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Reading the Story of Sinuhe

© 1982 by David Lorton
Revised for publication on the WWW 1999

In 1982, John Baines published an eloquent call for the study of the Story of Sinuhe as a work of literature in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 68. By coincidence, in that same year, Robert Parent published L’Affaire Sinouhé, a substantial monograph on the legal aspects of the story. Parent kindly sent me a copy of his book, and I read it with great pleasure, for it is an excellent, painstaking study.

As I read Parent’s work, it seemed to me that certain passages he signaled for their legal implications also served as keys to understanding the story as a work of literature. Certain of them show his inner conflict as he tried to deal with his cowardice in fleeing Egypt. Sinuhe’s career in Asia saw him overcome this cowardice, and a comparison of the account of his duel with he “strong man of Retjenu” toward the end of the story with the content of his paean of Sesostris I near the beginning of the tale shows that ultimately, he emulated Sesostris’ bravery to the extent possible in this different cultural context. Finally, the story ends on a note that we today might view as ironic, though it was perhaps not seen as such in ancient times: stress is placed on the fact that Sinuhe’s flight was prompted by loyalty, not disloyalty, to Sesostris.

I wrote up my thoughts in a lengthy letter that I send to Robert Parent. It was my intention to revise it for publication, but a colleague told me he was writing an article of his own in response to Parent’s book, so I decided to wait until it appeared in print so that I could take it into account. At least three years passed before that happened, and in the meanwhile, I went on to do other things entirely, and I never returned to my analysis of the Story of Sinuhe. In a sense, this is perhaps just as well. Egyptology is a small field; our journals have small circulations, and they are available only in a few libraries with specialized research collections. Interest in ancient Egypt, however, is widespread, and many people have read the Story of Sinuhe, if not in the original Egyptian, at least in translation. The ability to publish what I wrote on the World Wide Web enables me to offer it at this time to a wider audience than it would have enjoyed had I published it in a journal.

The remarks that follow assume that the reader is familiar with the story; an accessible translation in English is that by Miriam Lichtheim in Volume I of her Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings (Berkeley, 1973). For those who have not read it, the plot is as follows: King Amenemhet I appointed his son Sesostris I as coregent, and when the story opens, Sesostris is returning to Egypt from a successful military expedition in Libya (that is, somewhere to the west of Egypt). One night, a messenger arrived at the camp with news of Amenemhet’s death, and Sesostris departed in haste, leaving his forces behind. Later that night, a second messenger arrived and spoke with other royal sons (that is, brothers of Sesostris); evidently, there was a plot to prevent Sesostris from becoming sole ruler. Sinuhe, an administrator who accompanied the expedition, overheard them talking, and he was filled with fear. Convinced that neither Sesostris nor he would survive the impending civil strife, Sinuhe fled Egypt and arrived in western Asia. His journey took him to an area called Upper Retjenu, where the ruler Amunenshi took him in. Amunenshi married him to his eldest daughter and placed him at the head of a tribe. Sinuhe’s sojourn in Upper Retjenu was long and prosperous. He watched his sons grow into men, and he defended his tribe against its enemies. His career culminated in a duel he fought with a powerful rival leader, and shortly thereafter, he received a letter from Sesostris, who had prevailed over the conspirators, inviting him to return to Egypt. Sinuhe accepted the invitation, and he ended his days once again in the favor of the royal court.

The original audience of the Story of Sinuhe would have known many details regarding the death of Amenemhet and the circumstances of Sesostris’ assumption of sole rule, details of which we remain ignorant. While this circumstance is to be regretted if our aim is to write Egyptian history, it is perhaps to our advantage if our aim is to understand the story as a work of literature. The author, after all, has presumably told his audience what he feels it should know in order to comprehend his text, so it ought to be possible for us to take in the details he has provided and arrive at some sort of understanding of his intent (I am assuming, of course, that there is indeed an authorial intent here.) A reading of the story prompts various questions, among then: What were the exact historical circumstances of Sinuhe’s flight? What was the essential cause of his flight? What did he do or not do that was wrong, and what did the king think of it. What specifically did Sinuhe want from the king, and did he get it? In the comments that follow, these and other questions will be addressed, not from the point of view of history, but rather with the aim of gaining some insight into what the text itself has to say.

