Walk (and Learn) Like an Egyptian

Use the myths of Egypt as a springboard for literary discussion and expression.

By Elijah Ammen

Egyptian Papyrus

It's difficult to visualize the scope of the Egyptian culture, with its endurance and influence. From our American perspective, a few hundred years renders something ancient, but Egyptian history spans thousands of years. 

While there are plenty of resources about Egyptian culture in general, along with photo galleries and other Egypt-related resources, Egyptian mythology is a particularly rich topic to discuss the essentials of storytelling, archetypes, and symbols.

Symbols in Mythology

So many of our symbols and archetypes were first recorded in Egyptian mythology. Even the physicality of reading hieroglyphics established a system of images and deeper meaning. Characters like Osiris were the first to establish motifs of death and rebirth that would echo throughout literature and fuel countless schools of literary criticism and psychoanalysis (yes, we're looking at you, Carl Jung). 

There are a number of motifs you can study in Egyptian mythology:

  • The hero's journey, where learners can see the repeated patterns of so many protagonists
  • Studying the first epics that were later perfected in Greece

No matter what angle you take, the important part is to give readers a broad exposure to a variety of stories. Often we can analyze these stories to pieces—stopping every sentence to decode something. Try delivering these myths in the way they were meant to be consumed—out loud. Save the reflection for after the story, once the listeners have had their attention captured.

If you have the academic flexibility, tie in some modern young adult fiction. I've previously mentioned how using ancient texts is a great way to raise the rigor in a variety of young adult fiction in "Why We Love and Hate Young Adult Fiction."

For more strategies on how to teach mythology to younger grades, check out  "How to Demystify Mythology"—particularly if you have visual or kinesthetic learners. If you want more information and video resources on the heroic cycle and other elements of comparative mythology, you can go to Lesson Planet's article on comparative mythology

Making Your Own Myths

It's important for higher-level learners to go to the source of the Egyptian myths in a translation of the Book of the Dead or go back further and show the Book of the Dead in hieroglyphics

Once you have established patterns in mythology and have seen those patterns throughout a variety of other cultures, it's time to make mythologies of your own. You can use lessons where you make an Egypt videocast or you can have your class collaborate to come up with their own stories based on the symbols or patterns you have previously imagined. Take a look at this example that uses Greek mythology as a model and then has young writers create a mythology around a modern hero.

There are a couple of ways to present this modern myth:

  • Storyboard the myth in order to keep the visual component of hieroglyphics
  • For younger ages, tell the story on a physical scroll

Whatever you do, remember that sharing is the crucial component. Myths are an inherently oral tradition—meant to be shared with others and passed on verbally. While your campfire may be metaphorical, circle your desks and take some time to enjoy what humankind has been enjoying for millennia: a good story. 

Lesson Planet Resources:

Egyptian CultureEgypt Photo GalleriesEgypt and Math, Hieroglyphics, Demystifying MythologyComparative Mythology, Make a VideocastMovie-Making Apps