The Pyramid Texts are a collection of ancient Egyptian religious texts from the time of the Old Kingdom. They are possibly the oldest known religious texts in the world.[notes 1] Written in Old Egyptian, the pyramid texts were carved on the walls and sarcophagi of the pyramids at Saqqara during the 5th and 6th Dynasties of the Old Kingdom. The oldest of the texts have been dated to between ca. 2400–2300 BC. Unlike the later Coffin Texts and Book of the Dead, the pyramid texts were reserved only for the pharaoh and were not illustrated. Following the earlier Palermo Stone, the pyramid texts mark the next-oldest known mention of Osiris, who would become the most important deity associated with afterlife in the Ancient Egyptian religion.
The spells, or "utterances", of the pyramid texts are primarily concerned with protecting the pharaoh's remains, reanimating his body after death, and helping him ascend to the heavens, which are the emphasis of the afterlife during the Old Kingdom. The spells delineate all of the ways the pharaoh could travel, including the use of ramps, stairs, ladders, and most importantly flying. The spells could also be used to call the gods to help, even threatening them if they did not comply.
The texts were first discovered in 1881 by Gaston Maspero, and translations were made by Kurt Heinrich Sethe (in German), Louis Speleers (in French), Raymond O. Faulkner, Samuel A. B. Mercer and James P. Allen (the latest translation in English).
The oldest version consists of 228 spells and comes from the Pyramid of Unas, who was the last king of the 5th Dynasty. Other texts were discovered in the pyramids of the 6th Dynasty kings Pepi I, Pepi II and three of his queens, and Teti. Kurt Sethe's first edition of the pyramid texts contained 714 distinct spells; after this publication additional spells were discovered bringing the total to 759. No single collection uses all recorded spells.
After death, the king must first rise from his tomb. Utterance 373 describes:
- Oho! Oho! Rise up, O Teti!
- Take your head, collect your bones,
- Gather your limbs, shake the earth from your flesh!
- Take your bread that rots not, your beer that sours not,
- Stand at the gates that bar the common people!
- The gatekeeper comes out to you, he grasps your hand,
- Takes you into heaven, to your father Geb.
- He rejoices at your coming, gives you his hands,
- Kisses you, caresses you,
- Sets you before the spirits, the imperishable stars...
- The hidden ones worship you,
- The great ones surround you,
- The watchers wait on you,
- Barley is threshed for you,
- Emmer is reaped for you,
- Your monthly feasts are made with it,
- Your half-month feasts are made with it,
- As ordered done for you by Geb, your father,
- Rise up, O Teti, you shall not die!
The texts then describe several ways for the pharaoh to reach the heavens, and one of these is by climbing a ladder. In utterance 304 the king says:
- Hail, daughter of Anubis, above the hatches of heaven,
- Comrade of Thoth, above the ladder's rails,
- Open Unas's path, let Unas pass!
Another way is by ferry. If the boatman refuses to take him, the king has other plans:
- If you fail to ferry Unas,
- He will leap and sit on the wing of Thoth,
- Then he will ferry Unas to that side!
The cannibal hymn
Utterances 273 and 274 are sometimes known as the "cannibal hymn", because it describes the king hunting and eating parts of the gods: They represent a discrete episode (Utterances 273-274) in the anthology of ritual texts that make up the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom period.
Appearing first in the Pyramid of Unas at the end of the Fifth Dynasty, the Cannibal Hymn preserves an early royal butchery ritual in which the deceased king—assisted by the god Shezmu—slaughters, cooks and eats the gods as sacrificial bulls, thereby incorporating in himself their divine powers in order that he might negotiate his passage into the Afterlife and guarantee his transformation as a celestial divinity ruling in the heavens. [dead link]
The style and format of the Cannibal Hymn are characteristic of the oral-recitational poetry of pharaonic Egypt, marked by allusive metaphor and the exploitation of wordplay and homophony in its verbal recreation of a butchery ritual.
- A god who lives on his fathers,
- who feeds on his mothers...
- Unas is the bull of heaven
- Who rages in his heart,
- Who lives on the being of every god,
- Who eats their entrails
- When they come, their bodies full of magic
- From the Isle of Flame...
In popular culture
In the first scene of Philip Glass's opera Akhnaten, the phrase "Open are the double doors of the horizon" is a quotation from the Pyramid Texts. More specifically, it seems to come from Utterance 220.
The American death metal band Nile made a song, "Unas Slayer of the Gods" which contains many references to the Pyramid Texts, including the Cannibal Hymn.
In the 2001 action-adventure movie, The Mummy Returns, when Imhotep gets a jar full of dust and blows it, he quotes part of the Utterance 373 and the dust turns into mummy warriors.
The 2013 BBC programme Ripper Street, Colonel Madoc Faulkner (Iain Glen) refers to a variant of Utterance 325
- A claim has also been put forth for the Sumerian Kesh Temple Hymn, which may be older.
- Richard H. Wilkinson, The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, Thames and Hudson, New York, 2003, p 6
- Allen, James. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts. ISBN 1-58983-182-9.
- Lichtheim, Miriam (1975). Ancient Egyptian Literature 1. London, England: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-02899-6.
- The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day. Translation by Ogden Goelet and Raymond Faulkner; Preface by Carol Andrews; Introduction by J. Daniel Gunther; Foreward by James Wasserman (20th Anniversary ed.). San Francisco: Chronicle Books. 1994. ISBN 978-1452144382.
- Allen, James P. (2000). Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-77483-7.
- Faulkner, Raymond O. (2004). The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts. Oxford: Oxbow Books. pp. 176–178. ISBN 9780856687549.
- Wolfgang Kosack "Die altägyptischen Pyramidentexte." In neuer deutscher Uebersetzung; vollständig bearbeitet und herausgegeben von Wolfgang Kosack Christoph Brunner, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-9524018-1-1.
- Kurt Sethe Die Altaegyptischen Pyramidentexte. 4 Bde. (1908-1922)
- Allen, James P. (2005). The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts. Society of Biblical Literature. ISBN 978-1-58983-182-7.
- Allen, James P. (2013). A New Concordance of the Pyramid Texts. Brown University.
- Forman, Werner; Quirke, Stephen (1996). Hieroglyphs and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-2751-1.
- Hays, Harold M. (2012). The Organization of the Pyramid Texts: Typology and Disposition. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-227491.
- Timofey T. Shmakov, "Critical Analysis of J. P. Allen's "The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts"", 2012. 
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- list of on-line resources (including translations) for further study retrieved 19/09/2011
- Samuel A. B. Mercer translation of the Pyramid Texts
- Egyptian Pyramid Texts from Aldokkan
- The Complete Pyramid Texts of King Unas, Unis or Wenis
- Pyramid Texts Online - Read the texts in situ. Hieroglyphs & translation
- A book on the Cannibal Hymn
- The Cannibal Hymn