I have been reading up on Ancient Egyptian Wisdom texts and various literature and I came across the classic ‘Dialogue Between a Man and His Ba*’ which must be one of the first examples of existential angst.
It has some beautiful, poignant lines musing on the futility of it all ;
“My soul is ignorant about easing the misery that is due to life, and restrains me from death before I have come to it.”
“Those who built in granite, who constructed & completed beautiful pyramids,
in perfect realisation, when the builders became gods, their altars were bare”
“Whom can I talk to today? I’m laden with misery for lack of an intimate friend.”
It also contains what could be considered musing on suicide, it certainly reads like the thoughts of a depressed man:
“Death is in my sight today, like the smell of myrrh, like sitting under a sail on a windy day. Death is in my sight today, like the smell of lotus flowers, like sitting on the shore of drunkenness. Death is in my sight today, like a path washed by rain,like a man’s coming home from an expedition. Death is in my sight today, like the sky’s clearing, like a man’s grasping thereby what he didn’t know before. Death is in my sight today, like a man’s longing to see home after he has spent many years in captivity.”
Reading this makes me realise there is something constant about the human condition no matter how much changes and how many years pass, we will always have that longing, that sense of unease, that ennui, that thing we can never quite find a word for despite the millions of languages and millennia we’ve had to try and figure it out. This idea of depression as a modern malaise is clearly rubbish.
The text ends on a positive note, fitting of Ancient Egyptian wisdom, tough I am never really a happy ending fan being the misery guts I am.
“Desire me here, thrust the West** aside, but desire that you may attain the West when your body goes to earth, that I may alight after you are weary; then will we make an abode together.”
Which is rather nice of the soul, who seems to be saying “live with me now and when you do eventually die it’ll be cool”.
* The Ba roughly translates as ‘Soul’ but the Egyptians had a very complex way of describing themselves and the different parts of a human. I still don’t get it after sitting through lectures on it. Perhaps that’s the point. It’s represented as a little human headed bird.
** ‘The West’ refers to death and the afterlife, associated with the setting of the sun.
Image of a Ptolemaic Ba bird from: http://www.egyptological.com/2011/04/eye-of-ra-eye-of-horus-1155/img_5537