The humanities are the branches of learning that investigate human constructs and concerns, rather than natural processes or social relationships. The humanities include philosophy, language, literature, art, and history. From earliest times, the Egyptians produced great cultural achievements, which they strove to refine and pass down to successive generations.
During the Old Kingdom, the ancient Egyptians developed the artistic styles and motifs that they would continue to use for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians recorded their daily activities and religious beliefs in texts and scenes on the walls of temples and tombs. Education was important to the ancient Egyptians; they taught children reading, writing, literature, and mathematics.
Old Kingdom literature tended to be in a format called "wisdom literature," which taught a proper code of conduct. By the Middle Kingdom, scribes were recruited to write literary works in praise of the pharaoh. "The Story of Sinuhe," an adventurous tale of an official who flees Egypt after the murder of his king, was studied by children centuries later. Poems and songs have been found dating from the New Kingdom, even a text called "A Literary Controversy," in which one scholar promotes his own knowledge and criticizes the learning of a rival.
The Greco-Roman era, especially under the early generations of Ptolemaic leadership, saw a flowering of the arts and humanities in Alexandria. Poets, philosophers, and other great scholars traveled to the great Library of Alexandria where they could consult a multitude of texts and debate their theories. Scholars were invited to live and carry out their work in the nearby Museum. The education of children, including girls, continued to be important for the upper classes.
Under the Coptics, particularly after the rule of Constantine, writing became an effective way to spread the new religion and educate the converts. As monasteries specialized in the production of books, the art of illumination, beautiful and detailed colored illustrations of Biblical scenes and saints, reached a high point. Free from the persecution they faced under the Romans, Christian scholars were able to meet and debate philosophical and theological ideas.
Education, literature, and intellectual activity continued to be highly valued under the Muslims, especially during the Fatimid and Ayyubid eras. Students were educated in madrassas, schools associated with a mosque, some of which achieved world renown. Sultans and princes vied for the honor of hosting scholarly gatherings in their homes. Calligraphy, a beautiful and stylized manner of writing Arabic, became an important artistic achievement as writers strove for the script to be worthy of expressing Allah's message to Mohammed. In addition to beautiful copies of the Qur'an, extensive encyclopedias in a variety of subjects from medicine, geography, history, and social customs were produced in the Islamic era. The Muslim's interest in a variety of topics led them to translate many earlier Greek and Latin texts into Arabic.