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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Teaching of Amenemhat
Egyptian Literature
 
          [The advice given by Amenemhat I., the founder of the XIIth Dynasty, to his son and successor Usertesen I. (about B.C. 2500), is a short composition that was much in vogue during the New Kingdom as an exercise for schoolboys. Six copies of portions or of the whole have survived to our day; but with one exception all are very corrupt, and the text is extremely difficult to translate. Our oldest copies appear to date from the middle of the XIXth Dynasty (about B.C. 1300). But the composition itself must be older than this; indeed, it may be a true record of the great King’s charge to his son.
  The following seems to be the purpose and argument of the work. Amenemhat, who has already virtually associated Usertesen with himself in the kingdom, determines in consequence of a plot against his life to insure his son’s succession by announcing it in a formal manner. He has labored strenuously and successfully for his own glory and for the good of his people, but in return he is scarcely saved from ignominious dethronement or assassination through a conspiracy formed in his own household. The moral to be drawn from this is pointed out to his son with considerable bitterness and scorn in the ‘Teaching,’ in which, however, Usertesen is promised a brilliant reign if he will attend to his father’s instructions.
  It is perhaps worth while noticing that there is no expression of piety or reference to the worship of divinities either in the precepts themselves or in the narrative. The personified Nile is spoken of in a manner that would be likely to offend its worshipers; but in the last section, the interpretation of which is extremely doubtful, Amenemhat seems to acquiesce in the orthodox views concerning the god Ra.
  Usertesen’s reign dates from Amenemhat’s XXth year, and that his association was then no secret but already formally acknowledged, is amply proved. The King seems to feel already the approach of old age and death, and though he lived on to assist his son with his counsel for no less than ten years, it was apparently in retirement from public life. 1 The work has been considered as a posthumous charge to Usertesen, but although certain expressions seem to support this view, on the whole I think its correctness improbable.
  In several copies the text is divided by rubrics into fifteen paragraphs, and the phrases are punctuated by dots placed above the lines. In the following rendering the paragraphs are preserved, and summarized where they are too difficult to translate. The incompleteness of the best text leaves the last two paragraphs in almost hopeless confusion.]


  1. [Title and introduction.]
  1
COMMENCEMENT in the teaching made by the majesty of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Sehetepabra, Son of the Sun, Amenemhat, justified, which he spake as a dividing of truth 2 to his Son, the Universal Lord. Said he:—  2
  “Shine forth as a God! Hearken to that I say to thee, that thou mayest be king of the land and rule the territories, that thou mayest excel in all wealth.  3
 
  2. [Exhortation to caution in associating with subjects.]  4
  “Let one be armored against his associates as a whole; it befalleth that mankind turn their heart to him who inspireth them with fear. Enter not to them singly; fill not thy heart with a brother; know not an honored friend; make not to thyself free-and-easy visitors, by which nothing is accomplished.  5
 
  3. [Trust not to the aid of friends.]  6
  “When thou liest down, keep to thyself thine own heart; for friends exist not for a man on the day of troubles. I gave to the beggar, and I made the orphan to exist; 3 I caused the man of no position to obtain his purpose even as the man of position.  7
 
  4. [Continuation of 3: Reward of his beneficence.]  8
  “It was the eater of my food that made insurrection; he to whom I gave a helping hand produced terror therewith; they who put on my fine linen looked on me as shadows; 4 they who were anointed with my frankincense defiled me while using it.  9
 
  5. [Men forget the heroism of his achievements on their behalf, though their happy condition speaks loudly of it; by forgetting they lose much of the advantages he has procured them.]  10
  “My portraits are among the living, my achievements among men, making for me dirges that none heed, a great feat of combat that none see. Behold, one fighteth for a lassoed ox, that forgetteth yesterday. Good fortune is not complete for one who cannot know it. 5  11
 
  6. [An attempt upon his life: circumstances of the attack.]  12
  “It was after supper, and night was come on. I took an hour of heart pleasure; I lay down upon my diwân; I sank-in-rest, my heart began to follow slumber. Behold! weapons were brandished [?], and there was conversation concerning me; while I acted like the serpent of the desert. 6  13
 
  7. [Taken by surprise, he could not defend himself.]  14
  “I awoke to fight; I was alone. I found that it was the stroke of an ally. If I had taken swiftly the arms from his hand I should have caused the cowards to retreat, by dint of smiting round. But there is not a man of valor at night; there is no fighting single-handed; there happens not a successful bout in ignorance. Behold thou me. 7  15
 
