We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Select Bible Use this Lookup to open a specific Bible and passage. Start here to select a Bible.
Make selected Bible the default for Lookup tool.
Book: Ch.V. Select book from A-Z list, enter chapter and verse number, and click "Go."
:
OR
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result

The Teaching of King Amenemhat

1 (M 1.1) Beginning of the Teaching1 Amenemhat I, Sehotepibre, was the founder of the Twelfth Dynasty, who died c.1908 BC. He speaks his Teaching not on the point of death (the usual setting) but after it, in a dream to his heir. His son, Senwosret I, is not named, but is addressed with the title Lord of All, which presents him as the king in his most divine aspect. made by the Majesty of the Dual King, Sehotepibre, the Son of Re, Amenemhat, the justified, when he spoke in a revelation to his son, the Lord of All. He said, ‘Rise as a god!2 The command to rise has overtones of appearing both as the newly crowned king and as the Sungod. The poem concerns the manifestation of the potential of kingship and divinity, and the duties of the king. Listen to what I tell you, that you may be king of the land, and rule the Banks, increasing the good.

2 (M 1.3) Concentrate against subjects who prove non-existent,3 The duties of kingship are presented in strongly pessimistic terms, as combating humanity's fallibility. In contrast to the divinity and ideals of the last stanza, humanity is presented in negative terms, as faithless and unreliable, as if they were a chaotic force (non-existent). A forceful series of injunctions, all of them involving negative phrases, stresses the lonely and dangerous role of a king. in whose respect no faith can be placed! Do not approach them when you are alone! Trust no brother! Know no friend! Make for yourself no intimates—this is of no avail!

3 (M 1.5) You should sleep with your own heart watching over you,4 In this stanza, the king changes briefly to positive injunctions, advocating selfreliance. One would expect vigilance to be urged, rather than sleep: this advice prefigures the disaster that the king is about to relate, and the need for sleep hints at the king's mortality. The Day of Pain is the day of death. for a man will have no supporters on the Day of Pain. I gave to the beggar, I raised the orphan,5 The king expounds his virtuous acts, using formulae from commemorative funerary Autobiographies. The beggar and the orphan are alienated individuals, continuing the negative characterization of humanity. The antitheses of these lines are reversed in the following stanza (4a–d), where the good he does turns sour. and I made the man who had not end up like someone who had.

4 (M 1.7) It was someone who ate my food who caused trouble;6 This stanza continues with antithetical statements, describing directly the undeservedness of the evil which struck the king. The people rewarded with linen and myrrh look at the king with envy, as if needy. The idiom pouring water seems to mean ‘pouring funeral libations’ for him (i.e. preparing for his death), but it can also mean figuratively ‘passing complaints’ like urine; the verse gains in piquancy from the contrast between myrrh and water, and is very resonant: it also suggests that people were literally ‘pissing on’, or spitting at, the king. Myrrh and linen are signs of privileged living, but can also have funerary overtones, relevant to the king's death. someone to whom I had given my help was raising plots with it; someone clad in my fine linen was looking at me as if needy; someone anointed with my myrrh was pouring water in return.

5 (M 1.9) O my living images, my partners among men,7 The king now addresses a wider humanity than his son: the invocation to mankind reflects both the king's divinity and his humanity—men are both the images of the creator-god and thus of the king's divinity, but partners of the king's humanity. The relationship between the two poles of divinity and humanity reflects human responsibility to uphold order. This involves making mourning for the king and avenging him. The more varied sentence structures in this stanza combine injunctions and generalizing reflections and prepare for the change to narrative in the next stanza. The fighting to avenge the king becomes an image of combat which expresses the necessity of learning from past experience and harkening to what the king is revealing, without which all virtue is in vain. make for me mourning, such as was never heard before!— the greatest fighting, such as was never seen before! When one fights in the arena, forgetful of the past, the goodness of someone who ignores what should be known is of no avail.

