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Ancient Egypt: The Prophecies of Neferti
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The Prophecies of Neferti

Now it so happened that when the late King Snefru was potent king in this entire land, one of these days it happened that the Council of the Residence entered into the Great House to give greeting, and when they had given greeting, they went out in accordance with their daily custom. Then said his Majesty to the seal-bearer who was at his side: "Go and fetch for me the Council of the Residence which has gone out from here after having given greeting today." - These so-called prophecies are considered to be a literary justification and glorification of king Amenemhet I who had come to power by overthrowing Mentuhotep IV.
-Snefru: The Egyptians liked to hearken back to the times of Snefru who was considered a good and wise king.
-potent: Lichtheim: beneficent
M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol.1 pp.139ff.
-seal-bearer: among the highest and most trusted officials of the king.
They were ushered in to him immediately, and again they prostrated themselves before His Majesty. And His Majesty said to them: "Comrades, see, I have caused you to be summoned in order that you may seek out for me a son of yours who is wise, a brother of yours who is trustworthy, or a friend of yours who has achieved some noble deed, someone who shall say some fine words to me, choice phrases at the hearing of which My Majesty will be entertained." -prostrated: Egyptians approaching the king are generally depicted bowing very low. Foreign ambassadors are shown as they prostrate themselves before the Pharaoh seven times and seven times on both back and belly. (cf. the Amarna Letters)
-is trustworthy: Lichtheim: excels
-entertained: just as King Khufu sat to hear tales .
They prostrated themselves again before His Majesty: "There is a Great Lector of Bastet, O Sovereign our lord, whose name is Neferti; he is a commoner valiant with his arm, he is a scribe skilled with his fingers, and he is a wealthy man who has more possessions than any of his equals. Let him be [permitted] to see Your Majesty."
His Majesty said: "Go and fetch him to me."
And he was ushered in to him immediately. He prostrated himself before His Majesty, and His Majesty said: "Come, Neferti my friend, say some fine words to me, choice phrases at hearing which My Majesty will be entertained."
-Great Lector: a priestly rank.
-commoner: the social standing of scribes
The Lector Neferti said: "Of what has happened or of what shall happen, O Sovereign, [my] lord?"
His Majesty said: "Of what shall happen; today has come into being and one has passed it by."
Thereupon he stretched out his hand to a box of writing material and took out a papyrus-roll and a palette, and he put into writing what the Lector Neferti said; he was a sage of the East who belonged to Bastet when she rises and he was a native of the Heliopolitan nome.
He brooded over what should happen in the land and considered the condition of the east, when the Asiatics raid and terrorize those at the harvest, taking away their teams engaged in plowing.
-today has come into being and one has passed it by: Lichtheim: As soon as today is here, it is passed over
-belonged to Bastet when she rises: Lichtheim: servant of Bastet in her East
-brooded over what should happen: Lichtheim: As he deplored what had happened
-the Asiatics raid and terrorize those at the harvest: the fear of foreign invaders is a recurrent theme in this kind of literature, cf. the Admonitions of Ipuwer, even though foreigners had little impact on Egypt before the 2nd Intermediate Period.
He said: "Stir yourself, my heart, weep for this land in which you began, for he who is silent is a wrongdoer. See, that (now) exists which was spoken of as something dreadful. See, the great one is overthrown in the land in which you began. Do not become weary; see they are before your eyes; rise up against what is before you. See, there are great men in the governance of the land, yet what has been done is as though it had never been done. Re must begin by refounding the land, which is utterly ruined, and nothing remains; not even did a fingernail profit from what had been ordained. This land is destroyed and there are none who care for it; there are none who speak and there are none who act. Weeper, how fares this land? The sun is veiled, and will not shine when the people would see; none will live when [the sun] is veiled [by a] cloud, and everyone is dulled by the lack of it. -for he who is silent is a wrongdoer: Lichtheim: When there is silence before evil
