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Producing, circulating, reading


There are no explicitly dated ancient Egyptian literary compositions. Personal names are attached to literary compositions in different ways according to genre

There are sporadic sources of reverence for men to whom Teachings are ascribed:

These contribute to understanding the ancient Egyptian sense of name in relation to composition. However, this is not an ancient version of the modern ideology of authorship. The difference between the ancient and modern understanding of 'author' can be seen in the New Kingdom papyrus specifying a man named Khety as the person commissioned by Senusret I to write the Teaching of king Amenemhat I. There is no evidence as to whether the Middle Kingdom audience believed the Teaching to have been written by Amenemhat I or by Khety.

Which of these two conclusions should we draw from the general lack of internal or external (paratextual) data on authorship:

There is a separate Digital Egypt for Universities page on the problems with the modern usage of the words text and author.


Appreciation of pre-print literatures can be blocked by modern assumptions concerning text and author. Cerquiglini 1989 is a polemical reaction against the modern philological method developed by Karl Lachmann, the method behind most modern editions of ancient writing: modern readers read ancient or medieval writing not directly from source, but from versions standardised out of all available, often highly variable copies. There is a danger that the philological editor sees the copy, and the copyist, as the enemy that stands between editor and pure text from original author. In the world before print, in manuscript production, and in the world after print, with computer screens, copying can be as creative an activity as authorship; copyists participate in their literature more actively than the consumer of printed books. Instead of distortion and corruption, differences between manuscripts may be intentional, and even copying errors can be mined as a source of information on language in action (invaluable for languages where native speakers are no longer available for researchers).

Copying can also be a learning activity: some literary compositions may have been created to instruct apprentice writers in correct spelling, or to extend their vocabulary (see the work known in Egyptology as kemyt). This didactic purpose of refined language use nuances the definition of literary compositions as writing created in order to be read.

There is a separate Digital Egypt for Universities page on the problems with the modern usage of the words text and author.


Literary compositions may be defined as writing created principally in order to be read. The activity of reading in ancient Egypt remains to be researched in detail. For other societies, the sociological study of reading has drawn productive distinctions:

Worlds of reading and writing form part of a less tangible arena of communication including gesture as well as speech. These must be taken into account when assessing the profile of reading within a particular society at any period.




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