The Instructions of Dua-Khety (The Satire of the Trades)

The “Instructions of Dua-Khety” (also known as “The Satire of the Trades”) dates from the Middle Kingdom and was possibly penned by the same writer who composed the “Instructions of Amenemhat”. It is a satirical text which exaggerates the negatives associated with a list of occupations in order to extol the virtues of a career as a scribe.

Satire of the Trades
Satire of the Trades, NK, Zunkir, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Children learning to write in scribal schools were often given this text to copy on Ostraca (as above) no doubt in part to encourage them to survive the years of hard study required in order to graduate from a scribal school.

Beginning of the teaching made by the man of Tjaru called Duau Khety for his son called Pepy. It was while he was sailing south to the Residenceto place him in the writing schoolamong the children of officials, of the foremost of the Residence.

He said to him I have seen violent beatings: so direct your heart to writing. I have witnessed a man seized for his labour. Look, nothing excels writing. It is like a loyal man. Read for yourself the end of the Compilation and you can find this phrase in it saying ‘The scribe, whatever his place at the Residence. He cannot be poor in it’.

He accomplishes the wish of another when he is not succeeding I do not see a profession like it that you could say that phrase for, so I would have you love writing more than your mother and have you recognise its beauty For it is greater than any profession, there is none like it on earth. He has just begun growing, and is just a child, when people will greet him (already). He will be sent to carry out a mission,and before he returns, he is clothed in linen (like an adult man).

I do not see a sculptor on a mission or a goldsmith on the task of being despatched but I see the coppersmith at his toil at the mouth of his furnace his fingers like crocodile skin his stench worse than fish eggs.

The jeweller drills in bead-making using all of the hardest hard stones. When he has completed the inlays, his arms are destroyed by his exhaustion. He sits at the food of Ra with his knees and back hunched double.

The barber shaves into the end of the evening continually at the call, continually on his elbow, pushing himself continually from street to street looking for people to shave. He does violence to his arms to fill his belly, like bees that eat at their toil.

The reedcutter sails north to the marshes to take for himself the shafts (?). When he has exceeded the power of his arms in action, When the mosquitoes have slaughtered him and the gnats have cut him down too, then he is broken in two.

The small potter is under his earth even when he is stood among the living. He is muddier with clay than swine to burn under his earth. His clothes are solid as a block and his headcloth is rags, until the air enters his nose coming from his furnace direct. When he has made the pestle out of his legs, the pounding is done with himself, smearing the fences of every house, and beaten by his streets.

Let me tell you what it is like to be a bricklayer the bitterness of the taste. He has to exist outside in the wind, building in his kilt, his robes a cord from the weaving-house stretching round to his back. His arms are destroyed by hard labour. mixed in with all his filth. He eats the bread with his fingers though he can only wash the once.

For the carpenter with his chisel (life) is utterly vile covering the roof in a chamber, measuring ten cubits by six. to cover the roof in a month after laying the boards with cord of the weaving-house All the work on it is done, but the food given for it couldn’t stretch to his children.

The gardener has to carry a rod and all his shoulder bones age, and there is a great blister on his neck, oozing puss. He spends his morning drenching leeks, his evening in the mire. He has spent over a day, after his belly is feeling bad. So it happens that he rests dead to his name aged more than any other profession.

The field labourer complains eternally his voice rises higher than the birds, with his fingers turned into sores, from carrying overloads of produce (?). He is too exhausted to report for marsh work, and has to exist in rags. His health is the health on new lands; sickness is his reward. His state work there is whatever they have forgotten. If he can ever escape from there, he reaches his home in utter poverty, downtrodden too much to walk.

The mat-weaver (lives) inside the weaving-house he is worse off than a woman, with his knees up to his stomach, unable to breathe in any air. If he wastes any daytime not weaving, he is beaten with fifty lashes. He has to give a sum to the doorkeeper to be allowed to go out to the light of day.

The weapon-maker is denigrated utterly going out to the hill-land. What he give to his ass is greater than the work that results, and great is his gift to the man in the country who puts him on the track. He reaches his home in the evening, and the travelling has broken him in two.

