1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Drama/6
6. Dramatic Elements in Egyptian Culture
The civilization and religious ideas of the Egyptians so vitally influenced the people of whose drama we are about to speak that a reference to them cannot be altogether omitted. The influence of Egyptian upon Greek civilization has probably been overestimated by Herodotus; but while it will never be clearly known how much the Greeks owed to the Egyptians in divers branches of knowledge, it is certain that the former confessed themselves the scholars of Egypt in the cardinal doctrine of its natural theology. The doctrine of the immortality of the soul there found its most solemn expression in mysterious recitations connected with the rites of sepulture, and treating of the migration of the soul from its earthly to its eternal abode. These solemnities, whose transition into the Hellenic mysteries has usually been attributed to the agency of the Thracian worship of Dionysus, undoubtedly contained a dramatic element, upon the extent of which it is, however, useless to speculate. The ideas to which they sought to give utterance centred in that of Osiris, the vivifying power or universal soul of nature, whom Herodotus simply identifies with the Dionysus of the Greeks. The same deity was likewise honoured by processions among the rural Egyptian population, which, according to the same authority, in nearly all respects except the absence of choruses resembled the Greek phallic processions in honour of the wine-god.
That the Egyptians looked upon music as an important science seems fully established; it was diligently studied by their priests, though not, as among the Greeks, forming a part of general education, and in the sacred rites of their gods they as a rule permitted the use of flute and harp, as well as of vocal music. Dancing was as an art confined to professional persons; but though the higher orders abstained from its practice, the lower indulged in it on festive occasions, when a tendency to pantomime naturally asserted itself, and licence and wanton buffoonery prevailed, as in the early rustic festivals of the Greek and Italian peoples. Of a dance of armed men, on the other hand, there seems no satisfactory trace in the representations of the Egyptian monuments.