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  • Description

    Ostracon of 'The Tale of Sinuhe': a limestone ostracon with the concluding stanzas of 'The Tale of Sinuhe' written on one side in eight lines of hieratic (the other side is blank). Verse-points in red ink mark the ends of metrical verses.

  • Culture/period

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 17 centimetres
    • Width: 30 centimetres
    • Depth: 5 centimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Script

      • Inscription Position

        one side
      • Inscription Translation

        My pyramid was built in stone,
        within the pyramid enclosure.
        The masons who construct the pyramid
        measured out its foundations;
        the draughtsman drew in it;

        the Overseer of Sculptors carved in it;
        the Overseer of the Works which are in
        the burial grounds busied himself with it.

        All the equipment to be put <in> a tomb -
        its share of these things was made for me.
        I was given funerary priests;

        a funerary demesne was <made for me>,
        with fields and a garden in its proper

        as is done for a Chief Friend.
        My image was overlaid with gold,
        and its kilt with electrum,
        (The text here has the corrupt and
        garbled phrases:) for acting that I am
        King's sons

        I shall rejoice (the text should read:
        It is his Majesty who has caused this to be

        There is no other lowly man for whom
        it) was done in the entire land.

        I was in the favours of the king's giving,
        until the day of landing came {to him
        (sic) with it}.

      • Inscription Comment

        Painted. Eight lines of text. Here, the final passage only is translated.
  • Curator's comments

    The text is slightly corrupt, but this is an important manuscript for understanding and assessing the worth of the only other copy of this portion of the Middle Egyptian poem, a 12th Dynasty papyrus. The ostracon is probably an apprentice scribe's copy of the poem, which had been composed over seven centuries earlier.

    The narrative poem has been the most widely acclaimed masterpiece of Egyptian literature in modern times. It inspired a much translated novel by Mika Waltari (1908-79), 'Sinuhe the Egyptian' (1945), in which the 'Tale' was moved from its original Middle Kingdom setting into the more glamorous Amarna Period; it was also subsequently further reshaped into a Hollywood epic, 'The Egyptian' (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1954), one of whose stars, Peter Ustinov, described the experience as 'like being on the set of Aida and not being able to find the way out'.The novel reflects the author's postwar disillusion with all ideologies, and ends with Sinuhe dying, not in Egypt, but in splendid and despairing isolation, proclaiming that he has 'lived alone, all the days of his life'. The final passage of the original is very different: the hero describes how he returned to Egypt after a life of adventures and misadventures abroad, and regained his position in Egyptian society, with a happy burial.

    R. Koch, 'Die Erzählung des Sinuhe', in 'Bibliotheca Aegyptiaca' 17 (Brussels, 1990), 80-1 (text L);
    R. Parkinson and S. Quirke, 'Papyrus' (London, 1995), 21, fig. 9;
    recent translation: R.B. Parkinson, 'The Tale of Sinuhe and Other Ancient Egyptian Poems' 1940-1640 BC (Oxford, 1997), 21-53.
    A. Blackman, 'Middle Egyptian Stories' I, 'Bibliotheca Aegyptiaca' 2 (Bruxelles, 1932), text.
    R. J. Demaree Ramesside Ostraca (BMP 2002), 17 pl. 16.
    R .B. Parkinson, Reading Ancient Egyptian Poetry (Wiley-Blackwell 2009), 197-8.

    The text of this poem is available on T.L.A. (http://aaew.bbaw.de/tla/)
    See also http://www.britishmuseum.org/channel/object_stories/tale_of_sinuhe.aspx


  • Bibliography

    • Parkinson 1999 79 bibliographic details
    • Demaree 2002 pl.16 bibliographic details
  • Exhibition history


    2011 Jul–Sept, Newcastle, Great North Museum, Pharaoh: King of Egypt
    2012 Oct–Jan, Dorchester, Dorset County Museum, Pharaoh: King of Egypt
    2012 Feb–June, Leeds City Museum, Pharaoh: King of Egypt
    2012 Jul-Oct, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Pharaoh: King of Egypt
    2012 Nov– Feb 2013, Glasgow, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Pharaoh: King of Egypt
    2013 Mar–Aug, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery , Pharaoh: King of Egypt

  • Condition

    good (chipped)

  • Conservation

    See treatments 

  • Associated titles

    • Title: Tale of Sinuhe
  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Ancient Egypt & Sudan

  • BM/Big number


  • Registration number



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Object reference number: YCA1280

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