"Were does folklore end and literature begin? Do they, must they merge one into the other or may they grow side by side?

In Egypt, as in other countries, it is probable that the earliest literature embodied much of the lore, the "oft-told tales"  which, handed down by word of mouth, had charmed previous generations.

Many Egyptian tales have come down to us. Some of them are what modern parlance would call fairy tales and they usually point a distinct moral. Such for instance (dating back to the Middle Kingdom) is the story of the Two Brothers with its picture of the industrious farmer, the story of the Predestined Prince, the story of the Eloquent Peasant whose ass had been stolen and the tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor in the Red Sea. The latter, with its marvellous adventures, suggests comparison with the much later story of Sinbad the Sailor.

Of these stories it is probable that they were not so much new compositions as the recording of a legend already well known. But a vast amount of other writing has come down to us from the ancient Egyptians. It comprises documents of almost every conceivable kind: business documents and correspondence, legal documents, memorial inscriptions, historical, scientific, magical and religious literature as well as tales and lyrics in poetical language.

Earliest in date are the Pyramid Texts inscribed on the inner walls of five royal tombs at Sakkara (Vth and VIth Dynasties). Discovered and published by Maspero, one of them at least is known to belong to the period preceding the unification of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. The subject matter deals with the life after death of the dead king : how, on leaving earth, he becomes a star in the heavens; how he may continue to enjoy his royal titles and prerogatives. The Pyramid Texts also contain incantations against the bites of snakes and the stings of scorpions.

Better known perhaps to the general public is the Book of the Dead which is in reality a collection of texts of various dates welded into a book. It contains lists of gates to be passed and demons to be encountered in the next world, and some of the chapters instruct the dead man in how to assume what shape he will and to issue triumphant from the last judgment.

From the Tombs of the Kings at Thebes is derived the book known as "Am Duat" which describes the journey of the sun during the twelve hours of the night and also the "Litanies of the Sun" with the acclamations with which the sun-god Ra was greeted when at evening his bark reached the entrance to the netherworld.

The standard works of all classes of Egyptian literature date back, in the main, to an early age, not later than the Middle Kingdom. At that period several books of proverbs or instructions were put in circulation; some of them, forestalling the. Chesterfield letters, deal with manners and deportment; in one, King Amenemhe lays down for the guidance of his son the principles of kingship and government. In yet another, Kheti, a scribe, extols the advantages of his profession and describes e drawbacks of all other avocations.

It must however be admitted that, apart from their historical interest, the book of Ancient Egypt are not transcendant from purely
literary point of view. Most of the composition is stilted and artificial and true poetical inspiration appears to have been rare.

The case is very different when we come to the Islamic period of Egyptian literary history. In the early days of Islam Arab authors were accustomed to travel from one place to another to collect traditions or to seek the patronage of caliph or vizier. Many of them spent long periods in Egypt and are thus associated with Egyptian literature. But after the fall of Baghdad Cairo became the seat of Arab letters and learning and, as the seat of Al Azhar University, it enjoys that distinction to the present day.

Poetry and history were -and still are -particularly congenial to the Egyptian man of letters. Of historians there is a wealth of celebrated To mention but a few: Ibn Abd el Hakam, Ibn Zulaq, Izz al Mulk Mohammed al Musabbihi, J amal al Din al Halabi, Abd al Latif al Baghdadi, Tha'lab Kamal al Din al Edfawi, Makrizi Abul Mahasin and Abd ar Rahman al J abarti. Acquaintance with the two last-named is essential to a thorough knowledge of mediaeval Egypt.

The Arabic language is strikingly poetical. Even in the every-day conversation of uneducated Egyptians metaphor abounds and a poetical trend of thought is very apparent. It is therefore not surprising that Egypt, in common with other Islamic lands, should have produced a great number of famous poets. Here again, as with the historians, enumeration would be lengthy and tedious and a few names will perhaps suffice to illustrate Egypt's claim to be the land of Islamic  poetry: Ibn Qalqis, Ibn.Sana al Mulk, Ibn al Nabih, Ibn al Farid, Ibn Matruh, Baha al Din Zukmr, Ibn Nubatah, Ibn Mukams, Ibn Hajja al Hamawi.

During the past century Egyptian letters have enjoyed a most 'remarkable renaissance, It is perhaps more than a coincidence that, concurrently with the amazing political and economic progress which has characterized the evolution of Egypt during the past two or three generations, there should have arisen; in her midst some of the greatest poets that Arabic literature has ever known. Ahmed Chawky, who died as recently as 1932, is admitted by all who may claim to be judges, to have left a work which takes equal if not prior rank to anything yet produced in the domain of Arabic poetry.

Nor is it in poetry alone that Egyptian writers have achieved and are achieving a foremost place in the glories of Arabic literature. Taha Hussein is a writer of immense learning coupled with a rare command of language and an exhaustive knowledge of all that is best in folklore. Some of his books, written in French, have achieved international fame.

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