Apis › Apollo › The Satire of the Trades » Origins and History

Articles and Definitions › Contents

  • Apis › Who was
  • Apollo › Who was
  • The Satire of the Trades › Origins

Ancient civilizations › Historical places, and their characters

Apis  › Who was

Definition and Origins

Author: Joshua J. Mark

Apis was the most important and highly regarded bull deity of ancient Egypt . His original name in Egyptian was Api, Hapi, or Hep; Apis is the Greek name. He is not, however, associated with the god Hapi/Hep who was linked to the inundation and is depicted as the god of the river.
Worship of the Apis bull is recorded as early as the First Dynasty (c. 3150 - c. 2890 BCE) in ceremonies known as The Running of Apis but veneration of the bull in Egypt precedes this time, and so it is thought that Apis may be the first god of Egypt or, at least, among the first animals associated with divinity and eternity. He was originally a god of fertility, then the herald of the god Ptah but, in time, was considered Ptah incarnate. He was also, in some eras, depicted as the son of Hathorand was closely associated with her goodness and bounty.
There were many bovine deities in ancient Egypt, Hathor simply being the best known, but Apis was the most significant because he represented the core cultural values and understanding of all Egyptians. Each individual deity had their own sphere of influence and power, but Apis represented eternity itself and the harmonious balance of the universe. Other bovine deities such as Bat, Buchis, Hesat, Mnevis, and the Bull of the West, no matter how powerful, would never have the same resonance as the incarnated deity of the Apis bull.
Apis is depicted throughout Egypt's history as a striding bull, usually with a solar disc and uraeus (the sacred serpent which symbolized the king's power) between its horns. In the Late Period of Ancient Egypt (525-332 BCE) he is sometimes depicted as a man with a bull's head, and, in Roman Egypt , this becomes the most popular representation of the god. During the Ptolemaic Period (323-30 BCE), which comes between these two, he was represented in anthropomorphic form as a bearded man in robes, much in the fashion of Greek gods like Zeus , under the name Serapis. The Apis bull was always associated with the king of Egypt and, among its many meanings, represented the strength and vitality of the reigning monarch.


There are no myths related to the origin of Apis, but he is attested to through engravings from the Predynastic Period (c. 6000-3150 BCE). Apis was a god of fertility and primordial power who then came to be associated with the creator god Ptah. At what point he first became linked with Hathor is unclear, but this association is established firmly by the time of the Early Dynastic Period in Egypt (c. 3150 - c. 2613 BCE), during which time the bull was also linked to the power of the king (as evidenced on the Narmer Palette ). The Apis bull was worshiped ceremonially from this era through the Ptolemaic Period and on into the Roman Period consistently no matter which other deities were in vogue at a given time. During different eras of Egypt's history various gods assumed supremacy in different regions, or even nationally, such as Osiris , Isis , Amun , Atum, Ra, but the worship of Apis never dramatically changed.

Painted Coffin Footboard with Apis Bull

In the Early Dynastic Period, the ritual known as The Running of Apis was performed to fertilize the earth. The bull is shown in engravings wearing the menat , the necklace/collar sacred to Hathor. Where the bull ran during this ceremony is unclear, but most likely, it was in the temple precinct at Memphis , the capital of Egypt at the time, which would symbolically fertilize all the land.
The bull was selected, after a careful search, based upon its appearance: it had to be black with a white triangular marking on its forehead, another white marking on its back in the shape of a hawk's or vulture's wings, a white crescent on its side, a separation of the hairs at the end of its tail, (known as the "double hairs") and a lump under its tongue in the shape of a scarab.If a bull were found with all of these characteristics, it was instantly recognized as Apis, of course, but even a few or one would suffice. A white marking in the shape of a triangle on the forehead and the scarab-shaped lump under the tongue were often enough for the bull to be chosen.


