mdw ntr: divine speech: a historiographical reflection of african deep thought from the time of the pharaohs to the present by jacob carruthers / nine petitions of the farmer whose speech is good

as an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases from these product links.

Excerpt from Jacob Carruthers', Mdw Ntr: Divine Speech: A Historiographical Reflection of African Deep Thought from the Time of the Pharaohs to the Present (#CommissionsEarned):

● ● ●

/// The story of the "farmer whose speech was good and truly profound" is generally recognized as one of the most significant texts from the ancient Nile Valley civilizations. Miriam Lichtheim, for example, classified it under the heading "Didactic Literature" and asserted: "It is both a serious disquisition on the need for justice, and a parable on the utility of fine speech" (Lichtheim 1975, 1:169). Even more illustrative is the comment by John Wilson who argued that the "text gives us the clear argument that ma'at--justice was not a neutral maintenance of past order or a negative repair of breaches of order but a positive search for new good" (Wilson 1951, 120). Like Lichtheim, Wilson also emphasized the importance of the "eloquence" of the protagonist: "His eloquence was so admired that he was kept talking on and on, for the enjoyment of the court" (ibid., 123). Lichtheim herself noted that the officials were so admired that the officials were so "delighted" with the eloquence of the farmer that he was goaded to continue speaking (Lichtheim 1975). Alan Gardiner offered a similar insight: "[the peasant] poured out his complaints . . . with such eloquence that he was detained in order that his supplications, reproaches, and invective might be written down for the sovereign's delectation" (Gardiner 1964, 112).

While those Egyptologists recognize the importance of the arguments for justice and the commanding speeches of the protagonist, I feel that they misread the text and missed the profound message contained therein. In brief, their readings of nfr mdw as fine speech, eloquence and rhetoric combined with the assertion that it delighted or entertained the king of that the king enjoyed the pleas, caused them to depreciate the story itself and thus take the text lightly. In other words, I contend that they did not truly appreciate or take seriously the plot of the text which they dubbed "The Eloquent Peasant." Let us allow the text to speak for itself on this point. The critical passage is the point in the story where the case of the farmer/protagonist is presented to the Pharaoh. . . .


Submissions: scripts at

//info at
//cashapp $lvfrmplnt3

... Cultivare, cultiva terra, arable land, colere, colō; worship, protect, cultivate. As a regular gift to our $2400+/biennium members, Live From Planet Earth extends a special unlimited invitation to our family's homestead/farm/estate in Jamaica. Sign-up by clicking your membership contribution amount below. Live From Planet Earth is a hands-on, cooperative meditation — on self-sustaining, tropical, organic human being and development — rooting and producing through your generous, reparative, faithful contributions. Please support by helping us fill this measure little by little, slowly but surely: Biennial ($2400); Monthly ($5), ($10), ($25), ($30), ($40), ($60), ($70), ($80), ($90), ($130), ($200), ($300), ($500), ($1000).

. . . Eloquence . . . deals more with style and manner than substance. Eloquence has the connotation of "fluency," "aptness," "forcefulness," "moving expressive" in relation to speech. . . .

. . . It is my contention that a correct reading of the text will reveal a complex structure of plots and a progression of arguments that result in a classic discourse on the inseparability of justice and speech (Wilson recognized the progression of arguments but did not follow the point sufficiently). Such is the foundation not only of the ethics of Kemet, it is also the basis of human wisdom from the Kemetic perspective. In other words, in my opinion, concepts of justice and discourse which emerge from this text put forth the basic framework for what may be broadly called social "philosophy," although in fundamental import the deep thought of Kemet differed from the "philosophy" pursued by the Greeks and their followers. We can, however, assert that the conceptual framework put forth by the Kemetic people in this regard was truly "the light of the world" . . . .

. . . I will suggest a reading of the entire text. Using the hieroglyphic transliteration published by F. Vogelsang as Kommentar zu den Klagendes Bauern, Untersuchungen, 6 (Vogelsang 1964) and the translations appearing in Lichtheim, Erman and Maspero, along with the vocabulary alternatives provided in R. O. Faulkner, A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian, I have attempted different renditions of certain vital passages which I believe will enhance the true significance of the text. The emergent reading will place the text in a context of didactic literature consciously and systematically developed for instructional purposes at the highest level of formal education. . . .

