Ancient Egypt tells a tale
Using narrative to teach the history of Ancient Egypt
1. Introduce Ancient Egypt – timeline and basic facts about the society… (two to three lessons)
- Explore the timeline of Ancient Egypt (Old, Middle and New Kingdoms)
- Explore key features of religion, rule and government, conflict with other societies.
2. Read the story: LITTLE HATSHEPSUT; discuss the content
- Discuss how the story makes use of contextual information from the time to give the story credibility.
3. Introduce task: To write a short story (500 – 1000 words) set in Ancient Egypt which makes use of everyday life features of this society.
- Clearly define assessment task. Note key content description:
- Discuss role of research in story creation. Read and discuss the chapter – The role of research in crafting stories.
- Brainstorm early ideas – what can I write about?
4. Research task (two lesson allocation)
- Consider these questions:
- What was life like back in ancient Egypt?
- How was it different to modern times?
- What will be the key conflict in my story?
- What everyday features of life in ancient Egypt can I use?
5. Examine how writers establish and use setting?
- Discuss setting in Little Hatshepsut; how is it established, where in the story and what is the purpose? [Use other fiction examples if needed. EG Pharaoh by Jackie French.(See this site.)]
- Plan your story’s possible setting. When is your story set? Where is it set? Who is in this setting?
6. Discuss techniques for writing effective description.
- SID: (Strong verbs, Imagery, Details)
- Look at examples of description in Little Hatshepsut, and other examples.
- Use the SID model to discuss.
7. Create characters (action, thought, dialogue… what others think and how they react to character)
- Look at examples of character creation in Little Hatshepsut, and other examples.
8. More Research (one to two lessons)
- Refine story idea settings, description, character; check facts. Is this relevant to Ancient Egypt?
- Define key role of story openings and endings(closings)
- Look at examples in Little Hatshepsut, and other stories (can refer to popular films and stories from outside history to have students engage with ideas).
10. Write first draft.
- Plan and write first draft: Is the following obvious?
- Setting (credible Egyptian context)
- Character (main character, other characters)
11. Do a self or Peer edit
- Develop peer editing sheet to test that students have crated credible settings, characters, conflict
- Teacher may offer to offer diagnostic feedback on first or second draft.
13.Submit and evaluate/assess
For another take on how to use narrative to engage students with learning in history see Gary Hillyard
‘Dickens...Hardy...Jarvis?!. A novel take on the Industrial Revolution’, Teaching History, Creative Thinking edition
Issue 140 / September 2010, The Historical Association, UK, pp. 16 – 24.
1. What dates do we associate with the Old, Middle and New kingdoms?
2. When are the pyramids (the ones we always associate with Egypt) built?
3. How much evidence can you find that ancient Egypt has periods of conflict?
4. By whom is Ancient Egypt conquered?
5. Is trade important to Egypt?
6. In what year did Alexander the Great conquer Egypt?
7. What period does this conquest usher in?
The Nile and Religion in Egypt
See The Story of the Nile by John Baines for information on the significance of the Nile River and its influence on Egypt.
Highlight the following aspects of this site:
1. How does this text indicate why the Nile was important to Egypt?
Identify key words ~ ‘without the Nile… extraordinary civilisations… physical, political and spiritual presence’
Note that this side bar margin list identifies that the Nile River had a big influence on Egypt. How does it do this?
Visit ‘Inundation’, ‘Shaping political thought’, and ‘Nile gods’ to consider:
‘The Nile’s annual inundation was relatively reliable, and the floodplain and Delta were very fertile, making Egyptian agriculture the most secure and productive in the Near East.’
‘The compactness of Egypt, focused on the Nile, favoured political unity, which brought both potential for exploiting the land’s fertility and obligations for rulers.’
