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Ancient Egypt Prose Tales

It is very often through literature and writing that we come to know of a people, their customs, values, and expectations of life. In The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor (Sailor), The Eloquent Peasant (Peasant), and The Tale of Sinuhe (Sinuhe) this is exactly what we discover about ancient Egyptians of the Middle Period. Sailor and Peasant are more fantastical and supernatural than Sinuhe, which depicts a true historical event – the death of Amenemhet I. Nevertheless, all three of them contain many preoccupations, values, and expectations of Egyptian life in the Middle Period.

In all three tales we see three values or themes that appear to be quite significant to the beliefs and customs of ancient Egyptians in this period. These are: travel/exploration, the gods, and burial rituals. In Peasant, we see the tale of a hapless peasant whose goods are stolen from him by a Nemtynakht. We see the peasant appeal to the Lord of Silence, and the Nemtynakht wish for a “potent divine image” (Peasant, p. 170). Travel is what gets the peasant into trouble anyway, as he is traveling to Egypt to bring food home to his children. We see in this tale that poetry is important culturally to the Egyptians, and the peasant is greatly admired because of his ability at making speeches. In one, we see Justice compared to the protector of those living and dead, “For you are father to the orphan, / Husband to the widow, / Brother to the rejected woman, / Apron to the motherless” (Peasant, p. 172).

We also see in Peasant that matters of justice appear to have been important to the values and expectations of Middle Period Egyptians. We see this in the final poem of the piece, where the speaker says, “The magistrates do wrong, / Right-dealing is bent sideways, / The judges snatch what has been stolen. / He who steals a man’s rightness makes it swing awry: / The breath-giver chokes him who is down” (Peasant


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