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The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant

R 1.1 There was once a man1 The Tale begins as a simple narrative. The Wadi Natrun is an oasis c.100 km north-west of modern Cairo: the peasant is a rustic, on the edge of society. (For his name, see B2 115 and n. 110). He tells his wife to fetch all the food that they have left, and he then assigns rather low rations for himself and his family. called Khunanup; he was a peasant of the Wadi Natrun, whose wife was called Meret. And this peasant said to this wife of his, ‘Look, I am going to Egypt to buy provisions there for my children. Go and measure for me the grain which is left in the storehouse from [yesterday].’ And he measured out for her six gallons of grain. R 1.5 And this peasant said to this wife of his, ‘Look, twenty gallons of grain [are given] to you and your children for provisions. But you shall make these six gallons of grain into bread and beer for every day, for me to live on.’

This peasant then went down to Egypt,2 The list of goods shows that he is a trader, not a farmer. Natron and salt are the characteristic products of the Wadi Natrun; many of the other goods are slightly exotic imports from the various oases. Farafra is an oasis, c.300 km west of the Nile Valley. Inbi is a garden fruit or hedge plant. Tebu and uben are unidentified plants. B1 1 having loaded his asses with reeds and fan palms, natron and salt, B1 5 sticks from […]tiu and staffs from Farafra, leopard skins and wolf hides, B1 10 [pebbles] and [serpentine], wild mint-plants and inbi-fruits, tebu- and uben-plants, B1 15 —with all the fair produce of Wadi Natrun.

This peasant then went3 Heracleopolis was the capital of Egypt in the Ninth and Tenth Dynasties; this location implies the setting which is given in full in B1 102–4. Mednit is the 22nd Upper Egyptian nome, c.50 km north of Heracleopolis. Per-Fefi (‘the Estate of Fefi') is an otherwise unknown place, perhaps near Dahshur, c.80 km north of the capital (see Map, p. xxxiii). south to Heracleopolis. He then arrived in the area of Per-Fefi, north of Mednit. There he met a man, called Nemtinakht,4 Nemtinakht's name means ‘Nemti is mighty', alluding to a minor god who was possibly a patron of travellers—an ironic touch, as this man is about to harass a traveller. The High Steward was one of the highest officials under the king in the Twelfth Dynasty (the title is an anachronism in the Heracleopolitan setting). His name suggests his virtue: his patronym, Meru's son, is homophonous with the epithet ‘Beloved Son'—a type of virtuous man, and Rensi wordplays with ‘renown'. The villain of the Tale is thus introduced as a servant of a benevolent figure of authority, suggesting that good and evil are inextricably linked. standing on the riverbank. B1 20 He was the son of a gentleman called Isry; they were liegemen of the High Steward Meru's son Rensi. And this Nemtinakht, when he saw this peasant's asses5 Nemtinakht's speech immediately reveals his conscious villainy. The following scenic description is important for the plot, as Nemtinakht is blocking, and thus laying claim to, a public right of way (a kilt is c.50 cm wide). His order to his retainer is very autocratic in tone. His actions against the public in general prepare for the wider implications of the whole affair. which tempted his heart, said, ‘If only I had some effective charm, with which to steal this peasant's belongings!’ B1 25 Now the house of this Nemtinakht was on the water edge, which was a path. It was narrow; it was not broad, but only as wide as a kilt. One of its sides was under water, and the other under grain. And this Nemtinakht said to his follower, ‘Go bring me a sheet from my house!’ It was brought immediately. Then he spread the sheet on the water-edge pathway. B1 30 And its fringe rested on the water, with its hem on the barley. And this peasant came on the public path. And this Nemtinakht said, ‘Take care, peasant!6 When challenged, the peasant replies with the standard answer of obedient servants. As the dialogue becomes more heated the peasant's responses become more pointed and highly wrought. The dialogue ends with an unanswered question, prefiguring the peasant's fate—to petition without any response. Will you tread on my clothes?’ And this peasant said, ‘I'll do as you wish; my way is good.’ B1 35 He then went upwards. And this Nemtinakht said, ‘Will my barley be your path?’ And this peasant said, ‘My way is good, for the bank is high and the way under barley, and you block our path with clothes. Won't you even let us go past the path?’

B1 40 Then one of the asses took a mouthful7 The new development which precipitates the crisis is not chance but an inevitable consequence of Nemtinakht's plot. from a clump of barley. And this Nemtinakht said, ‘Look, peasant, I will take your ass, for eating my barley, and it will tread grain for its offence.’ And this peasant said, ‘My way is good;8 The peasant protests at the inequality of the exchange, and appeals to a higher authority (cf. n. 4), moving to wider issues. one clump is destroyed— B1 45 one destroying ten! For ten units I bought my ass and you seize it for a mouthful of a clump of grain! Now, I know the lord of this estate; it belongs to the High Steward Meru's son Rensi. Now, he punishes every robber in this entire land. Am I robbed in his estate?’ B1 50 And this Nemtinakht said, ‘Isn't this9 Nemtinakht cites a proverbial utterance, but only to dismiss the wider issues raised by the peasant: a poor man exists only in so far as he has a lord, and he is now the peasant's lord, not the distant protector invoked by the peasant. the proverb that people say— “A wretch's name is uttered only because of his master”? Even though it's the High Steward you recall, I'm the one who speaks to you.’

Then he took a stick of fresh tamarisk to him.10 The wood's freshness makes it more stinging. Tamarisk is homophonous with Nemtinakht's patronym (Isry's son); wordplay makes an aggressive act his defining characteristic. Then he beat all his limbs with it, B1 55 and his asses were taken, and entered into his estate. And this peasant now wept very much, for the pain of what was being done to him. And this Nemtinakht said, ‘Don't raise your voice, peasant,11 The Lord of Silence is the god of the dead, Osiris; this speech is a threat to silence the peasant by death. The peasant's reply reverses Nemtinakht's image, appeals to a higher lord, and invokes silence as a sign of contentment; he sees the world of the gods as his last refuge. or, look, you're for the harbour of the Lord of Silence!’ And this peasant said, ‘You beat me and steal my belongings? B1 60 And then you'll rob my mouth of complaint? O Lord of Silence, may You give me back my belongings, so I shan't cry out to Your fearsomeness!’ And this peasant spent a full week12 This length of time (Egypt had a ten-day ‘week') shows that the peasant behaves decorously, and that it is only Nemtinakht's lack of attention (often a metaphor for ethical evil and deafness to wisdom) that makes him petition a higher authority in a series of petitions that occupy another week. petitioning this Nemtinakht, but he paid no attention. This peasant then went13 Rensi's location in the capital, and the presence of an intermediary, are indications of his high rank. His judgement is immediate, and just. This breaks the pattern of the unproductive dialogue between Nemtinakht and the peasant. to Heracleopolis to petition B1 65 the High Steward Meru's son Rensi. He met him coming out of the door of his house, about to board his official barge. And this peasant said, ‘Might I acquaint you with this complaint! There is a reason to send one of your choice followers to me, about which I shall send him back to you.’ B1 70 And the High Steward Meru's son Rensi sent a choice follower to him, and this peasant sent him back about this matter in every detail. And the High Steward Meru's son Rensi accused this Nemtinakht to the officials who were with him.

B1 75 And they said to him, ‘Surely it's only a peasant of his14 The officials, however, respond cynically and materialistically, ignoring (like Nemtinakht) the wider issues, and assuming that the peasant is simply fleeing his rightful master, Nemtinakht. Their defence of the villain prevents the case being settled immediately by Rensi. Repayment is an ironic allusion to the principle of reciprocity, which is parodied here. Rensi's quietness associates him with the divine Lord of Silence (see n. 11); quietness is a sign of virtue in wisdom literature, but here his silence is also the problematic motor of the plot. who's run off to someone else. Look, this is what people do to their peasants who run off to others. Is there cause to punish this Nemtinakht for a little natron, and a little salt? B1 80 Order him to repay it, and he'll repay it.’ The High Steward Meru's son Rensi was then quiet. He answered neither the officials, nor the peasant.

*

And this peasant came to petition15 The peasant starts to petition Rensi in person to hear his case. His first speech is an introduction to the whole sequence, and is the most simply argued petition. After addressing Rensi by his usual title, the peasant coins epithets evoking his power in universal terms. Despite the eulogistic tone, the negative (all that is not) is given precedence over the positive (all that is). the High Steward Meru's son Rensi, and said, ‘High Steward, my lord! Great of the great, B1 85 leader of all that is not and all that is!

If you go down to the Sea of Truth,16 Enacting Truth (Maat) is imagined as a hunting voyage (the metaphor adds a touch of local colour, as there was a sacred lake called Maaty at Heracleopolis). This image has great resonance, as the hunt is a symbol of overcoming chaos on tomb and temple walls. The metaphor is formulated in negative terms: the water is an image of Truth, yet full of dangers; the face belongs to a crocodile. The last couplet presents a (contrasting) positive climax to the voyage, as the hunted animals come to Rensi voluntarily. you will sail on it with true fair wind; the bunt will not strip off your sails, nor your boat delay; nor will misfortune come upon your mast, nor your yards break; you will not go headlong, and be grounded; B1 90 nor will the flood carry you off; nor will you taste the river's evil, nor stare in the face of fear. But to you the fish will come caught; you will catch fatted fowl.

For you are a father to the orphan17 A formal eulogy follows, with four standard epithets describing selfless social virtue, which are known from funeral Autobiographies (an allusion to justice sub specie aeternitatis). The peasant then proclaims a set of epithets forming a quasi-royal titulary, as a regal acclamation of Rensi. Selfishness alludes to Nemtinakht's crime, and the second pair of epithets puts the issue in absolute terms of Falsehood and Truth. and a husband to the widow, a brother to the divorced, B1 95 an apron to the motherless. Let me make your name in this land, with every good law: Leader free from selfishness! Great one free from baseness! Destroyer of Falsehood! Creator of Truth! Who comes at the voice of the caller!

I speak so that you will hear.18 A coda develops the last verse of the eulogy, and urges Rensi to act in the peasant's specific case. B1 100 Do Truth, praised one whom the praised praise! Drive off my need—look, I am weighed down! Examine me—look, I am at a loss!’

*

Now this peasant made this speech19 The Tale's setting is now given in more detail: Nebkaure was a king of the Heracleopolitan Dynasty (c.2080–1987 BC). He is presented in general terms here. He implicitly accepts the peasant's innocence. Perfect speech is a standard description of literature's aesthetic and ethical qualities. in the reign of the Majesty of the Dual King Nebkaure, the justified. The High Steward Meru's son Rensi B1 105 then went before his Majesty and said, ‘My lord, I have found one of the peasants, whose speech is truly perfect, and whose goods have been stolen. And, look, he has come to me to appeal about it.’

And his Majesty said, ‘As you wish to see me in health20 The king's oath presents the central paradox behind the plot: the state's apparent neglect of the peasant's case is in fact an act in support of just speech and justice. (For the metaphorical significance of putting literature into writing, see B1 336, and nn. 96, 113). The king's terse command of silence towards the peasant associates him with the gods (cf. B1 58–60 and n. 11); he, unlike the officials and Nemtinakht, has a caring attitude towards the peasantry. B1 110 you shall delay him here, without answering anything he says! For the sake of his speaking, be quiet! Then we shall be brought it in writing, and we shall hear it. But provide sustenance for his wife and children! Look, one of these peasants only comes to Egypt when his house is all but empty. Also, provide sustenance for this peasant himself! You shall have the provisions given to him B1 115 without letting him know that you are giving him them!’

And he was given ten loaves of bread,21 This is a basic wage, such as is appropriate for a lowly peasant (whose suspicions must not be aroused by overgenerous treatment). Distributing grain is later a metaphor for true conduct; here, the High Steward's action is both literal and a metaphor for the state's (covert) support of justice. and two jars of beer daily. The High Steward Meru's son Rensi gave them— gave them to his friend, and his friend gave them to him. Then the High Steward Meru's son Rensi sent to the mayor of the Wadi Natrun about making provisions for this peasant's wife, three gallons daily.

