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Preface

This anthology contains those literary works from Middle Kingdom Egypt that are not too obscured by problems of preservation, textual corruption, or philological difficulties. Only relatively complete works are translated, but a selection of other fragments is included in a final section. Although these texts have been long acknowledged as ‘literary’ in some sense of the word, they remain unknown to many people familiar with other ancient classics. The English anthologies of William Kelly Simpson and Miriam Lichtheim have ended their confinement to a specialized discipline, and I hope to continue this process of making them accessible for the general reader. Thus, my translations are meant to be free enough for general readers and literal enough to help those reading the original; as with period performances of Western music, a balance between strict authenticity and spontaneous passion is desirable. Like all readers of Egyptian, I owe much to Lichtheim's renderings, which touch the very heart of the originals, and are models of style and clarity.

These translations do not aspire to the Egyptological impossible state of being definitive, but I hope that they embody the present state of our understanding of the texts. Many texts lack full critical editions and commentaries, and there is still no fully comprehensive dictionary of Egyptian, although we now have Rainer Hannig's valuable Großes Handwörterbuch Ägyptisch-Deutsch (Mainz, 1995). My translations and notes do not include any technical and philological comments, or indications of uncertainties: the notes would otherwise have been overburdened with alternatives, doubts, qualifications, and specific references. It should be clear enough to an Egyptological reader what philological interpretations I have adopted; I list in the Select Bibliography the studies on which my readings are based (I do not indicate which renderings follow earlier studies and which are my own innovations). I have drawn freely on the work of many scholars; such imitation is an act of grateful homage, since it was reading Adolf Erman's translation of Sinuhe at school that introduced me to Middle Kingdom literature. In the notes I concentrate on what I consider to be a present priority—the basic literary meaning; this approach belongs to what William Kelly Simpson has termed ‘the new British school’ of Egyptian literary studies.

The translations were begun while preparing a commentary on The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant. Much of the initial work was done while holding the Lady Wallis Budge Junior Research Fellowship at University College, Oxford, and I am indebted to that College for more than it suspects. The text has been completed in the Department of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum, amid its magnificent collection of literary papyri.

I am grateful particularly to John Baines, who has always been invaluable as teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend; I cannot hope to repay in full the debt I owe him. Generous and patient as ever, he has read the whole text and offered countless insights and comments.

My thanks are also due to Vivian Davies, William Kelly Simpson, and Antonio Loprieno for much kindness, encouragement, and advice; to the inhabitants of the Griffith Institute in Oxford, and of the Department of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum; and to the following valued colleagues and friends for general and specific help: Carol Andrews, E. Blumenthal, Mark Collier, Alec Dakin, C. J. Eyre, Hans-Werner Fischer-Elfert, Detlef Franke, Annie Gasse, Rainer Hannig, Yvonne Harpur, Anthony and Lisa M. Leahy, Andrea McDowell, Diana Magee, Jaromir Malek, Gerald Moers, Ingeborg Müller, Mary Newman, Stephen Quirke, Bruce Reid, Mark Robinson, Mark Smith, Deborah Sweeney, Pat Terry, Claire Thorne, Pascal Vernus, and Helen Whitehouse.

Hans-Werner Fischer-Elfert has very kindly read the translations, making many invaluable suggestions and pointing out numerous oversights. Tim Reid has read the whole manuscript, and his comments on form and content have saved the general reader from much suffering, and have improved every page. The remaining errors, mistranslations, and misunderstandings are entirely mine; I can only hope that the ancient poets whose works I have traduced will forgive me. Needless to say, I am indebted to Hilary O'Shea for commissioning these translations, to Liz Alsop for overseeing the text's preparation, and to Hilary Walford for her copy-editing.

It is a great pleasure to express once again my gratitude both to my much-loved, dear father, who taught the primacy of a work of art over all paraphrase and whose boyhood enthusiasm for Egypt sparked mine, and to my much-loved and noble-hearted mother, for their unfailing love and support. Such people can never be forgotten.

Scholarship alone is not enough to resurrect these ancient works; they have a personal voice that can be summoned up only with ‘il nome dello straniero’, and thus a most heart-felt debt is to Tim Reid, master-muse and only begetter of this book.

R.B.P.

Darlington and Barnard Castle

October 1995

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