With the breakup of the Old Kingdom which had lasted for five centuries and which had been a period of glorious optimism, prosperity, and splendid isolation, there set in a period of political disintegration and social upheaval a situation quite analogous to that of Europe during the Middle Ages, after the collapse of the Roman Empire. This First Intermediate period was, likewise, a period of feudalism, in which there was no centra1 authority. Each petty noble was master in his own domain, all sorts of unscrupulous opportunists played a free hand and “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” Old, established values and social distinctions were upset, and according to the remaining representatives of the old aristocracy, misery prevailed throughout the land.
This state of affairs is reflected in the little literature that has survived from the period. The entire tone is that of a resigned pessimism, sometimes tinged with morbidity, as in The Dispute of a Man with His Soul, in which the author debates the eternal question of "To be or not to be." In The Admonitions of Ipuwer, human despair at divine injustice is goaded even to the extremity of a quarrel with the cosmic "establishment.” A note of hope for the future is sounded in The Prophecy of Nefer-Rohu. This text probably dates from the beginning of the Middle Kingdom, when security and order had once more been established, but it indicates a vivid recollection of the chaos, injustice, and general misery that had prevailed in the previous period.
The Dispute of a Man with His Soul . . . Then I opened my mouth to my soul, that I might answer what it had said: “This is too much for me now, that my soul does not speak with me. My soul goes forth; let it stand and wait for me!
"Behold, my soul disobeys me because I did not hearken to it, and drag myself to death ere I have come to it, to cast myself upon the fire in order to consume myself. Rather, let it be near to me on this day of misfortune, and wait on the other side!
"My soul is foolish to hold back one wretched over life and delay me from death before I have come to it. Rather, make the West pleasant for me! Is it something bad? The period of life is limited in any case: even the trees must fall! Thoth, who contents the gods, he: will judge me! Khonsu, the Scribe in Truth, he will defend me! Ra, who guides the Solar Bark, he will hear my words! My distress is heavy, and he bears it for me!"
And this is what my soul said to me: "And are you not a plain man? Yet you are as concerned as if you were a possessor of wealth!"
I said: “lf my soul will hearken to me, and its heart agrees with me, it will be happy. I will cause it to reach the West, like one who is in his pyramid, and at whose burial there has stood a survivor. I shall drink from the river whose water is drawn, and look down on the souls that are unsatisfied!"
Then my soul opened its mouth to me, to answer what I had said: “If you are calling burial to mind, that is a distress of the heart; it is a bringing of tears, it is making a man sorrowful. It is haling a man from his house and throwing him upon the hill. Never shall you go up above to behold the sun. They who built in granite and fashioned pyramids--fine things of good work--when the builders have become gods, offering tables are as empty as those of the wretches who die on the riverbank--part of their bodies held by the water and part by the heat of the sun, and the fish of the bank hold converse with them! Listen, then, to me; lo it is good to listen to people! Follow the happy day and forget care!
"Take the case of a poor man who plows his field and then loads his harvest on to a boat and hurries to tow the boat since his feast day approaches. He sees a flood coming on in the night, and keeps vigil when Ra goes down. He comes forth with his wife, but his children perish upon the water, dangerous with crocodiles in the night. At last he sits down, when he can regain his voice and says: ‘I do not weep for that girl; there is no coming forth into the West for her. I am troubled for her children that are broken in the egg, that behold the face of the crocodile-god before they had lived.’"
Then I opened my mouth to my soul that I might answer what it had said:
as when one goes out after an illness.
"Death is in my sight today
as the odor of myrrh,
as when sitting under sail on a breezy day.
"Death is in my sight today
as the odor of lotus flowers.
as when sitting on the riverbank getting drunk.
"Death is in my sight today
as a well trodden path.
as when a man returns home to his house from war.
"Death is in my sight today
as a clearing of the sky.
as a man discerning what he knew not.
"Death is in my sight today
as when a man longs to see his home again
after he has spent many years in captivity.
"Nay, but he who is Yonder
will be as a living god,
inflicting punishment for evil upon him who does it.
"Nay, but he who is Yonder
will stand in the bark of the Sun-god
and will assign the choicest things therein to the temples.
“Nay, but he who is Yonder
will be a man of knowledge.
not hindered from petitioning Ra when he speaks.”
