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Literature of the Amarna Period

The literature of the Amarna Period comes to us in two forms: inscriptions, mostly royal, on stelae, tombs and temples; and clay tablets containing copies of the diplomatic correspondence of the court (if letters can be considered literature here). Despite the great wealth of sculptures and carvings that come down to us, the writing from the period is little and repetitive. A unique exception to this is the Great Hymn to the Aten, attributed to Akhenaten himself and recorded especially legibly in the tomb of Ay, a prominent member of the royal court. There are also several boundary stelae documenting the choice of location and founding of Akhetaten, and numerous reliefs praising the Aten and Akhenaten in traditional wording.

The Great Hymn to the Aten

Image from The House of the Aten Website - Click to visit

One of the most famous pieces of Egyptian literature, the "Great Hymn to the Aten" was found in the tomb of Ay, in the rock tombs at Akhetaten. It is attributed to Pharaoh Akhenaten himself, and gives us a glimpse of the artistic outpouring of the Amarna period. Often compared to Psalm 104, it has been translated a great many times, and is to this day used to learn hieroglyphs. My favourite translation is that by Lichtheim, but I have unfortunately at the moment only the first part of it available. The full hymn is translated, with introduction, by Wilson.

The Amarna Letters

The collected records of the diplomatic correspondence of Akhenaten's court at Amarna was found by a peasant woman's unathorized excavations, in what was later discovered to be a large complex of rooms now designated the "records office" at Akhetaten. When their importance was recognized, many of the tablets were gathered from locals and relic dealers by egyptologists. These almost four hundred tablets, mostly written in Akkadian cuneiform, recount a story of neglect on Akhenaten's part, indicating he held little interest in foreign policy. During his reign, several of Egypt's conquered territories were lost. Part of the mystery of the tablets arises from the many different names of kings and nobles of the period, and the general lack of letterheads and addresses (laugh, if you will). There is a current ongoing project at Tel-Aviv University to investigate the chemical composition of the tablets with a view to determining their history.

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maintained by Kate Stange (email / webpage)
Content Copyright 1996-2000.
Last updated March 1, 2000.