The nature of the “historical” inscriptions the Egyptians wrote is unfortunately such that we catch no more than an occasional faint glimmer of the political maneuverings that must have been a fact of life for the ruling class. The Story of Sinuhe might have been more explicit than it in fact is, but the political facts were so well known to the original audience of the tale that the little that is said was sufficient to conjure up the whole. Nevertheless, what is said allows only one possible interpretation of the basic circumstances—in part, that there was opposition to Sesostris I, and at least part of it was in the army. Evidently, others in the line of succession to the throne, with one in particular as their leader (the msw-nswt “royal sons” and w’ im “one of them” of R22–24) were in league with individuals at the Residence to do away with Sesostris, and they were in a position to make use of the army returning from Libya to effect their purposes. A messenger loyal to Sesostris reported the death of Amenemhet, and Sesostris departed from the army secretly, alone (Sinuhe, we must presume for purposes of the story, learned of this later). Sesostris’ departure could only have been to remove himself from the immediate danger surrounding him and to try to secure the situation in the Residence before the Libyan expedition could arrive. But a messenger disloyal to Sesostris subsequently arrived with a message to the conspirators. Might this messenger have known about the other message and Sesostris’ flight (this could have been Sinuhe’s source of information)?—we do not know. But what was said in the conversation between the disloyal messenger and the prince must have been so boastful, so certain of the success of the plans that had been made, that Sinuhe, who had no other source of information, was thoroughly frightened by what he overheard—as the text explicitly states. Why was Sinuhe afraid? There is only one possible reason: he was known to be a loyal supporter of Sesostris. Was Sinuhe’s name mentioned in the disloyal message? Probably not, for the text would likely have reported such a mention, and the possibility is contradicted by what the text does say: “I did not plan to approach this Residence, having reasoned that a political disturbance would occur. I did not think I would survive him!” Various translators notwithstanding, .f of ‘nx r-s3.f cannot refer to the “political disturbance,” which is grammatically feminine, so the referent of .f must be Sesostris. Sinuhe lost hope when he heard the contents of the disloyal message. Again, we do not know whether the disloyal messenger knew of the prior message and Sesostris’ flight, so we do not know if Sinuhe thought that Sesostris was about to be killed in the camp, or whether he was in possession of the fact that the king had in fact gone to the Residence. But whether Sesostris was dead or alive, the goal of the Libyan army, led by the disloyal princes, would surely be the Residence, where a purge of the staunch supporters of Sesostris—including, of course, Sinuhe—would take place. Again, it is uncertain whether Sinuhe knew at this point that Sesostris was on his way to the Residence; but the boastful conversation convinced him that there was no hope for Sesostris’ cause.

Where did Sinuhe intend to flee? We know only that he was fleeing away from Libya and that he wanted to avoid the Residence, which he thought was or soon would be in the hands of his political enemies, and where lay the greatest danger to the partisans of Sesostris. But did he intend from the first to go to Asia? Or to Nubia? Or to survive the purge somehow within the confines of Egypt itself? We have no way of knowing; pure chance might have played a role in guiding Sinuhe’s flight.

What did Sinuhe do or not do, and what was done about it? As Robert Parent has pointed out in L’Affaire Sinouhé, it is clear that Sinuhe did not denounce the plot and that he did not stand by his royal master, and these were crimes. Contrary to Sinuhe’s expectations when he heard the disloyal message, Sesostris survived and prevailed. Sinuhe’s absence was inquired into; here, I support Parent’s brilliant interpretation of B227–228. In Sesostris’ letter to Sinuhe, we seem to have the results of that investigation: n w’3.k mdw.k “you uttered to outrage, that one would punish your words” (B183–184). That is, it was established that Sinuhe was not a part of the conspiracy.

These are the outward aspects of Sinuhe’s flight. But there is an internal dimension as well, and once it is recognized, the dynamics of the story become clearer. Once again, we do not know whether the disloyal messenger—and therefore his auditors—knew about the prior message and Sesostris’ departure. If he did not, then Sinuhe could have tried to go immediately to the king in the camp and denounce the plot. If he did, then Sinuhe should have himself escaped the clutches of the plotters and rushed to the Residence to stand by his king. Sinuhe failed in either respect, and this was wrong. But is this all there is to say about the matter? A further question insists on imposing itself: why did loyal Sinuhe fail at this crucial moment? The answer is not explicit in the text, but it is there nonetheless, and it is the only one possible. Sinuhe heard the conversation between the disloyal messenger and the leader of the treasonous princes, and he believed from what could only have been its exaggerated and boastful content that Sesostris and his cause were doomed, and with them, Sinuhe himself (n Dd.i ‘nx.i r-s3.f “I did not think I would survive him”). Whatever the potential outcome, Sinuhe was bound to act for his king, but he did not: he acted to protect his own life. To put it bluntly, he was overcome by cowardice. The resolution of the legal aspect of Sinuhe’s failure was in the king’s hands. But the ultimate wrong on Sinuhe’s part, which was internal and psychological, was Sinuhe’s shame, and the text subtly shows us how he bore it.