Note the paragraph beginning: ‘The Nile, so fundamental to the country’s well-being, did not play a very prominent part in the religious life of Egypt…’
Like a miracle, a light rain had drifted in from the sea. The sea was a long, long way off and Ahmes looked at it as if it was some strange emissary from Hapi . Rain was rare in her world. Little pock marks on the river below her. It looked pretty but she still thought the rain was sad. It was also a little cold, and Ahmes retreated beneath the roof of the shrine… Still she could see the water below her. The river did not mind the rain at all; it simply took those pock marks and swallowed them up. The river is, it just is, she thought… I should not be sad either.
But she was.
She sat in her family’s shrine on the low cliff above the river, a favourite spot of hers. From here you could watch the fishing boats with their nets or spearmen in the bow, or you saw a full moon ride the river and thought of sesame cakes and feasts when no work was done, or you could watch the river race and froth across the lowlands on the other side. It was Hapi’s gift; the flood with its rich silts and water. It grew the barley her family made into beer, the beer had made her family well to do and so they had a shrine to Hapi on the low cliff above the water near where they’d build their new house.
She’d come here, her face still stinging from her father’s slap, because here she was happy. She liked the river, with its eternal flow, its rages and its quiet times. She liked Hapi and always said hello to him when she came. Even now, with her red face and the ugly sound of her father’s ‘you will obey me’ ringing in her mind.
Ahmes felt a tear run down her face and rubbed it away with a grimace. She did not like the weakness of girls. Her older brother Mahsut never wept. Nor did her mother. She resented the tear, almost as much as her father’s brute slap… She closed her eyes and wished him gone, then opened them, afraid that Hapi or perhaps a more powerful god may have interpreted this as a prayer. She even smiled then for she did not want her father dead, merely replaced with a more understanding version.
The water below her looked uneasy. Perhaps it had been a crocodile. She could not be sure, but she knew crocodiles lived here. She was forbidden from descending the stairs cut into the cliff and going near the water. They’d lost a slave once. Memet, her younger brother, had come back with the tale; of a swirl, a cry, and a bubble of blood on the surface. The slave was gone and her father cursed the river. Now they used a long pole and counterweights to collect the water from below and then the water was carried up the stairs. The water for the house came from here; it was always fresh and cool even in the greatest of droughts. So her father cursed the expense but he built a safe way of collecting water. Slaves were too expensive to feed the crocodiles, her penny pinching father had said.
It was always money with him, Ahmes thought. And that was why he wanted her married to Nitocris, whose father’s shipping trade would expedite the growth of their business. Skinny Nitocris, who whined and told on others and with a nose that always ran – sickly, infuriating Nitocris. She did not love him and in Egypt a woman could marry for love. Her mother had told her so.
‘I loved your father,’ she said, ‘when I married him.’
Why did she say loved, Ahmes had wondered… But she giggled and laughed with her mother’s remembered joy. Her father had been tall and proud, with a hawk’s eyes, and he had a good head for business, even then, and her mother, named Nephrasut, loved him.
Where did love go? Ahmes wondered.
She did not love anyone, certainly not another, which was what her father had suggested, but she was not some chattel of his to be sold in business. That was what she had said, and then, surprising them all, he had slapped her. Time had stood still and then she had simply turned and run. Her mother called out after her to stop, to wait… but she did not stop.
Her mother had called out Ahmes, a name she hardly ever used. For normally, in a kind of shared joke, Ahmes was Little Hatshepsut, in honour of the long gone pharaoh whom her mother said she resembled. When she was little, Ahmes had wondered if she looked like Hatshepsut, whose image it was hard to find … But no, so her uncle told her, the resemblance was not physical. He’d laughed and said no more and little Ahmes had stamped her imperious foot…
She worked it out – the resemblance was her character.
‘Stubborn little Hatshepsut,’ she was when she stamped her foot, crossed her arms and said ‘no’, or ‘my wilful little Hatshepsut’ when she would not eat her dinner, and ‘little queen,’ when her smile and honest laugh had won the heart of a trader in pots and stolen a good deal for her father.
‘Beware’ Nephrasut sometimes said, ‘for though we women in Egypt have a good life, it is still, in reality, a man’s world.’