This is what my soul said to me: "Set aside lamentation, you who are mine, my brother! Although offered up on the brazier, still you shall cling to life, as you say. Whether I remain here if you reject the West, or whether you reach the West and your body is joined with the earth, I will alight after you go to rest. Then we shall make an abode together!"
The Admonitions of Ipuwer
Ah, but the face is pale, the bowman is ready. The plowman goes to plow with his shield. The wrongdoer is everywhere. There is no man of yesterday!
Ah, but the Nile is in flood, yet no one plows. Doorkeepers say: "Let us go and plunder!"
Ah, but the washerman refuses to carry his load. Birdcatchers have made themselves ready for battle. A man looks upon his son as an enemy!
Ah, but the virtuous man goes in mourning because of what has happened in the land. Foreigners have become people everywhere. Every man says: "We know not what has happened throughout the land!"
Ah, but women are barren, and there is no conception. Khnum fashions men no more because of the condition of the land!
Ah, but paupers now possess fine things. He who once made for himself no sandals now possesses riches!
Ah, but the heart is violent. Plague stalks through the land, and blood is everywhere!
Ah, but many dead men are buried in the river. The stream is a sepulcher, and the Pure Place is become a stream!
Ah, but the highborn are full of lamentations, and the paupers are full of joy. Every town says: “Let us drive out the powerful from our midst!”
Ah, but men look like gem-birds. Squalor is throughout the land. There is none whose clothes are white in these times!
Ah, but the land turns round as does a potter's wheel. The robber possesses riches!
Ah, but the river is blood. If a man drinks thereof, he rejects it as human and thirsts for water!
Ah, but the crocodiles are glutted with what they have carried off. Men go to them of their own accord!
Ah, but men are few. He that lays his brother in the ground is everywhere to be seen!
Ah, but the son of the highborn is no longer to be recognized. The child of his lady is become the son of his handmaid!
Ah, but the Red Land is spread abroad throughout the country. The nomes are destroyed. The foreigners from without are come into Egypt. There are no people anywhere!
Ah, but gold and lapis lazuli, silver and turquoise, carnelian and bronze are hung about the necks of slave girls. But noble ladies wander through the land, and mistresses of houses say: "Would that we had something to eat!"
Ah, but laughter has perished and is no longer made. It is grief that walks through the land, mingled with lamentations!
Ah, but great and small say: “I wish I were dead!” Little children say: "He ought never to have caused me to live!"
Ah, but they who were in the Pure Place, they are cast forth upon the high ground. The secret of the embalmers lies open!"
Ah, but that has perished which was still seen yesterday. The land is left to its weariness, as when one has pulled up the flax!
Ah, but the entire Delta is no longer hidden. The confidence of the North Land is now a trodden road. What is one to do? The inaccessible place belongs now to them who knew it not as to them who know it, and strangers are versed in the crafts of the Delta!
Ah, but the magistrates are hungry and suffer need. The irascible man says: “If I knew where the god is, I would make offering to him!”
Ah, but all cattle, their hearts weep. The herds lament because of the state of the land!
Ah, but the children of princes, men dash them against the walls. The children that have been fervently desired, they are laid upon the high ground. Khnum complains because of his weariness!
Ah, but insolence has come to all men throughout the land. A man slays his brother by the same mother!
Ah, but the roads are ambushed and the streets are watched. Men sit in the bushes until the benighted traveler comes in order to take his load from him. What is upon him is stolen. He gets blows of the stick to smell, and is slain wrongfully!
Ah, but that has perished which was still seen yesterday, and the land is left over to its weariness. Would that there might be an end to men, no conception, no birth! O that the earth would cease from noise and strife be no more!
Ah, but grain has perished everywhere. People are stripped of clothing, perfume, and oil. Everyone says: “There is no more!” The storehouse is bare, and he that kept it lies stretched out on the ground. Would that I had lifted up my voice at that moment, that it might have saved me from the pain in which I am!
Ah, but the splendid judgment hall, its writings are taken away; its secret place is laid bare!
Ah, but magic spells are divulged and are now ineffectual, for the people have them in mind!
Ah, but the public offices are opened, and their lists are taken away. Serfs become lords of serfs. Woe is me because of the misery in such a time!