*

And this peasant came to appeal to him a second time,22 The second petition is by far the longest, and marks a shift in the poem from narrative to discourse. Its length allows complex presentation of arguments that cautiously approach the central issue of Rensi's responsibility. The petition avoids any initial direct denunciation of him as a thief—the implied accusation is made gradually and with inescapable conviction. Patterns of allusive repetition and parody (especially in the increasingly ambivalent eulogies) articulate this indirect denunciation, which is supported by the explicit affirmation of responsibility: the only resolution of the dilemmas and paradoxes presented is for Rensi to intervene and help the peasant. The modes of address are more varied and tightly interwoven than in the first petition, presenting a complex pattern of invocation, injunction, description, imagery, and argument, developed in later petitions. The petition is dramatically effective, as the peasant's vehemence rises from specific to universal concerns. and said, ‘High Steward, my lord! Greatest of the great!23 The petition opens with an hyperbolistic invocation acclaiming Rensi as above all compromise and qualifications. The juxtaposition of greatness and richness implies his privilege and its attendant responsibility. Wide issues are involved in the peasant's plight. B1 120 Richest of the rich! Whose great ones have one greater! whose rich, one richer! Helm of heaven!24 Rensi is acclaimed with metaphors expressing his authority as absolute and universal. The first evokes the orderly sailing of the heavenly bodies; the beam is an architectural support, but also one for scales and plumbline (an image of justice). Rensi's authority upholds both heaven and earth. The imagery of sailing (echoing the first petition B1 85–93) and weighing is returned to again and again. The injunctions to shun evil set the tone of the petition; for the first time the peasant raises the possibility of Rensi's doing wrong. Beam of earth! Plumbline bearing the weight! Helm, drift not! Beam, tilt not! Plumbline, go not wrong! For a lord great through taking what is ownerless25 This description of the peasant's (someone's) state implies that Rensi's prosperity should make him sympathetic; the allusion to Nemtinakht as a great lord echoes the eulogy of Rensi, and associates the two. The peasant then moves to more specific matters: a little recompense, equivalent to a helping of beer and bread, will satisfy the peasant, and justice will cost Rensi nothing. In the dramatic context, this is ironic, as the peasant remains unaware that Rensi is actually provisioning him. A concluding verse states that the fate of a man and his underlings are bound together, implying that Rensi must help his inferior. is now robbing someone, while your share is in your house. B1 125 A jar of beer and three loaves of bread— what else need you give out to satisfy your dependents? A mortal must die with his underlings.

Will you then be a man of eternity?26 The question contrasts Rensi's desire for eternity with the mortality of the preceding stanza. A further contrast is developed between Rensi's aspirations and the actual state of affairs which threatens to undermine him. The peasant turns to consider the imperfection with which Rensi is surrounded. Yet is it not wrong?—the scales tilting, the weight wandering the truly upright man turned aside? Look, Truth flees from under you,27 This verse introduces a long descriptive lament about how good is perverted to evil, with antitheses between the world as it is now and as it should be. exiled from its place; the officials are doing evil; the standard of speech28 The peasant argues that a single crime can undermine the whole standard of justice. A couplet (this means …) gives a gloss on these verses: a judge's prevarication in speech affects justice and is thus as bad as the robber's crime. is now partial, B1 130 and the judges snatch when it carries things off— this means that he who twists speech from its rightness makes himself go wrong thereby; the breath-giver is now at a loss on the ground;29 The petition continues with antithetical descriptions of reversal, and concludes by describing wrong as cataclysmic (flood), and with a phrase that is directed against Rensi (the punisher of wrong). he who breathes calmly makes people pant; the apportioner is greedy, the dispeller of need is the commander of its making, and the harbour is its own flood; the punisher of wrong does evil.’

And the High Steward Meru's son Rensi said,30 Rensi intervenes to maintain the credibility of his position and to provoke further speech. He accuses the peasant of the materialism and selfishness that he has detected in others. The peasant simply continues his descriptive denunciations of theft, alluding more strongly to Rensi's involvement. Measurer introduces the metaphor of grain, in which the distribution of food represents that of justice, to imply that Truth is the stuff of life. B1 135 ‘Are your belongings more important to you than my follower's seizing you?’ And this peasant said, ‘And the measurer of heaps now defrauds for himself; the measurer for others now despoils his surroundings; the lawful leader now commands theft— who then will beat off wretchedness when the dispeller of infirmity is going wrong? One man is exact about being crooked;31 Evil and hypocrisy in society are such that men's apparent correct behaviour is for the sake of wrong and they give praise accordingly. In the final question of this stanza the peasant answers Rensi's challenge by accusing him of selfinterest and complicity in the theft. another acclaims the evildoer. Do you not profit yourself thus?

B1 140 The redress is short, the evil long;32 The peasant turns his attention to retribution, and the second half of the petition begins by asserting the cogency of good action, described in a more abstract and figurative fashion than hitherto. The opening line associates the lack of redress with the dominance of evil (described earlier), but asserts that the principle of reciprocity remains valid in spite of this, for good character is ultimately immutable. This infallibility is expressed as a god-given ordinance concerning reciprocity and retribution, a central aspect of Truth. The principle of reciprocity is then exemplified in three metaphors, which present it as ensuring continuity by rewarding (thanking) a man's deeds, as a way of thus avoiding evil (parrying), and of gaining good (commissioning a work of art). yet good character returns to its place of yesterday. This is an ordinance: Act for the man who acts, to cause him to act. This is thanking him for what he does; this is parrying a thing before shooting; this is commissioning something from a master craftsman. O for a moment that destroys,33 The negative side of the principle of reciprocity is now applied to Rensi with an extended violent exclamation. A short moment of retribution is invoked to destroy his ill-gotten wealth; the imagery ironically recalls the hunt of B1 85–93, where fowl were the reward of the just (see n. 16). Antithetical denunciations then justify this savage wish. downfall in your bird-nets, loss in your fowl, waste in your marshbirds! For the watcher has turned out blind, the hearer deaf, B1 145 the leader a misleader!

You depositary! Have you not gone too far?34 Rensi is now addressed as a depositary (literally ‘basket'), being a source of wealth. This stanza develops the association of wealth with responsibility. Questions allude to his actions as self-destructive, as well as criminal. Why do you act against yourself so? Look, you are mighty, powerful,35 The peasant affirms Rensi's power with eulogistic but increasingly ambivalent declarations, in which his power is also a source of his abuse of privilege and aggression; the verses suggestively echo the earlier descriptions of retribution. The poor man alludes to the peasant. Rensi is now likened to a demon of Khenty, a crocodile-god of death, and the following verses develop this more extravagantly—he has surpassed the baleful plague goddess Sekhmet. His injustice evokes savage gods as if calling the benevolence of the divine into question. your arm active, your heart selfish, and mercy has passed you by! How miserable is the poor man you destroy! B1 150 For you are like the messenger of Khenty. Look, you surpass the Lady of Plague; what is not for you is not for her; what not against her, not against you; you shall not act, she shall not! A lord of bread should be merciful, whereas might belongs to the deprived;36 The problem of culpability is now argued more specifically and socially, in less passionate terms: the deprived can justifiably take, but the rich man without want (i.e. Rensi) is at fault to behave likewise, and should be merciful: the concluding verse justifies the peasant's denunciations. theft suits one without belongings, when the belongings are snatched by the deprived; B1 155 but the bad act without want—should it not be blamed? It is self-seeking.

You, however, are sated with your bread,37 This stanza opens by describing Rensi's great wealth in order to drive home the extent of his fault. The peasant then continues with calmer antithetical descriptions of the lack of order surrounding Rensi. The boat represents the state (echoing the cosmic ‘helm' of B1 121, see also n. 24). The central problem is that, although power that should not be abused has been entrusted to Rensi by the aloof king, he is apparently surrounded by evil. drunk with your beer; you are rich with all [things]. The steersman faces forward, yet the boat drifts as it wills. The king is within the palace, and the steering-oar is in your hand, yet evil is placed all around you. B1 160 Long is the appealer's task, profound the divide;38 The peasant's (the appealer's) petition is presented as a force against this wrong, which will endure as long as the evil (the divide) that it confronts. Through attracting attention the plaint threatens to be a public rebuke for Rensi. As the petition nears its end, Rensi is enjoined to return to justice. The imagery of shore and harbour develops the nautical themes of the previous stanza. “What's up with him?” will be said. Give shelter so that your shore will be sound, for look, your harbour is swarming with crocodiles! Be your tongue righteous, so that you will not stray;39 The peasant warns that retribution is the inherent consequence of evil action: a man's own tongue can bring about his downfall. that limb of a man is his bane.

Do not speak falsehood! Beware the officials!40 A final stanza develops the social aspects of the preceding one and its concern with speech; the opening injunction warns against the officials' neglect of true speech. The image presents officials who hear cases as winnowing baskets, yet, because they deal with and live off falsehood, injustice is of little concern to them. The peasant denounces their neglect of evil, and again correlates sustenance with justice. Those hearers and winnowers are a basket, B1 165 but their fodder is speaking falsehood, so that it seems a light concern for their hearts. Sage of all men,41 The peasant enjoins Rensi to distinguish himself as a just judge. The previous descriptions and denunciations are subsumed in a return to eulogy. The imagery of shipwreck was earlier applied to Rensi, but here the peasant uses it of his own suffering (emphasizing the close ties between the protagonists). The concluding impassioned cries forcefully present the shock of Rensi's apparent indifference to the peasant's plaint. do you ignore only my affairs? You who take care of all at sea— look, I am under way, but boatless! Bringer to land of all who drown—rescue the wrecked, B1 170 for I am anguished at your very side!’

*

And this peasant came to appeal to him a third time42 The third petition presents a less complex interweaving of types of discourse, and the imagery is grouped into more unified patterns of gods, balance, navigation, professions, and animals. It is less argumentative and descriptive, but more animated; it concentrates on Rensi's person more exclusively to present in extreme terms the paradox of his responsibility; metaphoric exaltation and debasement are violently juxtaposed. As a member of the hierarchy, Rensi acts as a representative of the king and can take it upon himself to represent the creator without losing his human individuality; by the same principle he is responsible for the crime of his subordinate, and thus can be addressed as the robber. and said, ‘High Steward, my lord! You are a Sungod, lord of heaven, with your entourage.43 The opening eulogy is on a grand, cosmic, scale; it assimilates Rensi with the greatest god, the creator Sungod. His universal bounty, providing people with their daily rations (portion), is likened to a flood, which moves to the next assimilation—the god of the annual Nileflood; the two gods are the sources of two necessities of life. The imagery also gives a sense of Rensi's ambivalent position: he is both an inundation of benefit, and a flood that destroyed the mounds on which settlements were built, before restoring them. The ambivalence of the image comes to the fore in a concluding injunction. Everyone's portion is with you, like a flood. You are a Nileflood who revives the water-meadows, and restores the ravaged mounds. B1 175 Punisher of the robber, protector of the poor— become not a torrent against the appealer!

Take heed of eternity's approach! Wish to endure,44 The peasant now warns of eternity's approach, by proclaiming a generally held proposition that only virtue can create enduring life and elevate Rensi to the level of the eternal. as is said, “Doing Truth is the breath of life.” Deal punishment to the punishable! May your standard never be equalled! Do the scales wander?45 Three rhetorical questions imply that eternal justice is unswerving, and that Rensi must be so too. Thoth is the god of wisdom, writing, and judgement, and is an agent of the Sungod. The eulogistic assimilation with the divine is reformulated as an ironic injunction to behave like the gods. These sarcastic questions suggest that the divine has a potentially ambivalent role too: if Rensi can be unjust, perhaps the gods can too. B1 180 Is the balance partial? And is Thoth lenient? If so, then you should do evil! You should bestow yourself as the twin of these three!46 The third stanza directly enjoins Rensi to behave like Thoth, the scales, and the balances, with significant play on the number three (appropriate in this third petition). If the three are lenient, then you can be lenient. Do not answer good with bad! Do not put one thing in another's place! Or speech will grow, even more than weeds,47 If Rensi ignores the peasant, he will find a response more prolific than weeds, which grow even as they are smelled. This image of growth associates speech with the regenerating power of the Nileflood, but in the next verses it also represents Rensi's designs, which cultivate deception. This double use of imagery presents the interrelationship of unjust provocation and justified complaint. The final verse juxtaposes the peasant's just intentions with Rensi's apparently ignoble inaction; the repetition of three associates the ‘occasions' of petitioning with the three representatives of true judgement mentioned in B1 181–2 (see n. 46). B1 185 to reach the smeller with its answer. The man who waters evil to make deception grow— this is three times to make him act.

