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The teaching of the Heracleopolis king to his son King Merikar

Sources and meaning of the teaching

Teachings are a type of ancient Egyptian literature. The text of the “Teaching” is preserved in three papyri of the time of the middle of the New Kingdom. The most preserved of them is in the State Hermitage Museum, in St. Petersburg, the other two are kept in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow and in the library of the University of Copenhagen. In addition, the text of this “Teaching” on the ostracon (ceramic potsherd) is available at the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo.

Merikar's Teaching

Papyrus from the library of the University of Copenhagen (Denmark), on which is written “The Teaching of Merikar”. By its appearance, we can judge the safety of the document.

The “Teaching” has been translated into Russian several times, but the correct understanding of many of its fragments remains in doubt. A historically accurate translation of this remarkable monument of political thought has not yet been created. The existing translations of even the venerable Egyptologists are so contradictory that sometimes it seems as if they were made from several different “Teachings of Merikaru”. In addition, these translations are often stylistically unskilful, despite the fact that the literary merits of the original are not in doubt, otherwise dozens, maybe hundreds of Egyptian scribes would not have copied it over the centuries.

The name of the king teaching his son has not been preserved. Scientists believe that it was the pharaoh X of the Heracleopolitan dynasty-Kheti III (and possibly Kheti I), who ruled at the end of the XXII century BC. The present teaching is a political treatise that depicts the social relations of the time of the reign of the Heracleopolitan dynasty. It clearly expresses the interests of the ruling class, there is evidence of very acute contradictions between the rich and the poor, as well as the state structure of ancient Egypt at the end of the third millennium BC.

The Cult of Merikar

The stele of Anpuemhat, the Egyptian priest responsible for the cults of the pharaohs Teti (VI dynasty) and Merikar.

The compiler of the teaching warns the young heir against the enemies of the royal power. The most dangerous enemies, in his opinion, are the poor. The one who has no property, according to the author of the teaching, is a rebel. The king must be hard on them. The author of the teaching advises the heir to rely on the rich, to respect and exalt the nobles, to protect their property and not to take their lives, because they “will fulfill your decrees.”

Among the nobility, on which the king of Heracleopolis relied, an important place was occupied by strong nejes (the word “nejes” means “small”), since by this time well — to-do, rich people – “strong nejes” – had moved out of the ordinary freemen. Therefore, the teaching contains the advice not to exalt a person for his origin, but only for his merits, “according to his deeds.”

The treatise is about a professional army of young people. The teaching gives a new interpretation of the royal power: the king is not only a “great god”, but also a good shepherd of the “flock of God”, a wise man who cares about his people. The king is demagogically depicted in the teaching as the protector of the weeping man and the widow. The document also points to the functions of the ancient Egyptian state apparatus:

  • to keep the oppressed part of the population in subjection with the help of troops and prisons (kill the rebel, “punish others with blows and imprisonment”);
  • to guard and strengthen the borders of the state.

The author advises the heir to build temples- “monuments for God”, since in the temples the priests preached the divine origin of the king and the royal power.

The political and social situation of Ancient Egypt at the time of writing the homily

Preparing his son for the throne, the elderly and experienced Khety realized that even in his strong rule, the authority of the sovereign’s power was much less than in the stable and prosperous Ancient Kingdom for centuries. At this time, severe droughts occurred year after year in the south of the country, the former irrigation system of the southern nomes was in a deplorable state, and the economic situation of the northern nomes did not allow the king to provide significant food assistance to the South.

The famine in Upper Egypt was so monstrous that it drove people to eat human flesh. The inevitable consequence of starvation and impoverishment was widespread violence, rampant robberies and looting. Among the people, the number of “right-hearted” people decreased, and “obstinate-hearted” people began to prevail. The main task of the Nome military units was not to fight against the external enemies of the country, but to suppress the outrages of numerous gangs of thieves. At the same time, the rulers of the southern nomes, deprived of effective support from the central government, were suspicious and cruel, mass executions became a common phenomenon of political life there. In addition, the integrity of the country was threatened by the imperious ambitions of the Theban rulers, who only formally did not accept the titles of kings, but ruled their possessions autocratically. The Thebans often sent their troops to plunder the northern nomes and thus made up for the lack of food in their bins.

