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The Teaching of Khety

1 Beginning of the Teaching1 The name of the author is not certain. The lowly title describes him as a commoner from Sile, a frontier town on the north-eastern edge of Egypt, near modern Tell Abu Sefa (the reading is, however, uncertain; ‘cabin’ has also been suggested instead of Sile). See p. 203 n. 1. made by the man of Sile called Duaf's son Khety for his son called Pepy, while journeying south to the Residence to place him in the scribal school, in the midst of the children of the officials and as the foremost of the Residence.

2 Then he said to him, ‘I have seen beatings! Set your heart to writings! Observe how it rescues from labour! Look, there is no excelling writings— they are a watertight boat!2 This image of easy travelling—a common metaphor for success in life—is dramatically appropriate, as they would travel to the Residence by water. The Compendium was a didactic text used in scribal training; see p. 293. Read at the end of the Compendium, and you will find these verses there, saying, “A scribe in any position in the Residence— because of it, he will never be wretched”.

3 He fills another's want3 Khety now describes the benefit of the scribe's skill, beginning with the scribe's ability to satisfy his clients before their legal case is completed. The reference to the pupil's mother is echoed in the final stanza (30f). The present stanza ends by stating that the office is so great that a scribe will prosper even as a child—evoking eulogies of the king as someone who conquers ‘in the egg’ (e.g. The Tale of Sinuhe, B 69 and n. 22)—and will have authority before reaching adolescence, when he would start to wear a kilt. even before that person can leave the court content. I can see no other profession like it, one about which those verses could be said. I shall make you love writing more than your mother; I shall make its beauties be shown to you. Now, it is greater than any other profession. There is not its like in the land. The scribe begins to flourish when he is a child; he will be greeted, and will be sent to do missions, before he has arrived at the age to wear a kilt.

4 I can see no sculptor on a commission,4 Khety begins by mentioning three craftsmen who work with valuable materials, whose labour is nevertheless no better than that of field-labourers. Commissions were jobs for literate men, and involved deputized power. The metalworker is scorned because of his smell. no goldsmith being sent. But I have seen the metalworker at his labour at the mouth of his furnace, with his fingers like a crocodile's, and stinking more than fish roe.

5 Any craftsman who grasps an adze5 This and the following vignettes stress the exhaustion of workers, which, it is implied, the scribe does not suffer. The carpenter hacking wood is compared to a farmer hacking the earth—an even lowlier and more strenuous trade (cf. the farmer of 13a–f). He has to kindle light to continue work after sunset. He and the next three workers all labour with metal tools (adze, chisel, razor, and reedknife). is more wearied than a corvéed land-worker; his fields are the wood, his hoe is the bronze tool. At night, he is still occupied, although he has already done more than his arms can do. At night, he kindles light.

6 And the jewel-worker is boring with his chisel6 The jewel-worker's exhaustion is made worse by the fact that he cannot move from his working posture by evening, due to cramp. in all kinds of hard jewels. He has finished inlaying things, and his arms are perished, and he is weary. He sits down to his daily food with his knees and back still bent.

7 And the barber is still shaving at evening's end. He takes his bag, takes it onto his shoulder, and takes himself from street to street in search of people to shave. He must exercise his arms to fill his belly,7 The simile likens the flapping arms of the barber to a bee's wings. like the bee which can eat only as much as it has worked.

8 The reed-cutter goes north to the Delta,8 The reed-cutter cuts reeds for arrows, and is attacked by insects as if by arrows; the insects recalls the bee of the previous stanza (7e). to carry off arrows for himself; he has done more than his arms can do, the mosquitoes have killed him, and the sandflies have butchered him, so that he is cut to pieces.

9 And the maker of pots is under earth,9 This and the next stanza concern people who work with earth. The maker of pots carries earth for clay, making him under earth as if dead, and gathers clay like a pig grubbing (meadow and pig are homophonous). He kneads clay with his feet, which batters him as well as the clay. Such labour is self-destructive. though standing up with the living. He grubs in the meadows more than pigs do, to fire his pottery, and his clothes are stiff with mud, and his loincloth in rags; the air enters his nose, after coming straight out of the burning kiln. He is pounding with his feet, and is crushed up by himself— grubbing the yard of every house, treading public places!