Steer according to the sail!48 The peasant now expresses his injunction still more forcefully, resuming the navigational imagery of the first petition (where it concerned justice), and the water imagery (torrent) of the opening invocation (B1 173 and n. 43). Remove the torrent to do Truth! Beware turning back while at the tiller! B1 190 Maintaining earth's rightness is doing Truth. Speak not falsehood, for you are great!49 A sequence of negative commands intensifies the sense of urgency. The balancing eulogistic clauses provide the rationales; Rensi is urged to behave as the absolute ideal (standard) of justice. Be not light, for you are weighty! Speak not falsehood, you are the scales! Stray not, you are the standard! Look, you yourself are the very scales:50 Rensi is identified with the scales, rearticulating and condensing the extended and more indirect identification of previous verses. Two strands of imagery—nautical and scales—are then interwoven in commands forbidding divergence. Through the idea of seizing, which recalls a rapacious flood, the petition returns from imperatives to a more descriptive treatment of robbery and the selfless nature of true greatness. if they tilt, then you can tilt. Drift not, but steer! B1 195 Rescue with the tiller rope! Seize not, but act against the seizer! A selfish great one is not truly great. But your tongue is the plummet;51 This is the most daringly expressed identification of Rensi with the scales (comprising plummet and weight, suspended from the scales' arms)—an image of the ideal greatness. Ideal and actual are contrasted in an expansively phrased and climactic question about Rensi's failure to act according to the ideal. your heart is the weight; your lips are its arms. So if you disregard the fierce, who will beat off wretchedness?

B1 200 Look, you are a wretched washerman,52 The mood now changes to direct denunciations, with a bitingly sarcastic parody of the opening eulogy (the repetition of wretched from B1 199 establishes continuity). The laments of the previous petition (B1 128–39 and nn. 27–31) are reformulated as direct accusations which evoke the corruption of the world. The images refer back to previous motifs: e.g. the washerman is concerned with the river of B1 172–4 (n. 43), with the mock heroic diction of faithful companion adding to the scorn; the ferryman echoes the nautical imagery (B1 85–93) and parodies Autobiographies in which a virtuous man claims to have ferried over people without fares; the storehouse keeper recalls the imagery of Truth as grain (see n. 30). All these menial workers are, like Rensi, reprehensible, despite apparent professional propriety. a selfish one who destroys friendship, and forsakes his faithful companion for his client— anyone who comes and supplies him is his brother. Look, you are a ferryman who ferries only fareholders, a doer of right whose righteousness is flawed. B1 205 Look, you are a storehouse keeper, who does not let someone in penury escape a debt.

Look, you are a hawk to the folk,53 The imagery includes animals as well as human society. In official iconography the hawk is a royal bird, but here it preys on humanity. The stanza culminates in a despairing and sarcastic question with the metaphor of a shepherd, who cannot reckon (i.e. count his flock, or, metaphorically, judge); the shepherd should represent caring authority. The image of a crocodile (echoing B1 149–50 and n. 35) presents Rensi as a predator instead of a protector. The final address states that Rensi's betrayal of responsibility affects the whole land, as seen in the previous verses' evocation of general woe. who lives on the wretched birds. Look, you are a butcher whose joy is slaughter, without feeling any of the carnage. Look, you are a shepherd— is it not a wrong for me that you cannot reckon? B1 210 If not, then you can create loss—a predatory crocodile, a shelter which has abandoned the harbour of the whole land!

Hearer, you do not hear!54 Rensi is now accused with greater assurance, and his motives, more than just his behaviour, are questioned. The only justification for his inaction would be if all aggression (the crocodile, i.e. Rensi himself) against the peasant had already ceased (which it has not). In the final verses, which are formal in tone, the peasant returns to the theme of nemesis: Rensi's behaviour cannot benefit him, for the Falsehood on which he relies will be overthrown, and earthly life is uncertain (comes and evil are homonyms). So why do you not hear? Is it because the predator has today already been beaten off for me? The crocodile retreats? What use for you is this? The mystery of Truth will be found, and Falsehood cast down on the ground! B1 215 Do not plan tomorrow before it comes; the evil in it cannot be known!’

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Now the peasant spoke this speech55 After this direct abuse, Rensi intervenes again; see n. 30. The beating recalls Nemtinakht's actions (B1 53–4) and it effectively provokes the peasant further. This narrative interlude is the last significant portion of narrative in the Tale before the resolution. 〈to〉 the High Steward Meru's son Rensi at the entrance of the office. Then he set two attendants on him with whips. Then they beat all his limbs with them.

And this peasant said, ‘So shall Meru's son still err,56 After the hope with which the preceding petition ended (B1 213–15), the peasant again despairs, and describes Rensi's indifference as a complete lack of perception. his face blind to what he sees, and deaf to what he hears, B1 220 his heart straying from what is recalled to him. Look, you are a town without a mayor,57 The peasant continues the denunciations of the third petition, but now they are shorter, swifter, and more direct, articulating social chaos and corruption. The first sequence likens Rensi to ineffective groups of men in order to suggest the self-destructive nature of his negligence; the increasingly demeaning comparisons move from a town to a gang. In the second half the antitheses refer more directly to his abuse of authority. like a generation without a great man, like a boat with no controller, a gang without a leader. Look, you are a stealing officer, a bribed mayor, a district-overseer who should beat off the plunderer who has become an archetype for the evildoer.’

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B1 225 And this peasant came to appeal to him a fourth time;58 The fourth petition begins the second group of petitions. It returns to a more complex interweaving of stylistic modes and forms of address, to lament-motifs and to direct denunciations. The images are varied and complex, drawing on previous formulations, but they share a common theme of movement, through which Rensi's aggression is described in psychological terms. The petition reaf-firms the concerns of the preceding ones and relates these more personally to the question of Rensi's motivation, culminating in impassioned and despairing pleas. 〈he〉 met him coming out of the gate59 The temple gate was a place of judgement and legal appeal. Local references remind the audience of the dramatic setting: Herishef is the god of Heracleopolis, and is—appropriately for the peasant—associated with the vindication of the suffering god Osiris. The peasant returns to unqualified eulogy in a fresh start after the third petition; the greeting is a return to a more formal, decorous style. These verses associate Rensi's ideal moral purity with that of a vindicator god, enjoining him to act like god. Rensi comes purified from the temple; he is the link between the peasant and the gods. of the temple of Herishef, and said, ‘O praised one, may Herishef from whose temple you have come, praise you!

Destroyed is goodness, it has no unity,60 In contrast to the harmony implicit in the temple, this stanza is a despairing lament about the disintegration of right in society. Nautical imagery, which is intensified by repetition, rhetorical questions, and exclamatory answers, implicitly continues the previous denunciation of Rensi as a ferryman and the helm of the state (B1 121, 157–9, 202–3). The motif of crossing the river on foot articulates the impossibility of achieving success in such circumstances, and ironically recalls the image of life as a voyage. The situation has been caused by the sunken ferry, i.e. Rensi. and nothing can hurl Falsehood to the ground. B1 230 Has this ferry not gone down? So who can be taken across, when crossing is made hateful? Crossing the river on foot— is that a good crossing? No! So who now can sleep till dawn?61 Sleeping till dawn is a proverbial sign of well-being and security. The description of the land in chaos continues with the impossibility of travel by land (note the repetition of destroyed); the land is smitten with moral paralysis. A third verse returns to legal concerns. The repetition in the final despairing couplet of phrases from the second petition (B1 148–9) emphasizes the lack of progress or movement. For destroyed is going by night and travelling by day, and making a man attend his good true right. B1 235 Look, it is no use to tell you this, for mercy has passed you by: how miserable is the poor man you destroy!

Look, you are a hunter who slakes his desire,62 The second half of the petition opens with a bitter address to Rensi. After the immobility of the first half, Rensi is presented in a swift burst of action, and is addressed forcefully as a hunter. His actions are usually prestigious activities, but have aggressive overtones here: the godlike sportsman of B1 85–93 is now a predator; implicitly the peasant is the prey. Although the hunt is potentially symbolic of the triumph of Right (see n. 16), it is here motivated by selfish aims. who reaches out and does what he wants, who harpoons hippopotami and shoots wild bulls, catches fish and snares fowl. B1 240 Yet none hasty-mouthed is free from recklessness;63 Swiftness is now an ethical issue, and a danger; the rapid hunt becomes recklessness, which is contrasted with what is cautious and patient, as the peasant concentrates on Rensi's psychological motivation. none light of heart is cautious of intent. Your heart should be patient, so that you will know Truth! Suppress your choice for the good of him who would depart quietly!64 Only selfless action is urged, and for the benefit of someone (the peasant) whose quietness (cf. n. 14) makes him an antithesis of the ‘hasty-mouthed' (B1 239) and the hasty-hearted. The peasant alludes to retribution: unvirtuous recklessness is impermanent, unlike Truth. No rapid man cleaves to excellence; no hasty-hearted man will exist.

Stretch out to act, now your eyes are opened!65 Positive action, including perception, is now urged, as is its correlate, the avoidance of abusive action. The peasant now presents retribution less as divine intervention, more as an inevitable and inherent consequence of bad action. Inform the heart! B1 245 Be not harsh because you are powerful, so that evil may not reach you! Pass over a misdeed, and it will be two. Only the eater tastes;66 Five verses articulate the underlying subject of the cogency of action, actor, and consequence in terms of basic life situations. The image of Rensi as an eater alludes to the image of Truth as sustenance (cf. n. 30); that of Rensi as a sleeper suffering bad dreams recalls the lack of calm sleep in the land (B1 232 and n. 61); his nightmare is an image of the way in which proliferating evil, caused by Rensi's moral sleep (i.e. negligence), will disturb him. so the accused replies. Only the sleeper sees the dream; so the punishable judge is an archetype for the evildoer. B1 250 Fool, look now you are caught!67 The full force of invective is suddenly and personally turned against Rensi: the judge is now judged. Bilge-baler echoes the preceding nautical imagery in a demeaning manner. These verses gain resonance from their double meaning and interwoven imagery: bilge-baler can also mean ‘one who can only dish out water (instead of words or provisions)' or ‘one who bails out his own urine'; to be noticed is homonymous with ‘to be sunk’. Ignoramus, look now you are accused! Bilge-baler, look now you are noticed! Helmsman, do not mis-steer your ship!68 Epithets with images of protection and sustenance form a violent parody of the eulogistic titulary of the first petition (B1 95–9); the number of five alludes to the fivefold form of king's titulary. The strong antitheses articulate the contradiction of Rensi's position. The petition ends with a cry of despair and exasperation, a realization by the peasant that his perception of Rensi's character is not enough to end his suffering. Life-giver, let not die! Destroyer, let not perish! Shade, be not sun-blaze! B1 255 Shelter, let not the crocodile seize! A fourth time appealing to you! Shall I continue at it all day?’

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And this peasant came to appeal to him a fifth time69 The fifth petition moves from description, through argumentative presentation, to denunciation. The imagery is unified, simple, and intense, presenting Rensi's wrong in both social and figurative terms. His social wrong is defined plainly, tersely, and explicitly, with renewed emphasis on his deputized responsibility. The brevity and simplicity of this petition reflect its structural role as the central petition, with a largely descriptive summary of the underlying problem. and said, ‘High Steward, my lord! The netter is […]ing the [mehyt]-fish,70 The petition opens with a description of lowly and savage riverine activity (far from the earlier aristocratic hunts of B1 85–93, 236–9; see also nn. 16, 62), which continues the derogatory images of lowly professions. Aggression now engulfs the whole river. The five statements about catching various (unidentified) fishes ironically echo the earlier fivefold titulary (B1 252–5 and n. 68); this is also the fifth petition. the […]er killing the Comer-fish, B1 260 the fish-spearer harpooning the ubbu-fish, and the trawler is after the paqru-fish. The catcher ravages the river.