Here we reach a number of crucial passages. The ancient Egyptian language had a word for “coward,” yet it is not present in this text. The narrative is written in the first person, and very ingeniously, the author shows us that Sinuhe is not able even to utter the word. But Sinuhe has much to say indeed on a crucial aspect of it, namely, how he could possibly have done such a thing. It is not characteristic of him, he does not want to recognize the possibility of it in his character. In the first instance, he can only say in bewilderment at how to explain his reaction to the disloyal message, “my heart fluttered, my arms spread out, a trembling befell all my limbs” (B2–3; Lichtheim’s translation). Later, in answer to Amunenshi’s question, “Why have you come here,” Sinuhe again describes his reaction to the message: “My heart grew faint. My heart, it was not in my body, and even though I had not been criticized, and no one had spat in my face, and I had not heard a declaration of infamy, and my name had not been heard in the mouth of the herald, it carried me away on the desert roads.” (B38–42). Here, Sinuhe dissimulates, for we have been told enough to realize that when he took flight, Sinuhe was fleeing the conspirators, not the wrath of Sesostris, whom it is clear from B7 he did not expect to survive the conspiracy! It is poignant that even with this dissimulation—the text says, “I spoke in half-truths”—Sinuhe cannot really hide his cowardice. But we were told a few lines earlier that Amunenshi had already heard reports about Sinuhe and his good character (B32–34), and while the text is not explicit, we are evidently to conclude that these prior testimonials led Amunenshi to give Sinuhe refuge and an important position in his own realm.

This is not the last time Sinuhe refers to his cowardice as an inexplicable loss of his senses. In his reply to the king’s letter, he states, “This flight which your servant made, it was not foreseeable, it was not in my heart, I did not devise it” (B223–224). And later, back in Egypt, in his reply to the king’s speech–in a sentence which will require more comment below–he refers to the cause of his flight simply as Hr(yt) “terror,” which I think (with Lichtheim) is best rendered into English here as “dread,” to help express its variety of nuances.

But along with this simple psychological explanation, in each of its occurrences after the very first, is another one. Sinuhe also tells Amunenshi, “I do not know what brought me to this country: it was like the plan of a god” (B42–43). In his reply to the king, after the psychological explanation, he rewords his statement to Amunenshi and says, “I do not know what removed me from (my) place: it was like a dream-image (sSm rswt) that has been created” (B224–225). This is particularly subtle, for Sinuhe does not employ the word nTr “god,” but rather the nominally-used participle irw “(something) that has been created,” which hints at an outside agency behind the flight, just as a divinity might send a meaningful dream. And in his reply to the king’s speech, Sinuhe asks, “What is that which my lord has said to me that I must answer it? Would it not, indeed, be blasphemy?” (B261–262; for the grammatical construction of the second sentence, entailing the particle is and the copula pw, see Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, 3d ed., § 491.2, second example). Thus, each time that Sinuhe must explain the cause of his flight to another–Amunenshi or Sesostris–he makes mention, not explicitly of cowardice, but of an overwhelming psychological reaction, while at the same time hinting at a possible divine cause for that reaction.

But here we must backtrack, for there is more here than this simple juxtaposition of points in Sinuhe’s statements to others. The notions of “god” and “predestination” form a theme in this text, one that develops in the course of the narrative. In his original narration of his flight, Sinuhe makes only the psychological explanation. But when he speaks to Amunenshi, he says, iw mi sx-nTr, “it was like the plan of a god.” Why does he says this? Is he subtly trying to suggest a cause for the flight that would make Amunenshi, whose favor he is currying, overlook his cowardice? Or is he groping for an explanation for his own sake? I do not see any further alternatives, and I suspect that the answer is, a bit of both. But it is crucial to note that Sinuhe does not say that it was the plan of a god, but only that it was like the plan of a god, that is, like a divine intervention. The word mi “like” is ineluctable: Sinuhe is only toying with the idea here, using it as a simile to amplify the notion of the discrepancy between his image of himself as a loyal follower of Sesostris and his act of flight.

