Ancient Egypt
Elements of its Cultural History

  by Sjef Willockx







Some remarks about the translation of the verb Szp in the Pyramid Texts  (Abstract)

The verb Szp is mostly translated with either “receive”, or “take”. While working with Faulkner’s (1969) and Allen’s (2005) translations of the Pyramid Texts, it occurred to me that these two scholars differed markedly in their translation of Szp. Faulkner regularly switches between “take” (55%) and “receive” (35%), with a few instances of other translations. Allen however, uses in nearly all cases “receive” (in 96%).

Because of the time difference of 36 years between Faulkner’s and Allen’s translation, one might think that this change reflects newer insights, but that is certainly not the case. The TLA (heir of the Wörterbuch-project) is the undisputed top authority in the area of vocabulary, and they still recognize take today as a regular meaning for this verb.

In the Introduction to his translation, Allen advocates the principle of a consistent one-on-one substitution: one English word or expression for one Egyptian:

“The translations are meant to reflect as closely as possible the language and style of the texts themselves. Egyptian is rich in allegory and metaphor but relatively poor in vocabulary. I have tried to reflect the latter feature by using as much as possible a single English calque for its Egyptian counterpart.” (Allen 2005, p. 13).

So for Szp, he uses “receive” as standard English “calque,” with few exceptions.

In itself, Allen’s intention makes perfect sense: where the original texts show a certain monotony in choice of words, a good translation mirrors that, and overall, Allen’s translation performs better in this respect than Faulkner’s. Problems may arise however, if a word can really convey two distinct meanings.

Purpose of this paper is, to show that in the Pyramid Texts, a lop-sided choice to translate Szp with “receive” regularly results in renderings that relate poorly to the meaning of the original authors.






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