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Photo: W. A. Mansell & Co.

FACSIMILE OF THE PAPYRUS INSCRIBED WITH HIEROGLYPHIC TEXT OF The Book of the Dead Part of the oldest book in the world. A copy of the book was always placed in the tomb as a safe conduct for the soul on its journey

a to the world to come.

Book of the Dead, was written at the time of the building of the Great Pyramid. A copy of The Book of the Dead is in the British Museum. Mr. G. H. Putnam describes it as "consisting of invocations to the deities, psalms, prayers, and the descriptions of experiences that awaited the spirit of the departed in the world to come, experiences that included an exhaustive analysis of his past life and his final judgment for his life hereafter.”

The Book of the Dead is a sort of ritual, and a copy of the book was always placed in the tomb as a safe conduct for the soul on its journey to the world to come. On account of this custom the ancient Egyptian undertakers are, as Mr. Putnam says, the first booksellers known to history. In Egypt the literary idea flourished in the temples, and among the many Egyptian gods was Thoth-Hermes, the Ibis-headed “Lord of the Hall of Books.” But while much of the little of ancient Egyptian literature that has come down to us is definitely religious, there was also a Court literature in ancient Egypt and a popular literature made up of folk tales. In the centuries that followed, the Egyptians produced an extensive literature comprising books on religion, morals, law, rhetoric, arithmetic, mensuration, geometry, medicine, books of travel, and, above all, novels. Only a very little of this literature has been preserved, and it is probable that ancient Egyptian literature was not represented even on the shelves at Alexandria, which was entirely a Greek library.

Apart from The Book of the Dead, another Egyptian book, The Precepts of Ptah-Hotep, is probably the oldest book in the world. Ptah-Hotep was born in Memphis and he lived about the year 2550 B.c.

The immense age of this oldest book but one may be realised if it be remembered that it was written two thousand years before Moses and two thousand years before the compilation of the Indian Vedas. It is two thousand five hundred years older 1 The authority for the date of Ptah-Hotep is Revue Archæol., 1857.

than Homer and Solomon's Proverbs. The space of years between Solomon and ourselves is not so great as that between Solomon and Ptah-Hotep.

The precepts were written on a papyrus 23 ft. 7 in. by 5 ft. 078 in., now in the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris. The following is an extract from Mr. Gunn's translation:

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Cause not fear among men; for (this) the God punisheth likewise. For there is a man that saith, “Therein is life”; and he is bereft of the bread of his mouth. There is a man that saith, “Power (is therein)”; and he saith, “I seize for myself that which I perceive.” Thus a man speaketh, and he is smitten down. It is another that attaineth by giving unto him that hath not. Never hath that which men have prepared for come to pass; for what the God hath commanded, even that thing cometh to pass. Live, therefore, in the house of kindliness, and men shall come and give gifts of themselves.

If thou be among the guests of a man that is greater than thou, accept that which he giveth thee, putting it to thy lips. If thou look at him that is before thee (thine host), pierce him not with many glances. It is abhorred of the soul to stare at him. Speak not till he address thee; one knoweth not what may be evil in his opinion. Speak when he questioneth thee; so shall thy speech be good in his opinion. The noble who sitteth before food divideth it as his soul moveth him; he giveth unto him that he would favour—it is the custom of the evening meal. It is his soul that guideth his hand. It is the noble that bestoweth, not the underling that attaineth. Thus the eating of bread is under the providence of God; he is an ignorant man that disputeth it.

If thou be an emissary sent from one noble to another, be exact after the manner of him that sent thee, give his message even as he hath said it. Beware of making enmity by thy words, setting one noble against the other by perverting truth. Overstep it not, neither repeat that which any man, be he prince or peasant, saith in opening the heart; it is abhorrent to the soul.

§ 2

The Works of Confucius

Hundreds of years before the beginning of European literature, books had been written in China. But Confucius, the great Chinese philosopher, who flourished five hundred years before the birth of Christ, laid the foundation of Chinese literature and ethics. They were written on tablets made from bamboo fibre. Sometimes Chinese tablets were scratched with a sharp stylus, sometimes the words were painted with India ink. The Chinese also wrote books on silk. Paper was manufactured in China about 100 B.C. The Chinese began to print from solid blocks soon after the birth of Christ, and they were printing from movable type three hundred years before the invention of printing in Europe.

Early Chinese literature was ethical—the collection of traditional wisdom concerning conduct, written in order that men might live happily in this world and be prepared for a better and more satisfactory life in the world to come. The ancient Chinese writer was generally an honoured citizen, and was regarded as an important national asset, but at the beginning of the second century B.C. the Emperor Che-Hwang-ti ordered that all books should be burned except those dealing with medicine and husbandry. This Mr. Putnam says is probably “the most drastic and comprehensive policy for the suppression of a literature that the world has ever seen.” Fortunately many of the ancient songs had been learned by heart and were repeated by public reciters. After the vandal emperor's death the text was again committed to writing. Though the Chinese author could not look for any income from the circulation of his books, he could rely on receiving a stipend from the State, and in no country has the government held writers and students in higher honour. In this connection it is interesting to note that one of the earliest successful women writers in the history of literature was a Chinese woman named Pan Chao, who was writing history at the beginning of the Christian era. The ancient literature of China is so extensive and so distinguished, that modern Chinese literature is little more than a series of commentaries on the works of classic authors. The influence of the classic writers on the national life has been tremendous, and it has made China in all respects the most conservative nation in the world. The Chinese respect for tradition is so great that the production of a modern literature that might rival the ancient literature is regarded as an impious impertinence, entirely unnecessary, entirely undesirable. Moreover, the devotion to the classic writers has prevented any change in the Chinese language since the dawn of history. To read a poem by Chaucer written five hundred years ago, and to note the immense difference between the English of Chaucer and the English of to-day, makes it easy to realise the extraordinary unchangeableness of the Chinese language.

The Indian Vedas, the sacred scriptures of the Sanscrit peoples, were written out at least a thousand years before Christ. Buddha lived towards the end of the sixth century B.C., and his teaching caused the production of an immense Indian theological literature, written either on dressed skins or prepared palm-leaves. The earliest Hebrew books were written about 1300 B.C. So far as is known there was no literature in Japan until about a thousand years ago, and in Japan, as in China and in Greece, the public reciters preceded the written book by many centuries.

The Phænicians, the busy trading Semitic people who lived in the North of Africa, and whose capital, Carthage, was the first commercial capital of the world, first taught the Greeks how to write, and from the Egyptians the Greeks obtained their first idea of book-making. The Greek alphabet was


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