The Instruction of Amenemhat
early XIIth Dynasty - ca.1909 BCE

the revelation of truth beyond the tomb
the assassination of the king and his solitude

Pharaoh Amenemhat I - XIIth Dynasty
lintel from el-Lisht -  Metropolitan Museum

by Wim van den Dungen


The translation of The Instruction of Amenemhat is part of my Ancient Egyptian Readings (2016), a POD publication in paperback format of all translations available at maat.sofiatopia.org. These readings span a period of thirteen centuries, covering all important stages of Ancient Egyptian literature. Translated from Egyptian originals, they are ordered chronologically and were considered by the Egyptians as part of the core of their vast literature.

The study of the sources, hieroglyphs, commentaries and pictures situating the text itself remain on the website at no cost.


1. The source : the lost papyrus Millingen.
2. Pharaoh Amenemhat I and his son.
3. The text of the Instruction of Amenemhat.
4. Notes.
5. Egyptian sacred literature.
6. Egyptian wisdom literature.


1. The source : the lost Papyrus Millingen


discovery

The text of the Instruction of Amememhat was preserved on the so-called Papyrus Millingen of the XVIIIth Dynasty, of which an integral copy was made by Peyron in 1843.

The papyrus was subsequently lost !

It must have been a good manuscript, that turns fragmentary in its final portion. Parts of the work are preserved on three wooden tablets of the XVIIIth Dynasty, papyrus fragments, leather fragments and numerous ostraca of the New Kingdom. Griffith (1896) published Papyrus Millingen and Maspero (1914) all known extant fragments. An English translation was made by Erman (1927). A new comparative study of all available sources (including new fragments and numerous ostraca) was done by Volten (1945). In 1963, Lopez reexamined Papyrus Millingen. In 1969, a German translation was made by Helck (1969). Lichtheim (1976) and Brunner (1991) made the most recent translations. Papyrus Millingen is deemed "a good manuscript, but fragmentary in the final portion" (Lichtheim, p.136).

"I think, the Millingen Papyrus may perhaps fairly be excepted from Professor Erman's statement that all our materials are corrupt school copies of the New Kingdom."
Griffith, 1896, p.36.

The following temporal layers may be discerned :

  • Papyrus Millingen : in the XVIIIth Dynasty, an unknown scribe made a copy from earlier sources - Gardiner (1934, p.481), dates the papyrus in the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep II (ca. 1426 - 1400 BCE) or Tuthmosis IV (ca. 1400 - 1390 BCE) ;

  • the actual literary composition : the instruction was written shortly after the murder of Amenemhat, namely at the beginning of the reign of Pharaoh Senusret I, ca. 1909 BCE ;

  • the person of Amenemhat : reigned between ca. 1938 - 1909 BCE.

literary features

Our literary-political instruction was composed for Pharaoh Senusret I by one of his scribes. A Ramesside scribe seems to have considered that this was the sage Khety, who also wrote the popular, standard text of the scribal schools called The Teaching of Khety (or The Satire of the Trades - cf. Papyrus Chester Beatty IV). So this New Kingdom scribe was aware of its pseudo-epigraphic nature, although it is likely that in the Middle Kingdom it was believed to be the work of the men whose name it bore, Amenemhat and his son Senusret. Our instruction was widely read down into the Late Period, and has been seen by scholars as the "inaugural address" of Pharaoh Senusret I.

Because of the divine nature of kingship, regicide was a theme that could not be treated openly (the same reticence is felt regarding the murder of Osiris). Hence, the assassination is described in veiled terms. The work is the only one of its kind. Together with the Instruction to Merikare of the reign of Pharaoh Merikare (IXth & Xth Dynasties, ca. 2160 - 1980 BCE), this teaching is a royal instruction.

This work is a "powerful and imaginative composition" (Lichtheim, p.135). Three elements are important :

  • the literary form : the orational style is used, except for the description of the assassination, which is in prose ;

  • the literary setting : the speaker is the murdered Amenemhat who communicates to his son Senusret in a "revelation of truth" : this device reminds us of Hamlet ;

  • the existential tone : as would later be said of the office of the vizier, kingship is not sweet but bitter, and the instruction involves the castigation of the traitors as well as warnings to his son not to trust anybody.


