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Sumerian and Egyptian Hymns

Comparison and Contrast of the General Tones of the Sumerian and Egyptian Hymns, in Relation to the Socio-Political and Geographic History of these Nations It is interesting to note that the Egyptian and Sumerian civilizations both sprung up beside rivers: Egypt lies in the delta of the Nile while the Sumerian civilization was on the fertile Mesopotamia along the banks of Tigris and Euphrates. It is thus expected that both civilizations revere their river, and associate them with gods, because the rivers prove to be vital to their existence and a channel of life for them.

These forces of nature are considered holy and addressed by prayers. Examples of such pleas can be found in both hymns “A Sumero-Akadian Prayer to Every God” and the “Hymn to the Nile. ” In these prayers, however, we find very different attitudes of the early people towards their gods. In the Sumero-Akadian prayer we will read a tone of sorrow, grief and fear by a troubled soul over his offences with the gods.

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The introduction fearfully desire for peace with the divinity: “May the fury of my lords heart be quieted toward me.”

Throughout the text we will also find out that the gods are not named, but is rather just sanctified as an existing being that may not be offended. This apparent fear of the divinity may be attributed to the structure of the Mesopotamian civilizations, where the land was divided into different city-states believed to be owned by a deity. The Sumerian state is therefore not a solid state, but is a conglomeration of small states.

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Consistent fear of invasion made them turn into the divine beings for protection and blessing.

As a further note, in the Sumero-Akadian civilizations, the power of government is divided into two: the lugal took care of the military powers and the even more powerful ensi was the supreme religious leader who also controlled “economic and technological expertise” (Krejci and Krejcova, p. 31). It can therefore be seen that the fear of the gods was the way of the ensi to maintain political control over his dominions. Political and social structure in Egypt proved much different from the Sumerians. The whole of Egypt was controlled by only one ruler – the Pharaohs.

This unity gave the Egyptians more control over their surroundings and their country. Early on, the Egyptians had a clear sense of identity (Kemp, p. 25). This control is best exemplified by their ability to time and control the flooding of the Nile. However, geographically, the Egyptians were not as lucky as the Sumerians, as they were surrounded by deserts. This made them consider the Nile as a gift from the gods, a means by which they would live. It is therefore not surprising that the “Hymn to the Nile” is a joyous song of praise.

The overall theme of the hymn is perhaps best stated in the first lines: “Hail to thee, O Nile! Who manifests thyself over this land, and comes to give life to Egypt!”


  1. Mircea Eliade `From Primitives to Zen`: A SUMERO-AKADIAN PRAYER Ancient History Sourcebook:Hymn to the Nile, c. 2100
  2. BCE Jaroslav Krejci, Anna Krejcova (1990). Before the European Challenge: The Great Civilizations of Asia and the Middle East. SUNY Press.
  3. Barry J. Kemp (2006). Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization, 2nd Ed. Routledge

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Sumerian and Egyptian Hymns. (2017, May 01). Retrieved from

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