10 I shall tell you about the wall-builder: his sides hurt, for he must be outside in the howling wind, building without a kilt— his loincloth is a cord of the weaving shop, a string for his backside; his arms are covered with earth, and mixed with all kinds of shit. Though he eats bread with his fingers, he can wash himself only once a day.

11 Vile is the carpenter, working at a ceiling;10 Khety moves to a second type of builder. The first verse is very corrupt, and some critics have suggested that the following lines continue the description of the builder. The chamber measures 5 [H11003] 3 m. The end of the stanza states the craftsman is paid only after the job is finished, and then his earnings are so meagre that his children get no provisions. it is the roof of a chamber, a chamber of ten by six cubits. A month passes after the beams are laid, and the matting is spread out, and all the work on it is done. The provisions which are then given for his household— they cannot be handed out to his children.

12 And the gardener is bringing a yoke,11 Two vignettes about people who work the land follow. The gardener has to carry heavy water pots to irrigate the plot, an endless task. with each of his shoulders bearing old age, with a great swelling on his neck, which is festering; he passes the morning watering the vegetables, and his supper-time by the coriander, having spent the midday in the orchard. Because of this, it happens that he only rests when dying, more so than with any other profession.

13 And the field-worker laments more than the guinea fowl,12 The field-worker has a long journey to reach the land which he has been assigned to cultivate. The stanza is full of raucous and dangerous animals. Hippopotami were a threat to crops. his voice louder than the ravens’, with his fingers swollen and with all sorts of excessive stinks. He is weary, having been assigned to the Delta; and so he is always in rags. He's well—well among lions! The hippopotami are painful for him; his forced labour is trebled by them. He goes out, and only arrives back at his house in the evening, shattered by the walking.

14 The mat-maker within the weaving shop13 The mat-maker suffers from the opposite of the travelling field-worker: his work confines him in a single room. He is worse off than a woman because of his posture which resembles a woman in labour. is worse off than a woman, with his knees against his stomach, and unable to breathe air. If he wastes a day without weaving, he is beaten with fifty whips. He has to give provisions to the door-keeper to let him look on the daylight.

15 The arrow-maker is made very feeble14 The woe characteristic of the arrow-maker, who has to go out into the desert to gather flints for arrow-heads, is that his travelling expenses exceed his income. His lack of profit recalls the carpenter's (11e), and his travelling the fieldworker's (13f ). This and the following vignette concern workers abroad. by going out to the foreign land. He has to give his donkey more than its resulting labour's worth. He has to give more to the rustics who put him on the road. He arrives at his house in the evening, shattered by the walking.

16 And the courier goes to the foreign country,15 This second travelling worker has to go into dangerous areas, and so makes a will each time he leaves home. He is unhappy whether he is abroad in a cloth tent or in Egypt in a proper brick house. The lions echo 13d; his shattered state echoes 13f and 15e. having handed over his property to his children, in fear of lions, and Asiatics. He knows himself only when he is in Egypt. He arrives at his house miserable, shattered by the walking. Whether his house is of cloth or of brick, he will not come home happy.

17 The stoker—his fingers are putrid,16 The stoker smells repulsive, since most of his fuel is dung. This and the following stanza are linked by the stink of corpses; the motif of smell echoes 4c and 13b, and continues into the following stanza (19). smelling of corpses, his eyes scorched by the smoke; he cannot get rid of his dirt, spending the day in cutting reeds. His clothes are his horror.

18 The sandal-maker is very badly off,17 The sandal-maker is involved with stinking vats for tanning leather (suggesting the process of embalming a corpse), and uses his teeth in working the leather. under his vats for eternity. He's well—as well as a corpse, chewing on hides!

19 And the washerman washes on the riverbank,18 The washerman's is another profession dominated by human filth. This and the following two vignettes are linked together by the mentions of water animals (crocodiles and fowl), and the riverine workplace. and he is near to the crocodile. “Father, come out of the flowing water!” say his son and daughter. This is no profession that anyone can be content in, more so than any other profession; his food is mixed with shit, and no part of him is clean. He puts himself to the underskirts of a woman who is in her period; he weeps, spending the day at the washing board. The washing stone is by him; he is told, “Here's dirty clothes! Get over here!” and the edge sinks under their weight.