2 Pharaoh Amenemhat  I and his son


the beginning of the Middle Kingdom

The last Pharaoh of the XIth Dynasty was Nebtawyre Mentuhotpe (ca. 1945 - 1938 BCE). He probably usurped the throne, for he is missing from the king-lists. His mother was a commoner. It is possible that he was not a member of the royal family. Of his seven year reign, little is known. He undertook building projects and dispatched his vizier Amenemhat to head an army of workers at the quarries of the Wadi Hammamat for his intended royal tomb. There is a consensus that this is the same Amenemhat who founded the XIIth Dynasty, although there is no reliable information available.

"There is considerable reason to think that in reality the succession did not take place by force, and the way might even have been paved by a period of coregency." - Hornung, 1999, p.50.

Pharaoh Amenemhat I Sehetepibra (ca. 1938 - 1909 BCE), "Amun is at the head" was the son of a "god's father" (a priest) named Senusret and a member of the house of Elephantine called Nofret. His was an illustrious Dynasty, which restored the functional & unified state to the point of it being able to begin its second period of cultural blossoming : the Middle Kingdom (the XIIth Dynasty). For the Horus name of his titulary, he chose the expression "wehem-mesut" or "he who repeats births" (i.e. of creation), characterizing his reign as the beginning of a new era. At el-Lisht, he reintroduced the Old Kingdom pyramid-style royal tomb.

The royal residence was moved from Thebes to the old center of the land, in the vicinity of Memphis (Ptah) and within eyesight of the Great Pyramid (Re). Old form were invested with new meaning, although Thebes remained the center of Amun worship. But it lost its political power. In the New Kingdom, this constellation of leading deities (Re, Ptah, Amun) would become a trinity of trinities (cf. the Leiden Hymns).

In ca.1919, Pharaoh Amenemhat I elevated his son Senusret  (Senwosret, Senusert, Sesostris) to the coregency. They conducted the affairs of state together (a custom adopted by the remaining kings of the Dynasty). While his coregent was on an expedition to Libya, a harem conspiracy broke out (the instruction hints at a dispute over the succession). The elderly king was at the lowest point of his effective powers, and had planned a Sed festival of renewal to replenish himself. Apparently, the assassination attempt succeeded, although the legitimate successor thwarted the other plans of the conspirators and was crowned Pharaoh Senusret I in ca. 1909 BCE.

relief of Pharaoh Senusret I embracing Ptah
Pharaoh is also embraced by Amun, Atum and Horus,
each god placed at the cardinal points of the Earth
XIIth Dynasty - White Chapel at Karnak

regicide and the changed perspective on kingship

Though the thirty-year rule of Pharaoh Amenemhat I ended with his murder, his reign was successful. Near its beginning it had been glorified in the Prophecies of Neferti, a series of prophecies after the event in a fictional disguise. In it, he depicts civil war and distress, turning into happiness with the accession of Pharaoh Amenemhat I.

That a successful reign may end in assassination, underlined the changed perspective on kingship. Although Pharaoh was still a divine king, the burden of responsibility weighed heavily on the king, who, except for the deities, could trust nobody. The breakdown of the Old Kingdom had ended the "natural trust" on the part of the common people. Patriarchy was over, and distrust, vigilance and self-preservation were deemed essential. Alone, Pharaoh had to prove his divinity by works of superhuman proportion. Hence, heroic qualities were invoked and these characterize the monarchs of the Middle Kingdom, who decided in solitude.

The "democratization" of the afterlife evidenced in the Coffin Texts (every individual having a "soul" and the ability to become an "Osiris NN" - cf. The Discourse of a Man with his Ba) runs parallel with the "humanization" of kingship. Indeed, the divine rule of Pharaoh is viewed in terms of an "intensified instance of the human condition" (Hornung, 1999, p.55). In the Loyalist Instruction (early XIIth Dynasty) one demands of those around the king to "Worship the king inside yourselves, be close to his Majesty in your hearts." (section 2).

seating statue of Pharaoh Senusret I
XIIth Dynasty - el-Lisht - Cairo Museum

Pharaoh Senusret I resided at el-Lisht and like his father, he built complexes emulating Old Kingdom models (he used the causeway of Unis as the model for the decoration of the walls of his burial place). We are told that it was in el-Lisht that he received Sinuhe when he returned from exile (cf. The Story of Sinuhe, in the form of an autobiography). This political work was probably commissioned by the ruling Dynasty.


The Instruction of Pharaoh Amenemhat I
to his son Pharaoh Senusret I


(...) : additions in English
[...] : restoration
{...} : uncertain or corrupt

Titles in bold were added. To facilitate future comments, the numbering is done anew. This translation is based on all mentioned translations, as well as on the hieroglyphic transcription of all available sources by Volten (1945).


