The Prophecies of Neferti
After the reunification of Egypt following the First Intermediate Period, a genre of literature developed that emphasized the strong contrast between the newfound political stability of the Middle Kingdom and the chaotic period to came before. In order to stress the achievements of the new monarch, and to strengthen his claim to regal power, these writers focused extensively on the supposed misery, decline, and lack of social order of the preceding period, the wretched conditions from which the 12th Dynasty of kings "saved" Egypt. The "Prophecies of Neferti" is part of this body of literature. Written during the reign of Amenemhat I (a.k.a. Ammenemes), this pretends to be a prophecy from the reign of Snefru, during the Old Kingdom, foretelling the grim state of Egypt during the First Intermediate and the coming of King Amenemhat (called Ameny in the text) to rescue Egypt from misfortune.
How does the text describe social breakdown? political disruption? cosmological chaos? What causes such problems? How are they resolved by the savior Ameny?
How does the description of Ameny's vigorous action add to our understanding of what Egyptians valued in a political leader?
"Now it so happened that when the late King Snefru was potent king in this entire land, one of these days it happened that the Council of the Residence entered into the Great House to give greeting, and when they had given greeting, they went out in accordance with their daily custom. Then said his Majesty to the seal-bearer who was at his side: Go and fetch for me the Council of the Residence which has gone out from here after having given greeting today. They were ushered in to him immediately, and again they prostrated themselves before His Majesty. And His Majesty said to them: Comrades, see, I have caused you to be summoned in order that you may seek out for me a son of yours who is wise, a brother of yours who is trustworthy, or a friend of yours who has achieved some noble deed, someone who shall say some fine words to me, choice phrases at the hearing of which My Majesty will be entertained. They prostrated themselves again before His Majesty: There is a Great Lector of Bastet, O Sovereign our lord, whose name is Neferti; he is a commoner valiant with his arm, he is a scribe skilled with his fingers, and he is a wealthy man who has more possessions than any of his equals. Let him be [permitted] to see Your Majesty. His Majesty said: Go and fetch him to me. And he was ushered in to him immediately.
He prostrated himself before His Majesty, and His Majesty said: Come, Neferti my friend, say some fine words to me, choice phrases at hearing which My Majesty will be entertained. The Lector Neferti said: Of what has happened or of what shall happen, O Sovereign, [my] lord? His Majesty said: Of what shall happen; today has come into being and one has passed it by. Thereupon he stretched out his hand to a box of writing material and took out a papyrus-roll and a palette, and he put into writing what the Lector Neferti said; he was a sage of the East who belonged to Bastet when she rises and he was a native of the Heliopolitan nome. He brooded over what should happen in the land and considered the condition of the east, when the Asiatics raid and terrorize those at the harvest, taking away their teams engaged in plowing. He said: stir yourself, my heart, weep for this land in which you began, for he who is silent is a wrongdoer. See, that (now) exists which was spoken of as something dreadful. See, the great one is overthrown in the land in which you began. Do not become weary; see they are before your eyes; rise up against what is before you. See, there are great men in the governance of the land, yet what has been done is as though it had never been done. Re must begin by refounding the land, which is utterly ruined, and nothing remains; not even did a fingernail profit from what had been ordained. This land is destroyed and there are none who care for it; there are none who speak and there are none who act. Weeper, how fares this land? The sun is veiled, and will not shine when the people would see; none will live when <the sun> is veiled <by> cloud, and everyone is dulled by the lack of it.
I will speak of what is before my eyes, I will never foretell what is not to come. The river of Egypt is dry and men cross the water on foot; men will seek water for ships in order to navigate it, for their course has become the riverbank, and the bank (serves) for water; the place of water has become a riverbank, the south wind will oppose the north wind, and the sky will not be with one single wind. A strange bird will be born in the marshes of the Delta, and a nest shall be made for it on account of the neighbors, for men have caused it to approach through want. Perished are those erstwhile good things, the fish ponds of those who carry slit fish, teeming with fish and fowl. All good things have passed away, the land being cast away through trouble by means of that food of the Asiatics who pervade the land. Enemies have come into being in the east; Asiatics have come down into Egypt, for a fortress lacks another beside it, and no guard will hear. Men will hold back and look out by night, the fortress will be entered, and sleep will be banished from my eyes, so that I spend the night wakeful. Wild game will drink from the river of Egypt, taking their ease on their riverbanks through lack of anyone to fear. This land is in commotion, and no one knows what the result may be, for it is hidden from speech, sight, and hearing because of dullness, silence being to the fore.
I show you the land in calamity, for what had never happened has now happened. Men will take weapons of war and the land will live in confusion. Men will make arrows of bronze, men will beg for the bread of blood, men will laugh aloud at pain; none will weep at death, none will lie down hungry at death, and a man's heart will think of himself alone. None will dress hair today; hearts are entirely astray because of it, and a man sits quiet, turning his back, while one man kills another.
I show you a son as an enemy, a brother as a foe, a man killing his father. Every mouth is full of "Love me"; all good things have passed away; a law is decreed for the ruin of the land. Men wreak destruction on what has been made and make a desolation of what has been found; what has been made is as though it had never been made; a man's possessions are taken from him and are given to an outsider.
I show you the owner of (but) a little, while the outsider is content. He who did not fill for himself now goes empty; men give (something) unwillingly, so as to silence a talking mouth. A sentence is answered and a hand goes out with a stick; [men say]: "Do not kill him," but the discourse of speech is like fire to the heart, and none can endure utterance. The land is diminished, though its controllers are many; he who was rich in servants is despoiled and corn is trifling, even though the corn measure is great and it is measured to overflowing. Re separates himself from men; he shines, that the hour may be told, but no one knows when noon occurs, for no one can discern his shadow, no one is dazzled when [he] is seen; there are none whose eyes stream with water, for he is like the moon in the sky, (though) his accustomed time do [not] go astray, and his rays are in (men's) sight as on former occasions.
I show you the land in calamity; the weak-armed now possesses an arm, and men salute one who used to do the saluting. I show you [the lowermost] uppermost, men pursuing him who flees away; men are living in the necropolis. The poor man will achieve wealth, while the great lady will [beg] to exist; it is the poor who will eat bread, while servants are....; there will be no Heliopolitan nome to be the birth-land of every god.
A king of the South will come, Ameny by name, the son of a woman of Zety-land, a child of Khenkhen. He will assume the White Crown, he will wear the Red Crown, he will join together the Double Crown, he will propitiate the Two Lords with what they desire; the land will be enclosed in (his) grasp, the oars swinging, the people of his reign will rejoice, the well-born man will make his name forever and ever. Those who have fallen into evil and have planned rebellion have stultified their utterances through fear of him; the Asiatics will fall at the dread of him; the Libyans will fall at his flaming, the rebels at his wrath, the disaffected at the awe of him, while the uraeus which is on his forehead will pacify the disaffected. Men will build "Walls of the Ruler," and there will be no letting the Asiatics go down into Egypt that they may beg water after their accustomed fashion to let their herds drink. Right will come to its place (again) and Wrong will be thrust outside; joyful will be [he] who will see (it) and he who will serve the king. The learned man shall pour [a libation to me when he sees that what I have said] has come to pass."
It has come happily to an end.