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Egypt as Herodotus the Greek historian says, “is wholly the gift of the Nile.” Except for the annual inundation the country 2 would be as hopelessly desert as the lands about it. The Egyptians quite naturally recognized their debt to the wondrous river, the bounty whereof was all the more marvelous because the sources of the stream and the real causes of the inundation were practically unknown to them. This feeling of gratitude is expressed in the very ancient hymn here quoted.
Adoration to the Nile!
Hail to thee, O Nile!
Who manifestest thyself over this land,
Who cometh 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 Ra2
To cause all the cattle to live
Thou givest the earth to drink, O inexhaustible one!
Loving the fruits of Seb3
And the first fruits of Nepera
Thou causest the workshops of Ptah4 to prosper.
Lord of the fish, during the inundation,
No bird alights on the crops!
Thou createst 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. . . .5
If the Nile smiles the earth is joyous,
Every stomach is full of rejoicing,
Every spine is happy,
Every jawbone crushes its food. . . .
3 A festal song is raised for thee on the harp,
With the accompaniment of the had.
The 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 labor,
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,6
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. . . .
O Nile, come and prosper!
O thou who makest men to live through his flocks,
Likewise his flocks through his orchards,
Come and prosper, come,
O Nile, come and prosper!
1 This is a series of books edited by Professor A. H. Sayce and published in London. It should not be confused with the monthly magazine of the same name published in Washington.
2 The Egyptian sun god.
3 “Seb” is the Earth.
4 The master craftsman of the gods.
5 The gods no less than mankind are imagined as dependent on the Nile.
6 Herodotus (II, 92) tells how the Egyptians eat the flower and root of the lotus.