20 The fowl-catcher is made very feeble,19 The fowl-catcher's birds recall the images of the field-worker's distress (13a). His profession is god-forsaken, and self-destructive, since his own plans are what afflict him. As the series of vignettes nears its end, there are several references to God (see n. 29). by watching the flying birds. If a flock of waterbirds passes over him, he says “If only I had a net!” God does not let this happen to him, so that he is made feeble by his own plans.

21 I will tell you about the fisherman.20 The fisherman, like the washerman (19a–h), works in a dangerous environment, and like the fowler is not helped by god (20c), even if he is lucky to survive his work in the water. Towards the end of the series there are several references to the premature deaths caused by the occupations. He is made feebler than any other profession— whose labour is in the river, who consorts with crocodiles. Even if the total of his reckoned catch comes to him, he is still lamenting; he cannot even realize that the crocodile's waiting, being blinded by fear. Even if he comes out of the flowing water, he's as if smitten by God's anger. Look, no profession is free from a director,21 The stanza and the series of vignettes end as Khety moves to consider the autonomy and prosperity of the scribe, who is not forced to labour so excessively, and whose work is self-controlled rather than self-destructive. except the scribe's—the director is he himself.

22 But if you know writings, all will be well for you,22 Khety ironically echoes the claims that the professions are superlatively bad by extolling the scribe's superlative qualities (cf. 12e, 19d, 21b); this resumes the earlier assertion that scribedom is greater than any other trade (3d). He returns to the setting of the Teaching, the journey to the school. The image of mountains expresses the rock-like stability of writings, as opposed to the transient lowly professions. more so than with these professions I have shown you. Look at them, at their wretchedness! one can not call a field-worker a man: beware of this! Look, what I have done in coming south to the Residence— look, I have done for your sake. A day in school is good for you— it is for eternity, its works are mountains. The enforced workers I have told you of hurry by, risen early and resisting.

23 I shall also tell you other things,23 General advice on ethical behaviour follows in a concluding section. These pieces of wisdom are similar to those of the other Teachings in form and content. Here Khety advises restraint in dealing with legal and/or administrative disputes, including heated arguments when a brick is taken to throw at an opponent. Such restraint is an appropriate virtue for clerical staff. to teach you wisdom. Such as: If you attend a place of conflict, do not approach those who are quarrelling! If a brick is seized by the hasty-hearted and it is not known how to lower the temperature, with witnesses before the judges, make answer to him with due hesitation!

24 If you walk in attendance on great ones,24 A stanza enjoining respect for one's superiors; the scribe associates with elevated circles, unlike the earlier labourers (only the élite would have eaten at tables). Sitting hand to mouth is to sit quietly and respectfully, with due deference while one's lord is attending to someone else. The same qualities are advised in the following stanza. approach from afar, behind the end rank! If you go in to the lord of the house in his house, and his hands are to someone else before you, you should sit with your hand to your mouth! Do not demand anything when you are beside him, but behave to him as he says! Beware of going up to the table!

25 Be weighty in yourself, and great of respect! Speak no secret matters! The discreet man makes himself a shield. Speak no reckless matters; you should be relaxed with someone who is defiant!

26 If you leave the school,25 An obscure stanza, but one relevant to the setting of the Teaching. It either means that time spent in school will give benefits in other public places, or possibly warns that anyone who leaves school early will have to negotiate against opposition. after you are told it is midday, going and coming in the public places, negotiate the result of what is yours!

27 If a great one sends you on a mission,26 Another stanza extolling careful speech, recalling the last but one stanza (25a–c). speak as he spoke! Do not delete or alter anything concerning this! The hasty-hearted man produces oblivion; he has no enduring name. He who is intelligent in all his character has nothing hidden from him; there is no dismissing him from any position of his.

28 Speak no falsehood with your mouth, it is the horror of the officials.27 A stanza advising respect for one's elders and betters, particularly while at table (developing the advice of 25a–c). To have one's hands at the nose is apparently a gesture of self-restraint and respect; it also contrasts with the strenuous activities of the labourers’ arms (5c, 6b, 7d, 8b, 10d). Now after a meal is prepared, both your hands should be placed at your nose. Do not take enjoyment with the troublesome: the man whose appetite is listened to is vile. If you are fed with three loaves and two jars of beer have been drunk without ending appetite—resist it! If another is being fed, do not wait around; beware of going up to the table!

