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Ancient Egyptian literature: Debate between a man tired of life and his soul
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Debate between a man tired of life and his soul

    [...] you in order to say [...] their [tongues] cannot question, for it will be crookedness [...] payments their tongues cannot question.   pBerlin 3024 [2a][2b][3]
12th dynasty
 
John L. Foster: [...] The tongues of the Gods, they do not speak amiss, they make no special cases
M. Lichtheim: your ------ in order to say ------ [their tongue] is not partial ------ payment; their tongue is not partial.
    I opened my mouth to my soul, that I might answer what it had said: "This is too much for me today, that my soul does not argue with me; it is too great for [exaggeration], it is as if one ignored me. Let my soul not depart, that it may attend to it for me [...] in my body like a net of cord, but it will not succeed in escaping the day of trouble. -Soul: ba. The jxw, a kindred notion is often translated as spirit. It has also been defined as a state of transfiguration. According to Pyramid Text 474, The jxw belongs to the heaven, the corpse to the earth. Cf. Body and Soul.
-like a net: Lichtheim: with a net
-trouble: Lichtheim: pain.
    See, my soul misleads me, but I do not listen to it; draws me toward death ere (I) have come to it and casts (me) on the fire to burn me [...] it approaches me on the day of trouble and it stands on yonder side as does a ... Such is he who goes forth that he may bring himself for him. O my soul, too stupid to ease misery in life and yet holding me back from death ere I come to it, sweeten the West for me. Is it (too much) trouble? Yet life is a transitory state, and even trees fall. Trample on wrong, for my misery endures. -holding me back from death: Lichtheim: Leads me toward death
-for my misery endures: Lichtheim: put down my misery!
    May Thoth who pacifies the gods judge me; may Khons defend me, even he who writes truly; may Re hear my plaint, even he who commands the solar bark; may Isdes defend me in the Holy Chamber, [because] the needy one is weighed down with [the burden] which he has lifted up from me; it is pleasant that the gods should ward off the secret (thoughts) of my body."
 
-Thoth: Called Lord of the Moon, and as such Master of Time and Counter of Years. Recorded the result of the weighing of the heart.
-Khons: Moon god, offspring of Amen and Mut.
-Isdes: Lord of the West, one of the judges of the dead.
-This passage has also been interpreted differently, stressing the justice and mercy of the gods as opposed to the lack of it among humanity: Thoth who pacifies the gods, judges me; Khons defends me ... ; Re hears my plaint etc. [1]
-the needy one is weighed down with [the burden] which he has lifted up from me: Lichtheim: my suffering is [too heavy a burden to be borne by me (?)]
    What my soul said to me: "Are you not a man? Indeed you are alive, but what do you profit? Yet you yearn for life like a man of wealth."
 
    I said: "I have not gone, (even though) that is on the ground. Indeed, you leap away, but you will not be cared for. Every prisoner says: 'I will take you,' but you are dead, though your name lives. Yonder is a resting place attractive to the heart; the West is a dwelling place, rowing [...] face. If my guiltless soul listens to me and its heart is in accord with me, it will be fortunate, for I will cause it to attain the West, like one who is in his pyramid, to whose burial a survivor attended. I will [...over] your corpse, so that you make another soul envious in weariness. I will ...., then you will not be cold, so that you make envious another soul which is hot. I will drink water at the eddy, I will raise up shade so that you make envious another soul which is hungry. If you hold me back from death in this manner, you will find nowhere you can rest in the West. Be so kind, my soul, my brother, as to become my heir who shall make offering and stand at the tomb on the day of burial, that he may prepare a bier for the necropolis."
 