Ah, but the scribes of the grain sacks, their writings are destroyed. That whereon Egypt lives is a “When I come, it's brought me!”
Ah, but the laws of the judgment hall are placed in the vestibule. Yea, men walk upon them in the streets and the rabble tear them up in alleys!
Ah, but they who builded tombs have become field laborers, and they who were in the god's bark are yoked together. Priests are buried with their produce, and princes are embalmed with their resin, as far as the land of Keftiu (Crete; in Old Testament Caphtor), and now they come no more!
Ah, but Elephantine and the Thinite nome and Upper Egypt, they pay taxes no more by reason of the unrest. To what purpose is a treasury without its revenues? But glad is the heart of the king when the truth comes to him! What can we do about it? All goes to ruin!
Ah, but the rabble have attained to the condition of the Divine Ennead! That procedure of the House of the Thirty is divulged!
Ah, but the great judgment hall is a “go out, that he may come in.” The rabble go and come in the Great Houses!
Ah, but the children of magistrates are thrown on to the streets. He that has knowledge says: "Yea." The fool says: "Nay." He that has no knowledge to him it seems good!
Behold, the fire mounts up on high! Its burning goes forth against the enemies of the land!
Behold, a thing has been done which happened not aforetime; it has come to this that the king has been taken away by the rabble!
Behold, he that was buried as a falcon lies only on a bier. What the pyramid hid will become empty!
Behold, it has come to this, that the land is despoiled of kingship by a few foolish men!
Behold, it is come to this, that men display enmity against the uraeus-serpent, the defender of Ra, which caused the Two Lands to be in peace!
Behold, the secret of the land, whose limits were unknown, is divulged. The Residence is overturned in an hour.
Behold, this has happened among men: he that could not build himself a chamber now possesses a walled enclosure!
Behold, ladies lie on mats, and magistrates in the storehouse. He that could not sleep on a board now possesses a bed!
Behold, the rich man sleeps thirsty. He that once begged him for his dregs now has beer that bowls one over!
Behold, he who had no knowledge of harp playing now possesses a harp. He to whom one never sang now praises the goddess of music!
Behold, he who had nothing now possesses wealth. The noble man praises him!
Behold, the poor of the land have now become rich. He who possessed something is now one who has nothing!
Behold, he who had no bread now owns a barn. That wherewith his storehouse is provided is the property of another!
Behold, the bald head that used no oil now owns jars of pleasant myrrh!
Behold, she who had no box now possesses a coffer. She who looked at her face in the water now owns a mirror!
Behold, he who slept unwed now finds women galore!
Behold, a man is happy when he just eats his food: "Spend your possessions in joy and without holding yourself back! It is good for a man to eat his food, which the god whom he praises assigns to him!"
Behold, he who knew nothing of his god now makes offering to him with the incense of another!
Behold, noble and great ladies, who possessed goodly things, their children are given to the beds (prostitutes)!
Behold, no office is any longer in its right place; they are as a frightened herd without herdsmen!
Behold, the cattle rove about and there is none who cares for them. Each man fetches for himself therefrom and brands it with his name!
Behold, a man is slain beside his brother. He leaves him in the lurch in order to rescue himself!
Behold, he who had no yoke of oxen now owns barns. He who fetched for himself corn-doles now himself causes them to he dispensed!
Behold, he who had no slaves now owns serfs. He who was a notable now himself executes behests!
Behold, no craftsman works. The enemy despoils the land of its crafts!
Behold, the mighty ones of the land, no one reports to them the condition of the people. All goes to ruin!
Remember how fumigation is made with incense, and water offered from an ewer in the early morning!
Remember how fat geese are brought and geese and duck and the divine offering made to the gods!
Remember how natron is chewed, and white bread prepared on the day the head is moistened (purification ritual)!
Remember how flagstaffs are erected and offering-slabs carved, how the priest purifies the temples and the house of the god is whitened like milk, how the Horizon is perfumed and the offering-bread perpetuated!
Remember how the ritual regulations are observed, and the sacred days adjusted, and how bad priests are removed!
