23rd March 2010
This ‘hymn’ was written around 2100 BCE by a man named Khety, who was apparently of low birth. Although he wrote a number of other essays, we know very little else about the author. The ‘hymn’ refers to Egyptian religion and its relationship to the Nile, but also hints at the economy and wider social structure.What does this document tell us about Egyptian society? What kind of attitudes to nature does it suggest?
The thought of the Nile River, frequently, invokes fantastic images of Pyramids and temples, tales of mummies, and lost treasures of Egyptian Pharos and Queens. Anyone who has traveled Egypt has seen the pyramids, temples and structures of Ancient Egypt, and the thousands and thousands of hieroglyphics they contain, telling us about the Egyptian way of life. However, if these hieroglyphics were to somehow disappear or be destroyed and the only surviving evidence of this time was “Hymn to the Nile,” we would still have a good example on which to base Egyptian religion.
Hymn to the Nile flood is a literary composition in Middle Egyptian, of uncertain date, popular during the New Kingdom . Numerous surviving copies have been identified as written in the New Kingdom , likely as a classical text taught in scribal schools of the time.
After reading, we realize just how much influence religion had on the Egyptians, and how much the Nile influenced their religion. Herodotus  wrote: “The Egyptians live in a peculiar climate, on the banks of a river which is unlike every other river, and they have adopted customs and manners different in nearly every respect from those of other men.”[ Manchip White, 1970] He also wrote to call Egypt itself the “Gift of the Nile,”[Maxwell, 2006 / TESSA, 2008] providing, years later, a remarkably accurate summary of the early Egyptian Civilization.
To the people of Egypt , both ancient and modern, the Nile River encompassed the idea of life itself. For thousands of years, the River has made life possible for people and animals. It has shaped the culture, religion and arts that we are still searching to understand today.
Even the ancient Egyptian calendar (consisting of twelve months each of 30 days) was divided into three seasons and based upon the cycles of the Nile. The three seasons were: akhet, Inundation, peret, the growing season, and shemu, the drought or harvest season.
From the earliest recorded history , the Nile River yearly flooded the surrounding valley region . The fertility of land in the Nile valley, and therefore its suitability for agriculture, depended upon regular flooding without which, there would have been insufficient water to sustain crops. The ancient Egyptians also recognized that if the water rose too high, villages would be destroyed; and conversely if the water remained too low, the land would turn to dust and bring famine. Temple records of the time indicate that, one flood in five was either too low or too high . The Nile was critical in the formation of the Egyptian way of life.
The Egyptian people understood little of the physical sciences and as such natural events were often seen as miracles to them. This limited understanding caused them to seek supernatural explanations for the natural events that were vital to their survival. Among those was the Nile and its cycle of flooding.
In an attempt to understand the Nile, and to assure that it would continue to meet the agricultural needs, the Egyptians considered it as a form of god or at least as a servant of a god . Early Egyptians gave the Nile human characteristics such as the desire to accept offerings , the “establisher of justice”  the ability to conqueror, and to “give” to the people .
Although considered a God, there are no surviving temples dedicated to the Nile flood , though there might have been at one time. It is clear however that the Nile flood  was the central event of the agricultural year, a time during which silt was deposited over the fields, flooded during inundation, throughout the Nile River valley. Additionally it can be found that other written sources make reference to festivals, during which great quantities of produce were offered to the Nile flood. Speculation could suggest that, such a festival could have included occasions for the singing of this hymn. However, none of the surviving copies, according to researchers, includes directions or dates to indicate public recitation. Furthermore the extract points more towards a literary appreciation of reading than recital of the composition.
The attraction of the river was evident. Unlike the other forces of nature such as, the sun, the moon, the realtionship with the Nile was close and personal. Its origin and behavior still remained a mystery, but without it, life in Egypt would not be possible. Through trade contact with Mesopotamia it is possible that the Egyptian people knew of the frequently destructive flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and of the hardship that this brings the people. It is not surprising to learn then, that ancient Egyptians looked upon their river with reverence and awe given its comparative behavior.