6 (M 1.11) It was after supper, when darkness had fallen,8 In a movement to personal narration the king now relates what he has only alluded to before. The mention of after supper shifts from a public and abstract sphere to a more intimate level; it is also significant as a time when cosmic order is at its weakest. Tired is a word often used of the languor of the dead. The king's sleep recalls his earlier warning and injunction (3a). The happy time may have involved sexual pleasure. and I had spent a happy time. I was lying on my bed, since I was tired, and my heart had begun to follow sleep. When the weapons at my disposal were wielded, I had become like a worm of the necropolis.9 The worm is an image of sluggishness: in later funerary spells it ‘sleeps and is reborn daily’ (Book of the Dead, spell 87), an allusion to the cosmic cycle of death and rebirth that is also evoked to by the mention of the necropolis.

7 (M 2.2) As I came to, I woke to fighting,10 The references to fighting and arms reach their climax in this stanza describing the attack. Back-turners is a term of abuse for enemies of the state, with a sexual edge—they are effeminates. and I found it was an attack of the bodyguard. If I had quickly taken weapons in my hand, I would have made the back-turners retreat with a charge. But no one is strong in the night; no one can fight alone;11 The king moves to generalizing negative statements, arguing that his weakness was not a personal fault, but partook of human vulnerability. The verses ironically reflect the earlier injunction to remain solitary (2c–e), which is both a strength and a weakness. The duties of kingship make a king vulnerable whatever he does. no success will come without help.

8 (M 2.5) Look, my passing happened when I was without you,12 Passing is the most direct reference to the king's death (the Egyptian word can mean an ‘injury’, but also the ‘withdrawal’ of the mummy into its tomb). Even here, however, he narrates his assassination allusively: it is an almost unspeakable event. In this, the central stanza of the poem, he continues to justify himself with a more specific threefold description of his solitary state. The only one whose help he could have trusted was his son, who was away (as also mentioned in The Tale of Sinuhe, R 11–13). These verses stress the uncertainty of the transfer of royal power (see Introduction, pp. 203–4). Negative forms predominate. when the entourage had not yet heard that I would hand over to you, when I had not yet sat with you, that I might make plans for you; for I was not prepared for it, I did not foresee it,13 The king admits his lack of the foresight that should be a royal duty; he relates it, however, to the failings of his servants, as if justifying his fallibility by theirs. The next stanza offers further justification for his lack of readiness (9a–f). and my heart had not thought of servants’ negligence.

9 (M 2.7) Had women ever before commanded troops?14 This stanza returns to a repetitive style, with a series of rhetorical questions. The questions imply that the attack could not have been foreseen, even by the king. The troops are the treacherous bodyguard; the mention of women suggests that the conspiracy originated in the royal harem. The second question asks who would expect revolt to originate in the centre of government, and the third presents the problem in cosmic terms: water is associated with the forces of chaos. The fourth question asks who could expect that the people would selfdestructively destroy their own protector. Are people of tumult ever brought up in the Residence? Is water that destroys the fields ever let forth? Do commoners ever bring folly on themselves by their actions? Since my birth, evil had not come near me;15 The questions are followed by a descriptive couplet that points their rhetorical nature. The king's mistaken confidence is justified by descriptions of his absolute power, as he begins to give an account of his reign in positive terms.

my deeds as a strong hero were inimitable. 10 (M 2.10) I strode to Elephantine,16 The king describes his achievements as reaching first geographical limits, then abstract ones. Elephantine is the southernmost town of Egypt, and the Marshes are the northern Delta: he dominates the land to its edges. and I travelled to the Marshes; I stood firm on the limits of the land, having seen its midst. I attained the limits of strength with my strong arm, and my manifestations.

11 (M 2.11) I was a maker of grain, beloved of Nepri.17 His achievements guaranteed the well-being of Egypt; the stanza alludes ironically to the fact that people who thus benefited attacked him (see 4a). Nepri is the god of grain; the god of the Nileflood is the provider of growth and of water (echoing the image of 9c): these allude grandly to the necessities of existence, bread and water. The Nileflood honoured me on every plain. No one hungered in my years; no one thirsted then. Men could relax through what I had done, and told of me. All that I decreed was as it should be.