-that (now) exists which was spoken of as something dreadful: Lichtheim: when what should be chided is feared
-Do not become weary; see they are before your eyes: Lichtheim: Tire not while this is before you
-there are great men in the governance of the land: Lichtheim: the great no longer rule the land
-not even did a fingernail profit: Lichtheim: Not the black of a nail is spared
-there are none who act. Weeper,: Lichtheim: none shed tears
I will speak of what is before my eyes, I will never foretell what is not to come. The river of Egypt is dry and men cross the water on foot; men will seek water for ships in order to navigate it, for their course has become the riverbank, and the bank (serves) for water; the place of water has become a riverbank, the south wind will oppose the north wind, and the sky will not be with one single wind.
A strange bird will be born in the marshes of the Delta, and a nest shall be made for it on account of the neighbors,for men have caused it to approach through want.
Perished are those erstwhile good things, the fish ponds of those who carry slit fish, teeming with fish and fowl.
-riverbank: Lichtheim: shoreland
-the bank (serves) for water: Lichtheim: Shoreland will turn into water
-the sky will not be with one single wind: The wind in Egypt generally blows upriver.
-be born: Lichtheim: breed
-a nest shall be made for it on account of the neighbors,for men have caused it to approach through want: Lichtheim: Having made its nest beside the people, The people having let it approach by default.
-of those who carry slit fish: Lichtheim: full of fish-eaters, according to her fish-eating birds.
All good things have passed away, the land being cast away through trouble by means of that food of the Asiatics who pervade the land. Enemies have come into being in the east; Asiatics have come down into Egypt, for a fortress lacks another beside it, and no guard will hear. Men will hold back and look out by night, the fortress will be entered, and sleep will be banished from my eyes, so that I spend the night wakeful. -good things: Lichtheim: happiness
-cast away through trouble by means of that food of the: Lichtheim: bowed down in distress, Owing to those feeders,
-for a fortress lacks another beside it: Lichtheim: If the fortress is [crowded (?)]
-no guard will hear. Men...: not translated by Lichtheim as being too obscure.
Wild game will drink from the river of Egypt, taking their ease on their riverbanks through lack of anyone to fear.
This land is in commotion, and no one knows what the result may be, for it is hidden from speech, sight, and hearing because of dullness, silence being to the fore.
I show you the land in calamity, for what had never happened has now happened. Men will take weapons of war and the land will live in confusion. Men will make arrows of bronze, men will beg for the bread of blood, men will laugh aloud at pain; none will weep at death, none will lie down hungry at death, and a man's heart will think of himself alone. None will dress hair today; hearts are entirely astray because of it, and a man sits quiet, turning his back, while one man kills another.
-Wild game: Lichtheim: desert flocks
-from speech, sight, and hearing because of dullness, silence being to the fore: Lichtheim: according as one says: "When sight and hearing fail, the mute leads." According to Lichtheim and Helck a proverbial expression.
-what had never happened: Lichtheim: What should not be
-beg for the bread of blood: Lichtheim: crave blood for bread
-lie down hungry at death: Lichtheim: wake fasting for death
-None will dress hair: Lichtheim: Mourning is not done
-hearts are entirely astray because of it: Lichtheim: Hearts have quite abandoned it
I show you a son as an enemy, a brother as a foe, a man killing his father. Every mouth is full of 'Love me'; all good things have passed away; a law is decreed for the ruin of the land. Men wreak destruction on what has been made and make a desolation of what has been found; what has been made is as though it had never been made; a man's possessions are taken from him and are given to an outsider.
I show you the owner of (but) a little, while the outsider is content. He who did not fill for himself now goes empty; men give (something) unwillingly, so as to silence a talking mouth. A sentence is answered and a hand goes out with a stick; [men say]: 'Do not kill him,' but the discourse of speech is like fire to the heart, and none can endure utterance.
-'Love me': Lichtheim: "how I wish"
-good things: Lichtheim" happiness
-a law is decreed for the ruin of the land: Lichtheim: The land is ruined, its fate decreed
