Egyptian Literature

Through their literature, ancient Egyptians reveal much about their values, attitudes, and even their sense of humor. The oldest Egyptian literature includes hymns and prayers to gods, proverbs, and love poems. Other writings tell of royal victories in battle or, like Instructions of the Vizier Ptah-hotep, give practical advice.

In Egypt, as in other early societies, folk tales were popular, especially The Tale of Sinuhe. It relates the wanderings of Sinuhe (SIN oo hay), an Egyptian official forced to flee into what is today Syria. He fights his way to fame among the nomadic desert people, whom the Egyptians considered uncivilized. As he gets older, Sinuhe longs to return home. The story ends happily when the pharaoh welcomes him back to court. The story of Sinuhe helps us see how Egyptians viewed both themselves and the people of the surrounding desert.

The Legacy of Ancient Egypt

Long after its power declined, Egypt remained a center of learning and culture in the African and Mediterranean worlds. It also retained its economic importance as a source of grain and other riches.

Invaders, traders, and scholars spread the legacy of ancient Egypt. The Phoenicians, for example, learned to use papyrus for writing. People from distant lands respected Egyptian advances in medicine, mathematics, and astronomy and helped to preserve this ancient knowledge. Egyptian stories like The Tale of Sinuhe were retold in different forms by other people. As you will read in later lessons, the Greeks under Alexander the Great set up a great center of learning in Alexandria, Egypt, where they built on the extensive knowledge of ancient Egyptian civilization. Eventually, this rich legacy would find its way into the Western world

Photo of eroded sphinx amidst pyramids, with modern walkways added to surrounding areas.

The sphinx, shown here, is a mythical creature with the body of a lion and a human head. The Egyptians thought of sphinxes as guardians at the entrances of temples or pyramids.


  1. Summarize How did the Nile play an important role in uniting Egypt and allowing Egypt to expand during the New Kingdom?
  2. Draw Conclusions Which details about the Egyptian gods show the importance of agriculture to Egyptian society?
  3. Determine Relevance What does mummification reveal about ancient Egyptian religious views?
  4. Describe Describe some of the main achievements of the ancient Egyptians.
  5. Describe Describe the organization of Egyptian society.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments