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  • Chrocus › Who Was
  • Cicero › Who Was
  • Prayer to Thoth for Skill in Writing › Origins

Ancient civilizations › Historical places, and their characters

Chrocus › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Joshua J. Mark
published on 23 September 2014
Osterby Man (Bullenwächter)
Chrocus (also known as Crocus) was a king of the Alemanni who invaded Roman Gaul in c. 256 CE and wreaked massive destruction, until he was defeated by the Roman legions at Arles and then executed. Or he was a king of the Alemanni who served Rome and supported Constantine the Great (reigned 306-337 CE) in his struggle to become sole emperor the Roman Empire. According to yet another version, he was a Vandal warlord who, after conquering Germania, invaded Gauland destroyed every city he encountered, until he was stopped by the Romans at Arles and, after being made to view the misery he had wrought, was killed. He lived in either c. 256 CE, c. 306 CE, or c. 406 CE, depending upon the source one accepts as valid. There are three primary sources for King Chrocus and his involvement with Rome: The History of the Franksby Gregory of Tours (written between 580-594 CE), The Chronicle of Fredegar (written 7th century CE), and The Epitome of Caesaribus (written late 4th century). All three sources present a different view of Chrocus of the Alemanni. Of these three, Gregory's work is usually accepted as the most reliable concerning Chrocus, but it has been noted that Gregory was not writing objective history; rather, he was using historical events to drive home important theological lessons. The historian and scholar Earnest Brehaut, in the introduction to his 1916 CE translation of Gregory's work, writes:
The History of the Franks must not be looked upon as a secular history. The old title, Ecclesiastical History of the Franks, is a better one descriptively. It is written not from the point of view of the Gallo-Roman or the Frank, but solely from that of the churchman, almost that of the bishop. Gregory does not take a tone of loyalty to the Frankish kings, much less of inferiority. His attitude toward them is cold, unless they are zealous supporters of the church, and he speaks with the utmost disgust of their civil wars which seemed to him absolute madness in view of the greater war between the good and evil supernatural powers (iii).

THE REAL CHROCUS, KING OF THE ALEMANNI, MAY NEVER BE KNOWN. HE IS OF INTEREST TODAY BECAUSE HE PRESENTS SUCH AN EXCELLENT EXAMPLE OF HOW HISTORY IS RECORDED AND WHAT MAKES AN HISTORICAL EVENT "TRUE" OR "NOT TRUE".

In Gregory's view, Chrocus was the embodiment of the forces of evil. His wanton destruction of Gaul and murder of Christians was finally halted by the civilized Romans at Arles, where he was captured and received "just punishment" for his crimes; he was tortured and then executed or, as Gregory writes, "killed with a sword." Prior to his defeat at Arles, however, Chrocus sacked numerous cities, destroyed churches, and slaughtered the inhabitants of Gaul indiscriminately. According to Fredegar's account, "Not a single city or fortification was saved in Gaul", and Gregory writes that Chrocus' aim was nothing less than "razing to the ground all the buildings constructed in ancient times." Many of these buildings had been temples to pagan gods but were now churches and, in his rampage, he also made martyrs of many bishops and priests of the church.