Grimal N. 1992, A History of Ancient Egypt, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford United Kingdom
Kemp, B.J. 1989, Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a civilization, Routledge London United Kingdom
Manchip White, J.E. 1970, Ancient Egypt; its culture and history, Dover Publications Mineola, New York, ch. 1 p. 1
Maxwell V., Fitzpatrick M., Jenkins S. 2006, Egypt, Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd. Footscray, Victoria, Australia, p. 284
Sayce A.H. (Ed) 1890, Records of the Past, 2nd series, Vol. III ,p48-54, sacred-texts.com. [online] Accessed March 8th 2010 12:46 http://www.sacred-texts.com
TESSA, 2008, ‘Egypt is the gift of the Nile’ wrote Greek historian Herodotus, Society Articles, The Egyptian Society of South Africa, Nov 19, 2008 [Online] http://egyptiansociety.co.za accessed: March 8th 2010 12:21
Upshur, J.H.L. Terry, J. Geoff, R. Cassar, G. 2002, World history before 1600: the development of early civilization, 4th Edn, Thompson Learning/Wadsworth, Belmont, CA, USA
Vasunia, P. 2001, The Gift of the Nile: Hellenizing Egypt from Aeschylus to Alexander, University of California press Berkley and Los Angeles California
William J. Duiker, Jackson J. Spielvogel, 2007, World History, 5th Edition, Thomson Wadsworth, Belmont, CA, USA, pp.16-22
HYMN TO THE NILE
ADORATION to the NILE!
Hail to thee, O NILE!
who manifesteth thyself over this land,
and comest to give life to EGYPT!
Mysterious is thy issuing forth from the darkness,
on this day whereon it is celebrated!
Watering the orchards  created by RA 
to cause all the cattle to live,
thou givest the earth to drink, inexhaustible one!
Path that descendest from the sky, 
loving the bread of SEB  and the firstfruits of NEPERA,
thou causest the workshops of PTAH  to prosper!
Lord of the fish, during the inundation,
no bird alights on the crops.
Thou createst the corn, thou bringest forth the barley,
assuring perpetuity to the temples. 
If thou ceasest thy toil and thy work,
then all that exists is in anguish.
If the gods suffer in heaven 
then the faces of men waste away.
Then he torments the flocks of EGYPT, and great and small are in agony.
But all is changed for mankind when he comes;
he is endowed with the qualities of NUM. 
If he shines, the earth is joyous,
every stomach is full of rejoicing,
every spine is happy,
every jaw-bone crushes (its food).
He brings the offerings,  as chief of provisioning;
he is the creator of all good things,
as master of energy, full of sweetness in his choice.
If offerings are made it is thanks to him.
He brings forth the herbage for the flocks, 
and sees that each god receives his sacrifices.
All that depends on him is a precious incense.
He spreads himself over EGYPT,
filling the granaries, renewing the marts,
watching over the goods of the unhappy.
He is prosperous to the height of all desires,
without fatiguing himself therefor.
He brings again his lordly bark;
he is not sculptured in stone, in the statues crowned with the uræus serpent, .
he cannot be contemplated.
No servitors has he, no bearers of offerings!
He is not enticed by incantations!
None knows the place where he dwells,
None discovers his retreat by the power of a written spell. 
No dwelling (is there) which may contain thee!
None penetrates within thy heart!
Thy young men, thy children applaud thee
and render unto thee royal homage.
Stable are thy decrees for EGYPT 
before thy servants of the North! 
He stanches the water from all eyes
and watches over the increase of his good things.
Where misery existed, joy manifests itself;
all beasts rejoice.
The children of SEBEK, the sons of NEIT, 
the cycle of the gods which dwells in him, are prosperous.
No more reservoirs for watering the fields!
He makes mankind valiant,
enriching some, bestowing his love on others.
None commands at the same time as himself. .
He creates the offerings without the aid of NEIT, 
making mankind for himself with multiform care.
He shines when he issues forth from the darkness,
to cause his flocks to prosper.
It is his force that gives existence to all things;
nothing remains hidden for him.
Let men clothe themselves to fill his gardens.