Look, you are like them!71 This stanza makes clear the relevance of the preceding one: it defines the nature of the peasant's wretchedness, and confronts Rensi with the seriousness of his plight. Breath is elsewhere a metaphor for justice (B1 177) as well as life. Do not rob a wretch of his belongings! Helplessness—you know what it is: a pauper's belongings are his breath— B1 265 taking them is suffocating him.

You were appointed to hear cases,72 A stanza on Rensi's legal responsibilities develops the preceding allusion to justice, symmetrically arranged around the rebuke of You are trusted. Dykes were vital protection against the flooding Nile, and this image climaxes in the final line, which reverses the images of earth and water; the metaphor of the lake returns to the imagery of the opening verses of the petition (B1 257–62). to judge contenders, to punish the thief. Look, your way is to weigh for the robber. You are trusted—and are become a misleader. You were appointed as a dyke for the pauper— beware lest he drown! B1 270 Look, you are his lake, you who drag under!’

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And this peasant came to appeal to him a sixth time,73 The sixth petition is structured by progression from the ideal to its contrary within each section. It moves from description, through highly allusive argument, to more direct address of Rensi. Thematically, it rearticulates motifs already presented, but with greater emphasis on their ramifications. This happens on both an abstract generalizing level, and with more specific reference to the peasant himself. This shift marks a growing emphasis on the interrelationship of the two protagonists as well as on Truth and its contraries. and said, ‘High Steward, my lord! A lord diminishes falsehood: a creator of Truth,74 The petition opens with a nine-line, rhetorical quasi-invocation which juxtaposes (but does not assimilate) Rensi and an ideal lord. These verses identify the (re)creation of virtue with the ending of evil, and are followed by four similes from basic life situations. The images include phrases reminiscent of the ethical ideals of Autobiographies, and metaphors of sustenance. The broad images of resolution give a sense of relief after the preceding descriptions of social wrong. who creates all goodness, and destroys evil! Like the coming of satiety, ending hunger, B1 275 of clothes, ending nakedness; like the sky's calm after high wind, which warms all the cold; like fire which cooks the raw; like water which quenches thirst! See for yourself:75 The peasant now commands Rensi to perceive the evils which remain undispelled: the brief descriptions recall the earlier laments. B1 280 the apportioner is robbing, the appeaser making suffer, the perfecter making anguish!

Making defects lessens Truth:76 The petition continues with broad statements; measuring evokes the imagery of Truth as grain. Wrong's attack on Truth is described in a paradox: although Truth is lessened in the world, it is itself never damaged: it is an ideal despite its flawed embodiments, and the ideal remains an exact and enduring equilibrium. Overflow is a term used of grain; the next verses continue this imagery more specifically, and urge the just distribution of food rather than selfish jawing (which includes eating and talking). These verses enjoin Rensi to refrain from greed, implying both the brotherhood of man and the ideal that Truth is common property. so measure well! For Truth has not been damaged, nor has overflown. If you acquire, then give to your brother, B1 285 for jawing is devoid of right. My sorrow leads only to separation;77 The peasant laments how his just actions bring only unjustified suffering, and further alienation from the principle of reciprocity, in contrast to Rensi's acquiring two verses earlier. The unknowableness of the heart relates to the contrast between the ideal situation and the actual: wrong springs from the human heart, but one cannot know why a man (Rensi) chooses it. my accusation brings departure: what is in the heart is unknowable. Be not remiss: you should act with a view to report! You divide—who will then reconcile?78 Five verses employ images of navigation to articulate Rensi's unique responsibility to fight evil (and thus echo earlier imagery). Rensi's helmstaff is a force to redress disaster. The image of robbing a wreck implies that, if the case under Rensi's charge is wrecked, he too will suffer because of the loss. For the helmstaff is in your hand, like a pole to open a way when mischance befalls at sea. B1 290 But if the boat goes down it is robbed; its load perishes on the ground on every shore.

You are educated; you are skilled;79 Rensi's ability is now acclaimed in terms of personal capacities. His distinction is incompatible with theft, and is contrasted with his culpably undistinguished behaviour. This stanza summarizes the paradox of Rensi, which involves his individual qualities and his surroundings: his wrong act makes him an evil influence on the whole land. you are perfected—but not for robbing! You act the same as everyone; your surroundings are awry, you who should be right! Defect-maker of the whole land! For a gardener of wretchedness80 An elaborate concluding image justifies the expansiveness of the preceding verse, showing how one deed cultivates universal evil. The imagery of growth increases from a single gardener and his small plot, to his affect on the whole estate (estate has funerary associations, evoking eternal concerns). The gardener is implicitly Rensi, but the image of a corrupt and wretched profession also evokes a corrupt society. It is a parody of the petition's opening description of the ‘lord' and his creative potential (B1 272–3). B1 295 is now watering his plot with bad, to make his plot grow with falsehood, to water the evil of the entire estate.’

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And this peasant came to appeal to him a seventh time,81 The seventh petition begins a third group of petitions. It is a return to a more decorous address, and it moves from eulogy through argumentative statements to an oblique denunciation which reformulates the opening eulogy in an ironic manner. The personal interaction of the protagonists is now more extensively related to Truth on a cosmic and a social level: the peasant increasingly emphasizes how abstract principles of right and wrong are embodied in himself and in Rensi. He justifies his complaint more explicitly, and he predicts with greater certainty that retribution is an inherent consequence of wrong. The images, the ambivalence of the final eulogy, and the allusively significant descriptions present the contrast between right and wrong, together with their ramifications. and said, ‘High Steward, my lord! You are the helm of the whole land.82 As in the third petition, the opening is an unqualified eulogy, but this one is significantly less elevated (now Rensi is a god's twin, not a god himself). It returns to the imagery of the navigation of the land (from B1 289–91), weighing, and Thoth (see n. 45). The land sails as you command. You are the twin of Thoth, B1 300 the judge without partiality. Lord, may you endure,83 The second stanza is a fresh address to the peasant's lord. He urges him to be patient, and two triplets on this virtue flank a central triplet on the consequence of its contrary, impatient confidence. Implicit in this warning against unforeseen nemesis is the choice Rensi must make between these alternatives. The third triplet on patience concludes with a reflection on the unknowable nature of the heart that determines the choice (cf. B1 287). that a man may be summoned for his true right! Be not quarrelsome: it is not for you! The confident man becomes miserable— do not scheme for what has not yet come, do not rejoice in what has not yet happened! Patience extends friendship, destroying an evil deed which has occurred. What is in the heart is unknowable. B1 305 The law-hacker, the standard-destroyer—84 The peasant now denounces the man (Rensi) who, regardless of the preceding warnings, destroys the wretched man (the peasant) whose protection and wellbeing are integral to Truth. Truth is now an active accusing force, and is associated with the peasant, not Rensi. there is no wretch whom he has plundered still living. Has Truth not addressed him? Now, my body is full, my heart laden,85 The peasant justifies his accusation and shows that, as it is enforced by suffering, it is compatible with the patience he enjoins. The imagery is ironic—his belly is full but with suffering, not sustenance. Images of satiety and oppression culminate in that of a breached dyke (ironically alluding to that of Rensi as a protective dyke at the end of the fifth petition (B1 268–9) ). and what comes from my body due to its state is the breach of a dyke, whose waters have flown out, as my mouth opens to speak. B1 310 So, I have now plied my pole, baled out my water,86 The peasant's attempts to repel his wretchedness are expressed as resistance to shipwreck and as physical hardship. These verses are layered and complex, a rapid fusion of images of a sinking ship and the excretion of woe (incontinence and soiled clothes). He then states that the articulation of his agony is complete. His question, which stresses that Rensi is forcing him to continue, is ironic beyond his knowledge. unloaded what was in my body, washed my soiled clothes! My plaint is done, my wretchedness ended before you— what more do you want?

Your neglect will mislead you,87 The second half of the petition considers Rensi's future, forcefully affirming that his neglect of Truth will be his nemesis. A triplet predicts his fall, and then another predicts his regret as he realizes what he has lost in the peasant: the negligent Rensi will then stand begging to meet another such petitioner. your selfishness befool you, your greed create you foes, but will you find another peasant like me? B1 315 Or will the negligent man, now a pleader, stand waiting at the door of his house?

There is none quiet whom you made speak,88 This stanza continues the forceful symmetry of the preceding one with a eulogy that is ambivalent and bitter: there is none that he has aided who is still helpless, but there is no helpless person whom he has aided. There are other layers of irony in the opening line: quietness is desirable (see n. 14), but Rensi is forcing the peasant to speak; the faults Rensi can dispel are those that he embodies himself. none sleeping whom you roused, none obtuse whom you enlightened, none with shut mouth whom you opened, none ignorant whom you made wise, none foolish whom you educated. Officials are men who beat back evil, they are lords of goodness,89 In contrast with the preceding six verses, the petition ends with an unqualified eulogy of ideal officials, who—unlike Rensi—act as creators. The final phrase has darker implications: it links the ideal official with a miraculous—that is, impossible—event, highlighting the dichotomy between the ideal and the actual. B1 320 they are craftsmen of creating what is, joiners of the severed head!’

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And this peasant came to appeal to him an eighth time,90 The eighth petition continues to develop the interrelationship of the protagonists in abstract terms. The first major section has a predominantly social aspect, which contrasts with the otherworldly nature of the next part. The inevitable downfall of evil is reaffirmed, but much of the central portion presents Truth as a positive force, now associated with the peasant, and not Rensi (this change builds upon previous tension). This is the longest explicit discussion of Truth: appropriately, the petition is long, comparatively restrained in imagery, and it describes the protagonists' behaviour in relation to general principles. The series of descriptive statements juxtaposes and interweaves the specific situation with the universal aspect of Truth, throwing this latter into relief. and said, ‘High Steward, my lord! One falls far for greed.91 The petition opens with a statement about the downfall of greed, which is developed in the following verses. These describe the failure of vice, and then relate this directly to Rensi, climaxing in a vocative, which implicitly denounces vice as incompatible with his duty. The selfish man is free from success; his success belongs to failure. You are selfish—it is not for you; you steal—it is not good for you, you who should make a man attend his good true right! B1 325 In fact, your portion is in your house, and your belly full,92 Rensi's wealth is now described as culpably excessive and misused, highlighting the wrongness of his greed. while the grain measure brims over and overflows so that its excess perishes on the ground.

Seizer of the robbed, taker!93 A second stanza opens with a passionate address repeating the accusations of greed, and alluding to Rensi's abuse of his position in relation to the robbed. Contrasted with this is a description of officials' ideal duty in terms of social redress. The officials who were appointed to outlaw evil are a shelter against the predator— those officials who were appointed to outlaw Falsehood! Yet your fearsomeness does not make me appeal to you; you do not perceive my heart.94 The peasant describes the interaction of the two protagonists and his own motivation more explicitly. His (the quiet man's) virtue in opposing Rensi is independent of concern and respect for social status, and is maintained despite his lack of any help (brother). B1 330 The quiet man who turns to complain to you— he does not fear the man he supplicates, though no brother of his can be summoned against you out of the street. Your plots of land are in the country,95 A forceful series of verses describes Rensi's social status and wealth. The series reaches a climax as the peasant turns on Rensi with an ironic question, justifying his lack of respect. Rensi has no excuse to act as a thief, when he has such authority: he is attended by troops as he administers the division of landed property despite his corruption. your wealth in the estate, your provisions in the storehouse! Officials are giving to you, and you are still taking. So are you a thief? —when people are ushered in before you, and troops are with you, for the division of land plots!