The translation of The Instruction of Amenemhat is part of my Ancient Egyptian Readings (2016), a POD publication in paperback format of all translations available at maat.sofiatopia.org. These readings span a period of thirteen centuries, covering all important stages of Ancient Egyptian literature. Translated from Egyptian originals, they are ordered chronologically and were considered by the Egyptians as part of the core of their vast literature.

The study of the sources, hieroglyphs, commentaries and pictures situating the text itself remain on the website at no cost.


Prologue

01 Beginning of the instruction made by the Majesty of King Sehetepibre, son of Re, Amenemhat, the justified, as he spoke in a mission of truth,
1 to his son the AlI-Lord.

address to Senusret

03  "Risen as god,
2 hear what I teIl You, (so)

beware of nobodies

07  of whose plotting
3 one is not aware.

by doing good one does not avoid an attack

16  he whom I gave my hands, used them to assail me,
4
17  wearers of my fine linen looked at me as if they were needy,
5
18  those perfumed with my myrrh {poured water while wearing it.}
6

remember what has happened

the narrative of the assassination

24  It was after supper, night had come. I was taking an hour of rest, lying on my bed, for I was weary. As my heart began to follow sleep, weapons for my protection were turned against me, while I was like a snake of the desert. I awoke at the fighting, {came to myself},
7 and found it was a combat of the guard. Had I quickly seized weapons in my hand, I would have made the cowards retreat. But no one is strong at night ; no one can fight alone ; no success is achieved without a helper.

25  Thus bloodshed occurred while I was without You ; before the courtiers had heard I would hand over to You ; before I had sat with You so as to advise You.
8 For I had not prepared for it, had not expected it, had not foreseen the failing of the servants ...

the exceptional nature of this murder

28  {Or did destroyers break into the place ?}
9
29  {(It is) a bad memory because of what these miserable people did.}
10

the confession of excellence

32  I journeyed to Yebu,
11 I returned to the Delta.

36  I was grain-maker, beloved of Nepri.
12
37  Hapy
13 honored me on every field.

43  I repressed those of Wawat,
14
44  I captured the Medjay,
15
45  I made the Asiatics
16 do the dog walk.

preparing his son

55  he has not understood it, (as) his face is lacking (eyes),
17

60  the child of a happy hour.
18

concluding advise ?

63  (and) You wear the White Crown of a god's son.
19


4. Notes


(1) Lichtheim has "revelation" - clearly (as in Hamlet), the dead king returns to inform his son about his murder in a "vision" ;
(2) Scholars like Goedicke have this refer to Amenemhat rather than to Senusret. Although this solution is in accordance with the verse-points, Lichtheim is right to say that this makes the address too abrupt ;
(3) "Hrw" : attack, assault - here : plotting (Lichtheim) ;
(4) he whom I gave my trust ;
(5) "Swyw" instead of "Sw" ;
(6) "Sti mw" is an act of disrespect or defiance - the king looks back on the covert acts of the rebels, who defied the king by making a libation while covered with his perfume ;
(7) "iw.i n Haw.i", or "I being to my body" - Gardiner has "by myself", other scholars suggested "became alert" ;
(8) there was no formal rite of abdication ;
(9) inside / outside symmetry ;
(10) probably a corrupt line ;
(11) Abu or Elephantine : an island at the northern end of the first cataract of the Nile near Aswan, capital of the first nome of Upper Egypt and cult center of the god Khnum ;
(12) god of the corn ;
(13) god of the Nile and its flood ;
(14) area between Aswan (the most southern city of Ancient Egypt) and the first cataract of the Nile, in Kush (Nubia) ;
(15) name given to units of the Nubian forces ;
(16) the "heqau khasut" or "rulers of foreign lands", vocalized by the Greeks as "Hyksos", a nomadic group that swept over Syria, Palestine and Egypt ca. 1750 BCE ;
(17) the fool is blind ;
(18) the tongue / heart parallel was reconstructed by Volten ;
(19) "HDt" (hedjet) or war crown of Upper Egypt, combined with the red wicker basket crown of Lower Egypt (deshret), forms the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt (wereret).


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initiated : 11 XI 2003 - last update : 06 I 2016 - version n°2

© Wim van den Dungen
Antwerp, 2003 - 2017.