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In no particular have modern historical studies made greater progress than in the reproduction and publication of documentary sources from which our knowledge of the most varied peoples and periods is drawn. In American history whole libraries of such sources have appeared or are promised. These are chiefly in English, although the other languages of Europe are of course often largely represented. The employment of such sources from the early epochs of the world's history involves either a knowledge of ancient languages on the part of the user, or a complete rendition of the documents into English. No attempt has ever been made to collect and present all the sources of Egyptian history in a modern language. A most laudable beginning in this direction, and one that has done great service, was the Records of the Past; but that series never attempted to be complete, and no amount of editing could make consistent with themselves the uncorrelated translations of the large number of contributors to that series.
The author is only too well aware of the difficulties involved in such a project. In mere bulk alone it has been a considerable enterprise, in view of the preliminary tasks made necessary by the state of the published texts. These I have indicated briefly in the chapter on the sources herein (Vol. I, $$ 27-32). Under these circumstances, the author's first obligation has been to go behind the publications to the original documents themselves, wherever necessary. The method pursued has also been indicated herein (Vol. I, $8 33–37). The task has consumed years, and demanded protracted sojourn among the great col
lections of Europe. In this work a related enterprise has been of the greatest assistance. A mission to the museums of Europe to collect and copy their Egyptian monuments for a commission of the four Royal Academies of Germany (Berlin, Leipzig, Göttingen, and Munich), in order to make these documents available for an exhaustive Egyptian Dictionary endowed by the German Emperor, enabled the author to copy from the originals practically all the historical monuments of Egypt in Europe. The other sources of material, and particularly the papers of the Dictionary just mentioned, have enabled the author to base the translations in these volumes directly, or practically so, upon the originals themselves in almost all cases.
Unfortunately, the possession of these materials is but the beginning of the difficulties which beset such an enterprise. In the preface to the first edition of his English Dictionary, Noah Webster complains of the difficulties caused by the new meanings taken on by English words as they are modified by the new environment which envelops them in America. If such changes are involved in the voyage across the Atlantic, and the lapse of a few generations, how much wider and deeper is the gulf due to the total difference between the semitropical northern Nile valley of millenniums ago, and the English-speaking world of this twentieth century! The psychology of early man is something with which we have as yet scarcely begun to operate. His whole world and his whole manner of thinking are sharply differentiated from our own. His organization, socially, industrially, commercially, politically; his tools, his house, his conveniences, constantly involve institutions, adjustments, and appliances totally unknown to this modern age and this western world. In the translation of the New Testament for the tribes of Alaska, I am
told, there has been great difficulty in the rendition of the term “Good Shepherd,” for the reason that many of these people never saw a sheep and never heard of a shepherd. Similarly, how shall one rehabilitate this ancient world of the Nile-dweller, and put his documents into intelligible English, when the ideas to be rendered are often unknown to the average modern and western reader, and, needless to say, there are no corresponding terms in the English language ?
Another constant source of difficulty has been the lack of those indispensable helps, the legion of concordances, glossaries, handbooks, and compilations for ready reference, which the worker in Greek or Hebrew has constantly at his hand. In spite of the colossal industry of Brugsch, we are still without a dictionary of Egyptian to which one can turn with any hope of finding other examples of a rare word. Hardly any Old Kingdom documents at all were employed by Brugsch in the compilation of his dictionary, and, grateful as we are for what he was able to furnish us, we must still await the great Berlin Dictionary before we shall possess an exhaustive compendium of the language. I was able to employ the alphabetically arranged materials of the Dictionary here and there, but the compilation was not sufficiently far advanced at the conclusion of my work to be of much service. Wherever I have drawn examples from it, they are carefully acknowledged in the footnotes. A good many distinctions in the meanings of words have become evident to me in the course of the work upon the documents. Wherever such have become clear late in the progress of the work, it was impossible to go through the translations and revise the entire manuscript for the sake of such words alone. I have tried to control these cases as far as possible in the proofs, but I am confident that some such changes have been overlooked as the accumulation of alterations demanded in the proofreading was quite beyond my powers of observation in so large a mass of materials. Thus, for example, the common word sr is usually translated “prince," and this is undoubtedly sometimes the meaning of the word; but it very frequently means “official,” a fact which I did not observe until far along in the progress of the work.
Some danger of confusion also arises from the fact that titles indicative of rank or office suffer great change in meaning in the lapse of several thousand years. Thus the ḥ ty or "count" of the feudal and pre-feudal ages becomes a mere magistrate or town-mayor in the Empire, although in sporadic cases the word still retains its old meaning. The translation of titles has perhaps been the greatest source of difficulty in the entire course of the work. Many of the offices found cannot be determined with precision. We have as yet no history of titles—one of the most needed works in the entire range of Egyptian studies. Under these circumstances, it has been impossible always to define with precision the range and scope of a given office. Even when these were determinable, the corresponding term was often wanting in English, and could not be devised without the use of a whole phrase. In some cases awkward combinations have been necessary in the renderings of titles. Thus the compound “king's-son” was adopted because it is occasionally followed in the original by a pronoun referring to “king,” which made the rendering “royal son” impossible. For this reason a series of such compounds has been employed: "king's-son," "king's-daughter,” “king's-wife,” "king’s-mother," "king's-scribe," and the like. It is hoped to render all such matters clear in the index.
In general, the effort has been to render as literally as possible without wrenching English idiom. In this latter particular I probably have not always succeeded; but I have deliberately preferred this evil to a glib rendering which reads well and may be a long distance from the sense of the original. We have had so much of so-called “paraphrasing," which does not even remotely resemble the purport of the original, that I have felt justified in gratifying a righteous horror of such romancing, even at the cost of idiomatic English. The reader has a right to expect that the subjective fancies of the translator have been rigidly excluded, and a right to demand that he may put implicit dependence both upon the individual words and the general sense of the renderings. At the same time, the author would distinctly disclaim any desire to give to these translations the authority of monographs. The extent of the materials, and the amount of time expended in the collection, collation, and correction of the original texts before doing anything toward a formal version, have made it impossible to devote to the translation of each document as much time as one would deem necessary for the production of a monograph upon it. While the most conscientious attention has been given to the versions, and they have sometimes been revised three times (always once), yet it is undoubtedly the case that, in the course of rendering such a mass of materials, errors have crept in. Notice of any that may be observed by my fellow-workers in this field will be gratefully received, and utilized should a future edition of these volumes ever appear.