GREGORY OF TOURS' VERSION OF CHROCUS

Gregory (c. 538-594 CE) was the Bishop of Tours and a very devout Christian, and his works bear the stamp of his faith. His work focuses on the cunning of King Chrocus and his destruction of the sanctuaries in Gaul, most notably the Vasso Galate, a former temple to Mercury, which was at that time an important church. His passage on Chrocus reads:
Valerian and Galienus received the Roman imperial power in the twenty-seventh place, and set on foot a cruel persecution of the Christians. At that time Cornelius brought fame to Rome by his happy death, and Cyprian to Carthage. In their time also Chrocus the famous king of the Alemanni raised an army and overran the Gauls.This Chrocus is said to have been very arrogant. And when he had committed a great many crimes he gathered the tribe of the Alemanni, as we have stated, by the advice, it is said, of his wicked mother, and overran the whole of the Gauls, and destroyed from their foundations all the temples which had been built in ancient times.And coming to Clermont he set on fire, overthrew, and destroyed that shrine which they call Vasso Galatae in the Gallic tongue. It had been built and made strong with wonderful skill. And its wall was double, for on the inside it was built of small stone and on the outside of squared blocks. The wall had a thickness of thirty feet. It was adorned on the inside with marble and mosaics. The pavement of the temple was also of marble and its roof above was of lead (I, 32).
Gregory's account thus places the invasion of the Alemanni under Chrocus at some point during the reigns of Valerian and Galienus (253-258 CE) usually dated to c. 256 CE. After destroying the magnificent temple of the Vasso Galatae, he continued cutting a swath of destruction through the land, until he was stopped at Arles, where his forces were defeated by the Romans, and he was captured and executed. This version of Chrocus' invasion is considered the most reliable because, even though Gregory was using history to make theological points, he seems to have had access to primary documents no longer extant and, within the scope of his work, made good use of them.
Vasso Galate (Temple to Mercury),

Vasso Galate (Temple to Mercury),

CHROCUS IN FREDEGAR'S CHRONICLE

The author of The Chronicle of Fredegar is unknown, but it is clear he used Gregory's work as the basis for his passages on Chrocus and omitted those details that he considered unnecessarily moralistic, confining, or personally distasteful. Whether an individual named "Fredegar" actually existed is debated but, based upon references in his work, it is thought the writer (or writers) lived in the region associated with the Alemanni. He therefore changed Chrocus' nationality from that of Alemanni to Vandal in order to disassociate the conqueror and his destruction of Germania and Gaul from his own people. Following Gregory's main narrative, he also focuses on Chrocus' destructive invasion and the decimation of cities:
There, with cunning, he crossed a bridge over the Rhine at Mainz and first destroyed that city and killed its inhabitants and then besieged all the cities in Germania. When he arrived in Metz, as a divine sign the town wall collapsed at night and the town was taken by the Vandals. However, the people of Trier fled to the city's arena, which they had fortified, and were saved. After that Chrocus invaded all of Gaul with the Vandals, Suevs, and Alans and destroyed a number of cities through siege and others through cunning. Not a single city or fortification was saved in Gaul. When he besieged Arles, Chrocus was captured by a certain soldier named Marius and put in chains. As punishment, he was then led through all the cities that he had destroyed and his impious life was put to an end. Trasamundus succeeded him as ruler (II, 60, as cited in Goeing, 76-77).
Fredegar makes a number of interesting changes to Gregory's narrative so that, in the words of the historian Schwelder, he "seems to have had a completely different Chrocus in mind than Gregory" (Goeing, 79). In Fredegar's account, Chrocus is a Vandal chieftain and the invasion takes place c. 406 CE. In 406 CE the Vandals were driven into Gaul by the invading Hunsand, in 409 CE, they began to settle in Iberia. Fredegar would have been acquainted with the Vandal invasion and so perhaps conflated the Chrocus of the Alemanni with a later Vandal chieftain or, as previously noted, simply did not want Chrocus associated with the Alemanni. It is also possible that a 3rd century CE invasion of Gaul by the Alemanni was completely unknown to Fredegar, and he thought Gregory must have meant the 406 CE incursion by the Vandals. Schwelder writes, "To Fredegar, the passage in Gregory's work, which attributes Chrocus to the years 253-258, seemed implausible since it did not fit into his chronological scheme of reference - in Fredegar's eyes, the bishop of Tours must have erred and he silently corrected him" (Goeing, 79). Other accounts of the Vandal invasion also cite a Chrocus as leader, but these come after Fredegar and no doubt relied on him as a source. It is generally accepted that the Chrocus who invaded Gaul was an Alemanni warlord whose people called him their king and was not a member of the Germanic tribe known as the Vandals. It is further accepted that Chrocus' invasion took place c. 256 CE and not in 406-409 CE.
Central Europe 5th century CE