He watches over his works,
producing the inundation during the night. 
It is a god PTAH … 
He causes all his servants to exist,
all writings and divine words, 
and that which he needs in the North.
It is with the words that he penetrates into his dwelling;
he issues forth at his pleasure through the magic spells. 
Thy unkindness brings destruction to the fish;
it is then that prayer is made for the (annual) water of the season;
Southern EGYPT is seen in the same state as the North.
Each one is with his instruments of labour, .
none remains behind his companions.
None clothes himself with garments,
the children of the noble put aside their ornaments.
The night remains silent,
but all is changed by the inundation;
it is a healing-balm for all mankind.
Establisher of justice! mankind desires thee,
supplicating thee to answer their prayers;
thou answerest them by the inundation!
Men offer the first-fruits of corn;
all the gods adore thee!
The birds descend not on the soil.
It is believed that with thy hand of gold
thou makest bricks of silver!
But we are not nourished on lapis-lazuli;
corn alone gives vigour. 
A festal song is raised for thee on the harp,
with the accompaniment of the hand. 
Thy young men and thy children acclaim thee
and prepare their (long) exercises.
Thou art the august ornament of the earth,
letting thy bark advance before men,
lifting up the heart of women in labour,
and loving the multitude of the flocks.
When thou shinest in the royal city, 
the rich man is sated with good things,
the poor man even disdains the lotus; 
all that is produced is of the choicest;
all the plants exist for thy children.
If thou hast refused (to grant) nourishment,
the dwelling is silent, devoid of all that is good
the country falls exhausted.
O inundation of the NILE,
offerings are made unto thee,
oxen are immolated to thee,
great festivals are instituted for thee.
Birds are sacrificed to thee,
gazelles are taken for thee in the mountain,
pure flames are prepared for thee. 
Sacrifice is made to every god as it is made to the NILE. 
The NILE has made its retreats in Southern EGYPT,
its name is not known beyond the TUAU. 
The god manifests not his forms,
he baffles all conception.
Men exalt him like the cycle of the gods,
they dread him who creates the heat,
even him who has made his son  the universal master
in order to give prosperity to EGYPT.
Come (and) prosper! come (and) prosper! .
O Nile, come (and) prosper!
O thou who makest men to live through his flocks 
and his flocks through his orchards!
Come (and) prosper, come,
O NILE, come (and) prosper!
It should be noted that this is but one of a number of variations in translation. Although there are subtle differences for which historical scholars will no doubt argue, regarding their accuracy and authenticity. They are for the most part similar in content
1 Some scholars have argued because of this that it was composed in the New Kingdom, however most agree that the style of language suggests that it may date to the Middle Kingdom.
2 Herodotus, a Greek historian who is frequently designated ‘The Father of History’ he is also at times listed as a traveler and philosopher.
3 The Nile is described many times as a giver of life, both to the country and its people. This connotation is not lost as it is also printed many times in temple inscriptions relating to the gods. Ancient Egyptians considered the Nile godlike or at the very least a direct servant of the gods themselves.
Line notation will be given as (1/I,4) the first number indicating the line in the provided document the second number relating to the longer attached document, Stanza and Line.
4 The cycle of the Nile has been personified in Egyptian mythology with the stories Osiris representing the river who is slain by Set (Seth) representing the desert.
5 between approximately June and September of the modern calendar
6 Egyptians of the time designed a nilometer so that they could measure the height of the Nile. Normally, it consisted of a series of measured stone steps against which the height of the Inundation, as well as the general water level of the river, could be measured. Comparative records of the maximum heights were kept. Surviving nilometers are connected with the temples at Philae, on the Nubian Egyptian border, Edfu, Esna, Kom Ombo, and Dendera, as well as the best-known nilometer on the island of Elephantine at Aswan.
10 These are human actions and motivations mentioned in Hymn to the Nile (Refer Note 3).
11 There are various depictions of Hapi throughout both upper and lower Egypt. The best examples can be seen in the temple of Seti I in Abydos and in Luxor temple.
