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A Middle Kingdom introduction to writing - Kemyt?

Numerous New Kingdom sources preserve parts of a Middle Egyptian composition apparently designed to introduce an apprentice to writing-style, including letter formulae and the spelling of words. Examples in the Petrie Museum include UC 31909 and 31946. The sources are themselves written in a curious and distinctive style, evoking early Middle Kingdom cursive (a late form of 'Old Hieratic'): the first Egyptologists to study ostraca with this composition thought that they dated to the Middle Kingdom, but it gradually became clear that most came from the Deir el-Medina crew involved in digging and decorating the tomb of the king in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties. The composition was reassembled from numerous Deir el-Medina ostraca and other New Kingdom sources by Georges Posener, who identified it as a work cited in other ancient Egyptian literary compositions as kmyt 'the compilation'. Although this identification is entirely speculative, the composition is generally known in Egyptology as Kemyt.


Date of composition

The first part of the composition contains formulaic letter phrases, sometimes known as the Memphite Formula. Parts are attested on two Middle Kingdom sources:

The second part of the composition is more miscellaneous, though its vocabulary and language also seem to belong in the Middle Kingdom. The reference to the Residence in Section 17 suggests a date of composition after the foundation of the new Residence at Itjtawy, late in the reign of Amenemhat I of Dynasty 12.

From the appearance of a weeping wife in Section 8, it is difficult to establish connected sense, if any was intended. Wente 1990, 16 interprets the Egyptian word Aw 'extended' as a personal name of a man, Au; in the translation below, it is given as 'extended one', and its meaning left to the reader to decide. Whatever the meaning, there seems to be a dialogic exchange from the position of the woman in Section 8, to the address to the woman in Section 9. This anticipates the exchange of love songs between man and woman in Ramesside cycles of poems.

It is not known at what date the various parts were brought together to the New Kingdom form.


Transliteration and translation

The sections are numbered as in the Posener edition, from 'pause' signs in the original sources. Some may reflect later interpretations of the passages, as they seem at places to interrupt a grammatical sequence.

Section 1

bAk Dd xr nb.f
mrrw.f anx.f
wDA.f snb.f
m Awt Dt r nHH
mi mrr bAk im

The servant says before his master,
whom he so wishes to live,
to be well, to be healthy,
in the lengths of time for eternity
as the servant there wishes

Section 2

mAa xrw.k xr bAw iwnw
xr nTrw nbw
di.sn n.k anx.k
ir.sn n.k xt nbt nfrt ra nb
mi mrr bAk im

May your voice be true before the powers of Iunu
before all gods,
may they grant you that you live
may they make all good things for you every day,
as the servant there wishes

Section 3

iw xrt.k m anx HH n sp
iry n.k mntw nb wAst
mi mrr bAk im

Your condition is as life a million times

may Mont lord of Thebes act for you

as the servant there wishes

Section 4

snDm ptH rs inb.f ib.k m anx nfr wrt
iAwt nfrt sbt r imAx
wn r imAx.k nfr
xr kA n mntw nb wAst
mi mrr bAk im

May Ptah south of his wall
gladden your heart in life well and greatly,
with an old age, proceeding to reverence,

being in your beautiful reverence,

before the spirit of Mont lord of Thebes

as the servant there wishes

Section 5

m Htp nfrt wrt
xr nn r sSw rdi.n wi wpwty n Hm.k Hr.s
iw.i r irt Hst.k

in peace well and greatly,

Now for the writings on which the
messenger of Your Person has placed me,
I will do what you praise

Section 6

Htp.k r nbt bAst
snDm ib.i pn
rdit iwt Aw
mA.n.i sw m xmtnwt.f rnpt

May you be more content than the Lady of Bast,

this my heart is gladdened,

to send the extended one
I saw him in his third year

Section 7

wrH m antyw n pwnt
xnm tA nTr
sd m dAiw n ir.i
iAdw mA.n.f xnty

Anointed with the myrrh of Punt

with the scents of the Land of the God,

clothed in a kilt of my making,

(only) a child when he saw the Palace

Section 8

Dd.s is Aw
mA.n.k Hmt.k
iw mr rm.s Tw
iw rmm.s Tw
Hr rmw.k m grH
Apdw.k m hrw

She says 'go, extend
ed one,
you have seen your wife':
it is bad that she weeps over you,

and she does weep over you

over your fishes in the night

and your birds in the day

Section 9

mi r.t m xd
sDd.i n.t nn
mdw rHw snw iry
gm.n.sn wi Hr rs n niwt

Lady, come north
I tell you
the words of companions and brothers there

when they
have found me to the south of the city

Section 10

ib.i nDm st wAt
tp Hr mAsty
mi nmH Hr mAa n kt niwt

My heart is glad in a far place?

- head on lap

like an orphan on the shore of another city

Section 11

ii.n.i m niwt nt sn.i
swA.n.i Hr tp aA wr niwt
gm.n.i it.i hrw n Hb.i
iw mwt.i sbt r nht

I came from the city of my brother
I passed the great head of the city
I found my father the day of my festival,

my mother had gone to the sycamore

Section 12

ink mryw n it.i
Hsyw n mwt.i
mrrw snw.f snwt.f
nn sp tAHy.i n it.i
n sSny.i n mwt.i

I am one loved of my father
praised of my mother,

one whom brothers and sisters love.

Never did I dispute my father,

mor quarrel with my mother

Section 13

wHm Ddt.n imy-r
n mrwt dAir xrt
ink gr xnty
dr srf m qmAw sp

repeating what the overseer says,
for love of removing problems.

I am the silent one of the Palace,

removing the overheated by creating opportunity.

Section 14

Sw m aSAt xrw.i sS im
iqr n nb.f
Hmww n wnwt.f

Free of excess in my voice, the secretary there,

one who is excellent for his master,

the craftsman of his hour

Section 15

wHs n sSw
irr.k sA
sbA r sSw
Axw m HAt.i
sbA.n wi it.i r sSw
Axw m tp awy.fy

Persevere (?) in writing,

and when you have a son,
instruct in writings,

the benefit from before me,

as my father instructed me in writings,

a benefit from upon his hands.

Section 16

nDr.f a.f Hr Hw-aDA
gm.n.i Hsyw im
Hw Hr.f m-xt sArt
m-xt wbA n Hr.i

He exercises his arm on the bad pupil:
I have found (how to be) praised there,

He is struck after need,

after opening up to my sight,

Section 17

Smsw pw Hna nDt
irr.k sA sbA r sSw

ir sS m st.f nbt nt Xnw

n Hwr n.f im.f

He is the guard with the milling woman
So make a son, instructed in writings
For a secretary in any place of his of the Residence,

he cannot be poor in it.

End note

iw.s pw nfr m Htp

This is its end, perfect, in peace.



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