The trader goes out to the hill-land after bequeathing his goods to his children, fearful of lions and Asiatics. He recognises himself again, when he is in Egypt (He reaches his home in the evening, and the travelling has broken him in two.) His house is of cloth for bricks, without experiencing any pleasure.

The stny-worker his fingers are rotted, the smell of them is as corpses, and his eyes are wasted by the mass of flame. He can never be rid of his stn, spending his day cut by the reed; his own clothing is his horror.

The sandalmaker is utterly the worst off with his stocks of more than oil. His health is health as corpses, as he bites into his skins.

The washerman does the laundry on the shore neighbour to the crocodiles. ‘Father is going to the water of the canal’, he says to his son and his daughter. Is this not a profession to be glad for, more choice than any other profession? The food is mixed with places of filth, and there is no pure limb on him. He puts on the clothing of a woman who was in her menstruation. Weep for him, spending the day with the washing-rod, with the cleaning-stone upon him. He is told ‘dirty washbowl, come here, the fringes are still to be done!’

The bird-catcher is the most utterly miserable he is more miserable than any other profession. His toil is on the river, mixed in with the crocodiles. When the collection of his dues takes place, then he is always in lament. He can never be told ‘there are crocodiles surfacing’: his fear has blinded him. If he goes out, it is on the water of the canal, he is as at a miracle. Look, there is no profession free of directors, except the scribe – he IS the director.

If, though, you know how to write that is better life for you than these professions I show you; protector of the worker, or his wretch the worker? The field labourer of a man cannot say to him ‘do not watch over (me)’. Look, the trouble of sailing south to the Residence, look, it is trouble for love of you. A day in the school chamber is more useful for you than an eternity of its toil in the mountains. It is the fast way, I show you. Or should I inspire desire for being woken at dawn to be bruised?

Let me tell you in another manner do not come too close in good bearing. If you enter when the lord of the house is at home, and his arms are extended to another before you, You are to be seated with your hand on your mouth. Do not request anything beside him, but react to him when addressed, and avoid joining the table.

If you are walking behind officials do not come too close in good bearing. If you enter when the lord of the house is at home, and his arms are extended to another before you, You are to be seated with your hand on your mouth. Do not request anything beside him, but react to him when addressed, and avoid joining the table.

Be serious with anyone greater in dignity Do not speak matters of secrecy, for the secretive is the one who can shield himself Do not speak matters of boasting, but take your seat with the reliable.

If you come out from the school chamber when you have been told the midday hour, for coming and going in the streets Debate for yourself the end of the place

If an official sends you on a mission say it exactly as he says it, without omission, without adding to it. Whoever leaves out the declamation (?),his name shall not endure, but whoever completes with all his talent, nothing will be kept back from him, he will not be parted from all his places.

Do not tell lies against a mother – that is the extreme for the officials. If it has happened, his arms are mustered, and the heart has made him weak, do not add to it with meekness. That is worse for the belly, when you have heard. If bread satisfies you, and drinking two jars of beer, there is no limit for the belly one would fight for; if another is satisfied standing up, avoid joining the table.

Look, you send out the throng, you hear the words of officials, Behave then like the children of (important) people, when you are going to collect them. The scribe is the one seen hearing (cases); Would fighters be the ones to hear? Fight words that are contrary; move fast when you are proceeding – your heart should never trust. Keep to the paths for it: the friends of a man are your troops.

Look – Abundance is on the path of the god and Abundance is written on his shoulder on the day of his birth. He reaches the palace portal, and that court of officials is the one allotting people to him. Look, no scribe will ever be lacking in food or the things of the House of the King, may he live, prosper and be well! Meskhenet is the prosperity of the scribe, the one placed before the court of officials. Thank god for the father, and for your mother, you who are placed on the path of the living. See what I have set out before you, and for the children of your children.

This is its end, perfect, in harmony.

Based on the transliteration by Wolfgang Helck using the Papyrus Sallier II as principal source

Copyright J Hill 2014