Here is an excerpt taken from the Tale of Two Brothers, which is part of an enormous corpus of secular literature which has fortunately survived until the present.
The story begins innocently enough, with an account of the life of an Egyptian peasant, Bata, as he helps his elder brother, Inpu, with his field chores.
The story takes an interesting turn when Inpu’s wife makes sexual overtures to Bata, and having failed to arouse Bata’s interest, falsely alleges to Inpu that Bata has ill-treated her after she refused his advances. Outraged, Inpu waits behind a barn door to kill Bata when he returns at sunset. In another odd twist, a cow warns Bata that he is about to be killed and he flees, pursued by his brother. The sun god then conveniently intervenes, creating a stretch of water full of crocodiles between the brothers.
Inpu, feeling annoyed, goes to Bata’s house and slays his wife. Bata remarries but his beautiful new wife proves to be something of a femme fatale, and murders Bata soon after. Bata comes back to life, reincarnated as a bull. The wife, frustrated, slays the bull - but to no avail, since the blood from the bull drops on fertile soil and spawns two persea trees which are (unsurprisingly) reincarnations of Bata. The wife finds out, and makes the trees into furniture but when she visits the carpenter to check on their progress she swallows a splinter which causes her to become pregnant with none other than Bata. The child grows up to become king, as which he avenges his wife’s evil by sentencing her to death.
The moral of the passage will be ignored for the time being; instead, the
grammar of two small excerpts will be analysed:
1. pAy.f sn aA Hr xprw mi Abwy rsytw
2. iw.f Hr dit dm.tw
3. pAy.f nAwy iw.f Hr di.tw.f m dt.f
4. pAy.f [sn] aA aHa n HA pA sbA
5. pAy.f ihAyt r Xdb
6. pAy.f sn nDs m pAy.f iiy m rwhA
7. iH HAwty Hr ak r pA ihAyty
8. iw.st Hr Dd n pAy.st siw mk
9. pAy.k sn aA aHa r HAt.tw.k Xry
10. pAy.f nAwy r Xdbw.k rwi.k
pAy.f sn aA Hr xprw mi Abwy rsytw
pAy.f is a possessive. Articles were not used in Middle Egyptian but they
were extremely common in Late Egyptian. Like French and Italian articles
(which originated from the Latin demonstrative ille), pAy.f derives from a ME
demonstrative meaning ‘this’, or ‘that (over there)’. It precedes the noun it
qualifies, and agrees with it in gender and number; in this case, the suffix
pronoun f follows the article to indicate that the noun being qualified is masculine.
This proves to be the case, since the next word sn, means ‘brother’. The word consists of two parts - a sound symbol, and a determinative, indicating that the word is related to a man and his features. Assuming ‘brother’ is the subject of the sentence, the next word could be the object of the sentence, or, since adjectives follow nouns, it could be an adjective. The word, aA, is in fact an adjective and means ‘great’, and it consists of a sound symbol and a papyrus roll determinative, indicating abstraction. The word ‘great’, in reference to the brother can be taken as ‘elder’, ie. great in years.
The adjective is followed by at what first glance seems like a verb. xpr is The adjective is followed by at what first glance seems like a verb. xpr is the Egyptian verb for ‘to become’. xpr can be used to qualify sn as an adjectival participle and this is confirmed by the coil, w, terminating the verb stem, which indicates that the usage is participial; the auxiliary Hr, indicates the participle is present and active. mi is a preposition meaning ‘like’ in the sense of being similar. Abwy is a plural noun, as suggested by the three terminating strokes, and means ‘panthers’. This is followed by another plural word, most
likely an adjective agreeing with panthers (since adjectives agree in number and gender). The adjective, rsytw, means ‘southern’. So the first sentence translates literally as ‘His brother elder became like panthers southern.’
iw.f Hr dit dm.tw
pAy.f nAwy iw.f Hr di.tw.f m dt.f
The second sentence begins with the verb auxiliary iw, followed by the suffix-pronoun f. We would expect a verb given the usual word order. The auxiliary, iw, precedes the verb and is used to give added emphasis to the action. In this sense, iw serves a function somewhat like a fullstop. The pronoun, if, can follow iw to indicate that the subject is a man (or masculine object), however it is redundant. Hr, as explained, is another auxiliary indicating that the verb is in the continuous present, ie. ‘X is (in the process of) doing
something’. dit is a verb somewhat similar to Lt. facere in meaning. The word is usually translated as ‘to make’ or ‘to give’, and is extremely versatile in meaning. In this case, dit is followed by yet another verb, dm.tw, which means ‘to be sharp’. The subject has been attached to an auxiliary instead of the verb stem, dit, which is not usual but given that the subject has already appeared, what follows dit must be the object.
