V: Conclusion, Bibliography, and Endnotes


 Lichtheim asserts that prose tales are “tales of wonder, of miraculous events in which human beings encounter the supernatural” (Lichtheim 211).  Coming from “the sphere of educated scribes and from the ambience of the court,” (Lichtheim 1973:211), they serve as modes of entertainment for Egypt’s literate elite.  “But fiction does teach,” argues Harold Hays (2000:144), who states that Three Tales of Wonder is not solely a treatise on the rise of the Fifth Dynasty, but rather much more (Hays 2000:136).  I have taken this suggestion further.  In analyzing the structure of The Shipwrecked Sailor, I came to the conclusion that the snake-king/god as an allegory for pharaoh, serves as the epitome for how the real pharaoh should respond to the ship’s captain. Furthermore, The Story of Sinuhe, in many ways a quite realistic story, offers up its own elements of fantasy.  It is hard to believe that a hero from Retenu could manage to shoot an entire quiver of arrows and fail to hit his opponent.  Moreover, Sinuhe strives to let his good traits be known to the readers, who will notice a distinct parallel with the monumental inscriptions of the Middle Kingdom (Lichtheim 1973:113).  The story serves to make Sinuhe’s argument, which is heard and received by the new pharaoh Sesostris I. The historicity of The Story of Sinuhe is very much in the same vein as Three Tales of Wonder, explaining merely the impetus that caused Sinuhe to run in the first place, and making it all the more clear why it is necessary for Sesostris I to demonstrate proper compassion and justice by inviting Sinuhe to return to Egypt.

 Three Tales of Wonder, and the other “prose” tales within that same context serve as commentaries on what it means to be a good pharaoh (and consequently what it means to be a good Egyptian citizen). Historicity can play a part in the message, but no matter how realistic a tale purports to be, there is always a message to be made.  Therefore I suggest that, most, if not all Egyptian literature is didactic.



Brewer, Douglas J. and Emily Teeter.  Egypt and the Egyptians: Second Edition.  Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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

Hays, Harold M. The Historicity of Papyrus Westcar.  Presented at the annual ARCE meeting, held at Berkeley, April 2000.

James, T.G.H.  The British Museum Concise Introduction to Ancient Egypt.  Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2005.

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

Strauss, Susan. The Passionate Fact: Storytelling in Natural History and Cultural Interpretation.  Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 1996.



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.



[1] Note that modern Egyptologists have created the names appended to all ancient Egyptian literature.  Ancient scribes did not title their work.

[2] This paper will not delve into the scholarly discussion, but interested parties are encouraged to research all

commentaries on their own, as Lichtheim suggests (1973:163).

[3] Note the similarity of the name “Userkaf” to that of “Wsrf,” as seen in the papyrus. I will return to this point later.

[4] Note the similarity to Frank Stockton’s short story, The Lady, or the Tiger?


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(C) May 2012: Devon Armstrong

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