The Pyramid Texts are a collection of ancient Egyptian religious texts from the time of the Old Kingdom. They are possibly the oldest known religious texts in the world. Written in Old Egyptian, the pyramid texts were carved on the walls and sarcophagi of the pyramids at Saqqara during the 5th and 6th Dynasties of the Old Kingdom. The oldest of the texts have been dated to between ca. 2400-2300 BC. Unlike the later Coffin Texts and Book of the Dead, the pyramid texts were reserved only for the pharaoh and were not illustrated. Following the earlier Palermo Stone, the pyramid texts mark the next-oldest known mention of Osiris, who would become the most important deity associated with afterlife in the Ancient Egyptian religion.
The spells, or "utterances", of the pyramid texts are primarily concerned with protecting the pharaoh's remains, reanimating his body after death, and helping him ascend to the heavens, which are the emphasis of the afterlife during the Old Kingdom. The spells delineate all of the ways the pharaoh could travel, including the use of ramps, stairs, ladders, and most importantly flying. The spells could also be used to call the gods to help, even threatening them if they did not comply.
The texts were first discovered in 1881 by Gaston Maspero, and translations were made by Kurt Heinrich Sethe (in German), Louis Speleers (in French), Raymond O. Faulkner, Samuel A. B. Mercer and James P. Allen (the latest translation in English).
The oldest version consists of 228 spells and comes from the Pyramid of Unas, who was the last king of the 5th Dynasty. Other texts were discovered in the pyramids of the 6th Dynasty kings Pepi I, Pepi II and three of his queens, and Teti. Kurt Sethe's first edition of the pyramid texts contained 714 distinct spells; after this publication additional spells were discovered bringing the total to 759. No single collection uses all recorded spells.
The cannibal hymn
Utterances 273 and 274 are sometimes known as the "cannibal hymn", because it describes the king hunting and eating parts of the gods: They represent a discrete episode (Utterances 273-274) in the anthology of ritual texts that make up the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom period.
Appearing first in the Pyramid of Unas at the end of the Fifth Dynasty, the Cannibal Hymn preserves an early royal butchery ritual in which the deceased king—assisted by the god Shezmu—slaughters, cooks and eats the gods as sacrificial bulls, thereby incorporating in himself their divine powers in order that he might negotiate his passage into the Afterlife and guarantee his transformation as a celestial divinity ruling in the heavens.
The style and format of the Cannibal Hymn are characteristic of the oral-recitational poetry of pharaonic Egypt, marked by allusive metaphor and the exploitation of wordplay and homophony in its verbal recreation of a butchery ritual.
Apart from the burial of Unas, only the Pyramid of Teti displays the Cannibal Hymn.
A god who lives on his fathers,
who feeds on his mothers...
Unas is the bull of heaven
Who rages in his heart,
Who lives on the being of every god,
Who eats their entrails
When they come, their bodies full of magic
From the Isle of Flame...
The cannibal hymn later reappeared in the Coffin Texts as Spell 573. It was dropped by the time the Book of the Dead was being copied.