Central Europe 5th century CE

THE EPITOME OF CAESARIBUS AND CHROCUS

The Epitome of Caesaribus was attributed to the Roman historian Aurelius Victor (c. 320-390 CE) but is now recognized to have been written by an anonymous author who was most likely pagan (or at least held a dim view of Christianity and Christians) in the late 4th century CE. This author places King Chrocus as the leader of an Alemanni unit known as the Regii ("of the king") in the Roman army who, in 306 CE, supports Constantine 's ascension as emperor. Schwelder has noted that, since the author of the Epitome was hostile to Christianity, he could have purposefully used the figure of Chrocus from the past - an Alemanni king associated with destruction and cruelty - to malign the Christian emperor and that "the passage could therefore be a later fabrication" (Goeing, 81). It is possible that this later Chrocus was a different leader of the Alemanni than the Chrocus who invaded Gaul, but this is unlikely. There is no other source that makes mention of a Chrocus of the Alemanni associated with Constantine the Great and, with a figure of such looming significance as Constantine, one would expect more information on a man who assisted in his rise to power.
The Epitome of Caesaribus consists of short biographies of Roman rulers from Augustus to Theodosius I which highlight important moments of their reigns, so it is possible that the anonymous writer or writers simply did not have time or space to elaborate on the role Chrocus is said to have played in Constantine's ascension. Even so, the fact that no other source mentions a Chrocus in such an association has led scholars, Schwelder among them, to conclude that the Chrocus character in the Constantine biography is a fiction and was most likely added to discredit Constantine's reputation by suggesting he was supported by someone as disreputable as Chrocus. As the literate audience would have been largely Christian by the end of the 4th century CE, however, the intended effect was probably never realized. Even those Christians who would have recognized the name of Chrocus from 200 years before would hardly have been upset that the first Christian emperor was aided by a murderous barbarian; this would have simply been interpreted as part of God's grand design to bring good from whatever source he saw fit. Later sources rely on the Epitome of Caesaribus for their version of Chrocus' role in Constantine's ascension and, in the modern day, Chrocus continues to be cited as an Alemanni king and commander in the Roman army who supported Constantine, even though it is likely no such commander existed.

CONCLUSION

The real Chrocus, King of the Alemanni, may never be known. In the modern day he is of interest not so much because of what he did but because he presents such an excellent example of how history is recorded and what makes an historical event "true" or "not true". Schwelder writes:
Taking all three versions of Chrocus into account, one can see that Chrocus was a suitable, mouldable figure who could be fitted into a line of argument to strengthen different views. The historical Chrocus was intended to be forgotten; the literary Chrocus was adapted and included to heighten the effect in different master narratives (Goeing, 81).
The best one seems to be able to say is that once there was an Alemanni king named Chrocus who invaded Gaul and lay waste to the cities and churches he found there before he met defeat and was executed by the Romans. His motivation for the invasion is unknown, and even the period in which he lived and reigned is debated. As the sub-title of the Anja-Sylvia Goeing text phrases it, history consists of what is kept and what is discarded and, in the case of King Chrocus - as, no doubt, with many other people and events - those events that did not fit the historian's world view and narrative were discarded; the result is history.

Cicero › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by James Lloyd
published on 15 January 2013
Cicero (Mary Harrsch (Photographed at the Capitoline Museum))
Marcus Tullius Cicero was a Roman orator, statesman and writer. He was born on the 6th January 106 BCE at either Arpinum or Sora, 70 miles south-east of Rome, in the Volscian mountains. His father was an affluent eques and the family was distantly related to Gaius Marius. He is not to be confused with his son (of the same name) or Quintus Tullius Cicero(his younger brother). Cicero died on the 7th December 43 BCE, trying to escape Rome by sea.

