Papyrus with part of Amenemhat's Instructions
Later 19th Dynasty, around 1250 BC
The uneasiness of ancient kings
This is a copy of an ancient poem. It is said to have been spoken by the dead Egyptian king Amenemhat (1991-1962 BC) and addressed to his son, Senwosret I (1965-1920 BC), in a dream. However, Amenemhat was not the author and the text was probably written after his death.
The poem became a classic and many copies survive from the New Kingdom (1550-1070 BC). Most are short sections of the text that were also copied by scribes as part of their training. Copies that survive from the fourth century BC indicate that the text was still being read at that time.
In the first part of the poem, the king warns his son not to trust anyone, and he describes how he was killed by his own bodyguard. He moves from the dangers that face kingship to describe his own achievements and ends by acclaiming the accession of his son Senwosret. The interest that the text held for the original ancient Egyptian audience probably had much to do with the central nature of kingship and the dramatic nature of the poetry. One recent translator, points out that it shows a 'rare and dramatic insight into the uneasiness of ancient kings', and the poetry has considerable appeal for modern audiences.
This particular copy has an additional importance; it was first studied by the modern decipherer of the hieroglyphic script, Jean-Francois Champollion.
M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian literature: a, 3 vols. (University of California Press, 1973-1980)
R.B. Parkinson, The Tale of Sinuhe and other a (Oxford University Press, 1997)