29 Look, you will send multitudes, and hear the discourse of the great ones;28 The first half of the stanza describes the benefits of the scribe's position, and his ability to rise in society. The second half warns against becoming too proud and trying to be greeted (Welcome) as a prominent person. Being in a position to hear is the virtue of the scribe's role. The scribe should associate with people both higher and lower than himself: the Youth are paramilitary bands. so that you will acquire the nature of the well-born, following in their steps. A scribe is regarded on account of hearing; hearing will create a champion. You should resist a word of “Welcome!”: do not hasten your limbs as you go; do not be overtrusting! Associate with someone who is more distinguished than you! Be friendly with a man of your Youth!

30 Look, I have placed you on the path of God,29 A final stanza proclaims the benefits the pupil will gain from being placed in school: literacy is acclaimed in generalized terms as a great and holy virtue—the path of God and of life. Fortune and Destiny (Meskhenet) are goddesses of birth and good fortune, who attend on the scribe; the shoulder is where the scribe slung his equipment to carry it. The stanza is full of references to the divine, unlike the preceding stanzas that depicted godless or god-afflicted work (20c, 21g). The advice looks to perpetuity in two ways: Khety's son will have progeny, and the Teaching will last down the generations. for the Fortune of a scribe is on his shoulder, on the day of his birth. He will achieve office, the council of the Residence. Look, no scribe lacks food, or property from the palace (l.p.h.!). Destiny is ordained to a scribe— She who advances him before the council. Thank God for your father and your mother who put you on the path of life! Look at these maxims that I have put before you, and before the children of your children!’

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

Notes:

1. The name of the author is not certain. The lowly title describes him as a commoner from Sile, a frontier town on the north-eastern edge of Egypt, near modern Tell Abu Sefa (the reading is, however, uncertain; ‘cabin’ has also been suggested instead of Sile). See p. 203 n. 1.

2. This image of easy travelling—a common metaphor for success in life—is dramatically appropriate, as they would travel to the Residence by water. The Compendium was a didactic text used in scribal training; see p. 293.

3. Khety now describes the benefit of the scribe's skill, beginning with the scribe's ability to satisfy his clients before their legal case is completed. The reference to the pupil's mother is echoed in the final stanza (30f). The present stanza ends by stating that the office is so great that a scribe will prosper even as a child—evoking eulogies of the king as someone who conquers ‘in the egg’ (e.g. The Tale of Sinuhe, B 69 and n. 22)—and will have authority before reaching adolescence, when he would start to wear a kilt.

4. Khety begins by mentioning three craftsmen who work with valuable materials, whose labour is nevertheless no better than that of field-labourers. Commissions were jobs for literate men, and involved deputized power. The metalworker is scorned because of his smell.

5. This and the following vignettes stress the exhaustion of workers, which, it is implied, the scribe does not suffer. The carpenter hacking wood is compared to a farmer hacking the earth—an even lowlier and more strenuous trade (cf. the farmer of 13a–f). He has to kindle light to continue work after sunset. He and the next three workers all labour with metal tools (adze, chisel, razor, and reedknife).

6. The jewel-worker's exhaustion is made worse by the fact that he cannot move from his working posture by evening, due to cramp.

7. The simile likens the flapping arms of the barber to a bee's wings.

8. The reed-cutter cuts reeds for arrows, and is attacked by insects as if by arrows; the insects recalls the bee of the previous stanza (7e).

9. This and the next stanza concern people who work with earth. The maker of pots carries earth for clay, making him under earth as if dead, and gathers clay like a pig grubbing (meadow and pig are homophonous). He kneads clay with his feet, which batters him as well as the clay. Such labour is self-destructive.

10. Khety moves to a second type of builder. The first verse is very corrupt, and some critics have suggested that the following lines continue the description of the builder. The chamber measures 5 [H11003] 3 m. The end of the stanza states the craftsman is paid only after the job is finished, and then his earnings are so meagre that his children get no provisions.

11. Two vignettes about people who work the land follow. The gardener has to carry heavy water pots to irrigate the plot, an endless task.

