The Royal Instruction
of Khety to Merikare
IXth Dynasty - ca.2160 - ? BCE
the royal testament
of a departing king to his son
van den Dungen
The translation of
The Royal Instruction to Merikare is part of my
Ancient Egyptian Readings (2016), a POD publication in paperback
format of all translations available at maat.sofiatopia.org.
These readings span a period of thirteen centuries, covering all
important stages of Ancient Egyptian literature. Translated from
Egyptian originals, they are ordered chronologically and were
considered by the Egyptians as part of the core of their vast
The study of the sources, hieroglyphs, commentaries and pictures
situating the text itself remain on the website at no cost.
1. Sources :
Papyrus St.-Petersburg 1116A, P.Moscow 4658 & P.Carlsberg 6.
2. King Khety III and his son Merikare.
3. The text of the Instruction to Merikare.
5. Egyptian sacred literature.
6. Egyptian wisdom literature.
1. The Sources
The text of the Instruction to Merikare was
preserved in three fragmentary papyri. The oldest, dating from the second
half of the XVIIIth Dynasty (ca. 1539 - 1292 BCE), the so-called "Papyrus
St.-Petersburg 1116A", is the most complete, but also the most corrupt,
with numerous lacunae and many scribal errors. Papyrus Moscow 4658 dates
from the end of the XVIIIth Dynasty, while Papyrus Carlsberg 6 may even be
An English translation was
made by Gardiner (1914) &
(1927). A new comparative study of the available sources was
done by Volten (1945).
Brunner (1991) &
Parkinson (1997) made recent
translations. Regarding Papyrus St.-Petersburg, Volten remarks :
"Dieser Papyrus ist auf der Vorderseite mit
Geschenklisten beschrieben, die es möglich machen, die Rückseite mit
unsrem Text zur Zeit des Amenophis II zu datieren."
temporal layers may be discerned :
extant papyri : in the XVIIIth Dynasty, unknown
(student ?) scribes made copies from earlier sources
- Papyrus St.-Petersburg dates from the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep II (ca. 1426 - 1400 BCE),
and was copied in Memphis by "the scribe Khaemwaset
for himself, the truly quiet, good of character, patient, loved by people
... for his dear brother whom he loves ... the scribe Mahu." ;
literary composition : contemporary egyptologists assume the work
to be composed in the XIIth Dynasty (ca. 1938 - 1759 BCE). But Lichtheim
argues the work to be pseudepigraphic and actually composed in the reign
of king Merikare, for the text shows compositional weaknesses suggesting
experimentation. This is in conflict with the established literary canon
of later Dynasties (like the XIIth) ;
the person of
Merikare : king Merikare ("mrii-kA-ra" - dates unknown), was one of the rulers of the
Herakleopolitan IXth Dynasty (ca.2160 - ? BCE). He appears to have
been middle-aged when Khety III bequeathed him the throne of the North. He
died before the armies of Mentuhotpe II advanced upon his capital. Ity was
his successor, but the latter lost the throne.
In the First Intermediate Period (ca. 2198 -1938 BCE), the stela became
the carrier of a short autobiography, and equipped with an offering scene
and its adjacent prayer. This was a memorial, the repository of a person's
life, a succinct summary of achievement. The royal instruction was the
second literary legacy of this transitional period : the testament
of a departing King to his son and successor. The Instruction to
Merikare mentions the instruction of an earlier King Khety. It is
therefore only the earliest preserved work of this type.
The work has no "fully sustained compositional
coherence as found in comparable works of the Twelfth Dynasty" (Lichtheim,
p.98). Indeed, the same topic reappears in different places and a buildup
is deflected. However, an overall plan is present, although it is loose.
Compared with that of
Khety's instruction has a compositional structure which is less
"constructed". On the one hand, the sentences do not "bind" in the same way and although
the orational style is used, the author introduces spontaneous associations which
secundary and move away from the main stream of the mindset. On the other
hand, the address is more personal and apparently in tune with the
psychology of his son, whereas the Maxims of Good Discourse are a
general, more standardized treatise on wisdom, expressing the teachings of
any (noble) father to his (accomplished) son. Does this suggest the work
is indeed a composition made by the King himself ?
The salient literary features are :
form : the orational style is used, a rhythmic style marked by
symmetrical sentences, but the text turns into prose when specific events
are told (as in the assassination scene in the
Instruction of Amenemhat) ;
aim : the King bestows his insights on kingship in a literary genre
: the speculum regnum - apparently this was not the first
instruction of this kind, although the earlier work by the hand of a
member of the "house of Khety" is lost. This speculum regnum
is in reality a sort of inaugural address of Khety's son Merikare,
clothing political intentions with a literary mantle ;
section : the King describes his accomplishments and gives his advise on how
to continue them. As far as authorship is concerned, the work is
pseudepigraphic, but genuine as a text describing historical facts,
probably contemporary with the events to which it refers ;
and workings of magic : the Sun-god Re created magic as a weapon to
ward off the blows of evil events, a power watching over the good leaders
of men day and night. The limitations of this power are also given : magic
can not hold back the soul of the justified deceased, returning to the
place it knows and cares for ;
the section of
justice : the justice of the god is all-comprehensive, for he sees
all and nobody can resist him. He wants us to do justice, to uphold the
correct order (Maat). Men are to work for the god, and then the latter
will work for them. The instruction is a witness to the growing importance
of the Judgment of the Dead, the guarantee for the next life ;
the Hymn to
the Sun-god : the Sun-god has created men as his cattle, and he
tends it well. He made mankind after his image, and made daylight for
their sake. He knows every name and has slain the traitors, namely those
who made rebellion.