. . . If we follow the trend of letting the wisdom texts speak for themselves, the story of the petitions of Khun Inpu chronologically follows the "Instruction of Ptahhotep." (See Carruthers 1986, 7. In that work Khun Inpu was not considered relative to the point.) After the Old Kingdom collapsed, the traditional wisdom a la Ptahhotep was no longer sufficient. The succession crisis which produced a large number of kings-for-a year was replaced after 20 years of flux by a power group that attempted to reestablish stability within the nation which had largely fallen into separate local sovereignties. The new power group identified by the Egyptologists as the 9th Dynasty (the period in which the event of the story occurred) probably never enjoyed complete acceptance and has been characterized as oppressive (Manetho's history so asserted). Such is the implication of the text of "Ipw Wr" which probably comes from the period. Certainly, the 10th Dynasty which followed the regime in question was constantly in trouble as the "Instruction for Merikare" attests (ibid.). The oppression may indeed have been more a function of local despotism which may have gone largely unchecked because of the national crisis of governance. A likely parallel breakdown of the system of education and the subsequent deterioration of the civil service probably resulted in a relatively large number of corrupt petty officials. Such is the apparent historical context of the story of the farmer whose "speech" was "good" (lines 75-76).

Wilson called attention to the poverty and low status of the central figure, but only in the context of the eloquence, and he theorized about the democratic trend of the period. He began by pointing out that in "the instruction of the Vizier Ptah-hotep . . . eloquence was highly prized and might be found even in the humble maidservants at their grindstones" (Wilson 1951, 122). Concerning the status of Khun Inpu, he continued, "The story of the eloquent peasant carried on that view that even the lowliest of Egyptians may be able to speak out with telling effect" (ibid. 122-123)! The possibility that the character was in fact a master teacher never seems to occur to the Egyptological mind. . . .

The man informs his wife that he is going down to Kemet. . . . In addition to being a likely symbol for the city of the dead because of its location on the west bank of the Nile and its connection with the embalming chemical, the Salt Field was also geographically beyond the traditional limits of Kemet, "the Black land." Therefore, going to Kemet could signify both a visit by the judge from the land of judgment or a visit by a stranger outside the nation. It would seem that if the residence of the man was "inside" the nation, his local destination, Neni-Niswt, the capital of the nation during the 9th Dynasty, would have been indicated rather than the nation itself. A few lines later when the journey actually begins, the destination is named and the verb is changed to going up, i.e., "going south."

Another symbolic indication of the significance of this pending journey is the choice of the verb h3 which means "to go down" or "descend." Logically, one would travel up to Neni-Niswt from the Salt Fields since the former is south of the point of departure. H3 may also connote a moral descent. Indeed the moral implication of descending fits the historical context as well as the theme of the story as the narrative will clearly show. The man is thus about to descend into the morass of a corrupt nation.

The purpose of the journey is stated as "in order to bring provisions from there for my children." This is a timeless and universal occurrence, a farmer going to the town or city market to restock and trade, as indicated by the preparations the man made for the journey. He loaded his donkeys with "all the good gifts of the salt country," which included raw materials such as animal skins, unprocessed chemicals and plants which a backwoodsman might gather for purposes of trade. A bit of humor is evidently injected as the list of products includes items such as liver plants, goat-tail brushes and catfish birds. Members of the Kemetic Institute study group suggested that some of these plants were used for health purposes. Such meaning accords with the role of Khun Inpu as a healer. Thus the man was not only providing for future generations (his children), but he was taking gifts to Kemet. The good products of a salt country may well have symbolized spiritual enrichment . . . .

. . . Before the the farmer "goes down to Kemet," he directs his wife to measure the grain left from the last harvest. He further directs her to divide the grain: a portion for herself and the children and the remainder to prepare as bread and beer for his journey. This simple act symbolized the roles anticipated by the man's name, Inpu, one of the divinities presiding over the scales of Maat at the final judgment scene in The Book of the Dead or Going Forth by Day (Allen 1974). Indeed measurement is a skill possessed by the professional civil servants who are the product of higher education and who administer Maat. Thus this backwoodsman begins to emerge as quite an unusual "peasant."

. . . It was in the "Den of Vipers" that the man met the villain Nemtynakht. Maspero related the early history of the reading of this name and Lichtheim presents the present-day reading (Maspero 1915, 45; Lichtheim 1975, 1:183 n. 4). The name Nemtynakht means "Strong Robber" and is thus the type to be found in a den of vipers. Strong Robber is the son of Isri whose name means "The Whip," which explains why Nemtynakht turned out to be a thug. As Ptahhotep taught, education should be carried out through the medium of Good Speech (see Carruthers 1986, 10). The other side is implied in the "Satire of Trades" when scribal education through books is contrasted with beating as a mode of training (Lichtheim 1975, 1:185). Thus, training through brutality produces bullies whereas education proper produces civilized human beings.