12 (M 3.1) I tamed lions, and I captured crocodiles.18 A relentlessly repetitive stanza on the king's protection of Egypt from enemies. The two animals are representatives of the chaotic forces of the desert and of the flood, and are juxtaposed with two hostile peoples, the Nubians of the south, and the Medjai of the south-east. Animals and enemies are fused in the final verse, with the description of the north-eastern Syrians crawling submissively like dogs. I subjugated Nubians, and I captured Medjai; I made Syrians do the dog-walk.

13 (M 3.3) I made myself a mansion adorned with gold;19 An extremely simple and stately stanza now describes the temple dedicated to his funerary cult—an eternal mansion that represents the permanence of his achievement and his universal authority. It is described as being made of precious things: usually doors had architectural elements of blue glazed composition, not lapis lazuli, and walls were white with plaster, not silver. The all of the final verse alludes to the royal title ‘Lord of All’ (1c; see n. 1). its portals were of lapis lazuli, with walls of silver, a floor of sycomore, doors of copper, bolts of bronze, made for all time, prepared for eternity. I know, for I was the lord of it, of all!

14 (M 3.6) But now the children of the masses are in the street,20 A new stanza marks a sudden contrast—from the mansion to the common street, and from the god-king to the confused masses of humanity. The street is full of quarrels and unrest (see The Dialogue of Ipuur and the Lord of All, 6.12–14). These are the chaotic forces which undermined Amenemhat and which threaten to predominate in the interregnum. Only the presence of the new king can set them right. the wise saying “It is so!” the fool saying “It is not!” for he cannot know anything, lacking regard for you. O Senwosret, my son!21 Amenemhat's son is named for the first time in the poem (this cry is at the numerical centre of the stanza). The deceased king reluctantly leaves him for the otherworld, separated from him as he was when attacked. The stanza ends, however, on a positive note, describing the son as the restorer of all that has been wrong: the people of his reign will no longer be the unsettled children of the start of the stanza (14a), but children of a happy time (this regains the happy time lost in the assassination (6b)). They are joined by all mankind who live under the sun (the sunfolk). My feet are departing, but my very heart draws near, and my eyes are looking for you, to whom the children of a happy time, beside the sunfolk, offer praises!

15 (M 3.9) Look, I made a beginning, so that I might secure the end for you.22 A stately stanza follows with a final summary of the son's role as successor. To bring to harbour is also a metaphor for death, as well as one for a succesful completion. This stanza implies that the disaster of the king's death is finally acceptable, since it resulted in his son's accession, which is his crowning achievement and intention, and compensates for his assassination in his son's absence. The White crown is the crown of Upper Egypt, and the principal single crown of the Egyptian king. I alone have brought to harbour my heart's desire for you: you wearing the White crown, divine progeny! This is as it should be, as I began it for you. I have descended into the barque of the Sungod.23 He has descended into the otherworld in the barque in which the Sungod travels through the night. His descent is paradoxically the ascension of the new king (1d; see n. 2); both attain a sun-like godhead. This accession is the true achievement of the king in the midst of all this misfortune, and is associated with the orderly, golden past (aforetime). He urges his son to continue to create enduring monuments like his own (13a–d); such works are a sign of piety. Ascend to the kingship created aforetime, for it is what I achieved, in the midst of all this! Raise your monuments, endow your tomb shaft! May you fight for the wisdom of the wise-hearted,24 This fighting echoes the assassination and the revenge for it, and the earlier image of combat (5c–d): all previous struggles are subsumed in the new king's struggle to uphold wisdom. The wise-hearted person is the dead king, whose dearly bought wisdom is the centre of the Teaching; the poem ends with a personal appeal to his son's love. Appropriately the final word is the Majesty of the new king. for you loved him beside your Majesty (l.p.h.!)!’

