Stories and Tales
Stories and Tales
Sources . From the Middle Kingdom through the New Kingdom the Egyptians wrote prose stories and tales. There are approximately eleven stories and tales in prose preserved from ancient Egyptian literature. Nearly all of these works survived in only one manuscript copy. These copies seem to have been privately owned rather than part of an institutional library. Thus, it is difficult to determine how widely these texts were read. However, some manuscripts dating to the New Kingdom clearly represent stories composed in the Middle Kingdom. This fact suggests a history of transmission over a long time period.
Anonymous Authors . The authors of these texts are never named. Though often stories are told in the first person, in some cases the “I” of the story is never given a name. For example, the first-person narrator of the story known as The Shipwrecked Sailor (Papyrus Hermitage 1115, St. Petersburg, Russia) has no name. In most cases even the person who copied the manuscript is unknown. Only The Shipwrecked Sailor has a concluding note, called a colophon, which claims that the scribe Amenyaa, son of Ameny, copied the story exactly from an original manuscript.
Differences . There is a marked difference between the stories told in the Middle and New Kingdoms. Middle Kingdom stories resemble tomb autobiographies. They are narrated in the first person and tend toward complexity. Sometimes they alternate prose and verse. The stories dating to the New Kingdom use more-casual and popular language and are usually narrated in the third person. There is more obvious humor in New Kingdom stories, at least humor seems to a modern reader to be intended. Many third-person stories from the New Kingdom are thought to derive from folktales and/or oral tradition.
R. B. Parkinson, Voices from Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Middle Kingdom Writings (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991), pp. 8–30.
William Kelly Simpson, The Literature of Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Stories, Instructions, and Poetry, translations by R. O. Faulkner, Edward F. Wente Jr., and William Kelly Simpson (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972).