A poem on papyrus


British Museum

British Museum

This New Kingdom papyrus contains a famous literary text which was composed during the early Twelfth Dynasty (circa 1900BC-1800 BC). The text was regarded as such a classic it was still being copied over seven and a half centuries later, as this example from the Nineteenth Dynasty (king Sety II, 1200BC-1194 BC), proves.

The 'Teaching of Amenemhat' is spoken by the founder of the Twelfth Dynasty for his son and successor Sesostris I. This poem presents an intimate, and strikingly dark, portrait; the king is speaking to his heir from the grave. Amenemhat was clearly not the actual author of the poem, which may have been ‘ghost-written’ sometime after his death. Some 700 years later, New Kingdom scribes attributed it to a master scribe called Khety.

The story records a historical event which took place at the end of Amenemhat’s reign about 1955 BC. The text insinuates that Amenemhat, the founder of the Twelfth Dynasty, was assassinated. The dead king appears to his son and successor in a dream and warns him to trust no one lest he too be betrayed. This particular sheet of the text begins in the middle of the old king's account of how he was attacked in the palace as he slept when the crown prince was not with him.

A colophon at the end of the poem names the teacher Qageb to whom the copyist Inena dedicated the manuscript. It is clear the teacher occasionally found faults with his pupils hand; the signs written in the upper margin are the teacher's corrected forms of signs imperfectly copied by the scribe. As is typical of literary texts in hieratic, the handwritten adaptation of hieroglyphs, some groups of signs are written in red ink to indicate section or chapter headings. Also characteristic are the superscript dots called verse points, used to indicate the ends of lines.

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  • Title: A poem on papyrus
  • Date Created: -1200/-1194
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 35.20cm (frame); Width: 27.20cm (frame); Length: 29.50cm (papyrus); Height: 21.50cm (papyrus); Weight: 1415.00g
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Registration number: .10182.2
  • Place: Found/Acquired Egypt
  • Period/culture: 19th Dynasty
  • Material: papyrus
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Authority: Ruler Sety II
  • Acquisition: Purchased from Sallier, Francois