This sort of construction is referred to as indirect speech, and is extremely common in Egyptian. The construction in Egyptian is grammatically very similar to the accusative and infinitive construction in Latin, with the verb dmtw (to be sharp) in the infinitive, and the expression pAy.f nAwy ‘his dagger’ as a direct object. Literally the whole means ‘he made to be sharp his dagger’, which of course means to say ‘he sharpened his dagger’.
He having made sharp his dagger, we observe the next clause, which begins in exactly the same manner as the last: iw.f Hr di.tw.f. The meaning of di.tw.f is clarified by the following prepositional phrase m dt.f. m is a preposition serving much the same purpose as an ablative or instrumental case; it takes several meanings, the most common of these being ‘in’, ‘into’, ‘out of’, ‘(place where) from’ and ‘(instrumental) with’. The expression that follows this preposition, dt.f, is composed of two elements: the word for hand, dt, and a suffix pronoun f used as a possessive for ‘his’ or ‘its’. The prepositional phrase therefore translates as ‘in/into his hand’. The plot thus thickens: ‘he made sharp his
dagger; it is placed in his hand.’ We await the thrilling dénouement.
pAy.f sn aA aHa n HA pA sbA
Line 4 begins in the same manner as the first, with the words pAy.f sn aA - ‘his brother elder’. Assuming the brother is the subject of this sentence, we anticipate some sort of verbal construction, albeit a participle, even though it would violate the standard word order, but the word order was violated in a similar way in the first sentence, where the order was subject-verb-object. We might reasonably assume that this sentence will violate the word order in the same way as the first. The next word, aHa , is terminated by a determinative representing a pair of legs. The word is obviously related to the action of
walking; it is hence most likely that aHa is a verb, as opposed to the object. aHa actually means ‘to stand up’, and is composed of a triconsonantal sign and what is called a phonetic complement (a). Bi- and triconsonantals are almost invariably accompanied by phonetic complements, which are just uniconsonantal signs designed to aid the pronunciation of less common symbols. n, which directly follows aHa , is a suffix tacked on to the end of the verb root to form the past tense; that is ‘the elder brother stood’ as opposed to ‘the elder brother is standing’.
Since the verb ‘to stand’ is intransitive, it can be followed only by a prepositional phrase or a new sentence altogether. The former proves to be the case, since HA is a preposition meaning ‘behind’, or more literally ‘back of head’. We can even work out this meaning from the ideogram of the profile of a head at the end of the word. The symbol (A) preceding the ideogram is a phonetic complement to aid the pronunciation of the biconsonantal HA. The literal meaning of this preposition, ‘back of head’, indicates the interesting tendency of Egyptian to express abstractions in terms of concrete physical features. A similar expression exists for the word ‘clever’, which the Egyptians rendered as ‘sharp of sight’. These and other expressions may confirm that the Egyptians had some difficulty in incorporating abstractions into their cultural outlook, contrary to the popular perception of Egyptians as mystical. Nonetheless, these tendencies also show that the Egyptians more than compensated for their inability to handle abstractions through an extremely keen sense of observation.
The preposition is followed by a definite article, pA, and noun sbAy. The
noun is terminated by a house determinative, indicating that the word is related
to, or some part of, a house. The word is in fact ‘door’.
pAy.f ihAyt r Xdb
The expression which follows ‘door’, pAy.f ihAyt means ‘his barn’. pAy.f, we have seen before; ihAyt is followed by a house determinative, and in fact means ‘barn’ or ‘stable’. So far, we have ‘he stood behind the door his barn.’ ‘His barn’ could be the subject of the next sentence, or it could, like an adjective, qualify the word before it; since adjectives come after the noun they qualify, this interpretation seems reasonable. This being so, the phrase would run something like ‘he stood behind the barn door’ or ‘he stood behind the door of the barn’. The construction is actually genitival, and whenever one noun
follows another for no other accountable reason, that noun qualifies the one
before it as a genitive.
r Xdbw is a purpose clause. r is a preposition, which is somewhat similar in use to the dative and ad in Latin. It can mean ‘towards’, or it can mean ‘to’ or ‘for’ in the sense of the dative. Like ut, it can also introduce purpose clauses. Since the usual word order is verb-subject-object, we anticipate that the next word is a verb, and judging by its knife determinative has something to do with stabbing, bludgeoning or just plain murdering. All three interpretations are correct.