B1 335 Do Truth for the Lord of Truth,96 The second half of the petition turns to abstract injunctions to do Truth in terms implying a complex scale of virtue from the absolute ideal to actual embodiments of relative virtue: there is true justice and greatness which belong to the creator-god (the Lord of Truth), but there are also imperfect embodiments of these ideals—apparent justice. Rensi is acclaimed as the writing equipment of Thoth (see n. 45): writing is a way of embodying an ideal. This image implies that Rensi is the agent of a higher, and absolute, authority—a hierarchy from the Lord of Truth, through his scribe Thoth, to Rensi. The allusive quatrain concludes with an injunction to avoid doing evil, which is juxtaposed with a definition of goodness (which is associated with Truth). This definition uses dense wordplay to express how the absolute ideal of goodness surpasses the limited actual capacities of a good man, and is what ensures his virtue. whose truth has Truth! Pen, roll, palette of Thoth, may you avoid doing evil! Only the goodness of the good man is good beyond him. But Truth itself is for eternity.97 Truth itself contrasts with the limited value of relative good, and the stanza continues by describing the power of absolute Truth to help its doer, transcending this world and its social order. The result of justice is now presented in otherworldly terms. To the necropolis in its doer's hand it descends; B1 340 he is entombed, earth joins with him; but his name is not effaced on earth. He is remembered for his goodness. It is the standard of God's word. If it is scales, it tilts not;98 A central couplet relates the scales of justice to the ideal of Truth, whose immutability they reflect. The scales allude to Rensi as judge (cf. B1 196–8 and n. 51), to the judgement of the peasant's case, and also to the weighing of all men after death in the scales of god. if a balance, it is not partial. B1 345 Look, I will come, or look, another will come,99 The relationship of the protagonists is rephrased, as the peasant urges that Rensi must eventually respond to him, and accuse the villain, not the quiet peasant. Rensi is not immutable like Truth, nor fearless like the peasant, but merely unresponsive in any way: he is self-alienated from Truth. The peasant here adopts a prophetic role: his perfect speech (cf. B1 105–7 and n. 19) is an embodiment of the Truth spoken by the creator Sungod, and peasant and god are aligned against the impious Rensi, who is no longer a representative of the divine. To repay is fundamental to the principle of Truth, involving the doctrines of reciprocity and retribution. so that you will make accusation; but do not respond by accusing a quiet man, nor attack one who cannot! You do not pity, nor suffer, nor yet destroy! B1 350 You do not repay me for this perfect speech, which comes forth from the mouth of the Sungod himself! So speak Truth! Do Truth!100 A complementary injunction to speak Truth now follows. Truth's true greatness and endurance contrast with Rensi's transitory wealth, and the ultimate predominance of Truth is asserted as absolute, otherworldly blessedness. For it is mighty, great, enduring. Its revelation will be found good, it will conduct to blessedness!

B1 355 Can the scales tilt, when theirs are the pans which weigh things?101 A coda summarizes the immutability of the ideal (the standard) in generalized imagery of the scales and of voyaging. If Rensi fails to match the ideal, he will perish: the final image of landfall, which defines success as journey's end and simultaneously as death, concludes the petition on an otherworldly, ideal level. There cannot be excess for the standard. A vile deed cannot reach harbour, nor the cargo-bearer landfall.’

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B2 91 And this peasant came to appeal to him a ninth time,102 Nine is a number symbolic of multiplicity and of totality, and the ninth petition concludes and summarizes the peasant's case in the most abstract formulation of his appeal. In the first half he proclaims the supremacy of Truth, and Falsehood's downfall, and then commands Rensi to renounce evil. The relationship of Truth and Falsehood dominates the second half and is reflected in the stylistic structure, which juxtaposes generalizing verses and ones with personal references to the protagonists. The culmination is a grim triumph: while the ideal of justice ultimately holds sway, in this imperfect world Rensi is unjust, and the peasant turns to the beyond, the home of the perfect, the ideal, and the divine. and said, ‘High Steward, my lord! The tongue of men is their balance;103 The opening reaffirms the inherency of judgement (continuing the preceding petition's imagery): men are judged by their own tongues (cf. B1 162–3), and this judgement is manifested in their downfall. The peasant wishes once more that Rensi would be just. and scales are what detect deficiency, dealing punishment to the punishable: let the standard be like you!

B2 95 Even when its portion exists, Falsehood [sallies forth],104 Personifications of Truth and Falsehood are contrasted in an image of Falsehood making an avaricious expedition. The next couplet elaborates their relationship: Falsehood cannot exist without Truth, and, while it may own and prey on Truth, it cannot ultimately prevail. Although the vocabulary recalls the specific context (property), this is the peasant's most abstract statement and his profoundest articulation of Truth's supremacy: Falsehood is merely the negation of Truth and is dependent on it for its prosperity. but Truth turns back to confront it; Truth is the property of Falsehood, which lets it flourish, but Falsehood has never been gathered in. If Falsehood sets out, it strays;105 The straying of Falsehood presents its downfall as inherent in its actions. The image of crossing draws together previous navigational imagery to present an image of the fate of invariable Falsehood in the journey of life. it cannot cross in a ferry, and has not altered its course. B2 100 He who is rich with it has no children,106 The fates of Falsehood's minions (this is an allusion to Rensi) are embodiments of Falsehood's nature. Their ineffectiveness is presented first in terms of earthly riches and their failure to endure (through heirs who would maintain a man's funerary cult), and then with the image of the voyage of life (the harbour is often an image of the otherworld). and no heirs on earth. And he who sails with it cannot touch land, his boat cannot moor in its harbour.

Be heavy no more, you have not yet been light!107 A desperate series of forceful and antithetical negative imperatives summarizes the preceding petitions, and relate directly to Rensi's situation. The first couplet concerns inertia and delay (inverting previous references to Rensi as heavy, i.e. sluggish, and swift), and the second concerns spurning a client (i.e. the peasant). Partiality is the concern of the central line, which represents Rensi's heart as the perverter of his action; the injunction against listening strikingly reformulates the peasant's usual injunctions to hear, and foregrounds the ambivalent role of the human heart. Delay no more, you have not yet been swift! B2 105 Be not partial! Do not listen to the heart! Do not disregard one you know! Do not blind yourself against one who looks to you! Do not fend off a supplicator!

You should abandon this negligence, so that your sentence will be renowned!108 This stanza opens with a summary of the injunctions and an appeal to repute. The ideal relationship of the protagonists is defined as reciprocity: the peasant, who has aided Rensi by articulating Truth, should be repaid with his true right. Act for him who acts for you and listen to none against him, so that a man will be summoned according to his true right! There is no yesterday for the negligent,109 The peasant now describes the lack of success of one who does not reform in accordance with the preceding verses, and lists the three fatal errors Rensi has displayed. These move from the past through to the future (yesterday is past reputation; a holiday can include funerary celebrations). B2 110 no friend for him who is deaf to Truth, no holiday for the selfish. The accuser becomes wretched,110 The ramification of such action for the accuser peasant and Rensi is now presented as a degeneration of the judicial process leading to murder in order to silence the persistent pleader. The final couplet tersely reformulates these preceding verses with direct reference to the protagonists. Anubis is a god of death and otherworldly judgement: the peasant threatens suicide. It is a dramatic ending and a final despairing affirmation of faith in ideal Truth. The mention of the god completes a huge circle, as the peasant's name (mentioned in the first verses of the Tale) means ‘One protected by Anubis'. more wretched than when a pleader, and the opponent becomes a murderer. Look, I am pleading to you, and you do not hear— B2 115 I will go and plead about you to Anubis.’

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And the High Steward Meru's son Rensi111 The poem returns to narrative for the resolution. The two attendants have appeared earlier in the third petition (B1 217). The peasant's speech laments the fact that Rensi has prevented him from suicide, and expands on his thwarted longing for death. It briefly resumes the lyrical style of the petitions; earlier similar images of sustenance referred to Truth (B1 272–8 and n. 74), but here they express the desirability of life for most of mankind, and also ironically reflect his desire for the absoluteness that he can attain only in death. sent two attendants to turn him back. And this peasant was afraid, thinking this was done to punish him for the speech he had made. And this peasant said, ‘The thirsty man approaching water, B2 120 the nurseling reaching his mouth for milk—they die, while for him who longs to see it come, death comes slowly.’ And the High Steward Meru's son Rensi said,112 Rensi's speech reminds the audience that he is a benevolent figure of authority, and he replaces Anubis (B2 115 and n. 110) as the person with whom the peasant will deal. As the exchanges shorten, there is a reversal of roles: Rensi becomes the addresser who enjoins action, while the peasant vehemently spurns cooperation. His oath (referring to bread and beer) points to the irony of the preceding petitions' food imagery—which he apparently still does not realize—and his last word is a reference to eternity. (The oath is ambiguous; it might also be translated: ‘I will not live …'). ‘Don't be afraid peasant! Look, you will be dealing with me.’ And this peasant swore an oath, B2 125 ‘So, shall I live on your bread, and drink your beer for ever?’ And the High Steward Meru's son Rensi said, ‘Now wait here and hear your petitions!’113 The dialogue ends with a simple command, an implicit and dramatic denial of all the peasant's accusations of deafness. The speaker is now the hearer, whose growing awareness of the irony of the preceding situation remains implicit. The writing down of the petitions (B1 109–11 and n. 20) is concluded here, and the petitions are enclosed within the narrative. This writing down is a standard successful conclusion of a literary text but here is dramatically, structurally, and thematically necessary: writing is a symbol of how the ideal is actualized (B1 336 and n. 96). And he caused every petition to be read out from a fresh roll according to [its] content. B2 130 And the High Steward Meru's son Rensi had them presented114 The following verses move swiftly to make the final judgement explicit on the highest level of authority. The justness of the king's heart, which perceives the perfection of the peasant's ‘perfect speech', contrasts it with Nemtinakht's: the heart is not invariably, inherently evil. before the Majesty of the Dual King Nebkaure, the justified. And they seemed more perfect to his heart than anything in this entire land. And his Majesty said, ‘Judge yourself, Meru's son!’

And the High Steward Meru's son Rensi115 The ease of the ending throws into relief both the efficacy of authority to uphold Truth and the central irony of the plot—that Rensi's ignoring of the peasant has been a trick to keep him speaking. The exact restoration of the final verses is uncertain. The list of goods echoes and replaces those stolen in the opening narrative: the unjustly robbed is now the just taker. This sudden change in fortune provides a tacit answer to the accusations against Rensi which were made in paradoxical, peripatetic (‘then-now') form. The peasant remains quiet (an evocative state; see n. 14): he has at last no further need to speak. sent two attendants to [bring this Nemtinakht]. B2 135 Then he was brought, and an inventory made [of his household]. Then he found six persons, as well as [his …], his barley, his emmer, his donkeys, his swine, and his flocks. And this Nemtinakht [was given] to this peasant, B2 140 [with all his property, all his] ser[vants], [and all the belongings] of this Nemtinakht.

So it ends, [ from start to finish, as found in writing].

Notes:

1. The Tale begins as a simple narrative. The Wadi Natrun is an oasis c.100 km north-west of modern Cairo: the peasant is a rustic, on the edge of society. (For his name, see B2 115 and n. 110). He tells his wife to fetch all the food that they have left, and he then assigns rather low rations for himself and his family.

2. The list of goods shows that he is a trader, not a farmer. Natron and salt are the characteristic products of the Wadi Natrun; many of the other goods are slightly exotic imports from the various oases. Farafra is an oasis, c.300 km west of the Nile Valley. Inbi is a garden fruit or hedge plant. Tebu and uben are unidentified plants.

3. Heracleopolis was the capital of Egypt in the Ninth and Tenth Dynasties; this location implies the setting which is given in full in B1 102–4. Mednit is the 22nd Upper Egyptian nome, c.50 km north of Heracleopolis. Per-Fefi (‘the Estate of Fefi') is an otherwise unknown place, perhaps near Dahshur, c.80 km north of the capital (see Map, p. xxxiii).

4. Nemtinakht's name means ‘Nemti is mighty', alluding to a minor god who was possibly a patron of travellers—an ironic touch, as this man is about to harass a traveller. The High Steward was one of the highest officials under the king in the Twelfth Dynasty (the title is an anachronism in the Heracleopolitan setting). His name suggests his virtue: his patronym, Meru's son, is homophonous with the epithet ‘Beloved Son'—a type of virtuous man, and Rensi wordplays with ‘renown'. The villain of the Tale is thus introduced as a servant of a benevolent figure of authority, suggesting that good and evil are inextricably linked.