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

Notes:

1. Amenemhat I, Sehotepibre, was the founder of the Twelfth Dynasty, who died c.1908 BC. He speaks his Teaching not on the point of death (the usual setting) but after it, in a dream to his heir. His son, Senwosret I, is not named, but is addressed with the title Lord of All, which presents him as the king in his most divine aspect.

2. The command to rise has overtones of appearing both as the newly crowned king and as the Sungod. The poem concerns the manifestation of the potential of kingship and divinity, and the duties of the king.

3. The duties of kingship are presented in strongly pessimistic terms, as combating humanity's fallibility. In contrast to the divinity and ideals of the last stanza, humanity is presented in negative terms, as faithless and unreliable, as if they were a chaotic force (non-existent). A forceful series of injunctions, all of them involving negative phrases, stresses the lonely and dangerous role of a king.

4. In this stanza, the king changes briefly to positive injunctions, advocating selfreliance. One would expect vigilance to be urged, rather than sleep: this advice prefigures the disaster that the king is about to relate, and the need for sleep hints at the king's mortality. The Day of Pain is the day of death.

5. The king expounds his virtuous acts, using formulae from commemorative funerary Autobiographies. The beggar and the orphan are alienated individuals, continuing the negative characterization of humanity. The antitheses of these lines are reversed in the following stanza (4a–d), where the good he does turns sour.

6. This stanza continues with antithetical statements, describing directly the undeservedness of the evil which struck the king. The people rewarded with linen and myrrh look at the king with envy, as if needy. The idiom pouring water seems to mean ‘pouring funeral libations’ for him (i.e. preparing for his death), but it can also mean figuratively ‘passing complaints’ like urine; the verse gains in piquancy from the contrast between myrrh and water, and is very resonant: it also suggests that people were literally ‘pissing on’, or spitting at, the king. Myrrh and linen are signs of privileged living, but can also have funerary overtones, relevant to the king's death.

7. The king now addresses a wider humanity than his son: the invocation to mankind reflects both the king's divinity and his humanity—men are both the images of the creator-god and thus of the king's divinity, but partners of the king's humanity. The relationship between the two poles of divinity and humanity reflects human responsibility to uphold order. This involves making mourning for the king and avenging him. The more varied sentence structures in this stanza combine injunctions and generalizing reflections and prepare for the change to narrative in the next stanza. The fighting to avenge the king becomes an image of combat which expresses the necessity of learning from past experience and harkening to what the king is revealing, without which all virtue is in vain.

8. In a movement to personal narration the king now relates what he has only alluded to before. The mention of after supper shifts from a public and abstract sphere to a more intimate level; it is also significant as a time when cosmic order is at its weakest. Tired is a word often used of the languor of the dead. The king's sleep recalls his earlier warning and injunction (3a). The happy time may have involved sexual pleasure.

9. The worm is an image of sluggishness: in later funerary spells it ‘sleeps and is reborn daily’ (Book of the Dead, spell 87), an allusion to the cosmic cycle of death and rebirth that is also evoked to by the mention of the necropolis.

10. The references to fighting and arms reach their climax in this stanza describing the attack. Back-turners is a term of abuse for enemies of the state, with a sexual edge—they are effeminates.

11. The king moves to generalizing negative statements, arguing that his weakness was not a personal fault, but partook of human vulnerability. The verses ironically reflect the earlier injunction to remain solitary (2c–e), which is both a strength and a weakness. The duties of kingship make a king vulnerable whatever he does.

12. Passing is the most direct reference to the king's death (the Egyptian word can mean an ‘injury’, but also the ‘withdrawal’ of the mummy into its tomb). Even here, however, he narrates his assassination allusively: it is an almost unspeakable event. In this, the central stanza of the poem, he continues to justify himself with a more specific threefold description of his solitary state. The only one whose help he could have trusted was his son, who was away (as also mentioned in The Tale of Sinuhe, R 11–13). These verses stress the uncertainty of the transfer of royal power (see Introduction, pp. 203–4). Negative forms predominate.