All this undermined the ideological foundations of the power of the “Heracleopolites”, who, like the pharaohs of the Ancient Kingdom, had a divine status and were supposed to serve as guarantors of universal order and law in Egypt, the impeccable performance of religious rituals, including sacrifices, ensuring the favor of the gods and the fertility of the soil. After Merikar, the Heracleopolitan monarchy entered a period of irreversible, rapid decline, and at the end of the XXI century BC, Egypt was united under the rule of the Theban king Mentuhotep I.

The main points of the lesson

… The instigator is the harmer, destroy him, kill him, erase his name, destroy his loved ones, destroy the memory of him and of his people who love him. A restless man is a nuisance to the townspeople, for he creates two parties among the young…

May you be righteous before God… be skilled in speech… and you will win, for the tongue is… the weapon (of the king). Stronger speech than any weapon… The Wise Man is (refuge)but for the princes, they will not overcome him, no lie will happen in his presence, for the truth comes to him ready, like the saying of the ancestors.

Follow your fathers, your ancestors…

Respect the nobles and take care of your people. Strengthen your borders and your limits, for it is good to create for the future… A criminal seizes the land lawlessly. Envious (tom), (what) others have, – this is a fool, for it passes (life) on earth, it is not long, but he who leaves (good) memory of himself is a lucky man… Is there (a person) who lives forever?..

Magnify your nobles, and they will fulfill your decrees. He who is provided for in his home is not partial, for he is rich and does not need. The poor man does not speak according to the truth. It is unfair to say “I want!”. He is partial to the one he loves, he leans towards the owner of his offerings (i.e., the poor man goes over to the side of the one who rewards him). Mighty is the king who has a retinue, glorious is the rich noble. Speak the truth in your home, and the nobles of the land will fear you.…

Do the truth, and you will be on earth. Calm the weeping one, do not oppress the widow, do not remove a man from his father’s property, do not remove the nobles from their seats. Do not kill — it is not good for you, but punish with blows and imprisonment, and then this land will prosper, except for the rebel, whose plans are open, for God knows the instigator and God punishes his sins with his blood… But don’t kill a man whose virtues you know…

Raise the young warriors, may the capital love you… Raise up your nobles, promote your (warriors), increase (the number) of young warriors following you, providing with property, endowing with land, rewarding with cattle.

Do not make a distinction between the son of a noble and a commoner, attract a person by his deeds, so that all crafts will be created…

Protect your border, build your monuments. Detachments of workers are useful to their master. Create (beautiful) monuments for God; it will make the name of the one who does it live…

No enemies within your borders!.. I have pacified the entire West, even to the vastness of Fayum… The rebel will not rise, (until) the Nile will not do you a bad thing — it will not come out (i.e., if there is no flood). The taxes of the North will be in your hand…

So talk about the nomad. Here is a despicable Asiatic, and the place in which he is is poor, water-poor, difficult because of the abundance of trees; the way there is difficult because of the mountains. He does not live in one place, his feet wander because of lack. He has been fighting since the time of Horus (since the establishment of the royal power in Egypt). He doesn’t win, but he’s not defeated. He does not announce the day of battle, like a thief who avoids the troops…

Build fortified settlements in the North. Not a little because the name of a person in his actions. Do not harm the fortified city…

The ruler of both Coasts (i.e., of all Egypt) is wise, and the king who has nobles is not ignorant, he is intelligent from birth, and God has exalted him before millions of people…

Preserve the people, the flock of God… He created for them the rulers of the born-a support to support the back of the weak. He made a spell for them, as a weapon to ward off future (troubles), dreams by night and by day. (But) he killed the rebel, just as a man kills his son for the sake of his brother. For God knows every name.

May you not do evil with my mouth, which gives all kinds of rules about the king! Direct your face (straight), stand like a man!.. Don’t kill anyone close to you… Arouse love for yourself in the whole country. Good behavior is memory!..

Here, I have told you my best thoughts, fix them firmly before your face!

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