Once selected, the bull was brought to Memphis and housed in the temple precinct along with his mother. People would travel to the city from all over the land to worship the animals. Egyptologist Richard H. Wilkinson describes the bull's life in the city:
In Memphis the Apis bull was kept in special quarters just south of the Temple of Ptah where it was adored by worshippers and entertained by its own harem of cows. In addition to its participation in special processions and other religious rituals, the animal was utilized in the delivery of oracles and was regarded as one of the most important oracular sources in Egypt. (172)
On feast days, festivals, and other special events like a king's coronation, the bull was turned loose in a special chamber with different gates leading from it. Symbols and foodstuffs were placed on the other side of the chamber's gates, and people would ask questions regarding the future while the bull was led into the room. Whichever gate the bull chose to go through would provide an answer to the people's questions.
Once the oracle had been given and interpreted by the priests, the bull was allowed to roam at will within the enclosure while the people knelt before it in worship. To the ancient Egyptians, every kind of life was an extension of the divine and all of life was sacred. Although the Egyptian diet did include meat, it was largely vegetarian, and when animals were eaten, thanks were offered for the sacrifice.


Although the people would have known that this particular bull they were seeing would die, they also knew that the spirit which inhabited that bull was eternal; a particular bull's body might die but not the bull itself, not the soul which animated the animal.It was this eternal aspect of the Apis bull which made it so significant at religious festivals and other public gatherings.
One of the most important events the bull participated in was the Heb-Sed Festival, held every thirty years of a king's reign in order to rejuvenate him. The Heb-Sed Festival included a number of physical acts the king had to perform to show he was still fit to serve the gods and the people. The bull, from earliest times, had been associated with the king and monarchial power, and so the Apis bull would walk beside the king as a show of divine approval. At the conclusion of the festival, when the people were invited to a communal feast in honor of the king, the Apis bull would remain in the king's presence as a continual reminder of power and virility.


After a period of 25 years, if the bull suffered no disease or accident, it was ceremonially killed. Certain parts of the animal were eaten by the priests, and then the carcass was taken to a special part of the temple precinct at Memphis to be embalmed. A state of mourning was decreed during which the bull's body was mummified with the same care given a king or noble, and at this same time, priests were sent out to find a replacement. Once the embalming was completed, the mummified bull was conveyed along the sacred way from Memphis to the necropolis at Saqqara where it was buried in the Serapeum, a subterranean series of chambers dug for this purpose under by the fourth son of Ramesses II (1279-1213 BCE), Khaemweset . It was also Khaemweset, who was devoted to preserving history, who ensured the careful recording of the deaths of Apis bulls and date of burial . As High Priest of Ptah at Memphis, Khaemweset would have presided over the funeral ceremonies for the bulls.
Bulls were buried in granite sarcophagi, some of which were ornamented, while the bull's mother - who had also been ritually killed and embalmed - was buried in a similar style in the Iseum catacombs dedicated to Isis. Any calves the bull had produced were likewise killed and embalmed, although their burial place is unknown.
The reason for the bull's death was to join it with Osiris and ritually re-enact the cycle of life, death, and resurrection. The bull had represented the living creator Ptah while it lived and became Osiris when it died and was then referred to as the god Osirapis. Osiris was the first king of Egypt, and the first to die and return to life among all sentient beings, and therefore the ritual act of killing the animal which was so closely associated with kingship and the divine merged the monarchy with resurrection. The death of the Apis bull symbolized the eternal nature of life. Instead of waiting for the bull to die of old age or disease, it was sent to Osiris while still fit, and after it was entombed, a bull looking very much like the last took its place. This new bull would, in fact, house the same eternal spirit as the last since it was believed that the soul of the old bull was reborn in the one that would be chosen to replace it.
It was for this reason that, at the beginning of the Ptolemaic Period, Ptolemy I chose to merge Apis with the Greek god Zeus and others to create his new god Serapis for the multicultural society he was trying to form in Egypt. Ptolemy I built his great Serapeum in Alexandria , nearby the famous library, to elevate his new god as a deity who embraced and welcomed everyone. Apis was not just another god in the Egyptian pantheon but the embodiment of Egyptian values, and once Ptolemy I merged him with Greek divinities, he became the pre-eminent god of the nation who died only to live eternally. The bull's death was not the end of its life but a moment of transition from one state to another, and the ceremony which involved its killing was not considered slaughter but transformation.