LIFE

Cicero was sent to Rome to study law under the Scaevolas, who were the equivalent Ciceros of their day, and he also studied philosophy under Philo, who had been head of the Academy at Athens and also the stoic Diodotus. However, Cicero's early life was not one that was sheltered behind books and learning, and at the age of 17 he served in the Social war under Pompey the Great ’s father. It was during this period of political upheaval in Rome, the 80s BCE, that Cicero finished his formal education.
However, that is not to say that Cicero stopped his learnings! In 79 BCE he left Rome for two years abroad, with the aim of improving his health and studying further. In Athens he was taught by masterful Greek rhetoricians and philosophers, and it was in Athens that he met another Roman student, Titus Pomponius Atticus. Atticus went on to be Cicero's lifelong friend and correspondent. Whilst in Rhodes Cicero went to the famous Posidonius. It was during this time that Cicero married his first wife, Terentia, and after he had returned to Rome in 77 BCE he was voted quaestor at the minimum age of 30; things were seemingly progressing quickly! But after having spent his quaestorship at Lilybaeum, he never gladly left Rome again. As such his refusal of provincial governorships led to Cicero concentrating on legal work, through which he prospered both monetarily and politically. A good example of this is the In Verrem, this speech has a message of interest that is relevant to current issues of cultural heritage and war. In 69 BCE Cicero was aedile and in 66 BCE Cicero became praetor, again, at the minimum age, which was 40.

IT WOULD BE VERY DIFFICULT TO OVERESTIMATE THE INFLUENCE THAT CICERO HAS HAD ON WESTERN LITERATURE AND CULTURE.

Between 66 and 63 BCE Cicero's political views became more conservative, especially in contrast to the social reforms being proposed by Julius Caesar, Gaius Antonius, and Catiline. Cicero's success is born by the fact that he received the consulship of 63- 62 BCE, once again, at the minimum age (42) and that he was consul prior, the consul who had won by the most votes, and further to this, he was also a novus homo. It was during this time that Cicero successfully exposed the Catalinian revolution, and under the power of the Senatus Consultum Ultimum put to death the revolutionaries who had survived up until that point. This led to Marcus Cato calling Cicero pater patriase, 'father of his country'.
It was at the end of 62 BCE that Cicero first kindled Clodius' hatred against him; after Cicero's evidence had foiled Clodius' alibi in a case which accused him of dressing as a woman to gain entrance to the Bona Dea, a mystery, female-only event.This case came back to haunt Cicero in 58 BCE, when Clodius, having been voted tribune of the people, introduced a retrospective law that outlawed any Roman who had put a Roman citizen to death without a trial. It is fairly certain that this law related specifically to Cicero's actions during the Catalinian uprising five year before, when the revolutionaries had been killed without trial, due to the urgency with which the revolt needed to be put down. In March 58 BCE Cicero left Rome in exile. Any doubt over some sort of personal motive by Clodius is dispelled by the fact that he then went on to make a decree that specifically named and exiled Cicero and then confiscated his property on the Palatine Hill, which was then destroyed.However, the exile was short lived. Pompey, aided by the tribune Milo, pushed for a law of the people that would recall Cicero; the law was passed on 4th August 57 BCE.
Cicero Denounces Catiline

