It is often said that the civilization of ancient Egypt was centred on death. Less well known is its deep fondness for love. This is reflected in the Papyrus of Turin, which contains a collection of original love poems.
Three trees successively take the floor to sing of the love of lovers.
It’s the old sycamore tree starting. « My seeds are the image of her teeth, my wearing is like her breasts. I remain at all times, when the sister was wrestling [under my branches] with her brother, drunk with wine and liqueurs, dripping with fine, perfumed oil. Everyone passes – except me, in the orchard (…) »
Then the fig tree opens its mouth and its foliage says: « I come to a mistress – who is certainly a royal like me – and not a slave. I am therefore the servant, prisoner of the beloved; she has made me put in her garden; she has not given me water, but on the day I drink, my stomach is not filled with a common water ».
Finally, » the young sycamore tree, which she planted with her hand, opens its mouth to speak. Its accents are as sweet as a honeyed liqueur – of excellent honey; its tufts are graceful, flowery, full of berries and seeds – redder than carnelian; its leaves are variegated like agate. Its wood has the colour of green jasper. Its seeds are like tamarisk. His shadow is fresh and windy (…). Let us spend each day in happiness, morning after morning, sitting in my shade (…) If she lifts her veil under me – the sister during her walk, I have my breast closed and do not say what I see – either what they say. « (G. Maspéro, Egyptian Studies, Volume I, 1886).
The Papyrus Harris No. 500 also has preserved a poetic, passionate, powerful, and precise love song:
« Your love penetrates into my womb as the wine spreads in the water, as the perfume amalgamates with the gum, as the milk mixes with the honey; you hurry to run to see your sister as the runner who sees the stallion, as the hawk (…). My sister’s belly is a field of lotus buds, her udder is a ball of perfumes, her forehead is a plate of cypress wood (…) I have no mercy for your love. My wolf’s berry, which generates your intoxication, I will not throw it away so that it may be crushed at the Vigil of the Flood, in Syria with cypress sticks, in Ethiopia with palm branches, in the heights with tamarisk branches, in the plains with forks. I will not listen to the advice of those who want me to reject what I desire (…) »
« Let my sister be during the night as the living spring whose myrtles are similar to Phtah, the water lilies similar to Sokhit, the blue lotuses similar to Aditi, the[pink lotus] similar to Nofritoum (…) My sister’s villa has its basin right in front of the house: the door opens, and my sister leaves angry. Let me become a doorman so that she may give me orders and I may hear her voice (…). »
I find a strikingly similar tone in the verses of the Song of Songs. This famous text was composed around the 5th or 4th century BC, seven or eight centuries after the Egyptian love poems that have just been quoted.
It is difficult not to feel some subliminal correspondences between the Song of songs and the Egyptian poems. Lo!
« Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee. « Ct 1,3
« A bundle of myrrh is my well beloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts. « Ct 1,13
« Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green. The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir. « Ct 1:16-17
« Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant? « Ct 3, 6
« Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them. »Ct 4.2
« Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon. A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. » Ct 4,11-12
« I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved. « Ct 5,1
« I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof: now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine, and the smell of thy nose like apples; dnd the roof of thy mouth like the best wine for my beloved, that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak. « Ct 7,8-9
One is struck by the frequency of similar words in the Egyptian and Hebrew texts: Sister, breast, spring, garden, perfume, myrrh, cypress, palm tree, teeth, wine, milk, honey, oil, breeze.
These words belong to a cultural and geographical area that extends from the Nile to the Tigris, including Israel… They were part of an age, several thousand years old, when love was perfume, sweetness, taste.
It is an irresistible lesson!
The power of softness! The only liqueur!