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Papyrus with part of the Tale of the Eloquent Peasant

 

Height: 13.700 cm
Length: 72.000 cm

EA 10274

Ancient Egypt and Sudan

    Papyrus with part of the Tale of the Eloquent Peasant

    From Egypt
    Late 12th Dynasty, around 1800 BC

    One of the major literary texts of the Middle Kingdom

    The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant is an extremely important poem from the Middle Kingdom (2040-1750 BC), the 'classical' period of Egyptian literature. This papyrus, known as Papyrus Butler, contains part of the opening of the story.

    The events are set in the reign of a king of the Ninth/Tenth Dynasties (around 2160-2025 BC). A peasant trader sets out from the area of the Wadi Natrun (west of the Delta) and travels south towards Herakleopolis. A man named Nemtynakht covets the poor man's goods. When one of the peasant's donkeys eats grain from a field for which Nemtynakht is responsible, he cruelly confiscates the goods. The peasant petitions Rensi, the owner of the estate. Rensi is so taken by petitioner's eloquence that he reports this astonishing discovery to the king. The king realises the peasant has been wronged but delays judgement, so as to hear more of his eloquence. The peasant makes a total of nine petitions, each more desperate and more eloquent than the last. Finally, Nemtynakht is punished, and the peasant's goods are returned.

    The irony of the plot, and of the situation (the contrast between the social status of the peasant and his elaborate discourse), were part of the appeal to the original élite audience. The text is a questioning of social and divine justice.

    R.B. Parkinson, The tale of the eloquent peasa (Oxford, 1991)

    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)

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