-Yet you yearn for life: Lichtheim: What do you gain by complaining about life
-prisoner: Lichtheim: criminal
-your name lives: A being came only into existence when it bore a name, thus the continuity of a person's name was crucial for the life after death. As the Egyptian proverb has it: He whose name is spoken, lives. ( The name was one of the constituent parts of a human being, cf. Body and Soul)
-West: where the sun set, i.e. entered the underworld. The deceased were called westerners, Osiris was the Lord of the West, Khentamenti, the god of the necropolis of Abydos, was Foremost of the Westerners.
-rowing [...] face: Lictheim: a voyage ------. -pyramid: Lichtheim: tomb
-... over: Lichtheim: make a [shelter (?)]
-will .... : Lichtheim: make a [shelter (?)]
-at the eddy: Lichtheim: at the pond
-If you hold me back from death: Lichtheim: But if you lead me toward death
-Be so kind, my soul, my brother, as to become my heir: Lichtheim: Be patient, my ba, my brother, until my heir comes
    My soul opened its mouth to me that it might answer what I had said: "If you think of burial, it is a sad matter; it is a bringer of weeping through making a man miserable; it is taking a man from his house, he being cast on the high ground, never again will you go up that you may see the sun. Those who built in granite and constructed halls in goodly pyramids with fine work, when the builders became gods their stelae were destroyed, like the weary ones who died on the riverbank through lack of a survivor, the flood having taken its toll and the sun likewise to whom talk the fishes of the banks of the water. Listen to me; behold it is good for men to hear. Follow the happy day and forget care. -like the weary ones: Lichtheim: as if they were the dead
-to whom talk the fishes ... : who are being eaten by the fishes ... (A. Erman [1])
-happy day: Lichtheim: feast day
    A peasant ploughed his plot and loaded his harvest aboard a ship, towing it when his time of festival drew near. He saw the coming of the darkness of the northerly, for he was vigilant in the boat when the sun set. He escaped with his wife and children, but came to grief on a lake infested by night with crocodiles. At last he sat down and broke silence, saying: 'I weep not for yonder mother, who has no more going forth from the West for another (term) upon earth; I sorrow rather for her children broken in the egg, who have looked in the face of the crocodile god ere they have lived.' -in the egg: expression denoting a youthful age.
John L. Foster's translation of this passage:   There was a man, and he farmed his plot of land;
and he was loading his harvest into a ship
for the voyage to his accounting, which drew near.
And he saw coming a night of wind and weather
so that he was watchful of that ship, waiting for day,
While he dreamed of life with his wife and children
who had perished on the Lake of Death
on a dark night, with crocodiles.
And after he was pondering there some time,
he shaped the silence into words, saying,
'I have not wept that mother yonder--
for her there is no returning from the West,
no more than any who have lived on the earth.
But let me mourn the children, killed in her womb,
who saw the face of Death ere ever they were born.'
    A peasant asked for a meal, and his wife said to him: 'There is .... for supper.' He went out to ... for a moment and returned to his house (raging) as if he were an ape. His wife reasoned with him, but he would not listen to her, he.... and the bystanders were helpless." John L. Foster: There was another man, and he wanted his evening meat; and there was his wife, saying, 'There will be bread.' And he went outdoors to fume awhile and then go back inside Behaving like a better person (his wife was wise to his ways). Yet he never really listened to her. so the death demons came and carried him off.
 
    I opened my mouth to my soul that I might answer what it had said:
  "Behold, my name is detested,
Behold, more than the smell of vultures
On a summer's day when the sky is hot.
  Behold, my name is detested,
Behold, [more than the smell of] a catch of fish
On a day of catching when the sky is hot.
  Behold, my name is detested,
Behold, more than the smell of ducks,
More than a covert of reeds full of waterfowl.
  Behold, my name is detested,
Behold, more than the smell of fishermen,
More than the creeks of the marshes where they have fished.
  Behold, my name is detested,
Behold, more than the smell of crocodiles,
More than sitting by sandbanks full of crocodiles.
 
