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Music in ancient Egypt: the written sources

Ancient Egyptian written sources relating to music are abundant. The performance of music was an important part of the cults of deities, kings and the dead. There are many titles of people relating to musicians at temples, such as 'chantress of Amun' or 'harpist'. The goddess Meret was the personification of music; other gods related to music are Ihy and Bes. The goddess Bastet is often shown with a sistrum.

In several tombs harpists are shown. Their songs, often written next to them, form a genre of Egyptian literature, particularly developed in the New Kingdom. They often reflect life on earth as opposed to life to the hereafter. These harpists are often shown as blind.

UC 14239 Copper vessel of 'the Osiris the principal head chief of the musicians of Amen Ra king of the gods, Nestanebetisheru'.
Shabti of the 'chantress of Thoth' Isis, 19th Dynasty.
Wooden board of the 'chantress of Amun' Nefertari.
Stela of the 'chief trumpeter' Pasherienmut.


see too:

love songs of the New Kingdom


further reading:

Manniche 1991 (general introduction to Ancient Egyptian music)


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