Undergraduate Honors Thesis II B: Prose Tales Pt. 1

As I have stated before, it is my belief that all ancient tales are inherently didactic.  However, before I fully discuss my thesis, I must first provide some background in Egyptian literature.  In the posts that follow, I will enumerate on several examples of each “genre” of Middle Egyptian literature.  After all, in order to properly compare these genres, it is necessary to first look at several individual examples of literature that are encompassed by them.  First, I consider three stories designated as “prose,” beginning with The Three Tales of Wonder.

As stated earlier the only known copy, Papyrus Westcar, dates from the Hyksos Period (Lichtheim 193:215) — approximately 1620 to 1530 BCE.  Much of the beginning of the papyrus is lost, but researchers agree that the story itself is comprised of five sub-stories (Lichtheim 1973:215).  However, Lichtheim translates only the three latter ones because the first section is all but completely lost and the second is largely lacunae.  She begins with the “Boating Party” of King Snefru, father of the pharaoh Khufu (Lichtheim 1973:216), as told to Khufu by one of his sons, Baufre. King Snefru is quite bored and orders scantily clad women to row him around in a boat.  One of the women drops her pendant into the water (Lichtheim 1973:217), but the chief lector-priest is able to call it back from the depths of the lake.  Upon completion of this tale by his brother, Prince Hardedef informs King Khufu of the magical prowess of the magician Djedi, a living powerful magician.  The Pharaoh directs Prince Hardedef to locate Djedi and invite him to the court (Papyrus Westcar VII 8).  After arriving at the palace and demonstrating his magical abilities, Djedi prophesizes the birth of a set of triplets, each destined to become a pharaoh (Papyrus Westcar IX 9- IX 14).  The King is upset by this, out of concern for his own family line, but Djedi assures him that it would be “[a]s how I said- first your son, then his son, then one of them” (Papyrus Westcar IX 14).  King Khufu then asks about Redjadet, the mother of these triplets, ushering in the third and supposedly final tale: that of the actual birth of the triplets.  These children are named as follows: Wsrf (Papyrus Westcar X 9), Ra sAx (or “Sahure”- because it is undoubtedly an honorific transposition – Papyrus Westcar X 17), and Kkw (Papyrus Westcar X 23).  These names have been commonly understood to be puns on names of the real pharaohs of Dynasty V.  Although their mother, Redjadet, was “suffering herself with her irksome birth” (Papyrus Westcar IX 22), thanks to the gods that were sent to her aid (Papyrus Westcar IX 23), she successfully delivered the three future kings.  The miracle of her and her children surviving the difficult birth seems to be the focus of the tale. Since these tales are true, or meant to be perceived as true, Lichtheim classifies The Three Tales of Wonder as prose.


de Buck, A. The Papyrus Westcar.  Egyptian Reading Book, 2nd Ed.  Leiden: Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten. 1963

Lichtheim, Miriam. Ancient Egyptian Literature Vol. I: The Old and Middle Kingdoms.  Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. 1973.

References for Translation:

de Buck, A.  The Papyrus Westcar.  Egyptian Reading Book, 2nd Ed.  Leiden: Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten. 1963.

Gardiner, Sir Alan.  Egyptian Grammar: Being an Introduction to the Study of Hieroglyphs, Third Edition.  Oxford, UK: Griffith Insitute. 1957.

Hoch, James E. Middle Egyptian Grammar.  Toronto, Canada: Benben Publications. 1997.

Faulkner, Raymond O. A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian.  Oxford: Griffith Institute. 1962.

Shennun, David. English-Egyptian Index of Faulkner’s Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian.  Malibu, CA: Undena Publications. 1977.

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