5. Nemtinakht's speech immediately reveals his conscious villainy. The following scenic description is important for the plot, as Nemtinakht is blocking, and thus laying claim to, a public right of way (a kilt is c.50 cm wide). His order to his retainer is very autocratic in tone. His actions against the public in general prepare for the wider implications of the whole affair.

6. When challenged, the peasant replies with the standard answer of obedient servants. As the dialogue becomes more heated the peasant's responses become more pointed and highly wrought. The dialogue ends with an unanswered question, prefiguring the peasant's fate—to petition without any response.

7. The new development which precipitates the crisis is not chance but an inevitable consequence of Nemtinakht's plot.

8. The peasant protests at the inequality of the exchange, and appeals to a higher authority (cf. n. 4), moving to wider issues.

9. Nemtinakht cites a proverbial utterance, but only to dismiss the wider issues raised by the peasant: a poor man exists only in so far as he has a lord, and he is now the peasant's lord, not the distant protector invoked by the peasant.

10. The wood's freshness makes it more stinging. Tamarisk is homophonous with Nemtinakht's patronym (Isry's son); wordplay makes an aggressive act his defining characteristic.

11. The Lord of Silence is the god of the dead, Osiris; this speech is a threat to silence the peasant by death. The peasant's reply reverses Nemtinakht's image, appeals to a higher lord, and invokes silence as a sign of contentment; he sees the world of the gods as his last refuge.

12. This length of time (Egypt had a ten-day ‘week') shows that the peasant behaves decorously, and that it is only Nemtinakht's lack of attention (often a metaphor for ethical evil and deafness to wisdom) that makes him petition a higher authority in a series of petitions that occupy another week.

13. Rensi's location in the capital, and the presence of an intermediary, are indications of his high rank. His judgement is immediate, and just. This breaks the pattern of the unproductive dialogue between Nemtinakht and the peasant.

14. The officials, however, respond cynically and materialistically, ignoring (like Nemtinakht) the wider issues, and assuming that the peasant is simply fleeing his rightful master, Nemtinakht. Their defence of the villain prevents the case being settled immediately by Rensi. Repayment is an ironic allusion to the principle of reciprocity, which is parodied here. Rensi's quietness associates him with the divine Lord of Silence (see n. 11); quietness is a sign of virtue in wisdom literature, but here his silence is also the problematic motor of the plot.

15. The peasant starts to petition Rensi in person to hear his case. His first speech is an introduction to the whole sequence, and is the most simply argued petition. After addressing Rensi by his usual title, the peasant coins epithets evoking his power in universal terms. Despite the eulogistic tone, the negative (all that is not) is given precedence over the positive (all that is).

16. Enacting Truth (Maat) is imagined as a hunting voyage (the metaphor adds a touch of local colour, as there was a sacred lake called Maaty at Heracleopolis). This image has great resonance, as the hunt is a symbol of overcoming chaos on tomb and temple walls. The metaphor is formulated in negative terms: the water is an image of Truth, yet full of dangers; the face belongs to a crocodile. The last couplet presents a (contrasting) positive climax to the voyage, as the hunted animals come to Rensi voluntarily.

17. A formal eulogy follows, with four standard epithets describing selfless social virtue, which are known from funeral Autobiographies (an allusion to justice sub specie aeternitatis). The peasant then proclaims a set of epithets forming a quasi-royal titulary, as a regal acclamation of Rensi. Selfishness alludes to Nemtinakht's crime, and the second pair of epithets puts the issue in absolute terms of Falsehood and Truth.

18. A coda develops the last verse of the eulogy, and urges Rensi to act in the peasant's specific case.

19. The Tale's setting is now given in more detail: Nebkaure was a king of the Heracleopolitan Dynasty (c.2080–1987 BC). He is presented in general terms here. He implicitly accepts the peasant's innocence. Perfect speech is a standard description of literature's aesthetic and ethical qualities.

20. The king's oath presents the central paradox behind the plot: the state's apparent neglect of the peasant's case is in fact an act in support of just speech and justice. (For the metaphorical significance of putting literature into writing, see B1 336, and nn. 96, 113). The king's terse command of silence towards the peasant associates him with the gods (cf. B1 58–60 and n. 11); he, unlike the officials and Nemtinakht, has a caring attitude towards the peasantry.

21. This is a basic wage, such as is appropriate for a lowly peasant (whose suspicions must not be aroused by overgenerous treatment). Distributing grain is later a metaphor for true conduct; here, the High Steward's action is both literal and a metaphor for the state's (covert) support of justice.

22. The second petition is by far the longest, and marks a shift in the poem from narrative to discourse. Its length allows complex presentation of arguments that cautiously approach the central issue of Rensi's responsibility. The petition avoids any initial direct denunciation of him as a thief—the implied accusation is made gradually and with inescapable conviction. Patterns of allusive repetition and parody (especially in the increasingly ambivalent eulogies) articulate this indirect denunciation, which is supported by the explicit affirmation of responsibility: the only resolution of the dilemmas and paradoxes presented is for Rensi to intervene and help the peasant. The modes of address are more varied and tightly interwoven than in the first petition, presenting a complex pattern of invocation, injunction, description, imagery, and argument, developed in later petitions. The petition is dramatically effective, as the peasant's vehemence rises from specific to universal concerns.

23. The petition opens with an hyperbolistic invocation acclaiming Rensi as above all compromise and qualifications. The juxtaposition of greatness and richness implies his privilege and its attendant responsibility. Wide issues are involved in the peasant's plight.

24. Rensi is acclaimed with metaphors expressing his authority as absolute and universal. The first evokes the orderly sailing of the heavenly bodies; the beam is an architectural support, but also one for scales and plumbline (an image of justice). Rensi's authority upholds both heaven and earth. The imagery of sailing (echoing the first petition B1 85–93) and weighing is returned to again and again. The injunctions to shun evil set the tone of the petition; for the first time the peasant raises the possibility of Rensi's doing wrong.

25. This description of the peasant's (someone's) state implies that Rensi's prosperity should make him sympathetic; the allusion to Nemtinakht as a great lord echoes the eulogy of Rensi, and associates the two. The peasant then moves to more specific matters: a little recompense, equivalent to a helping of beer and bread, will satisfy the peasant, and justice will cost Rensi nothing. In the dramatic context, this is ironic, as the peasant remains unaware that Rensi is actually provisioning him. A concluding verse states that the fate of a man and his underlings are bound together, implying that Rensi must help his inferior.

26. The question contrasts Rensi's desire for eternity with the mortality of the preceding stanza. A further contrast is developed between Rensi's aspirations and the actual state of affairs which threatens to undermine him. The peasant turns to consider the imperfection with which Rensi is surrounded.

27. This verse introduces a long descriptive lament about how good is perverted to evil, with antitheses between the world as it is now and as it should be.

28. The peasant argues that a single crime can undermine the whole standard of justice. A couplet (this means …) gives a gloss on these verses: a judge's prevarication in speech affects justice and is thus as bad as the robber's crime.

29. The petition continues with antithetical descriptions of reversal, and concludes by describing wrong as cataclysmic (flood), and with a phrase that is directed against Rensi (the punisher of wrong).

30. Rensi intervenes to maintain the credibility of his position and to provoke further speech. He accuses the peasant of the materialism and selfishness that he has detected in others. The peasant simply continues his descriptive denunciations of theft, alluding more strongly to Rensi's involvement. Measurer introduces the metaphor of grain, in which the distribution of food represents that of justice, to imply that Truth is the stuff of life.

31. Evil and hypocrisy in society are such that men's apparent correct behaviour is for the sake of wrong and they give praise accordingly. In the final question of this stanza the peasant answers Rensi's challenge by accusing him of selfinterest and complicity in the theft.

32. The peasant turns his attention to retribution, and the second half of the petition begins by asserting the cogency of good action, described in a more abstract and figurative fashion than hitherto. The opening line associates the lack of redress with the dominance of evil (described earlier), but asserts that the principle of reciprocity remains valid in spite of this, for good character is ultimately immutable. This infallibility is expressed as a god-given ordinance concerning reciprocity and retribution, a central aspect of Truth. The principle of reciprocity is then exemplified in three metaphors, which present it as ensuring continuity by rewarding (thanking) a man's deeds, as a way of thus avoiding evil (parrying), and of gaining good (commissioning a work of art).

33. The negative side of the principle of reciprocity is now applied to Rensi with an extended violent exclamation. A short moment of retribution is invoked to destroy his ill-gotten wealth; the imagery ironically recalls the hunt of B1 85–93, where fowl were the reward of the just (see n. 16). Antithetical denunciations then justify this savage wish.

34. Rensi is now addressed as a depositary (literally ‘basket'), being a source of wealth. This stanza develops the association of wealth with responsibility. Questions allude to his actions as self-destructive, as well as criminal.

35. The peasant affirms Rensi's power with eulogistic but increasingly ambivalent declarations, in which his power is also a source of his abuse of privilege and aggression; the verses suggestively echo the earlier descriptions of retribution. The poor man alludes to the peasant. Rensi is now likened to a demon of Khenty, a crocodile-god of death, and the following verses develop this more extravagantly—he has surpassed the baleful plague goddess Sekhmet. His injustice evokes savage gods as if calling the benevolence of the divine into question.

36. The problem of culpability is now argued more specifically and socially, in less passionate terms: the deprived can justifiably take, but the rich man without want (i.e. Rensi) is at fault to behave likewise, and should be merciful: the concluding verse justifies the peasant's denunciations.

37. This stanza opens by describing Rensi's great wealth in order to drive home the extent of his fault. The peasant then continues with calmer antithetical descriptions of the lack of order surrounding Rensi. The boat represents the state (echoing the cosmic ‘helm' of B1 121, see also n. 24). The central problem is that, although power that should not be abused has been entrusted to Rensi by the aloof king, he is apparently surrounded by evil.

38. The peasant's (the appealer's) petition is presented as a force against this wrong, which will endure as long as the evil (the divide) that it confronts. Through attracting attention the plaint threatens to be a public rebuke for Rensi. As the petition nears its end, Rensi is enjoined to return to justice. The imagery of shore and harbour develops the nautical themes of the previous stanza.

39. The peasant warns that retribution is the inherent consequence of evil action: a man's own tongue can bring about his downfall.

40. A final stanza develops the social aspects of the preceding one and its concern with speech; the opening injunction warns against the officials' neglect of true speech. The image presents officials who hear cases as winnowing baskets, yet, because they deal with and live off falsehood, injustice is of little concern to them. The peasant denounces their neglect of evil, and again correlates sustenance with justice.

41. The peasant enjoins Rensi to distinguish himself as a just judge. The previous descriptions and denunciations are subsumed in a return to eulogy. The imagery of shipwreck was earlier applied to Rensi, but here the peasant uses it of his own suffering (emphasizing the close ties between the protagonists). The concluding impassioned cries forcefully present the shock of Rensi's apparent indifference to the peasant's plaint.

42. The third petition presents a less complex interweaving of types of discourse, and the imagery is grouped into more unified patterns of gods, balance, navigation, professions, and animals. It is less argumentative and descriptive, but more animated; it concentrates on Rensi's person more exclusively to present in extreme terms the paradox of his responsibility; metaphoric exaltation and debasement are violently juxtaposed. As a member of the hierarchy, Rensi acts as a representative of the king and can take it upon himself to represent the creator without losing his human individuality; by the same principle he is responsible for the crime of his subordinate, and thus can be addressed as the robber.

43. The opening eulogy is on a grand, cosmic, scale; it assimilates Rensi with the greatest god, the creator Sungod. His universal bounty, providing people with their daily rations (portion), is likened to a flood, which moves to the next assimilation—the god of the annual Nileflood; the two gods are the sources of two necessities of life. The imagery also gives a sense of Rensi's ambivalent position: he is both an inundation of benefit, and a flood that destroyed the mounds on which settlements were built, before restoring them. The ambivalence of the image comes to the fore in a concluding injunction.