And there, standing on the bank in the rain above the troubled river, she realised something else. Her mother must once have stood and looked down at some troubled place, just as she was now doing. And Nephrasut had known that you had to acquiesce… but she had still done it on her terms. It was all a compromise. Compromise, her mother had said, is a woman’s art.
And now that rare rain fell harder. Her heart felt broken all of a sudden for she knew what her mother meant. It was a man’s world. Her father’s world. Because it was good for business she would marry Nitocris and she would do so willingly. She might divorce him later, it is true, but the deal would first be stitched up with a marriage and at least one child for Nitocris’s father. The merchant’s dynasty would be assured. The men would go on. The women would take their offered freedoms… but in the end it was a man’s world.
The rain splattered in the quiet water of her family’s little bay beneath the shrine of Hapi. And a crocodile with just its snout and two yellow eyes showing, so Ahmes saw, looked up at her. The rain, rare inundation of the sky, fell harder.
The crocodile must think itself unobserved, Ahmes realised. It was taking a liberty in the rain-troubled water. Ahmes suddenly laughed out loud. So would she. She’d have her revenge on men before she fell in with their wishes and married repulsive Nitocris.
She peeled off her linen robe, wet now. She took the little knife that hung in the shrine and cut her arm a little. Blood dripped onto the linen dress, soaked in, turned pink with rain. It was only a little cut she’d made, and though it hurt she laughed as the last drips fell into her robe. She took it to the cliff and looked down at the place where, with a dimpled little wave, the crocodile had just disappeared … and she simply threw the robe into the air. It opened a little, fluttered like some wounded bird, then settled on the river’s surface. A swirl, a splash and the crocodile had it. It boiled and rolled and then let the cloth go. Waves washed it ashore.
Ahmes smiled and walked away from the river. She walked toward the desert but she was not going there. She knew a grove of dates where there were rushes to lie down and wait out the next day. On the next day she would be obedient and fall in with a man’s world but for now, for just a little while longer, she would be little Hatshepsut.
 Hapi was a minor god of Egypt, associated with the yearly flooding of the Nile. This was the inundation which brought Egypt’s prosperity.
 When Hatshepsut died, Thutmose III, who became pharaoh, had ordered her images and temples destroyed because he was angry that Hatshepsut had kept him from the throne. This is why Ahmes would have had trouble seeing an image of Hatshepsut.
Option A: Write a short story (500 – 1000 words) set in Ancient Egypt which makes use of everyday life features of this society.
The story subject matter is up to you but you will need to give thought to:
Setting – it needs to be real for Ancient Egypt. So think about the time and where you are in this society. Hint: are you in the Old, Middle or New Kingdom periods. Who is ruling? Is there conflict? How might this effect your characters’ lives?
Description Hint: have you used strong and characterising verbs, imagery that suits your character and provided details that help us see hear and feel your characters’ worlds?
Openings and closings: Does your opening hook us and give us an idea of setting and character? Does your ending resolve the character’s problems. Would a reader feel satisfied with your ending/closing?
IF you are not sure what this all means – don’t worry. We’ll be revisiting how one creates character and writes vivid descriptions and other skills you will need to create.
Write a report about an aspect of ancient Egyptian everyday life featured or used in the story Little Hatshepsut. For example:
Gods of Egypt – Ahmes is sheltering under cover of a roof of a shrine to Hapi.
The importance of the river Nile. Note this quote ~ ‘…you could watch the fishing boats with their nets or spearmen in the bow, or you saw a full moon ride the river and thought of sesame cakes and feasts when no work was done, or you could watch the river race and froth across the lowlands on the other side. It was Hapi’s gift; the flood with its rich silts and water’
The rule of the female Pharaoh; Hatshepsut. What did she accomplish, how long did she reign, how did she reign for so long, why were her images erased from history... and more ?
