Friday, March 11, 2011

Ancient Egyptian Quote of the Week

I'm having real trouble with words this week. The kind of trouble I generally have well after midnight when... the words... they will... not... come... It could have something to do with being over 8 months pregnant with my 4th child and in a pretty much constant state of extreme discomfort. Yesterday I just stared at my notebook for a while before giving up and taking a nap. And there are many topics I want to post about and start writing posts about but those posts very quickly become nonsensical and... another word... To make a long story short, (Too late!) I'm going to let the Egyptians talk for me today...

Be artful in speech, that you may overcome,
[for] the strong arm [of a king] is (his) tongue.
Words are stronger than any fighting.

This text is from the Instruction for Merikare from the Middle Kingdom which I am quoting from Jan Assmann's book The Search for God in Ancient Egypt. (The brackets signify words that have been restored where there was a gap in the surviving manuscript. This is an extremely old text and much of it was destroyed by time.) The Instruction for Merikare is composed as if a ruler from the turbulent First Intermediate Period is instructing his son, a future king, in the art of ruling.

This quote represents a couple of different aspects of Ancient Egyptian thinking. First is the value of words. This was an idea that permeated Egyptian social, political and religious thought. Egyptians who became scribes were much more powerful and prosperous than those who could not read or write. And Sacred Words were the medium through which humanity was able to reach through to and influence the realm of the Gods. Knowledge and word were the tools to both political and spiritual power in Egypt. Second is the idea that while it was the right of the king to use violence to punish and to uphold peace, it should be used very sparingly. Elsewhere in the Instruction Merikare is reminded that those whom even the king executes will count against him at the Judgement of the Dead.
Fascinating stuff, right?


  1. Relevant words that sound made for today.

    Tossing It Out

  2. Hi Sarah,

    Just wanted to stop by and say thank you for the thoughtful comment you left on my 'Author Vs Author' post. It means a ton when readers (like you) take the time to share. It's really why I write those kinds of posts. I learn something new every time!

    This is extremely cool, btw. It's amazing how words can retain meaning over time. Very profound, thanks for sharing it!



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