Then, suddenly, references to the divine cluster around what I think must be regarded as the climax of the story, the single combat with the “strong man of Retjenu.” (It is also possible that the story has a double climax, the combat and the arrival of the king’s letter.) There is no evidence of a rigorous view of divine predestination in ancient Egypt, only that divine will can be exerted upon—that is, divine intervention can occur in—the world of humankind. The night before the combat, in conferring with Amunenshi, Sinuhe says to him, “Is there a god who does not know what he has predestined?” (B126). At this critical point in his life, when he must go to bed contemplating the fight that is about to take place, when he will possibly die in front of crowds, Sinuhe acknowledges—whether in a fatalistic or a hopeful manner is uncertain—the reality of divine intervention. After his success in the combat, he tells us, “I gave praise to Montu” (B141–142). And to confirm his belief in divine intervention at this point in his life, he goes on to say, “And so is a/the god disposed to be peaceful to one against whom he has risen up, whom he has led astray to another country” (B147–148, following Robert Parent’s rendering). Sinuhe is convinced that divine will has saved him, and these words show that now—and only now—does he express a conviction that his cowardice was not simply his fault, that there was a divine will behind it, incomprehensible but in any event relieving his conscience of personal responsibility. And in the same moment, he dares to hope that this same divine will might bring him back to Egypt: “May the god grant me grace, may he act likewise to make good the end of one whom he has abased, may his heart feel for one whom he has uprooted to live in a foreign country! If indeed he is gracious now (lit., “today”), he will listen to the prayer of one who is far away, he will return the one whom he caused to roam the earth to the place from which he took (ini) him!” (B160–164). Sinuhe does not know what god was responsible (nTr nb S3w w’rt tn, “whichever god ordained this flight,” B156–157), but in the emotional intensity of this moment, he believes wholeheartedly that his flight was the result of a divine intervention; he prays the words just cited, and in the lines that follow immediately, he prays for the king’s forgiveness. With these statements, the theme of “god” and “predestination” has proceeded from a mere simile (iw mi sxr-hTr, “it was like the plan of a god”) to an absolute conviction, and here it reaches its climax. It is not his deranged heart/mind (the text uses the term H3ty) that carried (ini) Sinuhe away from Egypt, but rather some god (nTr nb).

At least after the fact, when he composes his biography near the end of his life, Sinuhe recognizes that intermediaries to whom he had expressed his longing for Egypt conveyed this sentiment to Sesostris (B173–174). But at the time, when the king’s letter arrived, it might indeed have seemed to be the answer to his prayer! Nevertheless, despite the good news contained in the letter, Sinuhe was forced to learn that the king did not share his theory of predestination in the matter. The first words of the letter refer to Sinuhe’s flight as having been caused by “the counsel of your very own heart” (sH n ib.k n.k, B182–186). Sinuhe is forced once again to face his sense of guilt and bewilderment, and the theme of guilt, which has now reached its climax in the story, tapers off. In his reply to the king’s letter, he includes the theme, but he alludes to it in a circumspect manner: iw mi sSm-rswt ir(w) “it was like a dream image which has been made”—he does not use the word nTr, not even in a mere simile, as he did earlier to Amunenshi. But after this timid introduction, he dares to say it. First, he hesitates, making the psychological explanation. Then, by way of further explanation, he proceeds to state, “The god who determined this flight dragged me away” (B229–230). Finally, in his audience with the king after his return to Egypt, Sinuhe uses the verb S3i “to ordain,” but its divine connection is obscured: “What is that which my lord has said to me that I must answer it? Would it not, indeed, be blasphemy? Dread, it is in my body, like what caused the fateful flight!” (B 261–262). What a strange statement. Who or what determined the flight? The “dread,” to be sure. But behind the dread? The god, an explanation which Sinuhe declines to offer here because it would be blasphemy? Or perhaps, in the end, Sinuhe’s own guilt-ridden self? But there is more to this dread, as will be noted below.