  8. [Usertesen’s association the only safeguard. Amenemhat is not stern enough to rule Egypt longer, but he offers to assist with his counsel.]  16
  “Behold thou, [then ?] abominable things came to pass when I was without thee, because the courtiers had not heard that I had handed on to thee [the kingdom], because I had not sat with thee [on the throne]. Let me [then] make thy arrangements, 8 for I do not confound them. 9 I am not ignorant of them, but my heart does not remember the slackness of servants.  17
 
  9. [The conspiracy was hatched in the palace itself; the commons were hoodwinked; there was no ground for discontent.]  18
  “Is it the function of women to captain assassins? Is the interior of a house the nursery of insurgents? Is mining done by dint of cutting through the snow? 10 The underlings were kept ignorant of what they were doing. Ill fortunes have not come behind me 11 since my birth; there has not been success like mine in working to the measure of my ability.  19
 
  10. [Amenemhat’s activity.]  20
  “I pushed up to Elephantine and I turned back to Natho; 12 I stood upon the ends of the earth and saw its edge. 13 I carried forward the boundaries of strength-of-arm 14 by my valor and by my feats.  21
 
  11. [His beneficent rule.]  22
  “I was a maker of barley, beloved of Nepra; 15 the Nile begged my mercy in every hollow. None were hungry in my years, none were thirsty therein; the people sat [content] in what they did, saying with reference to me, ‘Every command is in its right place.’  23
 
  12. [His valor in war and in the chase.]  24
  “I overcame lions, I captured crocodiles. I seized Wawat, I carried away Mezay; I caused the Setiu to go like hounds. 16  25
 
  13. [The house and tomb that he built.]  26
  “I built a house adorned with gold, its ceiling with blue, 17 its walls having deep foundations, the gates of copper, the bolts of bronze, made for everlasting….  27
 
  14. [Usertesen is the sole guardian of its secrets: he is trusted and beloved by the King and popular in the country.]  28
  “There are numerous intricacies of passages. I know that the successor will seek its beauties, for he knoweth it not without thee. But thou art [?] my son Usertesen, as my feet walk; thou art my own heart as my eyes see, born in a good hour, with mortals who give thee praise.  29
 
  15. [Amenemhat leaves Usertesen with the prospect of a brilliant reign.]  30
  “Behold, what I have done at the beginning thou hast arranged finally. Thou art the haven of what was in my heart. All collectively offer the white crown to [thee], the Seed of God, sealed to its right place. Begin for thee greetings in the bark of Ra. 18 Then a reign cometh of the first order, not of what I did in working to the extent of my powers. Set up monuments and make good thy tomb.”…

This is its arrival.
  31
 
Note 1. Compare the story of Sanehat for an indication of the place which Amenemhat retained for himself in the government of the kingdom during the joint rule. “He [Usertesen] curbs the nations while his father remains in his palace, and he [Usertesen] accomplisheth for him what is commanded him.” [back]
Note 2. Compare 2 Timothy ii. 15. [back]
Note 3. “To exist” often means to have a solid position. [back]
Note 4. A proverbial word for nullity, worthlessness. [back]
Note 5. Egypt, the lassoed ox, helpless in the hands of its oppressors, is now free, but fails to appreciate its good fortune. [back]
Note 6. Perhaps this means that Amenemhat lay still but ready to rise instantly and fight. [back]
Note 7. “Me voilà!”—after drawing the picture of his helpless state, surprised alone in the night. [back]
Note 8. I.e., “be thy counselor.” [back]
Note 9. A difficult passage. [back]
Note 10. Meaning doubtful. [back]
Note 11. I.e., upon others in consequence of me. [back]
Note 12. Elephantine and Natho are often named as the extreme north and south points of Egypt; compare the Biblical “from Dan even unto Beersheba.” [back]
Note 13. Or perhaps “its centre.” [back]
Note 14. I.e., “surpassed the record,” or perhaps “reached the boundaries.” [back]
Note 15. The kings of the XIIth dynasty paid much attention to agriculture and irrigation. Barley was the representative cereal, Nepra was the Corn goddess. In the following clause the Nile is represented as a prisoner in the King’s power: or possibly as begging him “for every hollow” to enter and inundate it. [back]
Note 16. I.e., “obedient to his commands,” a common figure. The Wawat and Mezay were in Nubia, the Setiu in the Northeast to Syria. [back]
Note 17. The rendering of this section is very doubtful. [back]
Note 18. Or, “and the seal to its proper place, even as the acclamations in the bark of Ra ordain for thee.” Ra the Sun god was the royal god essentially, and his approval was doubtless required to establish a claim to the throne. He was believed to travel through the sky in a boat. [back]
 
 
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