Trade and business in ancient Egypt. Note these quotes: ‘the barley her family made into beer, the beer had made her family well to do…’ ‘Nitocris, whose father’s shipping trade would expedite the growth of their business…’
The status of women in ancient Egypt. Note ` ‘though we women in Egypt have a good life, it is still, in reality, a man’s world.’
Other aspects of ancient Egypt: fauna such as crocodiles [I wonder if they ever hunted them?], food stuffs they ate, anything else you identify in the story.
Research provides characters and story lines.
At the start of this process the writer of the stories in the book hiSTORY didn’t have much of a clue what would happen in each of the stories in this book. No-one whispered magic formulas and ideas in his ear… In fact, all the writer knew most of the time was that the story had to be set in a particular time and in a particular place. Like most everyone else, the first question that popped into his mind was – what will I write about?
But the writer did have a bit of help. The task wasn’t left completely open.
ALL of the stories in the book started with the writer being given a task. Just as is happening to you, the writer was given a brief – which is another way of saying “a job”. In the writer’s case the job was that he had to stick to content descriptions about what to write in his national curriculum for history. He couldn’t write about any old thing… it had to relate to the curriculum. Other than that, it was up to his imagination.
Beauty, you might be saying. That means just about anything goes; the writer can put in pink fairies and enormous elephants and people who can walk through walls. They can use mobile phones and have access to super computers. So long as the fairies are wearing Egyptian costumes (if the story is set in ancient Egypt) or Roman togas (ancient Rome), and so long as the enormous elephants are wandering around in Carthage (more on ancient Rome)… it’s all right.
Alas, it wasn’t so. Unfortunately, the task also had a small condition – it had to be real for the times and material circumstances; it had to be credible history. No Chinese peasants were allowed to pull out semi-automatic rifles and blow away attacking legions of Mongol warriors. No playing around with history; the material circumstances of the time (the level of technology, the resources they had and used) and their beliefs and values had to be adhered to.
What that meant of course was that the author really had to start with reading. Yep, good old reading; also called research. What was life like back in ancient Egypt or Rome or, to get a little more modern, what happened in Renaissance Italy? As the reading progressed, ideas might be born…
Little Hatshepsut in fact began with a search string: “Ancient Egypt and daily life”. Then the writer got interested in the fact that apparently – in Ancient Egypt – women were treated much better in daily life than women in many other ancient societies. There were women priests and women could own property and so on and so forth… It seemed like it was a wonderful time for females? But was it? More reading revealed that men in fact still had most of the power (and who has the power and who wants to take that power from them are always great questions for a writer to think about – because it adds the spice of CONFLICT). Then the writer (who did not study Ancient Egypt at school and really knew very little) discovered there had been a few female pharaohs. One of them, the most famous, was called Hatshepsut. But even poor old Hatshepsut had had to pretend she was really a man and had her portrait done with a beard. So even a female pharaoh was downtrodden, just because she was female. Nevertheless, Hatshepsut ruled for over 20 years… so she must have been stubborn and a good ruler… Ah, story ideas were born.
Wouldn’t such a ruler have had a big ‘rep’?
In fact, it happened that the man who became pharaoh after Hatshepsut (her nephew!) hated the fact that he’d been kept from the throne for so long. His name was Thutmoses III and he attempted to erase Hatshepsut’s name from history. He failed… but what a good yarn we had here.
Research provides context.
Context is what surrounds us. It’s the culture we live in, it’s our physical environment, it’s the level of technology and the things that are happening now. Stories need context that appears real. People need to live in real homes and use the correct technology for their time and not have outlandish ideas that people did not have at that time. Research helps the writer find out real context.
Little Hatshepsut was not going to be the real Hatshepsut’s story. Writing about queens and kings isn’t something the writer really knows much about. He’s far more ordinary than that… What he did know about was that girls in modern society still get a raw deal – this might make some girls a bit angry (it’s always good to have at least half your audience on side). And he’d discovered that in ancient Egypt a father could tell his daughter (despite females having more freedom) whom she should marry. So… what if an ancient Egyptian girl aged about 13 or so – yes, they got married young – didn’t want to marry the ‘man’ her father had picked for her (good business sense is the motive)? What if this girl had a stubborn streak; in fact, what if her nickname was ‘little Hatshepsut’?