44. The peasant now warns of eternity's approach, by proclaiming a generally held proposition that only virtue can create enduring life and elevate Rensi to the level of the eternal.

45. Three rhetorical questions imply that eternal justice is unswerving, and that Rensi must be so too. Thoth is the god of wisdom, writing, and judgement, and is an agent of the Sungod. The eulogistic assimilation with the divine is reformulated as an ironic injunction to behave like the gods. These sarcastic questions suggest that the divine has a potentially ambivalent role too: if Rensi can be unjust, perhaps the gods can too.

46. The third stanza directly enjoins Rensi to behave like Thoth, the scales, and the balances, with significant play on the number three (appropriate in this third petition).

47. If Rensi ignores the peasant, he will find a response more prolific than weeds, which grow even as they are smelled. This image of growth associates speech with the regenerating power of the Nileflood, but in the next verses it also represents Rensi's designs, which cultivate deception. This double use of imagery presents the interrelationship of unjust provocation and justified complaint. The final verse juxtaposes the peasant's just intentions with Rensi's apparently ignoble inaction; the repetition of three associates the ‘occasions' of petitioning with the three representatives of true judgement mentioned in B1 181–2 (see n. 46).

48. The peasant now expresses his injunction still more forcefully, resuming the navigational imagery of the first petition (where it concerned justice), and the water imagery (torrent) of the opening invocation (B1 173 and n. 43).

49. A sequence of negative commands intensifies the sense of urgency. The balancing eulogistic clauses provide the rationales; Rensi is urged to behave as the absolute ideal (standard) of justice.

50. Rensi is identified with the scales, rearticulating and condensing the extended and more indirect identification of previous verses. Two strands of imagery—nautical and scales—are then interwoven in commands forbidding divergence. Through the idea of seizing, which recalls a rapacious flood, the petition returns from imperatives to a more descriptive treatment of robbery and the selfless nature of true greatness.

51. This is the most daringly expressed identification of Rensi with the scales (comprising plummet and weight, suspended from the scales' arms)—an image of the ideal greatness. Ideal and actual are contrasted in an expansively phrased and climactic question about Rensi's failure to act according to the ideal.

52. The mood now changes to direct denunciations, with a bitingly sarcastic parody of the opening eulogy (the repetition of wretched from B1 199 establishes continuity). The laments of the previous petition (B1 128–39 and nn. 27–31) are reformulated as direct accusations which evoke the corruption of the world. The images refer back to previous motifs: e.g. the washerman is concerned with the river of B1 172–4 (n. 43), with the mock heroic diction of faithful companion adding to the scorn; the ferryman echoes the nautical imagery (B1 85–93) and parodies Autobiographies in which a virtuous man claims to have ferried over people without fares; the storehouse keeper recalls the imagery of Truth as grain (see n. 30). All these menial workers are, like Rensi, reprehensible, despite apparent professional propriety.

53. The imagery includes animals as well as human society. In official iconography the hawk is a royal bird, but here it preys on humanity. The stanza culminates in a despairing and sarcastic question with the metaphor of a shepherd, who cannot reckon (i.e. count his flock, or, metaphorically, judge); the shepherd should represent caring authority. The image of a crocodile (echoing B1 149–50 and n. 35) presents Rensi as a predator instead of a protector. The final address states that Rensi's betrayal of responsibility affects the whole land, as seen in the previous verses' evocation of general woe.

54. Rensi is now accused with greater assurance, and his motives, more than just his behaviour, are questioned. The only justification for his inaction would be if all aggression (the crocodile, i.e. Rensi himself) against the peasant had already ceased (which it has not). In the final verses, which are formal in tone, the peasant returns to the theme of nemesis: Rensi's behaviour cannot benefit him, for the Falsehood on which he relies will be overthrown, and earthly life is uncertain (comes and evil are homonyms).

55. After this direct abuse, Rensi intervenes again; see n. 30. The beating recalls Nemtinakht's actions (B1 53–4) and it effectively provokes the peasant further. This narrative interlude is the last significant portion of narrative in the Tale before the resolution.

56. After the hope with which the preceding petition ended (B1 213–15), the peasant again despairs, and describes Rensi's indifference as a complete lack of perception.

57. The peasant continues the denunciations of the third petition, but now they are shorter, swifter, and more direct, articulating social chaos and corruption. The first sequence likens Rensi to ineffective groups of men in order to suggest the self-destructive nature of his negligence; the increasingly demeaning comparisons move from a town to a gang. In the second half the antitheses refer more directly to his abuse of authority.

58. The fourth petition begins the second group of petitions. It returns to a more complex interweaving of stylistic modes and forms of address, to lament-motifs and to direct denunciations. The images are varied and complex, drawing on previous formulations, but they share a common theme of movement, through which Rensi's aggression is described in psychological terms. The petition reaf-firms the concerns of the preceding ones and relates these more personally to the question of Rensi's motivation, culminating in impassioned and despairing pleas.

59. The temple gate was a place of judgement and legal appeal. Local references remind the audience of the dramatic setting: Herishef is the god of Heracleopolis, and is—appropriately for the peasant—associated with the vindication of the suffering god Osiris. The peasant returns to unqualified eulogy in a fresh start after the third petition; the greeting is a return to a more formal, decorous style. These verses associate Rensi's ideal moral purity with that of a vindicator god, enjoining him to act like god. Rensi comes purified from the temple; he is the link between the peasant and the gods.

60. In contrast to the harmony implicit in the temple, this stanza is a despairing lament about the disintegration of right in society. Nautical imagery, which is intensified by repetition, rhetorical questions, and exclamatory answers, implicitly continues the previous denunciation of Rensi as a ferryman and the helm of the state (B1 121, 157–9, 202–3). The motif of crossing the river on foot articulates the impossibility of achieving success in such circumstances, and ironically recalls the image of life as a voyage. The situation has been caused by the sunken ferry, i.e. Rensi.

61. Sleeping till dawn is a proverbial sign of well-being and security. The description of the land in chaos continues with the impossibility of travel by land (note the repetition of destroyed); the land is smitten with moral paralysis. A third verse returns to legal concerns. The repetition in the final despairing couplet of phrases from the second petition (B1 148–9) emphasizes the lack of progress or movement.

62. The second half of the petition opens with a bitter address to Rensi. After the immobility of the first half, Rensi is presented in a swift burst of action, and is addressed forcefully as a hunter. His actions are usually prestigious activities, but have aggressive overtones here: the godlike sportsman of B1 85–93 is now a predator; implicitly the peasant is the prey. Although the hunt is potentially symbolic of the triumph of Right (see n. 16), it is here motivated by selfish aims.

63. Swiftness is now an ethical issue, and a danger; the rapid hunt becomes recklessness, which is contrasted with what is cautious and patient, as the peasant concentrates on Rensi's psychological motivation.

64. Only selfless action is urged, and for the benefit of someone (the peasant) whose quietness (cf. n. 14) makes him an antithesis of the ‘hasty-mouthed' (B1 239) and the hasty-hearted. The peasant alludes to retribution: unvirtuous recklessness is impermanent, unlike Truth.

65. Positive action, including perception, is now urged, as is its correlate, the avoidance of abusive action. The peasant now presents retribution less as divine intervention, more as an inevitable and inherent consequence of bad action.

66. Five verses articulate the underlying subject of the cogency of action, actor, and consequence in terms of basic life situations. The image of Rensi as an eater alludes to the image of Truth as sustenance (cf. n. 30); that of Rensi as a sleeper suffering bad dreams recalls the lack of calm sleep in the land (B1 232 and n. 61); his nightmare is an image of the way in which proliferating evil, caused by Rensi's moral sleep (i.e. negligence), will disturb him.

67. The full force of invective is suddenly and personally turned against Rensi: the judge is now judged. Bilge-baler echoes the preceding nautical imagery in a demeaning manner. These verses gain resonance from their double meaning and interwoven imagery: bilge-baler can also mean ‘one who can only dish out water (instead of words or provisions)' or ‘one who bails out his own urine'; to be noticed is homonymous with ‘to be sunk’.

68. Epithets with images of protection and sustenance form a violent parody of the eulogistic titulary of the first petition (B1 95–9); the number of five alludes to the fivefold form of king's titulary. The strong antitheses articulate the contradiction of Rensi's position. The petition ends with a cry of despair and exasperation, a realization by the peasant that his perception of Rensi's character is not enough to end his suffering.

69. The fifth petition moves from description, through argumentative presentation, to denunciation. The imagery is unified, simple, and intense, presenting Rensi's wrong in both social and figurative terms. His social wrong is defined plainly, tersely, and explicitly, with renewed emphasis on his deputized responsibility. The brevity and simplicity of this petition reflect its structural role as the central petition, with a largely descriptive summary of the underlying problem.

70. The petition opens with a description of lowly and savage riverine activity (far from the earlier aristocratic hunts of B1 85–93, 236–9; see also nn. 16, 62), which continues the derogatory images of lowly professions. Aggression now engulfs the whole river. The five statements about catching various (unidentified) fishes ironically echo the earlier fivefold titulary (B1 252–5 and n. 68); this is also the fifth petition.

71. This stanza makes clear the relevance of the preceding one: it defines the nature of the peasant's wretchedness, and confronts Rensi with the seriousness of his plight. Breath is elsewhere a metaphor for justice (B1 177) as well as life.

72. A stanza on Rensi's legal responsibilities develops the preceding allusion to justice, symmetrically arranged around the rebuke of You are trusted. Dykes were vital protection against the flooding Nile, and this image climaxes in the final line, which reverses the images of earth and water; the metaphor of the lake returns to the imagery of the opening verses of the petition (B1 257–62).

73. The sixth petition is structured by progression from the ideal to its contrary within each section. It moves from description, through highly allusive argument, to more direct address of Rensi. Thematically, it rearticulates motifs already presented, but with greater emphasis on their ramifications. This happens on both an abstract generalizing level, and with more specific reference to the peasant himself. This shift marks a growing emphasis on the interrelationship of the two protagonists as well as on Truth and its contraries.

74. The petition opens with a nine-line, rhetorical quasi-invocation which juxtaposes (but does not assimilate) Rensi and an ideal lord. These verses identify the (re)creation of virtue with the ending of evil, and are followed by four similes from basic life situations. The images include phrases reminiscent of the ethical ideals of Autobiographies, and metaphors of sustenance. The broad images of resolution give a sense of relief after the preceding descriptions of social wrong.

75. The peasant now commands Rensi to perceive the evils which remain undispelled: the brief descriptions recall the earlier laments.

76. The petition continues with broad statements; measuring evokes the imagery of Truth as grain. Wrong's attack on Truth is described in a paradox: although Truth is lessened in the world, it is itself never damaged: it is an ideal despite its flawed embodiments, and the ideal remains an exact and enduring equilibrium. Overflow is a term used of grain; the next verses continue this imagery more specifically, and urge the just distribution of food rather than selfish jawing (which includes eating and talking). These verses enjoin Rensi to refrain from greed, implying both the brotherhood of man and the ideal that Truth is common property.

77. The peasant laments how his just actions bring only unjustified suffering, and further alienation from the principle of reciprocity, in contrast to Rensi's acquiring two verses earlier. The unknowableness of the heart relates to the contrast between the ideal situation and the actual: wrong springs from the human heart, but one cannot know why a man (Rensi) chooses it.

78. Five verses employ images of navigation to articulate Rensi's unique responsibility to fight evil (and thus echo earlier imagery). Rensi's helmstaff is a force to redress disaster. The image of robbing a wreck implies that, if the case under Rensi's charge is wrecked, he too will suffer because of the loss.

79. Rensi's ability is now acclaimed in terms of personal capacities. His distinction is incompatible with theft, and is contrasted with his culpably undistinguished behaviour. This stanza summarizes the paradox of Rensi, which involves his individual qualities and his surroundings: his wrong act makes him an evil influence on the whole land.

80. An elaborate concluding image justifies the expansiveness of the preceding verse, showing how one deed cultivates universal evil. The imagery of growth increases from a single gardener and his small plot, to his affect on the whole estate (estate has funerary associations, evoking eternal concerns). The gardener is implicitly Rensi, but the image of a corrupt and wretched profession also evokes a corrupt society. It is a parody of the petition's opening description of the ‘lord' and his creative potential (B1 272–3).

