Papyrus Westcar, lines 6.7-6.13; involving Scantily Clad Oarswomen.


On Thursdays from 8 AM-12 PM, the five undergraduates studying Egyptology at Johns Hopkins would gather in the Near Eastern Studies room—nicknamed “the Fish Bowl”—of Gilman Library’s basement for four rollicking hours of uninterrupted Middle Egyptian text reading. Presented here, in a fairly regular manner, will be some of my favorites from that class.


I figured I’d start with the Papyrus Westcar because, 1. I’m very rusty, and it’s very simple, 2. this portion makes liberal use of my favorite verbal construction, the sentence particle ‘h’.n (roughly translating to and sounding like, “And then…”), and, 3. an earlier section contains the first recorded instance of a joke (the Egyptians weren’t particularly well known for their humor, so I won’t include it).

The part I’ve chosen comes from the third of the Westcar’s five tales. One afternoon, King Snefru finds himself bored, and so, for the pharaoh’s amusement, the high lector priest Djadjaemankh suggests that the king order some scantily clad females to row around a lake. (Apparently, high lector priests were the ancient Egyptian equivalent of Anglican Vicars.) Anyway, all is mirth and folly on King Snefru’s lake until one of these servants drops her pendant overboard. What will they do??

Tune in, for Lines 6.7-6.13 of Papyrus Westcar, to see how Djadjaemankh saves the day. And for those expectant mothers out there, Djadjaemankh was quite the popular baby name 4,000 years ago…

(Please note that I translate very literally, and don’t provide transliterations or parsing. Also, of the above transcription, please forgive my lackluster cormorants and infantile seated-man determinatives—the butts of many a joke in the Near Eastern Studies Department.)

And then, the high lector priest Djadjaemankh said his magic words.

And then he put one side of the water of the lake on top of the other’s.

And he found the pendant upon the shell of a turtle.

And then he brought it back,

giving it to his female servant.

Now, this water, it was 12 cubits in the middle,

and it ended up as 24 cubits at its back.

And then he said his magical words.

And then he brought the waters in that lake back to their usual position.

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