King Khety III and his son Merikare
At the end of the Old Kingdom, the stable pharaonic system
slowly broke down. During the nine decades of the reign of the
last Pharaoh of the VIth Dynasty, Pepi II (ca.2246 - 2152) -the
longest reign in history- the way was paved for the collapse of
the Old Kingdom under the pressure of internal weakening. A folk
tale of the New Kingdom depicts Pepi II as a weak personality
with abnormal tendencies ...
No serious dangers threatened Egypt
from Western Asia or Nubia, although attacks on Egyptian
expeditions seems to have been more frequent. One important
factor was the increase in the number of cults freed by royal
decree from taxes and other obligations, placing a burden on the
royal treasury, diminishing is power and majesty (cf. the number
of buildings built). Low Nile floods are also to be noted, as
well as a climate change ca. 2200 BCE (probably a world-wide
small ice age).
"But the decisive factor was that the
archaic, patriarchal structure of the adminstration was no
longer adequate to meet the more specialized demands of the era
and thus not suited in all respects to the tenor of the times."
Hornung, 1999, p.41.
The weak administration was no longer able to run the country as
a whole and the consequences were economical difficulties,
famine and struggle for life itself (while Pharaoh made enormous
gifts to the temples). Economic need occupied the center of
attention in biographical inscriptions which emerged in this
period. This situation triggered two important phenomena :
local potentates acquired the necessary goods for themselves
and their subjects. Raids on neighboring regions and the
peasants were common. The latter therefore formed armed
bands. Safety was lost. Art sank to a provincial level. In
the walled homes of the rulers of the nomes (the nomarchs)
an urban middle class was formed, focused on the
private property. These "nedjes" (a pejorative word for
"small") designated these new "bourgeois" who made the
cities into political centers ;
the struggle against the terrible experience of returning to
the banished chaos triggered a flowering of literature
such as Egypt had never produced before. With the decline of
the monarchy, the identification of Maat with the will
of Pharaoh broke up. So the questions : What is good ?
What is evil ? became all important. For the intellectual
elite of the First Intermediate Period, the divine shepherd had
forsaken his human flock. Even the blessed afterlife was
questioned. New ways of formulating their thoughts were
sought, especially to break away from the formulaic &
archaic literary style of the mortuary cults. The power of
the individual was found ...
After Pepi II,
the construction of pyramids stopped and in rapid successions at
least a dozen Pharaoahs resided in Memphis and nominally ruled
the entire land. What exactely happened is unknown (for this
period is obscure), but at the end
Egypt was divided between the "kings" of two major nomes
: Heracleopolis (IXth & Xth Dynasty) in the North (Fayum &
Lower Egypt) & Thebes (XIth Dynasty) in the South (Upper
Egypt and Nubia).
The unity broke up and no great monuments were erected to
consolidate the power of the state. The Theban ruling family
assumed the royal titulary at about the same time as the
nomarchs of Herakleopolis. This fundamental political division initiates the First
Intermediate Period, which would last for about a century
(ca. 2198 -1938 BCE).
The "House of Khety" ruled Lower Egypt. In general,
the southern kingdom was more vital than the northern, but the
latter excelled in cultural refinement.
"Statues of the Theban rulers were set up
in the temple of Heqaib on the island of Elephantine, and we
must assume that because of this tie with the south, the Thebans
had at their disposal, from the very beginning, seasoned Nubian
soldiers who would lend considerable combat strength to the
Theban army in the warfare that ensued to reunite the land."
Hornung, 1999, p.45.
After some years of peace Mentuhotpe I initiated the decisive
battle with Lower Egypt, ruled by Merikare. This attempt was
thwarted, and his successor lost the throne. Although the
correct sequence of rulers is unknown, the following list of
rulers is the reconstruction by
chronology was followed :
Southern Kings (Thebes - IXth & Xth Dynasties) :
(Sehertawy) : 2081 - 2065 BCE
(Wahankh) : 2065 - 2016
(Nakhtnebtepnufer) : 2016 - 2008
(Nebhepetre) : 2008 - 1957
(Sankhkare) : 1957 - 1945
(Nebtawyre) : 1945 - 1938
(Herakleopolis - between 2160 - 1980 BCE - XIth Dynasty) :
the beginning of the Middle Kingdom
The last Pharaoh of the XIth Dynasty was Nebtawyre Mentuhotpe III (ca. 1945 -
1938 BCE). He probably usurped the throne, for he is missing from the
king-lists. His mother was a commoner. It is possible he was not a
member of the royal family. Of his seven year reign, little is known. He
undertook building projects and dispatched his vizier Amenemhat to head an
army of workers at the quarries of the Wadi Hammamat for his intended
royal tomb. There is a consensus that this is the same Pharaoh Amenemhat who
founded the XXIIth Dynasty, although there is no reliable information
available. Around 1980 BCE, Egypt was again in the grasp of a single ruler
after a century of disunity.