily lives.

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