12. The field-worker has a long journey to reach the land which he has been assigned to cultivate. The stanza is full of raucous and dangerous animals. Hippopotami were a threat to crops.

13. The mat-maker suffers from the opposite of the travelling field-worker: his work confines him in a single room. He is worse off than a woman because of his posture which resembles a woman in labour.

14. The woe characteristic of the arrow-maker, who has to go out into the desert to gather flints for arrow-heads, is that his travelling expenses exceed his income. His lack of profit recalls the carpenter's (11e), and his travelling the fieldworker's (13f ). This and the following vignette concern workers abroad.

15. This second travelling worker has to go into dangerous areas, and so makes a will each time he leaves home. He is unhappy whether he is abroad in a cloth tent or in Egypt in a proper brick house. The lions echo 13d; his shattered state echoes 13f and 15e.

16. The stoker smells repulsive, since most of his fuel is dung. This and the following stanza are linked by the stink of corpses; the motif of smell echoes 4c and 13b, and continues into the following stanza (19).

17. The sandal-maker is involved with stinking vats for tanning leather (suggesting the process of embalming a corpse), and uses his teeth in working the leather.

18. The washerman's is another profession dominated by human filth. This and the following two vignettes are linked together by the mentions of water animals (crocodiles and fowl), and the riverine workplace.

19. The fowl-catcher's birds recall the images of the field-worker's distress (13a). His profession is god-forsaken, and self-destructive, since his own plans are what afflict him. As the series of vignettes nears its end, there are several references to God (see n. 29).

20. The fisherman, like the washerman (19a–h), works in a dangerous environment, and like the fowler is not helped by god (20c), even if he is lucky to survive his work in the water. Towards the end of the series there are several references to the premature deaths caused by the occupations.

21. The stanza and the series of vignettes end as Khety moves to consider the autonomy and prosperity of the scribe, who is not forced to labour so excessively, and whose work is self-controlled rather than self-destructive.

22. Khety ironically echoes the claims that the professions are superlatively bad by extolling the scribe's superlative qualities (cf. 12e, 19d, 21b); this resumes the earlier assertion that scribedom is greater than any other trade (3d). He returns to the setting of the Teaching, the journey to the school. The image of mountains expresses the rock-like stability of writings, as opposed to the transient lowly professions.

23. General advice on ethical behaviour follows in a concluding section. These pieces of wisdom are similar to those of the other Teachings in form and content. Here Khety advises restraint in dealing with legal and/or administrative disputes, including heated arguments when a brick is taken to throw at an opponent. Such restraint is an appropriate virtue for clerical staff.

24. A stanza enjoining respect for one's superiors; the scribe associates with elevated circles, unlike the earlier labourers (only the élite would have eaten at tables). Sitting hand to mouth is to sit quietly and respectfully, with due deference while one's lord is attending to someone else. The same qualities are advised in the following stanza.

25. An obscure stanza, but one relevant to the setting of the Teaching. It either means that time spent in school will give benefits in other public places, or possibly warns that anyone who leaves school early will have to negotiate against opposition.

26. Another stanza extolling careful speech, recalling the last but one stanza (25a–c).

27. A stanza advising respect for one's elders and betters, particularly while at table (developing the advice of 25a–c). To have one's hands at the nose is apparently a gesture of self-restraint and respect; it also contrasts with the strenuous activities of the labourers’ arms (5c, 6b, 7d, 8b, 10d).

28. The first half of the stanza describes the benefits of the scribe's position, and his ability to rise in society. The second half warns against becoming too proud and trying to be greeted (Welcome) as a prominent person. Being in a position to hear is the virtue of the scribe's role. The scribe should associate with people both higher and lower than himself: the Youth are paramilitary bands.

29. A final stanza proclaims the benefits the pupil will gain from being placed in school: literacy is acclaimed in generalized terms as a great and holy virtue—the path of God and of life. Fortune and Destiny (Meskhenet) are goddesses of birth and good fortune, who attend on the scribe; the shoulder is where the scribe slung his equipment to carry it. The stanza is full of references to the divine, unlike the preceding stanzas that depicted godless or god-afflicted work (20c, 21g). The advice looks to perpetuity in two ways: Khety's son will have progeny, and the Teaching will last down the generations.

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