Ancient Egypt: History and culture
Ancient Egyptian tales: The mouse as vizier
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The mouse as vizier

    In the kingdom of the animals there was a wise vizier. He was always at the pharaoh's side, gave him advice, and dealt with the affairs of state in his name. He judged the subjects justly, but with clemency. At the beautiful age of 110 years he lay down and died. His majesty the king began to look among his courtiers whom he could choose as his new vizier. But no one pleased him, and there was nobody whom he could ask for advice. -   The Egyptians enjoyed animal fables, be they in written or in cartoon form. Animals are depicted performing like humans: making music, playing board games, herding other animals, driving in chariots, making love and war.
In her children's book Tiergeschichten aus dem Pharaonenland the Egyptologist Emma Brunner-Traut attempted to turn ancient drawings into tales and retell them in the form of fables.
    Then he had the idea to pose a riddle. Whoever could solve it, would be appointed vizier. He sent his messengers all over the country to proclaim the riddle. Its words were: "What is sweeter than honey and more bitter than bile?"
    The animals pondered the puzzle, but it was too difficult for them. Already the moon had wandered around the earth once, and no vizier had been found. Just as the moon set for the last time and Pharaoh was almost despairing, a tiny mouse came running and whispered into the king's ear: "The office of vizier."

-more bitter than bile: compare the Inscriptions of Rekhmire: ... behold he is not sweet, bitter is he ...
    This was the puzzle's solution. Pharaoh raised his head, praised the little mouse and appointed him to be his vizier. The mouse was solemnly inducted into its new office. Pharaoh presented him with the gold of honour and received his oath of allegiance as vizier. He read out the virtues of a just vizier. Henceforth the mouse was to sit at the Pharaoh's right.
    Meanwhile, all the animals were preparing great festivities in order to celebrate the mouse's new position of honour. The hares made the plans. The hippo brewed beer, a goat carried water with a yoke and the pot-bellied one himself strained the mash with a sieve. The pig put the beer-dough on a platter, while a hyaena looked after the sow's piglet carrying it in a breast cloth. Cats mixed wine in the kitchen and baked cakes. A big band practised music and rehearsed dances. The billy-goat beat the drum, a fox plucked the lute, another one played the double oboe. In the corner nearby a donkey was teaching two goats. He flourished the conductor's baton keeping time with the leaps of the two horned ones. The crocodile and the lion too roared out songs and accompanied them with music.
-gold of honour: Jewellery made of gold given in appreciation by the king.
-virtues of a just vizier: Teachings or instructions on how officials were supposed to behave were written down since the Middle Kingdom. cf The Precepts of Ptah-hotep
Mouse and cats
Cats decking out the mouse.
    In the meantime the mouse was prepared for the festivities. His feet were washed, he was given the eye-liner and the mirror. A cat served him the morning drink. The mouse slurped the wine through a pipe from the jug. A feline maid servant tied a beautiful bow around his neck, and another cat chamberlain brought the fan in order to fan the high lord with cool air.
    Soon, everything was ready. The mouse's family rode in the first carriage, followed by a vehicle with well-wishers. Beautifully dressed up with a lotus flower on his head, the mouse sat on a little dais, behind him was a follower. All of the pavilion was covered in garlands. A cat carrying a fan stepped forward, and handed the new vizier a bowl with fragrant food expressing her best wishes. She was followed by a fox carrying a huge bouquet of flowers, who was so excited that he stammered when he wanted to wish him well. But the fox at the great harp continued playing the song of praise to its end unperturbedly, and the mouse took pleasure in all the beauty.
-eye-liner and the mirror: In ancient Egypt both genders used cosmetics.
-wine: Beer was the people's drink. Wine was drunk by the aristocracy and on special occasions.
-fan the high lord: Dignitaries were fanned both for coolness and in order to chase flies away. The positions of the pharaoh's fan-bearers were much vied for.
-bouquet of flowers: Flowers were used in great quantities in celebrations and offerings.
    This well-wisher was succeeded by a very long train of animals doing homage to the mouse. They brought flowers, wine and cakes, jewellery, weapons and clothes in chests. All the while they made music incessantly. The mouse vizier was sitting on his throne full of dignity and accepted the honours in a dignified manner.
    All the animals enjoyed themselves. They ate the food with relish, made merry, fooled around and competed at board games.
    An accident almost occurred during the celebrations. A crocodile had brought along a little fish which he loved very much. When a hyaena perceived the appetizing little creature she desired to eat the animal child. But the crocodile defended it with its scaly tail and no harm befell it. The crocodile let the incident pass, but a little dog had observed it and told its mother. The bitch would have liked to accuse the hyaena before the vizier, but the husband of the hyaena and the puppy's father begged her to remain silent for harmony's sake. This is how the festivities had a happy ending.
    The following day the mouse began performing his official functions, among them sitting in judgment. Immediately, some malefactors were led into the prison. A cat and a dog were dragged off, their front paws in stocks. A bailiff urged them forward with a cudgel. The cat carried her possessions on her head when she was led into gaol. The mouse vizier was severe, but just.
    But the mouse was given to violent fits of anger. He got excited and there was the danger that in his ire he would exceed the measure of punishment. He was especially touchy when the charge was theft. Thus, one day he had a Nubian child violently beaten by the cat bailiff for having pinched a few dates. The guilty child raised his arms and begged for mercy. But the mouse remained pitiless. The child's wails did not move him.
    This came to the knowledge of the pharaoh. He called his vizier, reprimanded him severely and bade him to correct the injustice. What did the mouse do? He ordered the Nubian child to beat the cat just as the cat had beaten the child. As the cat was completely innocent, the child hesitated to punish her. But the mouse demanded obedience, therefore the child beat the poor cat until she cried pitiably.
-sitting in judgment: Law and order
    When the pharaoh heard this tale he was angered like a panther from Upper Egypt. He would not suffer a hothead in his realm, who at first punished without giving much thought and then tried to make amends for one injustice by committing another. He immediately dismissed his vizier ignominiously from office. And this did not satisfy him: He felt such revulsion towards the mouse that he did not want to see him nor any of his kind ever more.
    Therefore he proclaimed loudly: "From this hour onward, all mice shall disappear from the fields and shall live underground only!"
    Thus the king spoke and thus it happened. This is the reason why mice live in subterranean holes to this day.

after Emma Brunner-Traut, Tiergeschichten aus dem Pharaonenland, Mainz, Zabern, 2000

-angered like a panther: a proverbial description of Egyptian royal ire. In the autobiography of Ahmose Thutmose I's anger at the Nubians is described as:
... His majesty was furious thereat, like a panther ....
J.H.Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Two §80
-dismissed his vizier ignominiously: Little is known what happened to such officials. E.g. mention of Rekhmire, one of the best known viziers, ceases all of a sudden. He is thought to have been sacked.


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