- Literary character Middle Kingdom, c.1980-1930 BC.
The 'Story of Sinuhe' is regarded as a masterpiece of world literature and perhaps the greatest literary achievement of the Egyptians. It was written in the Middle Kingdom and is preserved in numerous fragmentary copies, the most complete being two papyri of Middle Kingdom date which are now in the Berlin collection. It was a very popular text and a good example of literary skill, combining prose and poetry, and thus it became a classic which was copied as an exercise by schoolboys hundreds of years after its composition.The text takes the form of an autobiographical inscription of the kind that was placed in tombs, and it relates the events in the life of a court official named Sinuhe. It may represent the life experiences of a real person, although this is uncertain, but it clearly provides an accurate historical setting at the time of the death of *Ammenemes I and the subsequent reign of his son, *Sesostris I. The story relates that Sinuhe, brought up at the Royal Court in Egypt, fled from the country at the death of *Ammenemes I, because he feared that he might be drawn into the political troubles which he believed would happen over the succession. The Wisdom Instruction of *Ammenemes I also mentions this difficult period.Sinuhe escaped across the Delta and the Isthmus of Suez into the desert regions where he faced death from thirst but was rescued by *Beduin tribesmen. He became a wanderer in this desert, but eventually achieved the status of chieftain of a tribe, and his travels took him as far as *Byblos on the Syrian coast, where he met the Prince of Retenu. This resulted in prosperity and wealth, for the Prince gave Sinuhe his daughter in marriage and allowed him to choose some of his land.Despite personal honours, Sinuhe longed to return to Egypt where he could ensure that he would be buried with the correct traditions. A decree of pardon from the new king, *Sesostris I, invited him to return to Egypt; he started his homeward journey and, at the frontier, he was met with ships laden with goods. Eventually, travel-stained and unkempt, he reached the capital city, It-towe, and here he was led into the king's presence. Prostrating himself before the pharaoh, Sinuhe received kind words of welcome from *Sesostris, and was able to establish a new life in Egypt; he was even accorded the great honour of a magnificent tomb prepared for him close to the burial places of the king's own children.The story was designed primarily to show that *Sesostris I was a benign and forgiving ruler. It also provides us with valuable insight into the political conditions in the Middle Kingdom, when Egypt's international prestige was high and Sinuhe was well-received outside his country. This provides a vivid contrast to the 'Story of *Wenamun' who, when he travelled abroad as the royal envoy hundreds of years later, met with many frustrations and humiliations from foreign officialdom because Egypt no longer exercised world power.BIBL. AEL i. pp. 222-35; Blackman, A.M. Some notes on the Story of Sinuhe and other Egyptian texts. JEA 22 (1936) pp. 35-44; Gardiner, A.H. Notes on the Story of Sinuhe. Paris: 1916.Biographical Dictionary of Ancient Egypt by Rosalie and Antony E. David* * *Hero of a Middle Kingdom story set during the reign of Senusret I. Sinuhe flees the country upon hearing of the assassination of the king’s father, Amenemhat I, and the story outlines his adventures in the Palestine region. In old age, he longs to return to Egypt and is pardoned and welcomed back by the king. The story reflects the strong attachment of Egyptians to their homeland. It is already attested at the end of the Middle Kingdom and was extremely popular during the New Kingdom, from which time many copies survive.See also Literature.Historical Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt by Morris L. Bierbrier
Ancient Egypt. A Reference Guide. EdwART. 2011.
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