Such a girl, the writer decided, would storm out on her father when he announced his choice of husband for her. She’d be steaming mad. And she’d have a special place she’d go when she got mad. Where? Ooh, somewhere down near the Nile. It had to be the Nile because that was wildly important to Egyptians. In fact, so he’d discovered, they had a special god for the Nile floods called Hapi. Yahoo, hapi days (groan) – the writer decided she’d have a favourite hangout near a shrine to Hapi. Right beside the banks of the Nile. Weren’t there crocodiles in the Nile River (research, research). Yes, there were. What if she threw herself in the river and was eaten by a crocodile? That would show her dad… No it wouldn’t – she was a clever girl. She wasn’t going to throw her life away in a moment of anger… The rest (you’ll have to read Little Hatshepsut if you haven’t already done so) is history...
1. Why do you think the writer uses the word miracle to describe the falling rain?
2. What do we discover about where the sea is?
3. What is the God’s name? How might this reveal that the story is set in ancient Egypt?
4. Who might the shrine be for?
5. Is the river given a name? Why is this appropriate (according the John Baines) for ancient Egypt?
Answering these questions should indicate how the writer established that we are in ancient Egypt and probably beside the Nile River. NOTE that we are not told this – it is shown to us; the god’s name is ancient Egyptian, rain is rare in the desert kingdom, the girl Ahmes is sitting on a cliff a long way from the sea and the delta.
For another example of how setting is used check out Jackie French’s opening to the novel – Pharaoh. Read the opening three paragraphs. By the way, Jackie French’s excellent novel is an imagining of the life of King Narmer, who is credited with the beginnings of ancient Egypt society.
Strong verbs – these help to characterise events, settings and the people in your story. Note for example how the river ‘swallowed’ up the rain drops. What does this imply (make us guess) about the size and importance of the river
Imagery helps to establish character and setting. The light rain of our story’s opening is ‘like a miracle’.
Details. These put flesh on the story and its characters. In the opening of Little Hatshepsut Ahmes confronts a rare rain and is by herself. She, we learn, is sad; the rain and being alone help confirm why she might be sad but we want to find out more. So the details are not all revealed at one time.
1. What does the revelation that Ahmes thinks the rain is some strange emissary of the god Hapi tell us about her character and the world she lives in?
2. Note that the rare rain is part of ‘her world’. Why do you think the writer describes the world as ‘hers’?
3. Even though she thinks the sight of rain on the river is pretty she still thought the rain was sad… what does this imply about how the character is feeling?
4. Do we get told straight away why Ahmes is sad?
5. Why do you think the writer does not tell us this straight away?
1. We learn early that Ahmes has fought with her father over a very important matter. What is the conflict between them?
2. How did the opening two to three paragraphs make you feel about Ahmes?
3. Whose side are you on — Ahmes’s or her father’s? Why?
4. How do you feel about the resolution in Little Hatshepsut? Is it satisfactory to you? Why/why not?
5. Discuss how you feel about the resolution in this story with your classmates.
Self or peer-Assessment: Your Short Story/Process
Please do the following in order to give yourself or a peer an accurate picture of how well you feel your/the draft story is working.
1. Write a brief description of the story’s setting.
2. Which words has the writer used to give the best sense of this setting?
3. Who is the main character?
4. Draw or write a description of this character?
5. What is the main character’s big problem?
6. UNDERLINE at least three strong verbs used by the writer. Explain, in the margin or using comments in the reviewing toolbar, why you like these verbs and how they help you process the story.
7. Highlight two to three images used by the writer which help you understand a character, setting or event.
8. Comment on:
a. The opening ~ is it effective in establishing the setting, character and the problem?
b. The ending ~ do you feel the problem has been resolved?
9. Do you wish to make any additional comments?