CPLT 324 EGYPTIAN POETRY QUESTIONS
Assigned: Ancient Egyptian Poetry (41-52). "Akhenaten's Hymn to the Sun" (42-46), "The Leiden Hymns" (46-49), and "Love Songs" (49-52).
Akhenaten's "Hymn to the Sun"
1. What is the speaker's relation to the Sun God, aside from the claim to be his offspring -- what powers of act and expression does the speaker derive from the Sun? How does the speaker -- let's say it's the Pharaoh Akhenaten -- see his responsibilities to his people?
2. Explore the creative and ordering power that Akhenaten posits for the Sun God: how was the world created, and what seems to be its ruling principle?
3. Discuss this hymn's literary qualities, in particular its numerous references to light and reflection -- trace their significance as the poem develops. To what extent is beauty or what we would call "aesthetic perception" itself a theme in this hymn?
"The Leiden Hymns"
4. Our editors rightly suggest that one of the finest things about sacred poetry lies in its attempts to "express the inexpressible" (or, at times, the inexpressibility of the inexpressible). In any of the Leiden poems, how does the speaker go about this task -- by what means is something beyond the ordinary and material suggested with regard to time, space, or spirit?
5. Compare the way the "Leiden Hymns" image forth the Sun-God? with the way the Hebrew scriptures describe Yahweh's "shape" and thought processes: see, for example, the early chapters of Genesis (God creates the world and places a forbidden tree in Eden), Exodus 3 (God as the Burning Bush), or the concluding chapters of Job (God as the Voice in the Whirlwind). What is similar, and what is different?
6. Egypt is hardly a "shame culture" when it comes to sex and the body generally, but there is a sense of reserve about the speakers in these poems -- examine a few of them and try to capture this quality: about what, exactly, is the speaker shy or reserved, hesitant to express his or her love?
7. It seems that the mainstays of love poetry are attempts to convey a sense of longing or distance, a sense of erotic pleasure, and (often) a sense of something that transcends straightforward sexual feelings and experiences. Examine one or more of the Love Songs for these attempts, and discuss your findings about how, specifically, the poet conveys these things.
Edition: Lawall, Sarah, ed. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. 2nd edition. Volumes 1ABC. New York: Norton, 2002. ISBN A = 0-393-97755-2, B = 0-393-97756-0, C = 0-393-97757-9.