Films: Ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian Myths, Stories & Letters

Published: 3rd December 2023

Bringing these stories to life

To accompany our series of podcasts looking at the ancient Near East we have put together a few films that give you a sense of the incredible literature and mythology that emerged from Mesopotamia and Egypt over their long histories.

We have also put together a few films that give voice to the ancient population of Mesopotamia in their own words in order to bring to life the thoughts and ideas of these long gone persons via a spread of ancient cuneiform documents.

RA: The path of the Sun God: A vision of ancient Egypt - 
Written, animated and directed by Lesley Keen

This beautiful three-part animated feature film covers themes from ancient Egyptian art and mythology. The first part of the film is given over to the Egyptian Genesis. The Egyptians had many gods and goddesses and creation myths. Ra brings these myths together in a single version and concentrates on the story of Osiris and Isis and their battle with their evil brother Set.

Part two shows the intertwining of the world of the gods with that of the Divine Pharaoh, whom the ancient Egyptians believed to be the son of the Sun God Ra. The life of the Divine Pharaoh is depicted as a journey through the rituals which surround his initiation into temple life.

In death, the Pharaoh continues his journey in the Underworld in the boat of the Sun God Ra, travelling through the twelve hours of night and conquering the powers of darkness before being resurrected at the dawn of the new day.

Ancient Egyptian poetry: The Tale of Sinuhe - The British Museum

Oxford University professor Richard Bruce Parkinson worked with actress and writer Barbara Ewing to record a dramatic reading of one of the finest works of Egyptian poetry The Tale of Sinuhe. Here, they discuss working together and the impact the poem can still have on a modern audience.

The recording is part of a project to write a new reader’s commentary on The Tale of Sinuhe. This research is part of an ongoing joint British Museum and Oxford University project on the Ramesseum Papyri. You can listen to Barbara's reading of the whole poem here.

The Epic of Gilgamesh -
Ted Talk by Soraya Field Fiorio

Dive into the Epic of Gilgamesh, and follow the king of Uruk on a series of dangerous quests as he searches for immortality.

In 1849, in the ancient city of Nineveh in Iraq, archaeologists sifted through dusty remains, hoping to find records to prove that Bible stories were true. What they found instead was a 4,000-year-old story inscribed on crumbling clay tablets— a story that was so riveting, the first person to translate it started stripping from excitement. Soraya Field Fiorio tells the epic tale of Gilgamesh.

Voices out of Darkness
- Irving Finkel for Archaeology Now

In this film, Irving Finkel (Assistant Keeper of Ancient Mesopotamian script, languages and cultures at the British Museum), provides an opportunity to hear the voices of the ancient population of Mesopotamia in their own words in order to bring alive the thoughts and ideas of these long banished persons via a spread of ancient cuneiform documents.

The Poor Man of Nippur - Cambridge Archaeology

"The Poor Man of Nippur" is a c. 3,000 year-old comic folk tale in Babylonian language. The main manuscript is a clay tablet from 701 BC found at the site of Sultantepe, in South-East Turkey. Recounted by a third-party narrator, it tells the story of the three-fold revenge which Gimil-Ninurta wreaks on the local Mayor after the latter wrongs him. The film version of this ancient text is a creation of Cambridge Assyriology, and (as far as we know) the world's first film in Babylonian.