By Brandon Walker
When you think about ancient Egypt, what’s the first thing that pops into your head?
Maybe it’s pyramids or pharaohs, but more likely you think of hieroglyphs and wonder what they mean.
In journalism school I learned the scribes of ancient Egypt were probably the world’s first writers.
While today’s scribes use a computer and keyboard (or note pad and pen if you’re hard core), Egyptian scribes wrote on papyrus from the inside of a reed using reed pens and brushes dipped in a wooden palette.
While we use letters to form words, scribes used pictures called hieroglyphs to convey words or ideas.
I see scribes as a combination newspaper reporter, record keeper, and letter writer. Not only did they cover temples and tombs with hieroglyphs, they also recorded genealogical records, stocks in stores for workers, court proceedings, magic spells, tax records, wills and legal agreements.
Not everyone in ancient Egypt could read, either – only about one in 10 people were literate – so scribes also read to those who employed them.
According to AncientEgypt.online.co.uk, “The hieroglyphic language of the ancient Egyptians was complex and beautiful, and those who had mastered it held a valued position in society.
“Scribes were the protectors and developers of ancient Egyptian culture and central to academic research and the smooth running of the state apparatus. The scribes not only copied existing texts – preserving them for future generations – they also edited existing works and wrote new texts. They were considered to be members of the royal court and as such did not have to pay tax, undertake military service or perform manual labour.”
Scribes are the reason we know so much about ancient Egypt. The information they collected on walls and papyrus – sometimes as stories – has provided a detailed description of what life was like back then.
Today’s authors and reporters are essentially scribes, the protectors and developers of culture and central to research. One day, historians (or aliens) will look back on the human race and judge us by our art and culture, our newspapers and newscasts, our blogs and comics.
While reporters are doing the first writing of history, fiction writers are describing the emotional state of humans, life in a modern world with modern problems, our fears, dreams, hopes and challenges.
Like the dreams we experience at night, these stories take us away from reality. Also like dreams, stories help us realize how things might go if we follow the path of our protagonist (or antagonist) in similar circumstances.
Writing may be one of the oldest professions, but that doesn’t make it easy. If you’re a new writer, hang in there and don’t get frustrated by how difficult it can be.