This ritual might seem to contradict the value ancient Egyptians placed on individuality and a long, full life but, actually, it illustrated that very concept. The bull would never grow old and die - it was an eternal being - and it would remain eternally fit and healthy passing from one body to another in an endless progression. The reason the worship of the Apis bull never significantly altered in over 3,000 years is because it embodied the deepest Egyptian values concerning life, time, and eternity.One's time on earth was only a brief sojourn in an eternal journey which would take one out of time but not out of place. The Egyptian afterlife was a continuation of life on earth, only on a different plane; one would still enjoy one's home, pets, land, and loved ones in paradise. The Apis bull assured people of this by its constancy; no matter the era in which one lived, there had been this divine manifestation before, there was one at the present, and there would be one in the future, and all would be the same entity eternally.


In 525 BCE the Persians under Cambyses II invaded Egypt, and Herodotus reports that Cambyses II himself killed the Apis bull before its allotted time (a story also told by Diodorus Siculus) and had the carcass flung into the street where it was eaten by dogs. These accounts have been challenged because Cambyses II knew and respected Egyptian culture and so it seems out of character to some scholars that he would knowingly commit such a sacrilege.
Actually, however, the story is not so hard to believe. Cambyses II had only recently conquered Egypt at the Battle of Pelusium by using the Egyptian's own beliefs against them. Knowing their veneration for animals generally, and the cat in particular, he had his soldiers round up as many stray animals as possible and paint the image of the Egyptian cat goddess Bastet on their shields. He then marched on Pelusium, driving the animals before his forces and demanded the city's immediate surrender. The Egyptians complied rather than risk hurting the animals and enraging Bastet. There seems little difference between Cambyses II's actions here and his later killing of the Apis bull. In both instances he was making use of Egyptian belief for his own ends: by slaying the Apis bull before its time he was announcing himself as the new king of Egypt and dismissing the old Egyptian monarchy, and rituals concerning it, to highlight his triumph and the dawn of a new regime.
Herodotus goes on to explain how Cambyses II paid for his crime with his life; as he was mounting his horse, he accidentally stabbed himself in the thigh - in the same place where he had first pierced the bull - and died from an infection. It is also reported that dogs were viewed as unclean animals from this point on because they had eaten the divine bull. Dogs were always regarded highly in Egypt, the story goes, but were now looked down upon as vile. There does not seem to be any evidence to support this claim, however, since dogs continue to be kept for hunting, as guardians, and companions throughout the rest of Egypt's history without any noticeable decline in status.
The Apis cult continued until the rise of Christianity in the 4th century CE. The eternal bull who symbolized Egyptian values was incompatible with the new Christian vision, and the rituals surrounding the bull declined. The Serapeum of Ptolemy I was destroyed by zealous Christians c. 385 CE in their efforts to eradicate pre-Christian beliefs in Alexandria. This same zeal may have also resulted in the destruction of the great library, located near the Serapeum, at the same time or a little later. In the 5th century CE, the Apis cult was banned along with other pagan sects and rituals as the Christian understanding of the universe and divinity became dominant.

Apollo  › Who was

Definition and Origins

Author: Mark Cartwright

The epitome of youth and beauty, source of life and healing, patron of the civilized arts, and as bright and powerful as the sun itself, Phoebus Apollo was, arguably, the most loved of all the Greek gods.


Son of Zeus and Leto, and twin brother to Artemis , Apollo was born on the island of Delos (in Hesiod ’s account clutching a golden sword). At his first taste of ambrosia he was said to have immediately transformed from babe to man. Sanctuaries were built in his honour throughout the Greek world, notably at Delos and Rhodes . Indeed, in antiquity, the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was a huge representation of Apollo. As with the other major divinities, Apollo had many children; perhaps the most famous are Orpheus , Ion, and Asclepius (to whom he gave his knowledge of healing and medicine).


Objects traditionally associated with the god include: a silver bow (symbolic of his prowess as an archer), a Kithara or a lyremade from the shell of a tortoise (a gift from Hermes after a quarrel over his theft of Apollo's cattle, symbolic of his ability in music and leader of the chorus of the nine Muses ), a laurel branch (symbolic of the fate of Daphne who, after the god's amorous pursuit of her, led her father, the river god Phineus, to transform her into a laurel tree), the omphalos (symbol of Delphi ’s position as the navel of the world), and a palm tree (which Leto gripped when she gave birth to her son).
Although he was associated with many positive aspects of the human condition such as music, poetry, and medicine, the god also had his darker side as the bringer of plague and divine retribution, most famously as the remorseless slayer of Niobe's six (or in some accounts seven) sons as punishment for her boasting and as the flayer of Marsyas after his presumptuous claim to be more musically gifted than Apollo himself.