It is said: Pharaoh is the herdsman of all men. No evil is in his heart. Though his herd is diminished, Yet he has spent the day in order to tend them. Ah, that he had perceived their nature in the first generation! Then he would have smitten down evil: he would have stretched forth the arm against it, and destroyed the seed thereof and their inheritance! But men always desire to produce offspring, and seed issues from the women, although oppression is on every side. There is no pilot in their time! Where is he today? Does he sleep, then? Behold his might is not seen. When we were thrown into mourning, I found you not!
True command, intelligent perception, and true justice are with you, but it is confusion which you set throughout the land, together with the noise of men who contend. If three men journey upon a road, they are found to be two men; the greater number slays the lesser. Is there a herdsman who loves death?
But you will command that a reply be made! Lies are told you, the land is tinder, mankind is destroyed, and all these years are confusion. A man is slain even on his roof, when he is on the watch on the boundary house. Only if he be strong and save himself does he remain alive. If one walk on the road, what is upon him is stolen. He gets blows of the stick to smell and is slain wrongfully.
Would that you might taste some of these miseries yourself! Then would you say. . .
It is good, however, when ships sail upstream!
It is good, however, when the net is drawn in and the birds are made fast!
It is good, however, when the hands of men build pyramids and dig canals and make groves of trees for the gods!
It is good, however, when men are drunken, and when they drink miyet and are glad of heart!
It is good, however, when rejoicing is in men's mouths, and the nobles of the district stand and look on at the jubilation in their houses, clad in fine raiment!
It is good, however, when beds are stuffed and the headrests of the nobles are protected with amulets, and every man's wish is satisfied with a bed in the shade, behind a closed door, and he need not sleep in the bushes!
This is what Ipuwer said when he answered the majesty of the Lord of All: "To be ignorant of it is something that is pleasant to the heart. You have done what is good in their hearts, you have kept, alive the people among them, but they still cover their faces for fear of the morrow.
"There was once a man who was old and stood in the presence of death and his son was still a child and without understanding. . . and opened not yet his mouth to speak unto you. You took him away through a deathly doom. . . ."
(The remaining two columns of the papyrus are quite fragmentary.)
The Prophecy of Nefer-Rohu Now it happened when the Majesty of King Seneferu, True of Voice, was beneficent king in this whole land--on one of these days it came to pass that the officials of the Residence entered into the Great House to offer greeting to the king, and they came forth again that they might offer further greeting, as was their daily observance. Then said His Majesty to the treasurer who was at his side: "Go and bring to me the officials of the Residence who have gone forth hence today in order to offer greeting."
They were led in unto him forthwith and lay on their bellies in the presence of His Majesty a second time. And His Majesty said unto them: "My friends, I have caused you to be summoned, in order that you may seek out for me a son of yours who has understanding, or a brother of yours who excels, or a friend of yours who has performed some noble act, one who will speak to me some fine words, choice speeches, in hearing which My Majesty may find diversion.”
They said before His Majesty: "There is a chief lector-priest (keeper of sacred scrolls) of Bastet, (Cat goddess of magic spells), O Sovereign our Lord, named Nefer-Rohu; he is a commoner, valiant of arm, and a scribe excellent of his fingers; he is a lordly person, who is richer than any of his equals. Oh that he might see Your Majesty!"
Then said His Majesty: "Go and bring him to me!" And he was led in unto him forthwith, and he laid himself on his belly in the presence of His Majesty. Then said His Majesty: "Come now, Nefer-Rohu, my friend, and speak to me some fine words, choice speeches, in hearing which My Majesty may find diversion!"
And the lector-priest Nefer-Rohu said: "Shall it be of that which has happened, or of that which is going to happen, O Sovereign my Lord?" Said His Majesty: "Nay, of that which is going to happen. If anything has happened even today, pass it by!"
Then the king stretched out his hand to the box of writing materials, and took him a scroll and a pen-and-ink case, and then he put it in writing.
What was spoken by the-lector-priest Nefer-Rohu, the wise man of the East, he who belongs to Bastet at her appearances, the child of the nome of Heliopolis, while he brooded over that which would come to pass in the land, and thought of the condition of the East, when the Asiatics would come in their might, and would afflict the hearts of the harvesters and take away "their yokes of cattle when plowing.
He said: "Rise, O my heart, and bewail this land whence you are sprung! Rest not; behold, it lies before your face: rise up against that which is before you! The great ones are in the same condition as the land. That which has been made is as if it never had been made, and Ra must begin to found the land anew. The whole land has perished, there is nothing left; not even the black of the nail survives of what should be there!"
