“Hymn to the Nile”

(ca. 1990–1950 BCE)


It is almost impossible to read a modern book on Egypt without coming across the quotation “Egypt is the gift of the Nile.” This famous saying originated with the ancient Greek travel writer and historian Herodotus in about 455 BCE. His famous quote was as true three millennia earlier, at the dawn of Egyptian civilization, as it was in his time. In the thirty-fifth century BCE, the Nile was the heart of Egypt, and its yearly floods spread fertilized new soil through the fields much in the same way that blood circulates life-giving oxygen and nutrients through the body. This fertile new soil washed down from the mountains in the highlands of East Africa, far beyond any lands familiar to the ancient Egyptians. The mystery of the Nile’s sources sparked the imaginations of the Egyptians, and they sought to explain where the river came from. However, they seem to have been content to seek the source of the river within their own borders, or close to them, and to explain...

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Nilometer visible at the feet of a woman on Elephantine Island (Library of Congress)

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