81. The seventh petition begins a third group of petitions. It is a return to a more decorous address, and it moves from eulogy through argumentative statements to an oblique denunciation which reformulates the opening eulogy in an ironic manner. The personal interaction of the protagonists is now more extensively related to Truth on a cosmic and a social level: the peasant increasingly emphasizes how abstract principles of right and wrong are embodied in himself and in Rensi. He justifies his complaint more explicitly, and he predicts with greater certainty that retribution is an inherent consequence of wrong. The images, the ambivalence of the final eulogy, and the allusively significant descriptions present the contrast between right and wrong, together with their ramifications.

82. As in the third petition, the opening is an unqualified eulogy, but this one is significantly less elevated (now Rensi is a god's twin, not a god himself). It returns to the imagery of the navigation of the land (from B1 289–91), weighing, and Thoth (see n. 45).

83. The second stanza is a fresh address to the peasant's lord. He urges him to be patient, and two triplets on this virtue flank a central triplet on the consequence of its contrary, impatient confidence. Implicit in this warning against unforeseen nemesis is the choice Rensi must make between these alternatives. The third triplet on patience concludes with a reflection on the unknowable nature of the heart that determines the choice (cf. B1 287).

84. The peasant now denounces the man (Rensi) who, regardless of the preceding warnings, destroys the wretched man (the peasant) whose protection and wellbeing are integral to Truth. Truth is now an active accusing force, and is associated with the peasant, not Rensi.

85. The peasant justifies his accusation and shows that, as it is enforced by suffering, it is compatible with the patience he enjoins. The imagery is ironic—his belly is full but with suffering, not sustenance. Images of satiety and oppression culminate in that of a breached dyke (ironically alluding to that of Rensi as a protective dyke at the end of the fifth petition (B1 268–9) ).

86. The peasant's attempts to repel his wretchedness are expressed as resistance to shipwreck and as physical hardship. These verses are layered and complex, a rapid fusion of images of a sinking ship and the excretion of woe (incontinence and soiled clothes). He then states that the articulation of his agony is complete. His question, which stresses that Rensi is forcing him to continue, is ironic beyond his knowledge.

87. The second half of the petition considers Rensi's future, forcefully affirming that his neglect of Truth will be his nemesis. A triplet predicts his fall, and then another predicts his regret as he realizes what he has lost in the peasant: the negligent Rensi will then stand begging to meet another such petitioner.

88. This stanza continues the forceful symmetry of the preceding one with a eulogy that is ambivalent and bitter: there is none that he has aided who is still helpless, but there is no helpless person whom he has aided. There are other layers of irony in the opening line: quietness is desirable (see n. 14), but Rensi is forcing the peasant to speak; the faults Rensi can dispel are those that he embodies himself.

89. In contrast with the preceding six verses, the petition ends with an unqualified eulogy of ideal officials, who—unlike Rensi—act as creators. The final phrase has darker implications: it links the ideal official with a miraculous—that is, impossible—event, highlighting the dichotomy between the ideal and the actual.

90. The eighth petition continues to develop the interrelationship of the protagonists in abstract terms. The first major section has a predominantly social aspect, which contrasts with the otherworldly nature of the next part. The inevitable downfall of evil is reaffirmed, but much of the central portion presents Truth as a positive force, now associated with the peasant, and not Rensi (this change builds upon previous tension). This is the longest explicit discussion of Truth: appropriately, the petition is long, comparatively restrained in imagery, and it describes the protagonists' behaviour in relation to general principles. The series of descriptive statements juxtaposes and interweaves the specific situation with the universal aspect of Truth, throwing this latter into relief.

91. The petition opens with a statement about the downfall of greed, which is developed in the following verses. These describe the failure of vice, and then relate this directly to Rensi, climaxing in a vocative, which implicitly denounces vice as incompatible with his duty.

92. Rensi's wealth is now described as culpably excessive and misused, highlighting the wrongness of his greed.

93. A second stanza opens with a passionate address repeating the accusations of greed, and alluding to Rensi's abuse of his position in relation to the robbed. Contrasted with this is a description of officials' ideal duty in terms of social redress.

94. The peasant describes the interaction of the two protagonists and his own motivation more explicitly. His (the quiet man's) virtue in opposing Rensi is independent of concern and respect for social status, and is maintained despite his lack of any help (brother).

95. A forceful series of verses describes Rensi's social status and wealth. The series reaches a climax as the peasant turns on Rensi with an ironic question, justifying his lack of respect. Rensi has no excuse to act as a thief, when he has such authority: he is attended by troops as he administers the division of landed property despite his corruption.

96. The second half of the petition turns to abstract injunctions to do Truth in terms implying a complex scale of virtue from the absolute ideal to actual embodiments of relative virtue: there is true justice and greatness which belong to the creator-god (the Lord of Truth), but there are also imperfect embodiments of these ideals—apparent justice. Rensi is acclaimed as the writing equipment of Thoth (see n. 45): writing is a way of embodying an ideal. This image implies that Rensi is the agent of a higher, and absolute, authority—a hierarchy from the Lord of Truth, through his scribe Thoth, to Rensi. The allusive quatrain concludes with an injunction to avoid doing evil, which is juxtaposed with a definition of goodness (which is associated with Truth). This definition uses dense wordplay to express how the absolute ideal of goodness surpasses the limited actual capacities of a good man, and is what ensures his virtue.

97. Truth itself contrasts with the limited value of relative good, and the stanza continues by describing the power of absolute Truth to help its doer, transcending this world and its social order. The result of justice is now presented in otherworldly terms.

98. A central couplet relates the scales of justice to the ideal of Truth, whose immutability they reflect. The scales allude to Rensi as judge (cf. B1 196–8 and n. 51), to the judgement of the peasant's case, and also to the weighing of all men after death in the scales of god.

99. The relationship of the protagonists is rephrased, as the peasant urges that Rensi must eventually respond to him, and accuse the villain, not the quiet peasant. Rensi is not immutable like Truth, nor fearless like the peasant, but merely unresponsive in any way: he is self-alienated from Truth. The peasant here adopts a prophetic role: his perfect speech (cf. B1 105–7 and n. 19) is an embodiment of the Truth spoken by the creator Sungod, and peasant and god are aligned against the impious Rensi, who is no longer a representative of the divine. To repay is fundamental to the principle of Truth, involving the doctrines of reciprocity and retribution.

100. A complementary injunction to speak Truth now follows. Truth's true greatness and endurance contrast with Rensi's transitory wealth, and the ultimate predominance of Truth is asserted as absolute, otherworldly blessedness.

101. A coda summarizes the immutability of the ideal (the standard) in generalized imagery of the scales and of voyaging. If Rensi fails to match the ideal, he will perish: the final image of landfall, which defines success as journey's end and simultaneously as death, concludes the petition on an otherworldly, ideal level.

102. Nine is a number symbolic of multiplicity and of totality, and the ninth petition concludes and summarizes the peasant's case in the most abstract formulation of his appeal. In the first half he proclaims the supremacy of Truth, and Falsehood's downfall, and then commands Rensi to renounce evil. The relationship of Truth and Falsehood dominates the second half and is reflected in the stylistic structure, which juxtaposes generalizing verses and ones with personal references to the protagonists. The culmination is a grim triumph: while the ideal of justice ultimately holds sway, in this imperfect world Rensi is unjust, and the peasant turns to the beyond, the home of the perfect, the ideal, and the divine.

103. The opening reaffirms the inherency of judgement (continuing the preceding petition's imagery): men are judged by their own tongues (cf. B1 162–3), and this judgement is manifested in their downfall. The peasant wishes once more that Rensi would be just.

104. Personifications of Truth and Falsehood are contrasted in an image of Falsehood making an avaricious expedition. The next couplet elaborates their relationship: Falsehood cannot exist without Truth, and, while it may own and prey on Truth, it cannot ultimately prevail. Although the vocabulary recalls the specific context (property), this is the peasant's most abstract statement and his profoundest articulation of Truth's supremacy: Falsehood is merely the negation of Truth and is dependent on it for its prosperity.

105. The straying of Falsehood presents its downfall as inherent in its actions. The image of crossing draws together previous navigational imagery to present an image of the fate of invariable Falsehood in the journey of life.

106. The fates of Falsehood's minions (this is an allusion to Rensi) are embodiments of Falsehood's nature. Their ineffectiveness is presented first in terms of earthly riches and their failure to endure (through heirs who would maintain a man's funerary cult), and then with the image of the voyage of life (the harbour is often an image of the otherworld).

107. A desperate series of forceful and antithetical negative imperatives summarizes the preceding petitions, and relate directly to Rensi's situation. The first couplet concerns inertia and delay (inverting previous references to Rensi as heavy, i.e. sluggish, and swift), and the second concerns spurning a client (i.e. the peasant). Partiality is the concern of the central line, which represents Rensi's heart as the perverter of his action; the injunction against listening strikingly reformulates the peasant's usual injunctions to hear, and foregrounds the ambivalent role of the human heart.

108. This stanza opens with a summary of the injunctions and an appeal to repute. The ideal relationship of the protagonists is defined as reciprocity: the peasant, who has aided Rensi by articulating Truth, should be repaid with his true right.

109. The peasant now describes the lack of success of one who does not reform in accordance with the preceding verses, and lists the three fatal errors Rensi has displayed. These move from the past through to the future (yesterday is past reputation; a holiday can include funerary celebrations).

110. The ramification of such action for the accuser peasant and Rensi is now presented as a degeneration of the judicial process leading to murder in order to silence the persistent pleader. The final couplet tersely reformulates these preceding verses with direct reference to the protagonists. Anubis is a god of death and otherworldly judgement: the peasant threatens suicide. It is a dramatic ending and a final despairing affirmation of faith in ideal Truth. The mention of the god completes a huge circle, as the peasant's name (mentioned in the first verses of the Tale) means ‘One protected by Anubis'.

111. The poem returns to narrative for the resolution. The two attendants have appeared earlier in the third petition (B1 217). The peasant's speech laments the fact that Rensi has prevented him from suicide, and expands on his thwarted longing for death. It briefly resumes the lyrical style of the petitions; earlier similar images of sustenance referred to Truth (B1 272–8 and n. 74), but here they express the desirability of life for most of mankind, and also ironically reflect his desire for the absoluteness that he can attain only in death.

112. Rensi's speech reminds the audience that he is a benevolent figure of authority, and he replaces Anubis (B2 115 and n. 110) as the person with whom the peasant will deal. As the exchanges shorten, there is a reversal of roles: Rensi becomes the addresser who enjoins action, while the peasant vehemently spurns cooperation. His oath (referring to bread and beer) points to the irony of the preceding petitions' food imagery—which he apparently still does not realize—and his last word is a reference to eternity. (The oath is ambiguous; it might also be translated: ‘I will not live …').

113. The dialogue ends with a simple command, an implicit and dramatic denial of all the peasant's accusations of deafness. The speaker is now the hearer, whose growing awareness of the irony of the preceding situation remains implicit. The writing down of the petitions (B1 109–11 and n. 20) is concluded here, and the petitions are enclosed within the narrative. This writing down is a standard successful conclusion of a literary text but here is dramatically, structurally, and thematically necessary: writing is a symbol of how the ideal is actualized (B1 336 and n. 96).

114. The following verses move swiftly to make the final judgement explicit on the highest level of authority. The justness of the king's heart, which perceives the perfection of the peasant's ‘perfect speech', contrasts it with Nemtinakht's: the heart is not invariably, inherently evil.

115. The ease of the ending throws into relief both the efficacy of authority to uphold Truth and the central irony of the plot—that Rensi's ignoring of the peasant has been a trick to keep him speaking. The exact restoration of the final verses is uncertain. The list of goods echoes and replaces those stolen in the opening narrative: the unjustly robbed is now the just taker. This sudden change in fortune provides a tacit answer to the accusations against Rensi which were made in paradoxical, peripatetic (‘then-now') form. The peasant remains quiet (an evocative state; see n. 14): he has at last no further need to speak.

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