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The D'Orbiney Papyrus

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (series)

    • The D'Orbiney Papyrus
  • Description

    Papyrus D'Orbiney; sheet 10: Hieratic text on both recto and verso - Tale of the Two Brothers.

  • Producer name

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 1215BC (circa)
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 70 centimetres (frame)
    • Width: 28.7 centimetres (frame)
    • Height: 19 centimetres (papyrus)
    • Width: 64 centimetres (papyrus)
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Script

      • Inscription Position

      • Inscription Translation

        SO IT ENDS, well and in peace. For the
        spirit of the treasury scribe Qageb of the
        Pharaoh's — l.p.h. -Treasury, the scribe
        Hori, and the scribe Meremopet. Made
        by the scribe Inena, the owner of this
        manuscript. As for anyone who maligns
        this manuscript,Thoth will fight with
      • Inscription Comment

        The manuscript ends with a colophon which includes a rare mention of the person who owned it (19.7-10, shown here; the rubrics are faded). The final line is written with a flamboyant calligraphic flourish. Despite the colophon's claims, the manuscript does contain inaccuracies. Although the papyrus was copied in honour of Inena's master Qageb, it was owned by the copyist.
      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Script

      • Inscription Position

        after colophon
      • Inscription Translation

        The Standard-bearer of the King, at the
        right hand of the Prince, the King's Scribe,
        and Overseer of the Army, the King's Elder
        Son, Seti beloved of Ptah<>.
      • Inscription Comment

  • Curator's comments

    The D'Orbiney Papyrus presents one of the more famous of Egyptian literary compositions, variously interpreted in modern times as a fairy tale, a historical allegory and a political satire, among others. It is a highly entertaining but also sophisticated tale written in literary New Egyptian, telling of two semi-divine protagonists and their adventures, from which it derives its modern title 'The Tale of the Two Brothers'. The only known copy of the 'Tale' is this manuscript of nineteen columns, which was probably roughly contemporaneous with its composition.

    The story begins by presenting an idyllic household, consisting of Anubis, his wife, and his brother, Bata. Their pleasant lifestyle is disrupted when the wife of Anubis tries unsuccessfully to seduce her brother-in-law. She then claims that Bata attacked her. Believing his wife, Anubis initially turns against his brother and forces him to leave the family. Anubis later discovers his wife's disloyalty and kills her. The brothers are reunited. Meanwhile, the gods have fashioned a wife for Bata. Unfortunately, she rejects him in favour of the king. To regain her, Bata assumes a sequence of different forms, the last being a persea tree. Bata's wife orders the tree to be cut down. A splinter from the tree flies into her mouth, 'she swallowed it and in a moment she became pregnant'. Bata is reborn, now as her son, and becomes king of Egypt. He elevates his brother, Anubis, to succeed him, overcoming the catastrophes that had beset the pair.

    This papyrus can be linked with those acquired from Giovanni Anastasi (1780-1860) and Francois Sallier (1764-1831) in the early nineteenth century; these include literary papyri written by the same scribe Inena (P. Anastasi iv, vi and vii, and P. Sallier ii) in his fine elegant literary hand; others were written by scribes with titles of members of the same institution. This papyrus was written while Seti II (1214- 1204 BC) was still crown prince, to judge by the jotting that occupies the space after the colophon. Inena is thus a near-contemporary of the Theban Qenherkhepeshef. The papyri probably all came from a single find at Saqqara, either from the tomb of Inena himself, or from a semi-official archive that had been stored in the necropolis.

    A.H. Gardiner, 'Late Egyptian Stories','Bibliotheca Aegyptiaca' 1 (Brussels, 1932) ix-x, 11-29 (this section: 28—9);
    translation: M. Lichtheim, 'Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings II: The New Kingdom' (Berkeley, 1974), 203-11;
    S. Hollis, 'The Ancient Egyptian 'Tale of the Two Brothers' :The Oldest Fairy Tale in the World' (Norman, OK, and London, 1990).


  • Bibliography

    • Trismegistos 381214 ( bibliographic details
    • Parkinson 1999 80 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Condition

    Papyrus Survey: Condition Details: Papyrus: cockled, fractured, brittle, fragmentary, skeletal Black ink Red ink Backed: linen Overlaid: blue paper Mount Details: Sandwich: glass Binding: leather Object Priority: C Mount Priority: A Overall Condition: E Curatorial condition comment: poor

  • Associated names

  • Associated titles

    • Associated Title: Tale of the Two Brothers
  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Ancient Egypt & Sudan

  • BM/Big number


  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • BS.10183 (Birch Slip Number)
    • Frame 10
Papyrus D'Orbiney: 'The Tale of the Two Brothers', sheet 10: hieratic text on both recto and verso.

Papyrus D'Orbiney: 'The Tale of the Two Brothers', sheet 10: hieratic text on both recto and verso.

Image description



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Object reference number: YCA66651

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