A Stele Listing Virtues and an Egyptian Castaway.

Back to Egypt today, obviously, and my reading catalog consists of the inscriptions on a stele belonging to one ‘Intef, son of Sent’ who was believed to have been alive during the Middle Kingdom reign of Sesostris I (also known as Senusret I, and his reign is believed to be from 1908 to 1875 BC), as well as two different translations of a Middle Kingdom fairy tail called the ‘Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor’ Both of these were pretty short.

The stele pretty much speaks for itself. It was part of a shrine erected by Intef near Abydos where he speaks of his connection to the place and then lists a series of virtues that he claims to exhibit. As Miriam Lichtheim comments in her book of Ancient Egyptian Literature which I’m still using, the virtues he claims actually are very close to those lauded in Ptah-Hotep’s maxims, which I read a while ago.

There’s a little bit of a difference in assessment of when the Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor was first written. There is only one copy in existence and it is written on papyrus known as P. Leningrad 1115, currently housed in a museum in Moscow. A few Egyptologists have translated it over time, including Sir Flinders Petrie, who was one of the pioneers of archaeology as a field. Some say it’s as old as 2200 BC, but we’ve at least been able to figure out that it’s from the Middle Kingdom, so we’re at least pretty sure we’re in the ballpark of when it was written. I read the Petrie translation which can be found here as well as the copy in the Lichtheim book which was taken from various translations. One thing I did notice between the two copies is that Petrie’s copy was definitely harder to read. Not sure if I was tired at the time or what, but it also didn’t flow quite as well. Maybe Lichtheim has a better eye for translations that are understandable? Who knows?

The story is told by the sailor himself to an official about an experience the sailor had on a voyage in which he was shipwrecked on an island. It definitely has a fairy tale quality to it, with the man encountering a giant snake and all sorts of riches and bounty in fruit on the island, getting rescued and packing a bunch of it off home before realizing the island has vanished without a trace. It sort of reminds me of some short stories I wrote on a different blog about a fictitious neighbor of mine named Jim, where he and his dog would have strange encounters and then when he tried to tell someone about them, no one would believe them. Mainly in that it has more of a feel like the guy went to this place, he saw, he had an interesting experience with supernatural forces, and then he came back home and everything worked out. The main takeaway I had from this one was that this may very well be one of the earliest instances of an account that had people saying ‘Cool story bro.’

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