A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, June 20, 2014

All the Good Stuff is Written, the World is Going to Hell, and it Already Was 3400 Years Ago: According to Khakheperraseneb

The XVIIIth Dynasty of Egypt (1543-1292 BC) ws one of the best-known New Kingdom dynasties, boasting such celebrities as Akhenaten and Nefertiti, Tutankhamen, and Hatshepsut. And apparently, writers were already lamenting that all the good stuff has already been written and the world is going to hell in a handbasket and it isn't like the good old days . . .

In other words, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

This blogpost led me to the British Museum's website notes on a tablet containing the words of a priest-scribe of Heliopolis called Seni’s son Khakheperreseneb, called Ankhu."

Khakheperreseneb didn't much like his times, sometime according to the BM in the early to mid part of Dynasty XVIII.

He already makes the classic writer's typical complaint, "All the good stuff has already been written" (in the British Museum's translation):
r.1 The collection of words, the gathering of verses,
the seeking of utterances with heart-searching,
made by the priest of Heliopolis,
Seni’s son Khakheperreseneb,
called Ankhu.
He says, `If only I had unknown utterances
and extraordinary verses,
in a new language that does not pass away,
free from repetition,
without a verse of worn-out speech
spoken by the ancestors!
I shall wring my body for what is in it,
- a release of all my speech.
For what is already said can only be repeated;
what is said once has been said;
this is no vain boast of the ancients’ speech
that those who are later should find it good.

The old values are challenged and the world is going to hell in a handbasket;and it's not like the good old days anymore:
I am meditating on what has happened,
the state of things that have happened throughout the land;
changes are happening - it is not like last year.
Each year is more burdensome than its fellow.
The land is in uproar, has become what destroys me,
has been made into what rests in peace.
Truth is put outside,
Chaos within the council.
The counsels of the Gods are thrown into tumult,
and Their directives are neglected.
The land is <in> calamity,
mourning in every place,
towns and districts in woe,
and everyone alike is wronged.
The back is turned on reverence;
the Lords of Silence are violated;
morning still happens every day,
but the face shrinks from what happens.
And we're all pretty much screwed:
I am meditating on what has happened:
misery has appeared today -
a morning when strangers have not passed away;
everyone is silent about it;
the whole land is in an extreme state.
There is no person free from wrong,
and everyone alike is doing it;
breasts are saddened;
he who commands is as he who is commanded,
and yet the hearts of both of them are calm.
Each day one must wake to it.
Hearts cannot put it aside;
yesterday’s share of it is like today’s,
because the many imitate it, because of harshness.
There is no one clever enough to understand;
there is no one angry enough to give voice.
Every day one wakes to suffering.
Long and heavy is my anguish.
The pauper has no strength
to <save himself> from the more powerful man.
Silence against what is heard is a disease,
v.5 but to answer the ignorant is sorrow,
to oppose an utterance now creates enmity.
The heart cannot accept Truth.
They have had no patience with the reply to a speech;
all a man loves is his own phrase;
everyone is based on crookedness,
and honest speech is abandoned.
I speak to you, my heart, so that you shall answer me.
A heart which is touched cannot be silent.
Look, the servant’s lot is like the lord’s,and many things are burdensome because of you.

Khakheperreseneb must have really been a downer at parties.

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