Cicero Denounces Catiline

Cicero had never been friendly towards the first triumvirate, specifically Julius Caesar and his radicalising policies. Despite this, Caesar had always been fairly cordial to Cicero, and seemingly, when the first triumvirate was originally founded, had made suggestions to Cicero with the possible view to include him in the alliance; it was Cicero's principles that averted any such eventuality; he was unwilling to go into any political relationship with someone who's views were so opposed to his own.In 56 BCE this sentiment can still be seen in letters to his friends which express how his pride had been crushed after having to accept the political situation (the first triumvirate had been renewed in April 56 BCE). As the politics of Republican Rome worsened in the 50s BCE Cicero turned to writing philosophy and rhetoric, perhaps as a way of escaping the worsened situations that he had to deal with. In 55 BCE Cicero wrote the De oratore, three books on rhetoric. In 54 BCE Cicero was further insulted by being bided by the triumvirs to defend those who were his enemies, Vatinus and Gabinius ( the Pro Vatiniuswas succesful but the Pro Gabinius was unsucessful), and he was devastated when his defence of Milo, the man who had been vital in Cicero's return to Rome, failed, and Milo was sent into exile. There was only slight solace for Cicero when he was elected augur in 53 BCE.
From 51- 50 BCE Cicero was under duty to govern the province of Cilicia, when he arrived back at Rome, the city was on the edge of civil war, and when it finally toppled into that abyss, Cicero left the city once more. It was only in 47 BCE when Caesar and Pompey had finally settled their differences that he thought it safe to return to the city. However, things did not exactly get better for him; this time it was for private, rather than public, reasons. In 46 BCE Cicero divorced his wife Terentia, whom he had been married to for almost thirty years and then married Publilia, who had been his ward, shortly afterwards. The next year grief struck Cicero when his daughter Tullia died, and the lack of sympathy that his second wife showed led to her also being divorced. Matters were made worse for Cicero by the fact that it was becoming ever more apparent that Caesar was not going to reinstitute the republican constitution. Cicero then turned to writing, composing some of his greatest works, since his political career could not last; he had supported what was in the end a constitution that did not succeed. In 45 BCE Cicero composed the Consolatio, on the deaths of great men, and the Hortensius, which is a plea to study philosophy. A now lost panegyric to Cato was also written in this year, which Caesar himself replied to with the Anticato (again, lost). With the murder of Caesar in 44 BCE, there was once again great political upheaval in Rome, with the beginnings of Imperial Rome in the making, and it was this that eventually led to the events of Cicero's execution.
When the second triumvirate had come into action between Octavian, Lepidus and Antony, as a result of Cicero's propaganda against Antony in the form of his Philippics, Cicero's name was on the first list of people that Antony had put down for proscriptions. As Cicero tried to escape the inevitable he was caught by Antony's men and boldly accepted his execution. Both his hands and head were put on display on the Rostra in Rome; a grim ending to a brilliant man's life that emphasises the brutality of the politics at end of the Roman Republic.
With the death of Cicero, so began his legacy.

WRITTEN WORKS & LEGACY

It would be very difficult to overestimate the influence that Cicero has had on western literature and culture, and there is one story that perhaps best describes how important Cicero was seen to be, told by Harry J. Leon when discussing the dispute of the neighbouring peoples of Sora and Arpino with regards to claiming their town as Cicero's birthplace:
It is said that the rivalry between the two towns at one time became so keen that the matter had to be settled by a single combat on horseback between champions representing each of the towns. The knight of Arpino by his victory demonstrated conclusively that it was God's judgment that Cicero was a native of Arpinum and it was declared a heresy for anyone to believe otherwise. (Leon)
Whether this story is true or not, it shows just how important Cicero was seen to be, that men might fight over him. Perhaps the most direct way to appreciate Cicero's influence is through the works of his that survive. Only a few of Cicero's many works have been referred to in this definition, and there were many, including letters to friends and family, such as the Epistulae as familiars. Due to Cicero's place in Roman society the letters act as brilliant historical and cultural documents of the period, and help to give an insight into the workings of late Republican Rome outside of the context of the law court. They discuss all sorts of things, from procuring Greek art to dowries, divorces and deaths. Unfortunately, there are no letters for the year, or the year before, Cicero's consulship.

CONCLUSION

Cicero was undoubtedly the greatest orator of his day, and it is credit to him that his first surviving speech was made against Hortensius, who was the greatest orator in Rome until Cicero made his name there. However, it is interesting to note that Cicero, whilst he had been a successful statesman, played no major part in the political turmoil at the end of the Republic, his legacy is very much cultural, especially the contributions that his translations of philosophy had on the development of Latin.To end: as Mrs. Blimber said in Dicken's Dombey and Son, “If I could have known Cicero, and been his friend, and talked with him in his retirement at Tusculum… I could have died contented.”