-is detested: Lichtheim: reeks

  Behold, my name is detested,
Behold, more than a woman
About whom lies are told to a man
.
  Behold, my name is detested,
Behold, more than a sturdy child
Of whom it is said: "he belongs to his rival."
  Behold, my name is detested,
Behold, [more than] a town belonging to the monarch
Which mutters sedition when his back is turned.
-more than a woman about whom lies are told to a man: Lichtheim: more than that of a wife About whom lies are told to the husband
-he belongs to his rival: Lichtheim: to belong to one who rejects him

  To whom can I speak today?
Brothers are evil
And the friends of today unlovable.
  To whom can I speak today?
Hearts are rapacious
And everyone takes his neighbour's goods.   [To whom can I speak today?]
Gentleness has perished
And the violent man has come down on everyone.
  To whom can I speak today?
Men are contented with evil
And goodness is neglected everywhere.
  To whom can I speak today?
He who should enrage a man by his ill deeds,
he makes everyone laugh (by) his wicked wrongdoing.
  To whom can I speak today?
Men plunder
And every man robs his neighbour.
  To whom can I speak today?
The wrongdoer is an intimate friend
And the brother with whom one used to act is become an enemy.
  To whom can I speak today?
None remember the past,
And no one now helps him who used to do (good).
  To whom can I speak today?
Brothers are evil,
And men have recourse to strangers for affection.
  To whom can I speak today?
Faces are averted,
And every man looks askance at his brethren.
  To whom can I speak today?
Hearts are rapacious
And there is no man's heart in which one can trust.
  To whom can I speak today?
There are no just persons
And the land is left over to the doers of wrong.
  To whom can I speak today?
There is a lack of an intimate friend
And men have recourse to someone unknown in order to complain to him.
-unlovable: Lichtheim: do not love
-the violent man has come down on everyone Lichtheim: Insolence assaults everyone

  To whom can I speak today?
There is no contented man,
And that person who once walked with him no longer exists.
  To whom can I speak today?
I am heavy-laden with trouble
Through lack of an intimate friend.
  To whom can I speak today?
The wrong which roams the earth,
There is no end to it.
-contented: Lichtheim: cheerful
-trouble: Lichtheim: grief

  Death is in my sight today
[As when] a sick man becomes well,
Like going out-of-doors after detention.
  Death is in my sight today
Like the smell of myrrh,
Like sitting under an awning on a windy day.
  Death is in my sight today
Like the perfume of lotuses,
Like sitting on the shore of the Land of Drunkenness.
  Death is in my sight today
Like a trodden way,
As when a man returns home from an expedition.
  Death is in my sight today
Like the clearing of the sky,
Like a man who ...... for something which he does not know.
  Death is in my sight today.
As when a man desires to see home
When he has spent many years in captivity.

-Like a man who ...... for something which he does not know: Lichtheim: As when a man discovers what he ignored
Verily, he who is yonder will be a living god,
Averting the ill of him who does it.
Verily, he who is yonder will be one who stands in the Bark of the Sun,
Causing choice things to be given therefrom for the temples.
Verily, he who is yonder will be a sage
Who will not be prevented from appealing to Re when he speaks."
-he who is yonder: in the West, i.e. deceased
-Averting the ill of him who does it: Lichtheim: Punishing the evil doer's crime
-Bark of the Sun: The stars were thought to be travelling in barks through the skies, the most important of them was the bark (or perhaps rather barks) of the sun. Models of sun barks were part of the tomb equipment, expressing the wish of the deceased to take part in Re's crossing.
 
    What my soul said to me: "Cast complaint upon the peg, my comrade and brother; make offering on the brazier and cleave to life, according as I have said. Desire me here, thrust the West aside, but desire that you may attain the West when your body goes to earth, that I may alight after you are weary; then will we make an abode together."
 
    It is finished from its beginning to its end, just as it was found in writing.
 
-peg: Lichtheim: [wood-pile (?)]
- thrust the West aside.... : A. Erman [1] interpreted it as follows: If I have refused thee the West until now, thou shalt reach the West after all, thy body shall enter the earth, and I shall settle when thou restest. Together we will have an abode.

Translated by R.O. Faulkner
in W. K. Simpson, ed., The Literature of Ancient Egypt, New Haven & London, 1973, pp. 201-209

 


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-[1] Gespräch eines Lebensmüden mit seiner Seele von Adolf Erman, 1896
-[2a] Hieratischer Papyrus No. III, Lin. 1-107
-[2b] Hieratischer Papyrus No. III, Lin. 108-180
-[3] Photographs of pBerlin 3024
 

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August 2003

 

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