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The Admonitions of Ipuwer

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The Admonitions of Ipuwer from the Ipuwer Papyrus

The Admonitions of Ipuwer is a poem preserved on the recto of a single papyrus (Papyrus Leiden I 344) which belongs to the collection of the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden (National Museum of Antiquities of Leidien) (Enmarch 2005: 1). Despite the fact that the papyrus is from the New Kingdom, the poem preserved on it is supposed to be from the Middle Kingdom (Parkinson 1991: 60).

The papyrus is in appalling conditions. The beginning and its end are completely lost (Faulkner 1973: 210), however we can understand the story. A man, called Ipuwer, appeared in the court of an unnamed pharaoh and described the chaotic state of Egypt which could probably refer to the memory of the events that had occurred in the First Intermediate Period. The order is upset by a social revolution, the rich become poor and the poor rich, foreign people invade Egypt from the delta, nomes are destroyed and wasted and social anarchy is spreading all over the land, while cultural values are broken under the indifferent gaze of society.

The first full comprehensive publication of this text was made by the Egyptologist Sir Alan Gardiner (1909) in the early twentieth century. He was also the first scholar who translated and traduced the papyrus from hieratic to English.

Gardiner (1909) interpreted the events of social chaos and anarchy which appear in this literary text of the Middle Kingdom as a reflection of a concrete historical situation which had happened in the First Intermediate Period according to the similarities that it has with the historical background of that period.

A series of publications contain the full or partial translation of the Admonitions along with comments and some notes. These works contain the required references for those who wish to investigate it such as the current location of the manuscript which contains the text, its date of composition, its current state of conservation, the story and a brief historical background of the subject. Among these publications we can find: A. Erman (1927: 92-108); R. Faulkner (1964: 24-36; 1973: 210-229); M. Lichtheim (1973: 149-163); J. M. Serrano Delgado (1993: 80-84); R. Parkinson (1991: 60-61 y 121-122; 1998: 166-199; 2002: 204-216); W. Helck (1995); S. Quirke (2004: 140-150) y R. Enmarch (2005; 2008).

In conclusion, the importance of studying this text lies in the messages that it contains, which allows us to think about how the ancient Egyptian social structure was conceived in cultural imagination.


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  • Enmarch, R. (2005). The Dialogue of Ipuwer and the Lord of All. Oxford: Griffith Institute Publications. Alden Press.
  • Enmarch, R. (2008) A world upturned: Commentary and analysis of the Ancient Egyptian Dialogue of Ipuwer and the Lord of All. Londres: British Academy Postdoctoral Monograph Series. British Academy.
  • Erman, A. (1927). The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians: poems, narratives and manuals of instruction from the third and second millennia B.C. (A.M. Blackman, trans). Londres: Methuen.
  • Faulkner, R. (1964). “Notes on the Admonitions of an Egyptian sage”. JEA 50: pp. 24-36.
  • Faulkner, R. (1973). “The Admonitions of an Ancient Egyptian Sage”. En W. K. Simpson (ed.). The Literature of Ancient Egypt. Londres: Yale University Press: pp. 210-229.
  • Gardiner, A. (1909). The Admonitions of an Ancient Egyptian Sage, from a Hieratic Papyrus in Leiden (Pap. Leiden 344 recto). Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs.
  • Helck, W. (1995). Die “Admonitions” Pap. Leiden I 344 recto. KÄT 11. Wiesbaden: Harassowitz.
  • Lichtheim, M. (1973). Ancient Egyptian Literature. A Book of Readings. The Old and Middle Kingdoms. Vol 1. California: University of California Press.
  • Parkinson, R. B. (1991). Voices from Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Middle Kingdom Writings. Londres: University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Parkinson, R. B. (1998). The Tale of Sinuhe and Other Ancient Egyptian Poems, 1940-1640 BC. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Parkinson. R. B. (2002). Poetry and Culture in Middle Kingdom Egypt. A Dark Side to Perfection. Londres: Continuum.
  • Quirke, S. (2004). Egyptian literature 1800 BC, questions and readings. Londres: Golden House Publications, Egyptology 2.
  • Serrano Delgado, J.M. (1993). Textos para la Historia antigua de Egipto. Madrid: Ediciones Cátedra.

The Tale of Two Brothers

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The Tale of Two Brothers from the Papyrus D'Orbiney

This is an Egyptian tale from XIXth Dynasty which tells the story of two brothers who lived and worked in the countryside. The oldest one was called Anubis, and the youngest one, Bata. Anubis was married to a woman whose name we don´t know, and Bata lived with them as their son. Anubis´ wife tried to seduce Bata, which caused an argument between the brothers, and the exile of the youngest one. Gods created a wife for Bata, but she went with the pharaoh and killed her husband. Bata revived thanks to his brother´s help, and took revenge on his wife. In doing this, he reached the Egyptian throne and became pharaoh.

The tale is written on the d´Orbiney papyrus, which nowadays is in the British Museum. It is composed of 19 pages and it is written in the recto, that is its front part, in black and red ink lines.

Scholars have generally remarked the popular character of this tale. It has been inferred that the story was read to people, because of its simple language and style. In this sense it has been considered by Assmann (2005: 347) as one of the examples of the “laugh culture” that characterized the literature of the New Kingdom.

Maspero (2003 [1882]), one of the first scholars who studied it, has made an exhaustive report on the parallelisms that the story has with other tales all over the world and periods. He has also mentioned the connections between the main characters and the gods, although he has recognized the daily situations that are found in the narration. Moreover, he is the first one who thought that the tale was in fact two different stories which were linked between them by the introduction of little incidents. The vivid style would be the result of the scribe´s skilful hands.

Because of the tale´s similarity with other stories it has been studied from a folklorist perspective. After Gardiner´s publication (1932), the tale has been translated into different languages. The scholars have reinforced the observations on the popular nature of the tale which had the only aim of entertaining people.

This perspective has been partially modified by Hollis´ book (2008 [1990]) in which she considered the possibility that the tale could express a passage or initiation rite. In this same sense, Cervelló Autuori (2001) has observed the structural parallelism with oral African tales, which refer to those processes in ways which are specific to each culture.

A recent publication has introduced more particularly the mythological sphere. Wettengel (2003) has related every action in the tale with an hour of the solar cycle. Furthermore, the author studied the ties that the tale has with the legitimation of 19th Dynasty.


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  • Assmann, Jan (1995) Egipto a la luz de una teoría pluralista de la cultura. Akal: Madrid.
  • Cervelló Autuori, Josep (2001) “Los Dos Hermanos en la literatura neoegipcia y en la tradición oral negroafricana. Una lectura comparada”. En J. Cervelló Autuori, y A. J. Quevedo Álvarez (eds). a buscar leña. Estudios dedicados al Profesor Jesús López. Aula Aegyptiaca-Studia 2: Barcelona, pp. 55-66.
  • Gardiner, Alan (1932) Late Egyptian Stories. Fondation Égyptologique Reine Élisabeth: Bruselas.
  • Hollis, Susan Tower (2008 [1990]) The Ancient Egyptian “Tale of Two Brothers”. The oldest fairy tale in the world. Bannerstone Press: Oakville CT.
  • Maspero, Gaston (2003 [1882]) Popular Stories of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press: Nueva York.
  • Wettengel, Wolfgang (2003) Die Erzählung von den beiden Brüdern: der Papyrus d´Orbiney und die Köningsideologie der Ramessiden. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis: Friburgo-Gotinga.