13. The king admits his lack of the foresight that should be a royal duty; he relates it, however, to the failings of his servants, as if justifying his fallibility by theirs. The next stanza offers further justification for his lack of readiness (9a–f).

14. This stanza returns to a repetitive style, with a series of rhetorical questions. The questions imply that the attack could not have been foreseen, even by the king. The troops are the treacherous bodyguard; the mention of women suggests that the conspiracy originated in the royal harem. The second question asks who would expect revolt to originate in the centre of government, and the third presents the problem in cosmic terms: water is associated with the forces of chaos. The fourth question asks who could expect that the people would selfdestructively destroy their own protector.

15. The questions are followed by a descriptive couplet that points their rhetorical nature. The king's mistaken confidence is justified by descriptions of his absolute power, as he begins to give an account of his reign in positive terms.

16. The king describes his achievements as reaching first geographical limits, then abstract ones. Elephantine is the southernmost town of Egypt, and the Marshes are the northern Delta: he dominates the land to its edges.

17. His achievements guaranteed the well-being of Egypt; the stanza alludes ironically to the fact that people who thus benefited attacked him (see 4a). Nepri is the god of grain; the god of the Nileflood is the provider of growth and of water (echoing the image of 9c): these allude grandly to the necessities of existence, bread and water.

18. A relentlessly repetitive stanza on the king's protection of Egypt from enemies. The two animals are representatives of the chaotic forces of the desert and of the flood, and are juxtaposed with two hostile peoples, the Nubians of the south, and the Medjai of the south-east. Animals and enemies are fused in the final verse, with the description of the north-eastern Syrians crawling submissively like dogs.

19. An extremely simple and stately stanza now describes the temple dedicated to his funerary cult—an eternal mansion that represents the permanence of his achievement and his universal authority. It is described as being made of precious things: usually doors had architectural elements of blue glazed composition, not lapis lazuli, and walls were white with plaster, not silver. The all of the final verse alludes to the royal title ‘Lord of All’ (1c; see n. 1).

20. A new stanza marks a sudden contrast—from the mansion to the common street, and from the god-king to the confused masses of humanity. The street is full of quarrels and unrest (see The Dialogue of Ipuur and the Lord of All, 6.12–14). These are the chaotic forces which undermined Amenemhat and which threaten to predominate in the interregnum. Only the presence of the new king can set them right.

21. Amenemhat's son is named for the first time in the poem (this cry is at the numerical centre of the stanza). The deceased king reluctantly leaves him for the otherworld, separated from him as he was when attacked. The stanza ends, however, on a positive note, describing the son as the restorer of all that has been wrong: the people of his reign will no longer be the unsettled children of the start of the stanza (14a), but children of a happy time (this regains the happy time lost in the assassination (6b)). They are joined by all mankind who live under the sun (the sunfolk).

22. A stately stanza follows with a final summary of the son's role as successor. To bring to harbour is also a metaphor for death, as well as one for a succesful completion. This stanza implies that the disaster of the king's death is finally acceptable, since it resulted in his son's accession, which is his crowning achievement and intention, and compensates for his assassination in his son's absence. The White crown is the crown of Upper Egypt, and the principal single crown of the Egyptian king.

23. He has descended into the otherworld in the barque in which the Sungod travels through the night. His descent is paradoxically the ascension of the new king (1d; see n. 2); both attain a sun-like godhead. This accession is the true achievement of the king in the midst of all this misfortune, and is associated with the orderly, golden past (aforetime). He urges his son to continue to create enduring monuments like his own (13a–d); such works are a sign of piety.

24. This fighting echoes the assassination and the revenge for it, and the earlier image of combat (5c–d): all previous struggles are subsumed in the new king's struggle to uphold wisdom. The wise-hearted person is the dead king, whose dearly bought wisdom is the centre of the Teaching; the poem ends with a personal appeal to his son's love. Appropriately the final word is the Majesty of the new king.

  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2018. All Rights Reserved. Privacy policy and legal notice