Undergraduate Honors Thesis II C: Pt. 1

After looking at a few of the tales that Lichtheim classifies as “prose,” one must examine literature that she defines as “didactic.” Consider first The Instruction of Amenemhet I to his son Sesostris I, preserved on the Papyrus Millengren (Lichtheim 1973:136) — circa 1550-1292 BCE.  Within Lichtheim’s tri-partite definition of “didactic,” this story clearly falls within the category of “father to son.” The tale laments the actual regicide of King Amenemhet I in the thirtieth year of his reign (Lichtheim 1973:135), although it was obviously written after his death, perhaps by a scribe at the behest of Sesostris I, son of Amenemhet I.  It seeks to warn Sesostris against committing the same blunders that Amenemhet himself committed.  Chief among these is to, “[b]eware of subjects who are nobodies/Of whose plotting one is not aware.  Trust not a brother, know not a friend,/Make no intimates, it is worthless” (Lichtheim 1973:136).  Simply put, Amenemhet I cautions his son against trusting anyone, for everyone is secretly conspiring against him.  As Amenemhet reminds Sesostris, he was a good king.  He says, “I gave to the beggar, I raised the orphan/I gave success to the poor as to the wealthy; But he who ate my food raised opposition,/He whom I gave my trust used it to plot” (Lichtheim 1973:136).  Amenemhet then explains the events surrounding his death, namely that he was betrayed by his own guards (Lichtheim 1973:137).  He had no time to defend himself, because he was roused from sleep just before being assassinated.  Surprise in the night is, of course, the only way that the task of killing a pharaoh could succeed, because he is considered to be Horus- a living god (James 2005:105).  This instruction epitomizes the genre of “inscription motifs” which list positive moral attributes, because it explains why Amenemhet was a good ruler in life and therefore why he deserves an afterlife.  Thus, the last few lines of this instruction are very important, because they ensure that Sesostris would take over the throne in place of the conspirators.  In this way, “[k]ingship is again what it was in the past!” (Lichtheim 1973:138). Order in the sense of ma’at as represented by the royal family will be maintained, triumphing over chaos as represented by the conspirators.

Contrasted with Amenemhet’s Instruction is that of The Eloquent Peasant, a work preserved on four different Middle Kingdom fragmentary papyri, which together make up the full story (Lichtheim 1973:169).  Lichtheim defines The Eloquent Peasant as “didactic” because it is identified as an admonition; that is, a speech by a learned sage to individuals who are committing some injustice.  In the case of this story, the learned sage is a peasant named Khun-Anup, who rebukes both the steward Nemptynakht for his evildoing (Lichtheim 1973:171) and the magistrate for not fulfilling his duties as a justice.  In so doing, he appeals to the magistrate nine times, ostensibly getting nowhere on each occasion. Because the magistrate and His Majesty are so taken by Khun-Anup’s eloquence, they pretend to ignore his pleas, thereby inducing him to stay and petition further while secretly caring for the peasant and his family through an intermediary (Lichtheim 1973:173). Thus, the peasant becomes more and more desperate with each subsequent petition, until he finally threatens to invoke the god Anubis in order to obtain justice (Lichtheim 1973:182).  This ironic turn of events is what leads Lichtheim to suggest that the tale, beyond a discourse on the necessity for justice, is “…a parable on the utility of fine speech” (1973:169).  In her opinion, the basic message is that through the use of beautiful diction and persistence, people will always receive their just rewards. In the case of The Eloquent Peasant, the evil steward Nemptynakht is ultimately stripped of everything of worth, and his possessions are given to the peasant Khun-Anup as retribution.  Thus, the story has a just ending, and ma’at is restored (Lichtheim 1973:182).


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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