Apollo is a significant protagonist in Homer ’s account of the Trojan War in the Iliad . On the side of the Trojans, he gives particular assistance to the Trojan heroes Hektor, Aeneas, and Glaukos, saving their lives on more than one occasion with his divine intervention. He brought plague to the Achaeans, led the entire Trojan army (holding Zeus' fearsome aegis) in an attack which destroyed the Achaean defensive walls, and was also responsible for guiding Paris ' arrow to the heel of Achilles , killing the seemingly invincible Achaean hero. Apollo is most frequently described by Homer and Hesiod as the 'far-shooter', the 'far-worker', the 'rouser of armies', and 'Phoebus Apollo'.

Belvedere Apollo

Apollo's most direct presence amongst the Greeks was manifested in his oracle at Delphi, the most important in the Greek world. Apollo, wishing to reveal to man the intentions of his father Zeus, created the oracle on the site where he killed the serpent (or dragon) Python. The Panhellenic Pythian games were begun at the site in order to commemorate the death of this divine creature. Tripods and laurel wreaths were given as prizes to the victors at the games.


Apollo appears frequently in all media of ancient Greek art, most often as a beautiful, beardless youth. He is easily identified with either a Kithara or a lyre, a bronze tripod (signifying his oracle at Delphi), a deer (which he often fights over with Herakles), and a bow and quiver. He is also, on occasion, portrayed riding a chariot pulled by lions or swans. Perhaps the most celebrated representation of Apollo in ancient Greek art is the statue which dominated the centre of the west pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (ca. 460 BCE). Here, in majestic pose, he brings order and reason to the battle between the Lapiths and the Centaurs at the wedding of Peirithoos.

The Satire of the Trades  › Origins

Ancient Civilizations

Author: Joshua J. Mark

The literature of ancient Egypt is as rich and varied as any other culture. From the inscriptions of the Old Kingdom of Egypt(c. 2613-2181 BCE) through the Love Poems of the New Kingdom (c. 1570 - c. 1069 BCE) the Egyptian scribes produced a body of work which would influence some of the greatest works of other cultures, most notably the books by Hebrew scribes which would finally be included in the Bible . Literary forms of the short story, novel, ballad, prose-poem, hymn, incantation, biography, and autobiography were all explored through genres such as the ghost story, adventure story, love story, and didactic compositions intended to teach a clear and obvious message.

Satire of the Trades

These didactic tales, also known as Wisdom Literature , reached their height of expression during the Middle Kingdom of Egypt (2040-1782 BCE), which is generally considered the pinnacle of Egyptian art and culture. They sometimes take the form of a father (a king) addressing his son as in The Instructions of King Amenhemat I for his son Senruset I . In other works, the plot unfolds from a narrator speaking in the first person to an audience ( The Admonitions of Ipuwer ) or a carefully constructed tale told in third-person narration ( The Eloquent Peasant ). These are all quite serious literary works famous for their articulate presentation of the values of Egyptian culture , but there is another among them which combines solemn advice with comical exaggeration to make its point and is, in fact, the first example of literary satire: The Instruction of Dua-Khety - also known as The Satire of the Trades .


The Satire of the Trades takes its cue from grand and solemn works such as The Instructions of King Amenhemat I or the earlier works from the Old Kingdom such as The Instruction of Ptahhotep : a father is giving helpful advice to his son. In the case of Dua-Khety , however, the greater part of the manuscript is devoted to impressing upon the boy the rich life which awaits him as a scribe by presenting every other job as unending misery.
The story begins as Dua-Khety is sailing down the Nile with his son, Pepi, on their way to enrol the boy in school. There is no indication in the text that Pepi has complained about becoming a scribe or expressed the desire to do anything else. Since it is obvious that Dua-Khety is a scribe, it would be natural for his son to follow in this occupation. Dua-Khety, however, begins his instruction as though Pepi has objected to it.

Egpytian Scribe's Palette

For the first 22 chapters of the text, the father details all the horrors his son could expect in any other job while impressing upon him the glorious life of the scribe. He concludes by saying, "But if you understand writings, then it will be better for you than the professions which I have set before you" (Simpson, 435). He then goes on, in the last eight chapters, to give general advice in keeping with the tone and solemnity of earlier Wisdom Literature.