-Men wreak destruction on what has been made and make a desolation of what has been found: Lichtheim: Deprived of produce, lacking in crops
-owner of (but) a little: Lichtheim: master in need
-He who did not fill for himself now goes empty: Lichtheim: The lazy stuffs himself, the active is needy.
-[men say]: 'Do not kill him,': Lichtheim: One speaks by killing him
The land is diminished, though its controllers are many; he who was rich in servants is despoiled and corn is trifling, even though the corn measure is great and it is measured to overflowing. Re separates himself from men; he shines, that the hour may be told, but no one knows when noon occurs, for no one can discern his shadow, no one is dazzled when [he] is seen; there are none whose eyes stream with water, for he is like the moon in the sky, (though) his accustomed time do [not] go astray, and his rays are in (men's) sight as on former occasions.
I show you the land in calamity; the weak-armed now possesses an arm, and men salute one who used to do the saluting. I show you [the lowermost] uppermost, men pursuing him who flees away; men are living in the necropolis.
-he who was rich in servants is despoiled and corn is trifling, even though the corn measure is great and it is measured to overflowing: Lichtheim: It is bare - its taxes are great; The grain is low - the measure is large, It is measured to overflowing.
-separates himself: according to the myth Re had distanced himself from mankind before, even considering ots destruction.
-he shines, that the hour may be told: Lichtheim: Though he will rise at his hour
-(though) his accustomed time do [not] go astray: Lichtheim: His nightly course unchanged
-calamity: Lichtheim: turmoil
-men pursuing him who flees away: Lichtheim: What was turned on the back turns the belly
The poor man will achieve wealth, while the great lady will [beg] to exist; it is the poor who will eat bread, while servants are....; there will be no Heliopolitan nome to be the birth-land of every god.
A king of the South will come, Ameny by name, the son of a woman of Zety-land, a child of Khenkhen. He will assume the White Crown, he will wear the Red Crown, he will join together the Double Crown, he will propitiate the Two Lords with what they desire; the land will be enclosed in (his) grasp, the oars swinging, the people of his reign will rejoice, the well-born man will make his name forever and ever.
-the great lady will [beg]: Lichtheim: The great [will rob] - which they have been doing in one guise or another ever since.
-it is the poor who will eat bread: even the poor used to eat bread in ordinary times.
-servants are....: Lichtheim: slaves will be exalted (cf. Slavery)
-Ameny: Generally identified with Amenemhet I
-Khenkhen: Lichtheim: Upper Egypt
-Double Crown: Lichtheim: two mighty ones i.e. Nekhbet and Wadjet, representing Upper and Lower Egypt.
-Two Lords: Horus and Seth
-the land will be enclosed in (his) grasp, the oars swinging: Lichtheim: With field-circler in his fist, oar in his grasp
Those who have fallen into evil and have planned rebellion have stultified their utterances through fear of him; the Asiatics will fall at the dread of him; the Libyans will fall at his flaming, the rebels at his wrath, the disaffected at the awe of him, while the uraeus which is on his forehead will pacify the disaffected. Men will build 'Walls of the Ruler,' and there will be no letting the Asiatics go down into Egypt, that they may beg water after their accustomed fashion to let their herds drink. Right will come to its place (again) and Wrong will be thrust outside; joyful will be [he] who will see (it) and he who will serve the king. The learned man shall pour [a libation to me when he sees that what I have said] has come to pass."
 
It has come happily to an end.
-have stultified their utterances: Lichtheim: suppress their speech
-at the dread of him: Lichtheim: to his sword
-the disaffected at the awe of him: Lichtheim: traitors to his might
-Walls of the Ruler: a string of fortifications in the eastern desert.
-Asiatics go down into Egypt:Nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes of Canaan would occasionally have sought refuge in Egypt. While there is no proof that the Israelites did so, chances are good they did, probably on more than one occasion.
-Right: Lichtheim: Order
-Wrong: Lichtheim: Chaos
-The learned man shall: Lichtheim: and he who is wise will

 


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© May 2005
Minor updates:
April 2007

Alternative spellings:
Neferti: Neferty
Snefru: Snofru, Senefru
Mentuhotep: Montuhotep
Amenemhet: Amenemhat
Khufu: Chufu, Cheops

 

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