Rediscovering Ancient Egyptian literature through Arabic poetics

Research output: Book/ReportBook


A groundbreaking study of the relationship between ancient Egyptian literary devices and their Arabic counterparts.

This book is the first of its kind to thoroughly and systematically compare ancient Egyptian and Arabic literary devices. Hany Rashwan compares the stylistic Arabic literary device of jinās, or word play, a key literary device pervading medieval and modern Arabic poetry, literary prose, songs, and proverbs, with its counterpart in ancient Egyptian. Through the deployment of Arabic literary and critical methods he therefore makes possible the rediscovery of ancient literary register and tone in a way that has eluded Western scholarship. Since Arabic, along with other Semitic languages, such as Hebrew and Akkadian, belongs, like ancient Egyptian, to the Afro-Asiatic linguistic phylum, this vital study also proposes an Arabic-based textual analytic method as a viable comparative critical method for working across these kindred languages.

Rediscovering Ancient Egyptian Literature through Arabic Poetics offers a groundbreaking postcolonial perspective on Egyptological method and theory by challenging the use of Eurocentric literary theories, terms, and concepts, and refreshing the study of ancient Egyptian and Arabic poetics. This innovative approach also speaks to, and challenges, a broader audience, including scholars of comparative poetics, comparative literature, world literature, Arabic poetics, and constructive rhetoric.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherThe American University in Cairo Press
Number of pages368
ISBN (Print)9781649031846
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023

Bibliographical note

Not yet published as of 23/06/2023. Expected publication date: 24/10/2023.

"Dr. Rashwan's book contributes significant insights to the literary understanding of ancient Egyptian texts and how their writers composed them. Remarkably, he uses the Arabic literary and rhetorical traditions, centering on Balāgha and Jinās, to reveal many overlooked dimensions related to the ancient mechanism of literary production. The book amply deconstructs the long-established hypothesis that differentiates between literary and non-literary texts based on our modern comprehension of literary genres. He impressively explores the intersection between the visual and verbal layers and sheds new light in re-evaluating the 'visual literariness' of ancient Egyptian writing. It certainly deserves to be on every Egyptologist's bookshelf, and we will benefit from its insights."--Edmund S. Meltzer, Pacifica Graduate Institute

"This groundbreaking book uses the conceptual world of classical Arabic poetics ('ilm al-balagha) to 'decolonize the overwhelming, illogical divorce between linguistic and literary studies' of ancient Egyptian. Challenging centuries of Eurocentric projections, including the restrictive understanding of genre that has impaired our ability to engage with non-European literatures on literary terms, Rashwan has introduced a set of tools for reading ancient Egyptian that scholars prior to him have by and large ignored. In using a forgotten and misunderstood body of literary theory to bring alive literary texts from antiquity, Rediscovering Ancient Egyptian Literature Through Arabic Poetics is a masterful contribution, not only to ancient Egyptian poetics but also to the postcolonial Arabic literary canon."--Rebecca Gould, University of Birmingham

"At last my haunting desire to see a good study on analogies between ancient Egyptian and Arabic literary sensibilities and taste has been fulfilled. Many articles on the topic did not seem to attract significant attention, but this book cannot be ignored. In his groundbreaking research Hany Rashwan has thoroughly explored Arabic Jinas/wordplay (for lack of a better translation) and its counterpart in ancient Egypt, showing the importance oriental cultures give to the sound as well as to the image a word conveys through specific repetition or additions usually ignored, disliked, or condemned by Western rhetoric. By contrasting Oriental and Western artistic sensibilities, Rashwan incites researchers' curiosity and invites them to better appreciate international literature. Jinas is but one literary device in comparative Balagha. This book thus opens up new approaches to study the different literatures of the world through a better understanding of the way different peoples express themselves: a critical factor in the era of globalization."--Fayza Haikal, the American University in Cairo

