BA Archaeology and History / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Literature, Literacy, and Textual Transmission in Pharaonic Egypt 

Course unit fact file
Unit code CAHE30091
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The ancient Egyptian language was written down for longer than any other language in the world. This course explores 3,000 years of poetry, songs, stories and laments, allowing students to discover one of the world’s oldest, and longest, literary traditions. From the invention of writing to the first surviving stories, this course not only discusses a range of literary works, from the Tale of Setna to the Instruction of Ptahhotep, but also explores its place in wider Egyptian society, by exploring who wrote these texts down, the materials they used, and why they did so. Through this course, students discover the genres, conventions, and values of a body of literature from before the Greeks and beyond the conventions of Western thought.


  • To develop students’ understanding of ancient Egyptian literature and written culture;
  • to encourage the development of a reflexive and critical approach to textual source material;
  • to develop students’ critical understanding of genre and materiality when studying literature;
  • to deepen  students’ knowledge of world literature(s);
  • to develop students’ ability to formulate a critical, reasoned scholarly argument.

Knowledge and understanding

  • to demonstrate a critical understanding of the range, depth, and concerns of ancient Egyptian literature;
  • to demonstrate a concrete understanding of the ways in which literary texts are transmitted and used by a society;
  • to show a deep understanding of literacy in ancient Egypt.

Intellectual skills

  • to conduct high-quality independent research;
  • to present a coherent and persuasive academic argument in written and oral form;
  • to demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the usefulness and limitations of various types of historical source material.

Practical skills

  • to engage critically and respectfully in written and oral debate;
  • to construct a comprehensive bibliography of secondary sources on a relevant topic;
  • to effectively and independently manage time.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • to present a piece of independent research in oral form;
  • to conduct independent research rooted in the detailed analysis of primary source material;
  • to construct and present a clear, reasoned argument in written form.

Employability skills

This unit will focus to a great extent on giving students the ability and confidence to present a clear argument both in written and oral form. It will also sharpen their ability to read and engage critically with textual material as well as scholarly arguments.

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Formative or Summative Weighting within unit (if summative)


Summative 60%

Oral presentation

Summative 20%

Source criticism

Summative 20%


Resit Assessment

Assessment task


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Written feedback


Oral feedback in a dedicated seminar session and upon request during office hours



Recommended reading

  • Parkinson, R. (2002). Poetry and Culture in Middle Kingdom Egypt: A Dark Side to Perfection. Equinox.
  • Parkinson, R. (2009). Reading Ancient Egyptian Poetry: Among Other Histories. Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Enmarch, R. and Lepper, V. M (ed.). 2013. Ancient Egyptian Literature: Theory and Practice. Oxford University Press.
  • Loprieno, A. (ed.) 1996. Ancient Egyptian Literature: History and Forms. Brill.
  • Lichtheim, M. 1973. Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings. University of California Press.
  • Parkinson, R. 1997. The Tale of Sinuhe, and Other Ancient Egyptian Poems 1940-1640 BC. Oxford University.
  • Parkinson, R. 1991. Voices from Ancient Egypt, an Anthology of Middle Kingdom Writings. British Museum Press.
  • Simpson, W. K. (ed.) 2003. The Literature of Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Stories, Instructions, Stelae, Autobiographies, and Poetry. Yale University Press.
  • Parkinson, R. and Quirke, S. 1995. Papyrus. British Museum Press.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

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