. . . The second maxim of Ptahhotep put forth the wisdom that one should neither counter heat with heat nor hurl threat against threat, no match contempt with contempt. Thus, it seems Khun Inpu also had to learn this lesson. The fact that he began to "protest" through reasoned speech after this initial confrontation indicates that he had to begin again and restate the case.

. . . The issue of Freedom of Speech is thus introduced at the outset. The several attempts to silence Khun Inpu that follow are all defeated by the courage and persistence of the hero. Power of speech is a natural right and as it turns out, it is the most powerful right available to a human being because in the end it is speech which prevails. Speech is not only a natural right, it is also a sacred and social duty.

The First Appeal
. . . The man continues his articulate petition by equating the High Stewart with the qualities of the idea governor, "the one who destroys falsehood and brings Maat into being." He closes by imploring the official to "Do Maat" and give his case a fair hearing.

As an introduction to a discourse on justice the speech was perfect. It followed the textbook: a great salutation, a forceful metaphor, a concise operational definition of justice, an appropriate summation of the duty of a public official and an eloquent plea. No attempt was made to enter the facts of the case, indicating that the farmer knew that this petition was to be followed by a presentation of the evidence and the argument. While this act implies that at least two speeches were planned by the man, why did it take nine petitions to exhaust the case?

The Second Appeal
. . . The lecture on justice next turns to the possibility of justifiable crime and violence, admonishing the wealthy to be moderate. "Violence is for the criminal"; "theft suits him who is without property." "Taking property by the criminal is the bad deed of one who is lacking; one cannot be angry with him, he is seeking for himself." Thus, while there is no justification for crime, including necessity, one can at least understand the crime of poor people. Stealing by the well-off, i.e., those satiated with bread and beer, is incomprehensible.

. . . The second appeal uses the indictment to put forth the argument that justice is not limited to fair treatment among equals but is especially concerned with the relationships between unequals.

The Third Appeal
The salutation of the third petition identifies the official, Rensi, with the Creator himself. "You are Re, Lord of the Sky . . . the possession of everyone." Rensi is also equated with the other source of life, the Nile: "You are Hapy greening the field and furnishing the barren land." Thus, the way is prepared for a lecture on the Wisdom of Governance, a major aspect of justice (see Carruthers 1986).

. . . Khun Inpu admonishes him: "Hearer, you have not even heard. Why do you not listen? Today I have indeed repelled the savage!; the crocodile, he retreats! What is the profit to you? When the truth's secret is found the falsehood's back is put on the ground. Do not trust tomorrow; it has not come. The trouble in it is not known."

The response to this chastisement is a beating inflicted on Khun Inpu . . .

The Fourth Appeal
. . . The characteristic indirection and tact which guide negotiations in African culture have been exhausted. . . .

The Fifth Appeal
. . . "To the poor person his property is breath, taking it is stopping up his nose." . . .

The Sixth Appeal
"Diminishing crime promotes Truth, creating good diminishes [badness]." The crime under review is tied to the bane of sociability, "greed," which is a pervasive theme in Ptahhotep. Greed generates evil which causes crime.

The Seventh Appeal
. . . "not knowing that which is in the heart brings about the destruction of the case." . . .

. . . It is the duty of the learned to teach the ignorant. It is the duty of the articulate to impart good speech to the stammerers. The optimist must encourage the pessimist. The wise one must instruct the fool. The command to give Life, Power and Health thus extends beyond physical and material nurturing to the cultivation of the soul, which above all else is necessary for Maat or Divine Order.

The Eighth Appeal
The penultimate petition elevates the discourse from the level of Good Speech which is concerned with ethics and governance to the level of Divine Speech or Theology. The method of the transition is a review of the indictment in the context of an Instruction on greed. The Shuffler is taught that "The avaricious one is lacking in success; his success is failure." This response is a very powerful reconstruction of the 19th and 20th Instructions of Ptahhotep (see Carruthers 1986, 13-14). In Ptahhotep the wisdom emphasizes that one must always teach that the apparent success of the wrongdoer is in essence failure, the opposite of his intentions. . . .