Prayer to Thoth for Skill in Writing › Origins

Ancient Civilizations

by Joshua J. Mark
published on 17 November 2016
The Prayer to Thoth for Skill in Writing is a literary piece dated to c. 1150 BCE from the latter period of the New Kingdom of Egypt (c. 1570-1069 BCE) in which a young scribe prays for inspiration to Thoth, god of wisdom and writing. The prayer was found among the works of Papyrus Anastasi V, a papyrus scroll discovered at Thebes. The prayer is an interesting glimpse into how the profession of the scribe was viewed by the ancient Egyptians and what one hoped to gain by that occupation.
Papyrus Anastasi V

Papyrus Anastasi V

Writing in ancient Egypt was considered a sacred profession. The Egyptian phrase for their writing system was medu-netjer, "the god's words" which was translated by the Greeks as hieroglyphics ('sacred carvings'). Writing was believed to have been given to humanity by the god Thoth, a deity first appearing in the Predynastic Period in Egypt (c. 6000 - c. 3150 BCE) before writing developed. In his early representations Thoth is a god of wisdom and knowledge, and so it was only natural that once writing developed it would be credited to him.
Thoth's consort was the goddess Seshat (sometimes his wife, sometimes daughter) who preserved all forms of the written word among her many other responsibilities. It was Thoth, however, who inspired writers to do their best and create the works which Seshat would receive in ethereal form and place on the shelves of the library of the gods. The written word, therefore, could make one immortal; not only on earth in the remembrance of what one had created but in the realm of the gods where those works would endure eternally.

SCRIBES IN ANCIENT EGYPT

The scribes who wrote the literature of ancient Egypt - as well as non-literary texts - were highly respected and lived comfortable lives. Men and women could both be scribes, but unless one were nobility or upper class, education was expensive and families who had to choose between educating sons or daughters routinely chose their sons. Historian and Egyptologist Margaret Bunson writes:
Scribes were the literate elite of ancient Egypt who assumed a variety of functions in the various historical periods in government and religious institutions. Some scribes attained high rank and honors and the profession was always esteemed. In one ancient document the life of the scribe is called the "path of the god". Literacy was the prerequisite for any higher secular or religious office. (236)
The Seated Scribe

The Seated Scribe

Training to become a scribe took years of education and hard work in memorizing the over 800 hieroglyphic symbols and practicing writing them correctly. This daunting instruction seems to have deterred and discouraged many from pursuing it, but once one had mastered the art, one was almost guaranteed a very comfortable life. Scribes could become doctors, priests, teachers, or simply take a position in government as a secretary or accountant. Egyptologist Rosalie David writes:
Boys intended for careers as scribes (including doctors and lawyers) or civil servants were sent to temples or centers of administration where they would receive personal tuition from a senior official. In addition to reading, writing, and the study of literature, specialist subjects such as foreign languages for future officials of the diplomatic service were taught. (206)
The relationship between the teachers and the young scribes in ancient Egypt seems to be remarkably similar to the present day. Teachers would recite texts and assign work, lecture and grade work, and students would try as hard as they could to get out of doing any of it. There are numerous complaints recorded by teachers on the lax habits of their students and, as David notes, "their teachers certainly complained about their laziness and drinking bouts" (206). The scribes-in-training needed all the help they could get to master their lessons and relied on the inspiration provided by Thoth when their own ingenuity failed them.

THOTH'S INSPIRATION

The Prayer to Thoth for Skill in Writing may have grown out of the scribal schools as the speaker seems to be young, but this may simply be a literary device. The purpose of the hymn is to invoke Thoth's inspiration in writing, and it is possible that the youthful tone of the speaker is supposed to symbolize the helplessness of any writer struggling to create a worthwhile piece or improve in the craft.

THE SCRIBE'S PROFESSION IS CONSIDERED THE BEST, IT MAKES ONE IMMORTAL, GUARANTEES REMEMBRANCE, & IT ENABLES ONE WITH WISDOM TO OFFER SOUND ADVICE TO THOSE WHO NEED IT.