"Hany Rashwan takes a significant step beyond existing scholarly traditions, revealing typological similarities between ancient Egyptian and Arabic poetics. Looking at the other side of the Fertile Crescent, one may note that research on the ancient languages of Mesopotamia has long suffered from difficulties originating in the nature of their complex writing system and in deficiencies in our own methodology for investigating the poetic structures within the Semitic languages. The study of Mesopotamian literary texts usually concentrates on their contents, on their narrative and contextual values, their interpretations based mostly on ad hoc philological analyses of the texts involved. Dr. Rashwan's eye-opening stylistic study may serve as an impetus for similar comparisons to further the notion of literariness in other ancient Near Eastern cultures. His outstanding study also introduces a much-needed discussion about the 'visual literariness' of the hieroglyphic writing in comparison with our alphabetic scripts."--Shlomo Izre'el, Tel-Aviv University

"By creatively re-reading ancient Egyptian texts through the lens of the classical Arabic poetic tradition Dr. Rashwan has, in a new and surprising manner, been able to reconnect the culture of Arab Egypt to that of its pharaonic past and thereby unearthed a continuity of vision that is grounded in a distinctly similar approach to the use of poetic language. In doing so he has revealed new layers of meaning that are essential for an adequate understanding of the literary merit of the ancient texts. Particularly striking is the manner in which his work treats the pictographic quality of the script as one additional semantic layer that operates in tandem with the rhetorical devices that function at the linguistic level. This book is a landmark study that paves the way for an altogether new, more inclusive and integrated understanding of Egypt's cultural history."--Stefan Sperl, SOAS

"In this ground-breaking study, Dr Hany Rashwan thoroughly and systematically compares the ancient Egyptian and Arabic traditions of literary 'word-play'. This is the first time that the workings of these devices in Egyptian texts has been scientifically explored by looking to Arabic practices, rather than by uncritically relying upon western traditions of rhetoric. The approach is original and innovative, and the results are very fruitful. The book has much to offer in the way of insights for the understanding and interpretation of Egyptian textual material. New avenues of research are opened up, which cannot be ignored in future work on style and expression in Egyptian literature, and a fresh light is cast upon on the whole nature of the methods of composition of our Egyptian texts."--John Tait, University College London

"Dr. Rashwan offers a fresh perspective on ancient Egyptian literature of the second millennium BC by comparing stylistic devices of the pharaonic era with Arabic jinās. He shows with a wealth of individual examples that the commonalities between ancient Egyptian and Arabic might be much stronger than has previously been acknowledged. Set against a discussion of Eurocentrism in Egyptology, the book will be of great interest for Egyptologists, researchers from comparative literature, and all those who seek to develop new routes into the study of ancient Egypt, beyond Western models."--Richard Bussmann, University of Cologne

"Hany Rashwan's study opens a new window on ancient Egyptian literature. Using the principles of Arabic jinās, Rashwan reveals previously unsuspected subtleties in Egyptian literary composition. His approach offers a promising new avenue for Egyptian philology."--James P. Allen, Brown University

"Since the days of Champollion, Westerners have found it natural to draw on ancient and modern Indo-European terminology and comparisons for studying the language and literature of ancient Egypt. A century ago, pioneering Egyptian Egyptologist Ahmad Kamal Pasha gained little traction for his plea to compare ancient Egyptian with Arabic, a kindred language from within the same phylum (now known as Afro-Asiatic). Now the time is surely ripe for Hany Rashwan's bold postcolonial challenge--that applying the Arabic concept of wordplay (jinās) to ancient Egyptian texts can yield literary and linguistic insights which have thus far eluded his fellow Egyptologists."--Donald Malcolm Reid, University of Washington

Not yet published as of 12/05/2022. Expected publication date: 28/02/2023.


  • Arabic Poetics
  • Ancient Egyptian Literature
  • comparative literature
  • world literature
  • literary theory
  • Literary Criticism
  • Visual Rhetoric
  • Untranslateability
  • Arabic Literature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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