Five Reasons for Teaching Egyptian Mythology and Culture
Although I have taught various kinds of mythology—the typical Greek, Roman, and Norse varieties—it was not until I was encouraged by a fellow educator (thanks, Chris), that I decided to give Egyptian mythology another look. What I found is that ancient Egyptian culture is fascinating! (Why hadn’t I realized this before? No jokes about being in “de Nile” please.) Furthermore, I realized that the ancient Egyptian stories not only entertain, but also address some of the problems we still face today. Since my sophomore world literature course revolves around the theme of power and how to use it correctly, I realized right away Egyptian mythology would be a perfect fit!
Since it is the students who ultimately decide what is engaging and what is not, I taught some of the most popular Egyptian stories to my own students—mixing in a healthy dose of Egyptian culture and history. They loved it—so much in fact that when I brought a little Egyptian history book to class, one my sophomores snatched it up immediately. So here is my post with five reasons to teach Egyptian mythology and culture.
- Studying Ancient Egypt is the perfect way to differentiate instruction and go cross-curricular. Ancient Egypt is an odd duck. The deserts on either side of Egypt prevented Egyptian civilization from easily accessing the cultures that grew up around it. This isolation allowed Egypt to develop a truly unique culture, which included royal marriage between brothers and sisters, elaborate shrines to the dead, mummification of corpses, and many other oddities. So if you’re an English teacher planning to go cross-curricular, Egypt is a treasure trove (literally) of history: King Tut’s tomb, the Pyramids, the Sphinx. But that’s not all. To hook my math-inclined students I showed a few YouTube videos that explained how ancient Egyptians were able to build the three pyramids of Giza in just three generations. The mathematical know-how boggles my mind, but I could see the less-English-inclined of my students eating it up. Throw in a hieroglyphics-deciphering puzzle just for fun, too.
- Knowledge of Egyptian culture enhances the study of other ancient topics. Although it was culturally isolated, Egypt was still a superpower in its heyday, and it figures prominently in many other ancient topics. I mean, merely mention the word ancient, and pyramids pop into your mind! Here are some examples of ancient topics that are enhanced by a basic understanding of Egyptian culture: reading the Biblical accounts of Joseph or Moses, learning about Cleopatra and other later Greek rulers of Egypt, and studying ancient sites like the pyramids of Giza, King Tut’s tomb, or the Great Sphinx.
- The Egyptians were obsessed with death. Once you read the Egyptians’ stories, you understand their total obsession with death and the afterlife. Then it makes perfect sense that the richest among them (i.e. the pharaohs) would build massive pyramids in honor of themselves to help keep their earthly treasures safe long enough to pass them into the next world. It’s also interesting how they thought that Anubis, the jackal-headed judge of the dead, would weigh each person’s heart against the Feather of Truth. If there was too much sin in your heart, your heart would be devoured, and your spirit would cease to exist!
- The Egyptian Gods are just plain cool. What could be cooler than a man or woman with superhero powers? A man or a woman with superhero powers and the head of an animal, that’s what! Each of the Egyptian god’s animal features gives you an insight into their personality, too. Ra has the fierceness of the hawk, Anubis the craftiness of a jackal, and Thoth the wisdom of…an ibis. Well, it must be a cultural thing. Needless to say, showing students some images of the Egyptian gods will get them hooked. I mean, Sobek the crocodile god? Who wouldn’t like that?
- The Problem with Power. For my sophomore English course one of our year-long themes is the abuse of power. Right from the start when re-reading the myth of Osiris, Isis, and Horus, I saw the theme of power emerging. Isis challenges Ra because he is an unfit ruler, and she uses her magic to install her brother, Osiris, on the throne. Then she marries him….moving on. When Set, Osiris’s brother, murders him and sends his body down the Nile, Isis goes on a quest to recover her husband’s body. Meanwhile, she gives birth to Horus, who will one day challenge his uncle for the death of his father. Needless to say, it’s a long story. The point that emerges is that power is dangerous, and those who wield it are often unworthy and make bad decisions. Turns out, this the perfect theme to fit alongside classics like Oedipus Rex, Antigone, and Julius Caesar. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
If you’re looking for materials to help you teach Egyptian mythology and culture in your own classroom, we have some resources available on this site! Visit this page for more information: https://creativeenglishteacher.com/pages/egyptian-mythology-and-culture