The power of the scribe and the prestige it bestowed is evident throughout the hymn from the second stanza to the concluding line. The scribe's profession is considered the best, it makes one immortal ("great") and guarantees remembrance, it empowers one to govern others ("in the council of the Thirty"), and it enables one with wisdom to offer sound advice to those who need it.
An interesting line in the hymn alludes to Shay and Renenwetet, Egyptian deities associated with destiny. Shay was the personification of fate and Renenwetet, although originally a goddess of nursing and rearing children, came to be associated with the concept of being able to tell a child's future. When the speaker says, "Shay and Renenwetet are with you," it means that the fates, whom no one could control, were at the service of Thoth whose gift of writing could bend the fates to make one successful. This interpretation is supported by the following lines in which the speaker pledges to be a servant in Thoth's house to learn his skill so that "the multitude of men" will admire the speaker's work and will even encourage their children to follow in the profession.

THE PRAYER & THE SCRIBAL PROFESSION

The prayer is written in hieratic script, found at Thebes sometime prior to c. 1830 CE, and purchased by the British Museum in 1839 CE from the collector Giovanni Anastasi whose name now defines the papyrus scroll it was written on, Anastasi V. The prayer reads:
Come to me, Thoth, O noble Ibis. O god who longs for Khmunu, O dispatch-writer of the Ennead, the great one of Unu. Come to me that you may give advice and make me skillful in your office.
Better is your profession than all professions. It makes men great. He who is skilled in it is found fit to exercise the office of magistrate. I have seen many for whom you have acted and they are in the council of the Thirty, they being strong and powerful through what you have done. You are the one who has given advice. You are the one who has given advice to the motherless man. Shay and Renenwetet are with you. Come to me that you may advise me.
I am the servant of your house. Let me relate your prowess in whatever land I am. Then the multitude of men shall say "How great are the things that Thoth has done." Then they shall come with their children to brand them with your profession, a calling good to the Lord of Victory. Joyful is the one who has exercised it. (Lewis, 255)
The concluding line about the joy a writer experiences in the craft is shared by other ancient Egyptian works, most notably The Satire on the Trades from the Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 BCE) and the work commonly referred to as A Schoolbook or Be a Scribe from the Papyrus Lansing of the New Kingdom of Egypt.
The Satire on the Trades is a monologue delivered by a father to his son as they make their way to the school where the boy is to be enrolled. The father encourages his son to embrace learning and to "set your heart on books" because the profession of the scribe is better than any other occupation and is "the greatest of all callings/There's none like it in the land" (Lichtheim, 185). The life of the scribe is contrasted with the lives of others in such jobs as carpenter, barber, reed-cutter, potter, farmer, etc. and how difficult those jobs are, how hard a life those people endure.
Papyrus Lansing

Papyrus Lansing

The scribe, on the other hand, enjoys a life of leisure and wealth. As the father tells his son, "no scribe is short of food/And of riches from the palace" (Lichtheim, 191). The father also counsels his son on how to comport himself once he becomes a scribe and what kinds of behavior he should avoid. Although some scholars (Heick, for example) have claimed the piece to be serious literature, most accept it as satire. Egyptologist Miriam Lichtheim, to cite one, writes, "the unrelievedly negative descriptions of the laboring professions are examples of humor in the service of literary satire" (184). As with any satire, however, the piece makes a serious point: the scribe really did have a much higher quality of life than those in other professions.
The work from the Papyrus Lansing, composed hundreds of years later, makes precisely the same point. A Schoolbook is a lecture delivered by a teacher to his student in which he chides the child for being lazy, dull-witted, and obstinate while encouraging him to take his studies seriously. The life of a scribe is again contrasted with other professions which are all found wanting. The scribal profession, the teacher says, is the only one worth pursuing because it leads to a life of leisure, wealth, and honor.
These are not the only works praising the life of the scribe, but they are the best known and most complete. The gift of writing given by Thoth was taken extremely seriously by the ancient Egyptians, and those who chose to make that gift their life's work were rewarded handsomely in material goods, respect of the community, and even immortality. The Prayer to Thoth for Skill in Writing was not just a literary or religious piece venerating Thoth but a sincere portrait of the scribe's desire to create the best work possible in pursuit of the most noble profession.

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