In addition to the theme of cowardice and the ways in which Sinuhe tries to explain it, there is yet another theme: his active renunciation of cowardice through his own acts of bravery. What was Sinuhe actually doing on the expedition to Libya? Was it a sort of “outing” for him as a friend of the royal family? Did he go along to assist in the directing of some of the plunder into the coffers of the “harem”? We do not know, but the text gives us no reason at all to think that he was there to take up a weapon and fight. As an administrator and not a fighting man, Sinuhe was indeed afraid when he heard the disloyal conversation, and this makes his flight all the more understandable, though nevertheless wrong. But once in Retjenu, he makes as it were a career of campaigning against the enemies of his patron Amunenshi (B97–106), a fighting career which culminates in his single combat with the “strong man of Retjenu.” Indeed—and this is critical, since it shows that we are at the turning-point in the story—it is only when Sinuhe reaches this climax in his fighting career, when he has obliterated any trace of cowardice in his character through his active efforts, that Sinuhe recalls his uniquely Egyptian character and expresses a longing to return home. (Other factors could also be at play, of course. For instance, Sinuhe’s thoughts about where he would be buried could easily have been prompted by the mortal danger through which he had just passed.)

There is a fascinating dimension to this theme of Sinuhe as warrior to be found in the text, namely, Sinuhe’s emulation of Sesostris. Sinuhe plunders cattle and carries off people (B103), just like Sesostris (R15–16). He is always victorious (B101–102), just like Sesostris (cf. the tenor of the entire poem in praise of Sesostris, B47–73). Sinuhe does this through his “strong arm” (xpS, B105), just as Sesostris is a “strong one who acts with his strong arm” (nxt grt ir(w) m xpS.f, B51–52; and Sinuhe implicitly assimilates the designation nxt to himself when he defeats the “strong man” [nxt, B109] of Retjenu in single combat). He also uses the bow (B105), just like Sesostris. (B60–61) He makes “excellent plans” (sxrw iqru, B106), which recalls phrases in Sinuhe’s paean of Sesostris: “He is lord of knowledge, excellent of plans, splendid of commands (nb si3 pw iqr sxrw mnx wDwt, B48–49), and “when he fights, he plans the end and does not think of anything else” (B64–65). And finally, is not Sinuhe’s position vis-à-vis Amunenshi—at the head of his children and married to his eldest daughter (and thus, we should probably presume, his intended heir), and the one who carries out military expeditions on Amunenshi’s behalf, in fact essentially parallel to Sesostris’ position as eldest son and coregent of Amenemhet I and leader of the Egyptian army, or at least as parallel to that position as the situation in Retjenu would allow? All this is at least vaguely akin to the Freudian concept of the “return of the repressed”: before (to take the text at face value) Sinuhe can dare to hope for a return to Egypt, he first emulates to the hilt, to the extent possible in Retjenu, the very person—Sesostris—whose wrath and judgment he dreads!

Finally, we turn to the questions, what did Sinuhe want from the king? Why did he think he could get it? And why in fact did he get it? In one sense, the text explicitly tells us, from an Egyptian point of view, what Sinuhe wanted: Htp, an “act of grace” or the like (B165) and Hswt, the “favor” of the king (B310). The Loyalist Instruction, a text not far removed in time from the Story of Sinuhe, contains the statement, “there is no tomb for one who commits a crime against (sbi Hr) his majesty, his corpse being thrown into the river.” In the context of the Story of Sinuhe, because Sinuhe’s overriding concern in wishing to return to Egypt is a proper burial, as we are told (B159–160), the “grace” and the “favor” he desires can only be a decision on the part of the king that releases Sinuhe from the status of “criminal” (sbi).

How could Sinuhe hope for such a decision? Let us turn for a moment to the modern point of view. As pointed out by Robert Parent in the study that inspired this essay, to be criminal, an act must be both voluntary and intentional. Sinuhe intended to flee, to be sure. But if his act of flight was prompted by cowardice, that is, by overwhelming fear—or even, as Sinuhe entertains the notion, he was carried away by divine intervention—was the flight really voluntary? We have no means of knowing whether this distinction was a regularly operative factor in ancient Egyptian law, but at this same time, there is no reason to think—and this very text confirms it—that Egyptians were not capable of making the distinction in cases where it was applicable. Further evidence that they were capable of such a subtlety is forthcoming, if one can accept my interpretation of an unfortunately broken passage in the Instruction for Merikare as distinguishing between criminal acts and criminal intentions that were not in fact carried out (“The Treatment of Criminals in Ancient Egypt through the New Kingdom,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 20 [1976]: 13). Thus, in his first communication to Sesostris—his reply to the king’s letter—Sinuhe appeals to both the psychological and the divine intervention arguments, surely to explain away his wrongfulness in not denouncing the plot and coming to the king’s aid, and he goes on to state, “I am not an insurgent” (n ink is q3-s3, B230), thus pointing out that his wrongs were not prompted by disloyalty, a fact that is surely relevant in the context of the conspiracy against Sesostris.