These last eight chapters, obviously meant to be taken seriously, influenced early interpretations claiming the piece was to be taken completely seriously throughout in keeping with older Instruction works. Egyptologist Miriam Lichtheim addresses how even the great scholar Wolfgang Helck "has denied its satiric character and has claimed it to be a wholly serious, non-humorous work" (184). Helck's assertion seems an almost incredible claim in light of the fact that the piece is obviously intended to amuse. The descriptions of the trades are so uniformly horrific that, if they were actual representations of these jobs, no one would have wanted to do them. There is no doubt much truth to many aspects of these descriptions but that is precisely how satire works. Lichtheim writes:
What are the stylistic means of satire? Exaggeration and a lightness of tone designed to induce laughter and a mild contempt. Our text achieves its satirical effects by exaggerating the true hardships of the professions described and by suppressing all their positive and rewarding aspects. If it were argued that the exaggerations were meant to be taken seriously, we would have to conclude that the scribal profession practiced deliberate deception out of a contempt for manual labor so profound as to be unrelieved by humor. Such a conclusion, however, is belied by all the literary and pictorial evidence. For tomb reliefs and texts alike breathe joy and pride in the accomplishments of labor. (184)
It is generally accepted today that the work is satire and is meant to amuse but the latter part (Chapters 23-30) returns to the paradigm of non-satirical Wisdom Literature. This section of the text, as well as other Egyptian works such as The Instruction of Amenemope (c. 1570-c. 1069 BCE), would influence the authors of the biblical Book of Proverbs. Egyptologist Jaroslav Cerny (1898-1970 CE) substantiated that The Instruction of Amenemope and so, obviously, The Satire of the Trades , pre-dates the Book of Proverbs as well as the other books included in the Bible.


