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Other Compositions

Among what survives, there are a few indications of a wider set of genres than those of the relatively well-preserved classical canon.

One person's collection of manuscripts (the ‘Ramesseum library’), which contained The Discourse of Sasobek, The Tale of Sinuhe, and The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant, also included a papyrus with a random collection of short proverbial maxims, all very generalizing, and most now very cryptic:

He who fails the drowning man, fails everyone. He who drives away his protection is protection-less. A man does what he does, without knowing that someone is doing the same against him.

Fragments of two long compositions survive on a group of very broken New Kingdom papyri in Moscow: The Account of the Sporting King and The Account of the Pleasures of Fishing and Fowling. They seem to belong to a mixed genre. One is a narrative which frames a set of highly metaphorical eulogies, probably similar to actual royal praise songs, acclaiming a sporting king. A sample reads:

Words [spoken to his Majesty (l.p.h.!)] at the foot of the throne;22 The name of the speaker, Sehotepibreankh, contains the name of Sehotepibre Amenemhat I; the king who is addressed may be Amenemhat II. the Treasurer of the Red-king, the Royal Document Scribe of the Presence, Sehotepibreankh, [said to] his [lord], ‘Take unto yourself this your red shaft,23 The red shaft is a hunting spear used in sporting rituals; the following verses describe it in elaborate terms. Its colour allies it to the Red Crown of Lower Egypt, which has a Coil as a distinguishing feature. Pe and Dep are twin royal cities of Lower Egypt, at modern Tell el-Far͑in (classical Buto, in the 6th Lower Egyptian nome). The Coptite is the god Min, lord of Coptos and a god of virility, beside whose shrine stood a horned pole emblem. The Horizon-dweller is the Sungod, who is red with the dawn. ruddy of colour, the […] of your [Majest]y (l.p.h.!); may it extend its protection to you! It is like the Red Crown when placed in coronation, when the […] has received the Coil which is in Pe, and the Coil which is in Dep! Like the horns of the staff of the Coptite! Like the […] of his breastplate! Like the Horizon-dweller when he shows himself at dawn!’

The other poem is narrated by a man speaking to his lord, and extols pastoral pleasures:

‘A happy day, as we go down to the water-meadow,24 Two-Waters is a place in the Fayyum, location unknown. The monologue about hunting is set in a pastoral marsh landscape, presided over by the Marshgoddess. Sobek is the crocodile-god of the Fayyum (the Lake); the burnt offerings are thanksgiving for a successful hunt. as we snare bi[rds and catch] many [fish] in Two-Waters, and the catcher and harpooner come to us, as we draw in the net[s full of] fowl; we moor our skiff at a thicket, and put offerings on the fire for Sobek, Lord of the Lake, the [… of] the Sovereign (l.〈p.〉h.!).

My lord! My lord! Spend the night in the hide! Success will be given to the man who draws the net when it is dawn [on the] midmost [isle]. The Marsh-goddess has been kind to you; your fishing rods have been kind to you. Every water-meadow is green, and you have fed on the countryside,

If only I were in [the country]— [I would do] what my heart desires, as when the country was my town, when the top of the water-meadow was [my dwelling]; no [one could part me from] the people my heart desires and from my friends; I would spend the day in the place of [my] longing, [in the … and] the papyrus clumps. When it was dawn, I would have a snack, and be far away, walking in the place of my heart!’

These long episodic pastoral poems probably date from late in the Middle Kingdom, and in many respects they look forward to the literature of the New Kingdom.

The oral compositions of the Middle Kingdom, which probably included love-songs, secular harpist's lyrics, and other genres, are lost to us. It is, however, some consolation that the poetry we have is that which the scribes wished us, the future, to read, and is the art that they considered worthy of eternity.

Notes:

22. The name of the speaker, Sehotepibreankh, contains the name of Sehotepibre Amenemhat I; the king who is addressed may be Amenemhat II.

23. The red shaft is a hunting spear used in sporting rituals; the following verses describe it in elaborate terms. Its colour allies it to the Red Crown of Lower Egypt, which has a Coil as a distinguishing feature. Pe and Dep are twin royal cities of Lower Egypt, at modern Tell el-Far͑in (classical Buto, in the 6th Lower Egyptian nome). The Coptite is the god Min, lord of Coptos and a god of virility, beside whose shrine stood a horned pole emblem. The Horizon-dweller is the Sungod, who is red with the dawn.

24. Two-Waters is a place in the Fayyum, location unknown. The monologue about hunting is set in a pastoral marsh landscape, presided over by the Marshgoddess. Sobek is the crocodile-god of the Fayyum (the Lake); the burnt offerings are thanksgiving for a successful hunt.

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