“The land is ruined; no one concerns himself about it any more--no one speaks, and no eye weeps. How fares this land? The sun is veiled, and will not shine that men may see. None can live when the storm veils it; all men are dulled through want of it.
“The river of Egypt is empty, and men cross over the water on foot. Men shall search for water upon which the boats may sail; its road has become a bank, and the bank has become water. The south wind will oppose the north wind; the sky will no longer be of a single wind!
“A foreign bird will be born in the marshes of the Delta, having made its nest at the side of people." And people will allow it to approach in their distress!
“Indeed those good things are ruined, the fish ponds which were resplendent with catches of fish and wild fowl. All good things have passed away, and the land is laid low by reason of that food of the Asiatics who traverse the land!
“Foes are in the East; Asiatics have come down into Egypt and there is no helper who hears! One will be attacked by night, and men shall force their way into houses. Sleep shall be banished from mine eyes, and I will lie there and say: 'I am awake!'
“The wild beasts of the desert shall drink from the rivers of Egypt, that they may cool themselves upon their banks, for there is none to scare them away! The land is seized and taken, and none knows what the issue will be--it is hidden, and one cannot say, see, or hear it!
“I show you the land in lamentation and distress. That which never happened before has happened. Men shall take up weapons of war, that the land may live on uproar. Men shall fashion arrows of bronze, that they may ask bread for blood. Men will laugh with the laughter of sickness. Men will not weep because of death, men will not sleep hungry because of death; a man's heart shall follow after himself alone!
“Men do not make mourning today, for the heart is entirely averted from it. One remains seated in his corner, thinking of himself alone while one slays another! I show you the son as an enemy and the brother as adversary, and a man murdering his own father!
“Every mouth is full of 'Love me!’ and all good things have departed. The land is destroyed; that which was made is as though it had not been made. Men take the goods of a goodly man and give them to one from without. I show you the possessor in deprivation, and the outsider contented. He whose granary was filled for him is now denuded.
“And hatred reigns among the townsmen; the mouth that speaks is brought to silence. If a speech is answered, the hand reaches out with a stick, and people have to say 'Don't kill him!' A thing spoken is as fire from the heart, and what a mouth utters is not endured!
“The land is diminished, but its governors are multiplied. The field is bare, but the taxes are great. Little is the corn but great is the tax measure, and it is measured to overflowing!
“The sun separates himself from men; he rises but for an hour! None will know that it is midday since his shadow will not be distinguished. No face will be bright that beholds him, and the eyes will not be moistened with water. He will be in the sky as the moon, although he deviates not from his former course, and his rays are in men's faces after his former wise!
“I show you the land in lamentation and distress. He who was weak of arm now has a strong one. Men salute him who formerly saluted others. I show you the undermost turned to the uppermost. Men live in the cemeteries. Paupers will acquire riches, and nothings eat the offering-bread. The nome of Heliopolis will no longer be the land of birthplace of every god!
“Then, indeed, shall a king come from the South--Ameni, True of Voice, is his name (Pharaoh Amen-em-hat). He is the son of a woman of Nubia, and born in Upper Egypt. He shall receive the White Crown, and wear the Red Crown. He shall unite the Two Powerful Ones; he shall delight the Two Lords with what they love. That which encircles the fields shall be in his grasp, and the oar in his hand!
“Rejoice, O people of his time! The son of a man of degree will make himself a name for all eternity. They who are disposed toward evil and devise hostility, they have subdued their mouthings for fear of him! The Asiatics shall fall before his slaughter and the Libyans shall fall before his flame. His enemies will succumb before his wrath, and the rebels to his might. The uraeus-serpent that is on his brow, it quells for him the traitors!
“There shall be built the Wall of the Ruler (fortresses on the Egyptian border), and the Asiatics shall not again be suffered to go down into Egypt. They shall again beg for water as they used to do, that they may be able to give to their cattle to drink.
“And Justice shall come again to its place, and Iniquity will have been cast forth. He will rejoice who shall behold this, and who shall be in the service of the king!
“A man of learning shall pour out water for me, when he sees that what I have spoken is fulfilled!"