pAy.f sn nDs m pAy.f iiy m rwhA
pAy.f sn we have seen before; nDs, represented by a wretched little bird, indicates exactly that - something pathetic, weak, or lame. In this case it means ‘younger’. This leaves us with a conundrum. If we interpret the sentence in terms of the usual word order, we are left with ‘he stood behind the stable door in order for his little brother to stab’. Looking at the logic of the passage so far, it is obvious that the little brother cannot suddenly be the one doing the stabbing. The subject - the elder brother - is therefore carried on from the main clause into the purpose clause. Now instead we have ‘his elder brother stood behind the stable door in order to stab his little brother’. Sounds charming.
m pAy.f iiy m rwhA is the next phrase. m pAy.f means something like ‘in his’or ‘by his’. Logic would lead us to believe that iiy is some sort of noun to do with walking, since it is followed by a legs determinative. ii is in fact a verb meaning ‘to come’; therefore the noun should have something to do with coming or going. In Egyptian, as in Arabic, verbs can be formed into adjectives or nouns by adding a terminal y. A similar sort of construction was used to form the present participle of xpr, ‘to become’ (which is xprw). m rwhA means ‘at dusk’ or ‘at eventide’. m functions like the ablative in Latin in that it can be used to express time ‘at’ or ‘within which’. rwhA ends with a circular terminative, which figuratively represents the sun. The word is therefore related to the sun and sunlight. There is also another determinative, with what looks like a bar with a star hanging from it. The bar actually represents the sky or heaven, and the star represents the appearance of the stars at night. Hence the meaning ‘evening’ or ‘dusk’. Thus far, then, we have ‘he stood behind the door of the barn in order to stab his younger brother in his coming in the evening’.
The younger brother is now about to enter the stable with his cattle. The
story is taken up again:
iH HAwty Hr aq r pA ihAyty
The sentence again begins with a noun and, since the first word is followed by three strokes, a plural noun. This noun is represented ideographically by a picture of a cow (bull), and hence exact transliteration is difficult. The word is followed by an adjective which, judging by the determinative, has something to do with walking. The adjective, like so many others we have seen, is actually formed from the preposition HA, meaning ‘in front of’, and hence means ‘leading’. Hr, we have seen before, is an auxiliary indicating that the verb following is in the present progressive. aq , with legs determinative, actually means ‘to enter’, and is followed by the prepositional phrase r ihAyty, which as we saw above means ‘into the barn’.
iw.st Hr Dd n pAy.st siw mk
iw.st Hr Dd n pAy.st siw is very like the previous sentences. iw is just an auxiliary introducing a verb, and in this case is followed by the pronoun st, which is the feminine from of f. Dd is the verb for ‘to speak’, and in this case is in the present progressive since it is preceded by Hr. n is a preposition meaning ‘to’, in the sense of speaking to somebody, that somebody being pAy.st siw, or ‘her keeper’. Hence the story reads ‘the cows leading entered the barn, and said to their keeper. . .’ mk means ‘behold’, and is used to introduce exclamatory statements.
The cow then proceeds to say to her keeper, the younger brother Bata:
pAy.k is a possessive meaning ‘your’, since k is the suffix pronoun for ‘you’ singular. sn aA aHa r HAt.tw.k, as we have seen before, means ‘elder brother stands towards your front’. Xry is a preposition meaning ‘carrying’, and is followed by the expression pAy.f nAwy, meaning ‘his dagger’. r Xdbw.k could be a preposition phrase, however we recognise the verb for ‘to stab’, Xdbw, with a knife determinative, and conclude that r is introducing a purpose clause and not a prepositional phrase. k, ‘you’, is the object of this purpose clause (as happened previously). rwi.k looks like a verb, since its form is that of a sedjemef verb: a verb root plus a suffix pronoun. It is followed, again, by a legs determinative, indicating some sort of motion verb. Given that the elder brother is about to stab the younger, the cow(s) could be advising the younger brother to back off, or move. rwi could therefore be an imperative. An interpretation is: ‘behold your elder brother stands in front of you, in order to stab you. Back off!’
The excerpt, then, runs something like this:
His elder brother became like southern panthers.
He made sharp his dagger and it is placed in his hand.
The elder brother stood behind the door of his barn to stab his younger brother
at his coming at eventide.
The leading cattle entered the barn, and said to their keeper: ‘behold your
brother stands in front of you with his dagger to stab you; run away!”
The rest of the story is even more violent, with Bata fleeing his murderous
brother and spontaneously mutilating himself in order to prove his innocence.
I cannot promise that all Egyptian literature is this sordid or gory. However,
I can promise that the volume of literature is enormous - so much so that
there are not enough Egyptologists to decipher it all.
http://www.sydgram.nsw.edu.au/CollegeSt ... swords.pdf