12 named Hapi in Egyptian
13 The orchards of Ra are mentioned in the Book of the Dead
14 Amon (Amen, Amun): the great god of Thebes of uncertain origin; represented as a man, the sun, and sometimes as ithyphallic; identified with Re as Amen-Re; his sacred animals were the ram and goose
15 This belief in the celestial origin of the Nile survived in Egypt, at all events as late as the time of Joinville (Histoire de Saint-Louis, ch. xl.)
16 Seb” is the Earth.
17 Ptah is associated with the Nile in a list of divinities represented on a wall of the age of Ramses II at Karnak (Champollion: Not. Manuscrites II. p. 255, where Ptah is called Ptah, pa Hapi aā).also acknowledged as The master craftsman of the gods.
18 In the Anastasisi text: “Causing the temples to keep holiday.”
19 The Nile is not only the dispenser of life to mankind, but also to the gods (see verses 4, 10, 53). In the Hymn it absorbs as it were all the gods, and even takes the place of Ra in verse 14. The gods no less than mankind are imagined as dependent on the Nile.
20 Num, the divine creator, like Ptah, is similar to Ptah in his relation to the Nile. The two verses point out that all life is dependent on the Nile, an idea which is developed to excess in the verses following.
21 Funerary offerings made to the ka or “double.”
22 See verse 14.
23 The gods had to submit to the power of incantations and magic formula (compare the legend of Ra bitten by a serpent, the romance of Setnau, and numerous passages in the Book of the Dead). The Nile alone was exception to this law; it remained enshrouded in mystery in its retreat near the two whirlpools often mentioned in the texts and even alluded to by Herodotus.
24 So in the Anastasi text. The fixity of the periodic return of the Nile is probably referred to.
25 Verse 5 has, however, stated that the Nile had no servants; perhaps the secondary gods are meant here who directed the spread of the waters over Egypt, that is to the north of the whirlpools from whence the Nile rose.
26 Neit is often represented with two crocodiles on the breast; her relation to Sebek, the crocodile-god, is difficult to define
27 Neit appears here as the goddess of production; the Nile has no need of Neit (or perhaps the rain) in order to generate the crops; it makes its way throughout the country by means of canals and trenches.
28 This seems to be an allusion to the festival of the “Night of the Drop” (Lêlet en-Nuqta), still observed in Egypt on the 5th of June, when the rise of the Nile is supposed to commence. The name is due to the old tradition recorded by Plutarch, according to which the rise of the Nile was caused by a tear which dropped into it from the eye of Isis. In M. Amélineau’s Contes et Romans de l’Egypte Chrétiennes, i. p. 17, the rise of the Nile is attributed to the intercession of St. Michael, whose festival is celebrated on the 6th of June; three days before, the archangel prays that the water may rise, since it is “the life of men and animals.”
29 Unknown word, conjectured by Cook to represent the name of a new god Kabes.
30 The Nile inspires Thoth the scribe of the divine utterances.
31 The Nile is unaffected by incantations, but serves himself with them at his pleasure in order to manifest himself.
32 The Nile is indeed the dispenser of all wealth, but true wealth does not consist in gold or silver, but of the products of agriculture which enable men to live.
33 Women are represented on the monuments accompanying the singers by clapping the hands; this custom still survives throughout the East. It is possible that we still possess the festal songs of the Nile, of which Lane has preserved for us some fragments in his work on The Modern Egyptians.
34 Probably Thebes, the residence of the Pharaohs at the time when the Hymn was composed. No other city can be meant, as otherwise the mythological texts would have mentioned it. Thebes, moreover, is near Silsilis, where the height of the Nile was measured, as is indicated by the Book of the Dead, chap. 149, and the royal decrees of Silsilis, which institute festivals in honor of the Nile.
35 Herodotus (II, 92) tells how the Egyptians eat the flower and root of the lotus. The lotus flower additionally represents Upper Egypt and the direction of flow of the Nile itself., from upper to lower
36 These offerings are mentioned in the decrees of Silsilis
37 See verse 7.
38 The other world.
39 The Pharaoh.
40 From the Anastasi papyrus.