Wednesday, June 08, 2016

People Are People

Sybil here. I returned from a short vacation with my brain clearer and notes from my editor on book 3 waiting for me in my inbox. As always, I appreciate her insights and, as always, I groan when she tells me about continuity errors that I should have caught and are, of course, obvious when pointed out. So now I’m busy reworking A PALETTE FOR MURDER, moving a few scenes around, working on my characters, fixing plot holes that somehow I didn’t notice. No matter how much effort I put into it, there’s always something that sneaks through, probably because after awhile you lose all perspective on your own work. That’s why I love my editor. She may not tell me what I want to hear, but she always makes the story better.

When I’m not writing, one of the things I do is study Ancient Egyptian with a group of like-minded people, something I’ve been doing for 20 years or so. This week we started translating texts known as Letters to the Dead. These are texts that span the period of the Late Old Kingdom (about 2686-2181 BC) to the late New Kingdom (about 1550-1069 BC).

The letters are written to dead relatives asking them to intercede on a still living person’s behalf to address a problem or right a wrong. The letter we started looking at this week was written on a pottery bowl and found in a tomb dated to Late Old Kingdom to First Intermediate Period.

On the outside of the bowl is a letter from Shepsi to his mother, Iy; on the inside is a letter to his father, Iinekhenmut. This letter was written in hieratic, not the hieroglyphs most people are used to, probably by a scribe hired to do the work. This is the text on the inside of the bowl.

Apparently, Shepsi is having a bit of a property dispute and he believes his dead brother is interfering with his ability to get all of his father’s property. He reminds good old dad that he said “All my property shall remain with my son Shepsi.” And he tells his father that he buried his brother properly, but he’s still having problems. Basically, he’s asking his dead father to intervene in the afterlife, at the court of the underworld, to put an end to the problem. Even though this was written over 4000 years ago, you can still feel the frustration radiating off of the bowl. Shepsi has done everything he should do, he’s been a good son and brother, and he’s still having problems!

What does this have to do with writing, you say? I think it serves as a reminder that people are people no matter when they lived. Our world may look completely different from Ancient Egypt but, really, we’re all still the same creatures. Something that’s good for a writer to remember.

Poor Shepsi, I wonder if he ever got his dispute settled to his satisfaction.

1 comment:

Charlotte Hinger said...

Wow, Sybil, I had no idea. What a fascinating study.