The Ninth Appeal
The final appeal is a short, concise lecture on Good Speech as it relates to governance and ethics. At the outset the teacher asserts, "Their tongue is the scales of human beings." Therefore, officials who punish "those who are opposed to it" [i.e., speech] "are the standard" which is a model for others. . . .

The End of the Story
. . . When the petitions were sent to the Pharaoh, he found them to be the instructions needed to restore the health of the nation: "They were better for [his] heart than everything that was in the entire land." The King then ordered Rensi to render the judgment that should have been pronounced at the outset. Rensi has Nemtynakht brought before him. He also orders an inventory of all of the property possessed by Strong Robber and then awards the estate of Nemtynakht to the triumphant countryman.

The end of the story is in keeping with the Kemetic tradition of a positive resolution to the problem by what may be called a happy ending. In this case Khun Inpu, the countryman who represents Good Speech and Justice, is victorious. Truth prevails and falsehood is destroyed.

. . . The story of the Nine Appeals of Khun Inpu elucidates the first maxim of the Instruction of Ptahhotep. It is based upon the Good Speech of a man of humble circumstance who instructs a corrupt bureaucracy about the principles of justice and their practical applications. . . .

Summary of the Story
. . . The Pharaoh's reason for this decision indicates that the moral health of the kingdom needs to be restored. . . .

In another instance of comparison with the backwoodsman, a traditional Ga chief, Nii Azaria Kdjei Klu of Teshie, Ghana, a direct descendant of the warring founders of Accra, had been in court from 1951 to 1993 when he was eventually declared triumphant over all adversaries over the issue of land ownership. . . .

Good Speech
. . . Even at the end, after six dialogues with silence, he was determined to continue speaking in "the world of tomorrow" before the council of the Final Judgment.

Even though the officials seemed to have consensus on the strategy of depriving Khun Inpu of his power to speak, the Pharaoh, representing the nation and the Kemetic heritage, encourages and facilitates the petitioner's right. In fact, by ordering the recording of the appeals, he elevates the speeches to national prominence. Thus, the combination of the persistence of the protagonist, the excellence of his discourse and the support of the King himself result in the triumph of Maat (truth).

. . . This notion of governance is the major object of the attack by the petitioner. Through the brilliance of his speeches he convincingly argues that governance is the exact opposite of tyranny which causes disaster rather than order. National society does not and cannot consist of mutually hostile groups. . . .

. . . In Kemet the government itself protected and encouraged the speeches of the protester against governmental officials. On the other hand, in Greece, Socrates was executed for his speeches.

The final redistribution of property, rank and authority between Strong Robber and the Good Speaking countryman symbolizes the principle of justice which is one aspect of Maat. Such distribution supports the command to establish Truth and destroy falsehood.

. . . The speaking and doing of Maat are good. Goodness consists of generosity, respect, a sense of fairness and a profound respect for moderation or balance in human relations. This is the teaching of the Good Speaking countryman.

Divine Speech
. . . This revelation is followed in the ninth petition by Khun Inpu's assertion that he will take the appeal to Inpu. The appeal to Inpu in the Hall of Final Judgment is Divine Speech in the pure sense, since the petitioner has made the transition from living on top of the earth to the realm of Tomorrow and thus must be Maa Kheru (True of Voice). In the final analysis then, Good Speech is Divine Speech, because it is the expression of Truth both in precept and example.

A Final Reflection
. . . The discussion is open to everyone from the child to the well-educated functionary or priest. The instructions in governance and high ethical conduct are clear to all who seek the right way. The articulation of the principles of Maat will lead everyone who listens to happiness and eternity. Thus, this text predates the later efforts to treat these ideas in the best of philosophic treatises of world history.

● ● ●

Submissions: scripts at

//info at
//cashapp $lvfrmplnt3

... Cultivare, cultiva terra, arable land, colere, colō; worship, protect, cultivate. As a regular gift to our $2400+/biennium members, Live From Planet Earth extends a special unlimited invitation to our family's homestead/farm/estate in Jamaica. Sign-up by clicking your membership contribution amount below. Live From Planet Earth is a hands-on, cooperative meditation — on self-sustaining, tropical, organic human being and development — rooting and producing through your generous, reparative, faithful contributions. Please support by helping us fill this measure little by little, slowly but surely: Biennial ($2400); Annual ($36), ($2400), ($6000); Monthly ($3), ($5), ($10), ($25), ($30), ($40), ($60), ($70), ($80), ($90), ($130), ($200), ($500), ($1000).