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Ancient Egyptian texts: Letter concerning an extramarital sexual relationship
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Letter concerning an extramarital sexual relationship

As follows: Your people, their elders and children, men and women, have gone in the evening and they have come, saying: "We have come in order to beat them up together with their people."
It was the steward of the house who said to them: "O! What is this then about, you travelling /////// of the scribe, in order to beat up [my/their (?)] people? They are not here."
He retained them and said to them: "Is it your man who was discovered there?"
And it was the messenger who told me: "Him, whom we'll find ////////, we have come to beat up."
"So tell it to me, please!" thus he said to them. ///// answered him with these words: "(It is) eight months to this day that he has sexual intercourse with this woman, although he is not [her (?)] husband. If he were the husband would he not have sworn an oath concerning your woman?" thus they spoke to him.
- Letter written on papyrus, 20th dynasty
Upper Egypt
 
-We have come in order to beat them up together with their people: the sense for justice and propriety of the ordinary Egyptian was basic and his reactions were immediate and unsophisticated. The affair must have caused quite a stir for all the people of the estate to set out and take action.
According to Janssen [1] they were only threatening to beat the woman up: We are going to beat her, together with her people.
-sworn an oath concerning your woman: Ancient records of anything like wedding vows are few and far between.
It was the steward who sent my mother a letter in the presence of Adjar, the worker of the necropolis, whom you have likewise asked for advice, saying: "As concerns Nisu-amenemope, why have you received him as a lover with whom you have sexual relations? //// do [you (?)] want a mate [about (?) whom] the relatives quarrel? Not /////// at night in order to (let) soar this beautiful young bird, saying: 'We go //////// limit,' so they said.
If the heart of this man is open to you, then let him enter the court of law together with his wife, and he should swear the oath, and then he should come to your house. But if not, he will continue to be one found on the road and with whom you dwell, your mouth to his mouth."
-why have you received him as a lover with whom you have sexual relations: the answer should be obvious, even to those who asked the question. The attitude of the ancient Egyptians to sex is unclear.(cf. Drink, drugs, and sex)
-court of law: qnb.t (cf. Law and order)
-with his wife, and he should swear the oath: this may not have been the usual procedure. Perhaps there were special circumstances and the people were trying to give extra protection to the woman.
Indeed, (even) if I can repulse them this time, I shall not be able to repulse them again.
When this letter reaches you, do not go to Neferti with this matter.

After a transliteration and German translation by I. Hafemann on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website
aaew => Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Briefe => Briefe des Neuen Reiches => Verwaltung/Alltag => Briefe aus Theben => pBM 10416: Brief über einen Ehebruch


Footnotes:
[1] Jac. J. Janssen, "Marriage Problems and Public Reactions (P. BM 10416)," in: Pyramid Studies and Other Essays Presented to I.E.S. Edwards. Edited by John Baines, T.G.H. James, Anthony Leahy, A.F. Shore, London, 1988 (EES Occasional Publications, 7), pp. 134-137.

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© November 2007
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