Janet Heuer

Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Arnold, Richard L., 1928-||Schaffer, Byron L., -1990||Polzin, Donald E., 1930-

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Speech


The purpose of this thesis was to perform an analytical study of the dramatic scenes and textual allusions to drama that are found in The Book of the Dead. This was done in order to establish the manner in which specific chapters of the book were used as dramatic scripts, as well as to examine the references it makes to other forms of drama that existed in dynastic Egypt. The title, Book of the Dead, was limited to that body of funeral texts most commonly used from the eighteenth through the twenty-second dynasties and classified as the Theban Recension. The specific copy used was the Papyrus of Ani as translated by E. A. Wallis Budge, a leading authority on Egyptian history and language. Although the study referred to other existing copies from all three of the recensions, the Papyrus of Ani was the basic manuscript to which the title Book of the Dead applied. This choice was based on the fact that the Papyrus of Ani is the best preserved and the most studied and documented version of all the available texts. The primary sources of the research consisted of The Book of the Dead and related dramatic texts of the ancient Egyptians. These included the scripts and/or descriptions of Passion, Coronation, and Funeral plays that related to the Osiris myths that were so important to Egyptian drama. The sources also included the observations of Plutarch, Herodotus, and a few writers of the Ptolemaic period who were able to witness the dramas. These sources were supplemented with the research of Egyptologists who have studied the writings and artifacts and have excavated the temples and tombs in which these dramatic rituals were performed. The study did not rely heavily on the writings of theatre historians because in this field they have done very little original research, and have relied instead on the findings of the Egyptologists. The method of the research was to analyze the iconographic and textual sources relating to the basic forms of Egyptian drama. After a life cycle pattern of the drama had been established, there existed a framework into which the scenes and textual allusions from The Book of the Dead could be placed. This framework proved helpful in organizing the various forms of the drama into a unified pattern. The focus in The Book of the Dead was on the dialogue and stage directions which gave evidence that a chapter contained a scene for dramatic performance. Once the dramatic form of a specific chapter was established, its manner of performance was reconstructed and it was assigned a place within the structure of the standard funeral ceremony. The study also covered all important textual allusions to other plays and dramatic rituals of Egypt. This type of research was able to supplement the basic knowledge of the drama that had been obtained from other primary sources. After a list of these dramas was completed and analyzed, it was discovered that several dramas for which no scripts are extant were also mentioned. These proved to be valuable guides to the religious mystery plays for which we have very little information. After the textual analysis was completed, the results showed that The Book of the Dead contained more than twenty-five scenes that were available to the Egyptian for performance during his burial rituals. These scenes had a progressive pattern that was parallel to the Osiris legend in the manner of their performance. These scenes contained dialogue, spectacle, pantomime, ritual magic, and mythical impersonation. They were part of a drama that had its beginnings in the early dynasties and reached its peak during the era of the Pyramid Texts. Although the drama was analyzed from a recension that had forced it into a highly ritualistic pattern, it was still an Important testimony of the form of funeral drama that was considered essential to the very existence of the Ancient Egyptian. This study proved to be useful and valid because The Book of the Dead, although it is one of the most popular Egyptian texts, has been neglected as a dramatic work by theatre historians and Egyptologists. This is probably due to the fact that the text is a mixture of prayers, magic formulae, and dramatic ritual, rather than the simple text of a play. However, this book was far too important to the religious and cultural philosophy of the Egyptians to be neglected. It was therefore important to analyze and study it as a vital part of the history of Egyptian drama.


Includes bibliographical references.||Includes illustrations.


98 pages




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