The manuscript of The Satire of the Trades exists only in copies from the 18th and 19th dynasties of the New Kingdom known as P. Sallier II and P. Anastasi VII both now housed in the British Museum. The manuscripts are complete but damaged enough to allow for a number of different interpretations and translations of certain lines. The overall text, however, is recognizable in all of these translations.
The following translation comes from William Kelly Simpson following that of Wolfgang Helck from his 1970 CE work:
1. The beginning of the teaching which the man of Tjel named Dua-Khety made for his son named Pepy, while he sailed southwards to the Residence to place him in the school of writings among the children of the magistrates, the most eminent men of the Residence.
2. Thereupon he spoke to him: Since I have seen those who have been beaten, it is to writings that you must set your mind. See for yourself, it saves one from work. Behold, there is nothing that surpasses writings! They are like a boat upon the water. Read then at the end of the Book of Kemyet and you will find this statement in it saying: As for a scribe in any office in the Residence, he will not suffer want in it.
3. When he fulfils the bidding of another, he does not come forth satisfied. I do not see an office to be compared with it, to which this maxim could relate: I shall make you love books more than your mother and I shall place their excellence before you. It is indeed greater than any office. There is nothing like it on earth. When he began to become sturdy but was still a child, he was greeted respectfully. When he was sent to carry out a task, before he returned he was dressed in adult garments.
4. I do not see a stoneworker on an important errand or a goldsmity in a place to which he has been sent, but I have seen a coppersmith at his work at the mouth of his furnace. His fingers were like the claws of the crocodile and he stank more than fish eggs.
5. Every carpenter who bears the adze is wearier than a laborer. His field is his wood, his hoe is the axe. It is the night that will rescue him, for he must labor excessively in his activity. But at nighttime he still must light his lamp.
6. The jeweler pierces stone in stringing beads in all kinds of hard stone. When he has completed the inlaying of the eye amulets, his strength vanishes and he is tired out. He sits until the arrival of the sun, his knees and his back bent at the place called Aku-Re.
7. The barber shaves until the end of the evening. But hs must be up early, crying out, his bowl upon his arm. He takes himself from street to street to seek out someone to shave. He wears out his arms to fill his belly, like bees who eat only according to their work.
8. The arrowmaker goes north to the Delta to fetch himself arrows. He must work excessively in his activity.When the gnats sting him and the sand fleas bite him as well, then he is judged.
9. The potter is covered with earth, although his lifetime is still among the living. He burrows in the field more than swine to bake his cooking vessels. His clothes being stiff with mud, his headcloth consists only of rags so that the air which comes forth from his burning furnace enters his nose. He operates a pestle with his feet, with which he himself is pounded, penetrating the courtyard of every house and driving earth into every open place.
10. I shall also describe to you the like of the mason-bricklayer. His kidneys are painful [his work pains him].When he must be outside in the wind, he lays bricks without a loin cloth. His belt is a cord for his back, a string for his buttocks. His strength has vanished through fatigue and stiffness, kneading all his excrement. He eats bread with his fingers, although he washes himself but once a day.
11. It is miserable for the carpenter when he planes the roofbeam. It is the roof of a chamber 10 by 6 cubits. A month goes by in laying the beams and spreading the matting. All the work is accomplished. But as for the food which should be given to his household while he is away, there is no one who provides for his children.
12. The vintner hauls his shoulder-yoke. Each of his shoulders is burdened with age. A swelling is on his neck, and it festers. He spends the morning in watering leeks and the evening with corianders, after he has spent the midday in the palm grove. So it happens that he sinks down at last and dies through his deliveries more than one of any other profession.
13. The field hand cries out forever. His voice is louder than the raven's. His fingers have become ulcerous with an excess of stench. He is tired out in Delta labor, he is in tatters. He is well among lions but his experience is painful. The forced labor then is tripled. If he comes back from the marshes there, he reaches his house worn out, for the forced labor has ruined him.
14. The weaver inside the weaving house is more wretched than a woman. His knees are drawn up against his belly. He cannot breathe the air. If he wastes a single day without weaving, he is beaten with fifty whip lashes. He has to give food to the doorkeeper to allow him to come out to the daylight.
15. The weapon maker, completely worn out, goes into the desert. Greater than his own pay is what he has to spend for his she-ass for its work afterwards. Great is also what he has to give to the fieldhand to set him on the right road to the flint source. When he reaches his house in the evening, the journey has ruined him.
16. The courier goes abroad after handing over his property to his children, being fearful of the lions and the Asiatics. He only knows himself again when he is back in Egypt. He reaches his household by evening, but the journey has ruined him. But his house by then is only a garment and a paved road. There is no happy homecoming.
17. The furnace-tender, his fingers are foul, the smell thereof is as corpses. His eyes are inflamed because of the heaviness of the smoke. He cannot get rid of his dirt, although he spends the day cutting reeds. Clothes are an abomination to him.
18. The sandalmaker is utterly wretched carrying his tubs forever. His stores are provided with carcasses and what he bites is hides.
19. The washerman launders at the riverbank in the vicinity of the crocodile. `I shall go away, father, from the flowing water,' said his son and daughter, `to a more satisfactory profession, one more distinguised than any other profession.' His food is mixed with filth, and there is no part of him which is clean. He cleans the clothes of a woman in menstruation. He weeps when he spends all day with a beating stick and a stone there. One says to him, "Dirty laundry, come to me", the brim overflows.
20. The fowler is utterly afflicted while searching out for the denizens of the sky. If the flock passes by above him, then he says, `Would that I might have nets'. But God will not let this come to pass for him for He is opposed to his activity.
21. I mention to you also the fisherman. He is more miserable than one of any other profession, one who is at his work in the river infested with crocodiles. When the totaling of his account is subtracted for him, then he will lament. One did not tell him that a crocodile was standing there and fear has now blinded him. When he comes to the flowing water, so he falls as through the might of God. See, there is no office free from supervisors except the scribe's. He is the supervisor!
22. But if you understand writings, then it will be better for you than the professions which I have set before you.Behold the official and the dependent pertaining to him. The tenant farmer of a man cannot say to him, `Do not keep watching me.' What I have done in journeying southward to the Residence is what I have done through love of you. A day at school is advantageous to you. Its work of mountains is forever, while the workmen I have caused you to know hurry and I cause the recalcitrant to hasten.
23. I will also tell you another matter to teach you what you should know at the station of your debating. Do not come close to where there is a dispute. If a man reproves you, and you do not know how to oppose his anger, make your reply cautiously in the presence of listeners.
24. If you walk to the rear of officials, approach from a distance behind the last. If you enter while the master of the house is at home, and his hands are extended to another in front of you, sit with your hand to your mouth. Do not ask for anything in his presence. But do as he says to you. Beware of approaching the table.
25. Be serious, and great as to your worth. Do not speak secret matters. For he who hides his innermost thoughts is one who makes a shield for himself. Do not utter thoughtless words when you sit down with an angry man.
26. When you come forth from school after midday recess has been announced to you, go into the courtyard and discuss the last part of your lesson book.
27. When an official sends you on a mission, then say what he said. Neither take away nor add to it. The impatient man falls into oblivion, his name will not endure. He who is wise in all his ways, nothing will be hidden from him, and he will not be rebuffed from any station of his.
28. Do not say anything false about your mother. This is an abomination to the officials. The offsprting who does useful things, his condition is equal to the one of yesterday. Do not indulge with an undisciplined man, for it is bad after it is heard about you. When you have eaten three loaves of bread and swallowed two jugs of beer , and the body has not yet had enough, fight against it. But if another is satiated, do not stand around, take care not to approach the table.
29. See, it is good if you write frequently. Obey the words of the officials. Then you may assume the characteristics of the children of men and you may walk in their footsteps. One values a scribe for his understanding, for understanding transforms an eager person. Beware of words against it. Your feet shall not hurry when you walk. Do not approach only a trusted man, but associate with one more distinguised than you.But let your friend be a man of your generation.
30. See, I have placed you on the path of God. The fate of a man is on his shoulders on the day he is born. He comes to the judgment hall and the court of magistrates made for the people. See, there is no scribe lacking sustenance, the provisions of the royal house lph [Life, Prosperity, Health]. It is Meskhenet [goddess of childbirth who provides the soul] who is turned toward the scribe who presents himself before the court of magistrates.Honor your father and mother who have placed you on the path of the living. Mark this, which I have placed before your eyes, and the children of your children.
It has come to an end in peace.


