a schoolboy text compiled at the very end of the eleventh dynasty or the beginning of the twelfth, to assist in the education of young scribes for service in the civil bureaucracy, which had been depleted of talent during the tumultuous First Intermediate Period. Although the extant sources of Kemit are confined to the New Kingdom (on a writing board and more than one hundred ostraca), the text is distinguished from other New Kingdom literary documents by being inscribed in archaic fashion in vertical columns in a script that closely resembles early Middle Kingdom Hieratic. None of the documents preserves Kemit in its entirety, but through a careful assemblage of the numerous fragmentary ostraca, the complete text has been successfully reconstituted.

The term kemit, meaning something like “summation” or “completion,” is not found in the text itself, but it is known from the twelfth dynasty “Satire on the Trades” section of the Instructions of Khety, where a passage “at the end of Kemit” is quoted. The Kemit book consists of three independent sections: greetings used in letterwriting, a narrative concluding with a letter, and a selection of phrases drawn from the genre of ideal biography. The text begins with the writer addressing his “lord” in a letter that contains wishes for his well-being, favor with the gods who daily should do everything good for him, a ripe old age, and eventual passing on to the honored state of a deceased person. Although portions of the epistolary formulae are attested as early as the sixth dynasty, the naming of Montu, god of the Theban nome, in the greetings suggests an early Middle Kingdom date.

Because of the considerable difference in time between the date of composition and the date of the preserved copies, there is much that is obscure in this schoolboy compendium, especially in the middle section. Here there is reference to a certain Au, who as a young married cadet, salved with perfumes and garbed in a kilt of blue linen, visits a dancing-girl. The girl, however, realizes the impropriety of the situation and knows that Au's wife must be constantly weeping for her husband, so she urges Au to see to his wife. In response to the dancing-girl's concern, there follows a letter addressed by Au to his wife, imploring her to come north to the place where he speaks of being found by his comrades “like an orphan at the edge of a strange city.” The letter concludes with a statement by Au about meeting his father on a feast day (birthday?) while his mother had gone off to the Sycomore Shrine.

The phrases of the ideal biography section emphasize the virtue of respecting one's parents, being quiet, and controlling one's temper. The writer describes himself as a scribe “who is valuable to his lord and most expert in his calling.” In the conclusion, the student is urged to become educated in texts, because wisdom serves to advance one's status, and the perquisites of being a scribe at the royal residence ensure that one “can never become miserable in it.”

Bibliography

  • Barta, Winfred. “Das Schulbuch Kemit.” Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde 105 (1978), 6–14. Offers translation and discussion of the structure of Kemit.
  • Posener, Georges. Catalogue des ostraca hiératiques littéraires de Deir el Médineh. Documents de Fouilles de l'Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale du Caire, 18. Cairo, 1951. Publication of the reconstituted text of Kemit in hieroglyphic transcription from the hieratic documents.
  • Posener, Georges. Littérature et politique dans l'Égypte de la XIIe Dynastie. Paris, 1956. Discusses Kemit as the earliest of a series of literary compositions designed to educate scribes to become loyal civil servants in the bureaucracy.
  • Wente, Edward F. Letters from Ancient Egypt. Society of Biblical Literature, Writings from the Ancient World, 1, edited by Edmund S. Meltzer. Atlanta, 1990. Provides a translation of the Kemit book on pages 15–16.

Edward F. Wente