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Advice from a Royal Scribe to his Apprentice Middle Kingdom Egypt, Twelfth Dynasty  


The Papyrus Lansing is a letter of instruction from the royal scribe (and “chief overseer of the cattle of Amun-Re, King of Gods”) Nebmare-nakht to his apprentice Wenemdiamun. It seems to ... More

Ancestor Worship and Human Sacrifice from the Shi Jing  


During both the Shang and Zhou dynasties (1556-1046 BCE; 1046-256 BCE) families, both noble and common, worshipped and sacrificed to their ancestors. These sacrifices were of the utmost ... More

Babylonian Poem of the Righteous Sufferer  


Composed in Akkadian and consisting of 480 lines distributed over four tablets, this poem is a protest against one man’s undeserved suffering. The author is tormented but cannot determine ... More

The Bhagavad Gita  


The Bhagavad Gita comprises the sixth book, and is the central component, of the Mahabharata. Because it centers on the struggles between kings and princes, the Mahabharata can be read as a ... More

The Canon of Shun  


Shun was thought to be one of the three “Sage Kings” who ruled China between 2852 and 2205 BCE, after the reign of the “Yellow Emperor.” The achievements of these kings are recorded—though ... More

The Epic of Gilgamesh  


The Epic of Gilgamesh is the greatest literary work from ancient Mesopotamia. Its roots extend back to the earliest literary traditions at the end of the third millennium BCE (writing in ... More

Excerpts from the Book of Odes (Shi Jung)  


Over 300 poems of various lengths were anthologized and transmitted by Confucius in the early fifth century BCE. Philosophers of the Confucian school cherished the Odes and cited them ... More

The Great Hymn to the Aten  

King Akhenaten

This hymn to the Egyptian sun god Aten has been attributed to King Akhenaten (“the devoted adherent of Aten”), the Pharaoh formerly known as Amenhotep IV. While Akhenaten’s experiment in ... More

Hymn to Creation from The Rig Veda  


The Rig Veda is the oldest of the Vedic texts, and consists of 1028 hymns. It was transmitted orally for centuries, and probably assumed its present shape c. 1200 BCE. There are three other ... More

Hymns to Agni, from the Rig-Veda, Book II  


The worship of Agni, as the fire principle animating a burnt offering to the gods, features prominently in the Rig-Veda. The voice of Agni was thought be heard in the crackling of the fire ... More

Iron Sword with Jade Handle, Earliest Cast-Iron Object (Western Zhoe), from Henan Museum, Guo State, Sanmenxia City  


When this sword was discovered in 1990, it challenged conventional wisdom about when and under what circumstances Chinese people made the first cast-iron object. The dating of the object to ... More

The Mystery of the Harappan Seals  

Thomas R. Trautmann

Few things are more tantalizing to historians than an undeciphered script. Hundreds of broken and intact Harappan seals have been discovered in numerous sites throughout the Indus Valley, ... More

The Odyssey  


The Odyssey as a literary work is a mixture of fact and fiction. It was composed around 800 BCE, but it may have originated even later. Authorship, composition date, and ... More

Quipu from the Caral-Supe Culture, Peru  


Recent archaeological discoveries in the Caral-Supé valley have pushed back the timeline of cultural development in the Andes by several millennia. A fixture of later Incan culture, the ... More

Sketch of the Palace Complex at Knossos, Minoan Crete  

Arthur Evans

In 1900, Sir Arthur Evans discovered the remains of a vast palace complex on the island of Crete in the southern Aegean Sea. Christening the civilization “Minoan” after the legendary King ... More

“The Unvarying Way”  

Lao Tzu

“Laozi” is a title meaning “Old Child;” little is known about the historical reality that lay behind that accolade. It is perhaps fitting that Laozi is a mysterious figure, as the dao that ... More