But this self-defense is superfluous, for the king’s decision was already made and announced to Sinuhe in the royal letter. Sesostris did not entertain the possibility of divine will, and he begins the letter somewhat sternly by reminding Sinuhe that his flight was his own decision (B181–183), but from what follows in the remainder of the communication, it is clear that he is reproaching Sinuhe for foolishness, not accusing him of a crime. Evidently, he understands that Sinuhe, who was an administrator and not a fighter, might have panicked and fled for his life, and in any case, if there was technically some wrong in the flight, much time has passed, and he does not intend to punish someone whom he acknowledges to be an old man (B189-190). Further, the results of the official inquiry (which we know took place from a passage outside this letter (B227–230; here, I follow Robert Parent’s interpretation) showed, as the king states in the letter, that Sinuhe’s disappearance was not because he was a part of the defeated conspiracy (B183–184, again following Parent’s interpretation). In sum, the king tells Sinuhe that he would not have prosecuted him even at that time (B185, again following Parent), and in dwelling at length on the burial that Sinuhe will receive eventually if he will only return to Egypt (B190–199), Sesostris makes it clear that he does not regard him as a criminal (sbi) who would have been denied a burial (Parenthetically, though no mention of it is made in the king’s letter, given the fact that he has been made aware of Sinuhe’s situation through intermediaries [B173–174], perhaps we are to understand that in addition to his humane choice not to hold Sinuhe’s cowardice against him, Sesostris was also aware of the fact that Sinuhe had worked for years to “redeem his manhood.”)

In addition to the involuntary nature of Sinuhe’s flight, the text advances another defense of Sinuhe’s act, one that cleverly plays on the royal ideology. Accepting that Sinuhe’s panic did not in and of itself deserve punishment, one must (indeed, Sesostris must, though the words are not actually placed in his mouth) acknowledge as well that the circumstance that prompted the flight was precisely his loyalty to Sesostris in a situation in which he was given every reason to think that this loyalty would cost him his life. Further, this loyalty did not end when Sinuhe left Egypt, despite the fact that he held at this time (to take the text at face value) no hope of the king’s pardon: he propagandized on behalf of Sesostris (thus his paean of the king to Amunenshi), and he entertained the king’s ambassadors (B94–95); the latter could not possibly have been unknown to the king, or at least to his administration. At the end of the story, when Sesostris states, “he (that is, Sinuhe) shall not fear, he shall not dread,” we must not allow the translation to mislead us. “Fear” and “dread” (the Egyptian words are snD and Hryt) are terms that can have a negative connotation, but they also have a positive connotation in the royal ideology (this is well known, and Robert Parent discusses the matter at length in his book), and so the story, which begins with a flight ultimately occasioned by loyalty to the king, ends by using these words to express the notion that Sinuhe’s loyalty is the reason why Sinuhe has not been prosecuted, but rather welcomed back into the royal household. We can thus see that there is a reason for the precise choice of words when Sinuhe says to the king, in a context that plays upon the semantic range of the word Hryt, “dread is and will be in my body, like what caused the determined flight” (B262, again following Parent). And this is why the royal children say to the king on the occasion of his audience with Sinuhe at the end of the story, “he made the flight in fear of you, he left the land in dread of you” (B277–278), statements that can easily be interpreted as meaning, “he fled because he was loyal to you.”

Thus ends, with minimal revision, what I wrote in 1982. After that, I went on to other projects, and I have not returned to the Story of Sinuhe in the interval. The text is generally viewed as a piece of royal propaganda. It certainly gives every appearance of being tendentious, and if so, its author had a message to convey, and he expected his audience to understand it. The remarks above focus in on a small number of passages that I feel yield the germ of a satisfying literary analysis of the story, but the text is a lengthy one, and it certainly deserves more work. I hope that the availability of this little study will inspire others to take the matter further.

The above is not meant to imply that there has been no work to date on the literary aspects of the story. There are two relatively recent, important works on Sinuhe by Sergei Stadnikow, “Über die Willens- und Handlungsfreiheit in der Lebensgeschichte des Sinuhe,” Mitteilungen für Anthropologie und Religionsgeschichte 8 (1993): 99-111 and “Architektur, Landschaft und Natur in der ‘Lebensgeschichte des Sinuhe,’” Mitteilungen für Anthropologie und Religionsgeschichte 11 (1996): 93-103. The notes to these articles constitute a good bibliography of the studies of Sinuhe as literature that have been gradually accumulating.

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