The narrator begins by identifying himself as a man of Tjel which, according to Simpson, is the city of "Sile in the northeast Delta on the borders of Egypt" (432). This could mean, as Simpson suggests, that "the man and his son are characterized as citizens of an outlying district far from the cultural and political center of Memphis " and are thus unsophisticated (432). It could also mean, however, that the man and his son, distanced from polite urban society, are more used to honest, blunt speech and this would go toward highlighting the humorous aspects of the piece: one is hearing from a narrator who sees nothing wrong in what he is saying because he knows he is only speaking the truth.

The Seated Scribe

In Chapter 3 the narrator sets the tone and message firmly by asserting that a scribe, though still a child, deserves respect and only garners greater admiration as he becomes older. Chapter 3 then launches into the narration of the different trades in which each is as bad or worse than the last mentioned until the narrator has reached the end.
This section of the piece would have been understood in the same light as a modern-day 'roast' at which the guest of honor is repeatedly insulted by friends and colleagues. The comical nature of the descriptions is epitomized by Chapter 20 in which the fowler who has gone out to catch birds has no nets because God hates him or in Chapter 16 when the courier (merchant) returns home to find nothing but a shirt and the driveway because he has been away so long.
Beginning with Chapter 23 the narrator shifts to his serious advice on how his son should comport himself. He tells Pepi not to become involved with angry people, to remain humble when in the presence of his superiors, to refrain from telling secrets, and to honor his mother and father, among other pieces of advice. These maxims would later be translated, as much of Egyptian literature was, by the Hebrew scribes who wrote the books of the biblical Old Testament as well as the Greek writers who produced the New Testament. Proverbs 22:24 corresponds to Chapter 23; Proverbs 25:7 and Luke 14: 7-10 to Chapter 24; Proverbs 21:23 and James 3:1 to Chapter 25, and so on.
The brilliance of the piece is its use of the old Instruction form of Wisdom Literature to surprise and delight an audience while still providing, toward the end, what that audience would have expected from such a work. Any humor operates from the principle of surprise and The Satire of the Trades relies on this. When Dua-Khety first begins to speak, the audience would have expected a serious representation of the professions; not an exaggerated condemnation of them. There would have been many people who held these jobs in the audience where the satire would have been read, and those who could laugh at themselves must have laughed hard.
Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
Content is available under License Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported. CC-BY-NC-SA License

Related Contents