Said Djedi…“that they shall achieve this excellent office in this land in its entirety. It is the eldest of them who shall achieve “Greatest of Seers” in On.” Then His Majesty, his heart fell into sadness on account of it. “What then is this mood, Oh Sovereign, Life Prosperity Happiness, My Lord?…As how I said- first your son, then his son, then one of them” (Papyrus Westcar IX 9- IX 14).
The above quote comes from Papyrus Westcar, the sole copy of the Ancient Egyptian story, Three Tales of Wonder. The tale is set in the Fourth Dynasty during the reign of King Khufu, between 2589 and 2566 BCE. However, the papyrus is written in Middle Egyptian and dates from the Hyksos Period, almost 950 years after the end of Khufu’s reign. The standard interpretation of this quote is that the magician Djedi is predicting the rise of the first three kings of Dynasty V, and the development of a sun cult during this period. Consequentially, Egyptologist Miriam Lichtheim classifies this story as a “prose” tale, alongside two other well-known Middle Egyptian stories: The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor and The Story of Sinuhe. In contrast to these tales, she classifies several other examples of literature as “didactic.” For her, “prose” tales exist for their entertainment value, while “didactic” ones serve to impart some moral, or message, to the readers.
Yet, these so-called “didactic” and “prose” tales seem to have much in common. This suggests the following two questions: What is the difference between these two genres? Is there really a precise division in Egyptian literature of the Middle Kingdom? This paper critically addresses these concerns. Through juxtaposition of the “prose” and “didactic” tales, I will conduct a critical analysis of Lichtheim’s “prose” tales, in an attempt to reclassify them as “didactic.” For the purposes of length, I will address only the following four “didactic” works: The Instruction of King Amenemhet I for his son Sesostris I, The Eloquent Peasant, The Prophecies of Neferti, and The Dispute between a Man and His Ba.
(C) May 2012: Devon Armstrong