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Three Egyptian Tales

A small number of popular stories survive from ancient Egypt, sometimes preserved in one or occasionally more manuscripts, sometimes preserved in whole or in part in painted or sculpted wall inscriptions. These have been compiled and recompiled, translated and retranslated, told and retold, both in our own time and, apparently, in antiquity. Since they seem to have been popular stories, my prejudice favors the coherent retelling of them rather than the pedantic treatment of the versions that history has more or less randomly selected for us.


An early and responsible two-volume edition of most of the stories was published in 1899 by the formidable Egyptologist W. M. Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) under the modest title Egyptian Tales.

Since all original sources were fragmentary, Petrie, after painstakingly reviewing the fragments, simply retold each tale as coherently as possible, and followed it with whatever commentary seemed most useful. The edition was illustrated with steel engravings by Petrie's friend Tristan Ellis.

The entire work is available on this web site. However I have selected three of the tales for class use, re-editing them slightly for easier reference, and providing introductions, section divisions, subtitles, and lists of dramatis personae. (The unmodified originals, reformatted for web reading, remain in the full Petrie collection [link]). They are:

  1. The Eloquent Peasant
    (A tale from about 2000 BC) (Length: 13k)
  2. Taking Joppa by Ruse
    (A tale from about 1500 BC) (Length: 8k)
  3. Prince Setna and the Magic Book of Thoth
    (A tale from about 300 BC, set 1000 years earlier, told as a play in five acts.) (Length: 30k)

At the end of each tale there is a link to a review quiz covering both the procursus and the story itself.

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