‘A Dispute over Suicide’

‘This remarkable text carries the argument between a man who is weary of this life and his own soul. Since he finds life unbearable, the man contemplates suicide. His soul vacillates, first agrees, then fears that suicide will entail the danger that the man will have no mortuary service from his survivors, the proposes and abandonment to a life of careless pleasures, and finally agrees to remain with the man in any case.
The text dates from the Middle Kingdom, or, more probably, from the disturbed times between the Old and Middle Kingdoms (end of the third millennium B.C.), when the established order of life had broken down and men were propping for new values.

I opened my mouth to my soul, that I might answer what it had said: “This is too much for me today that my soul no (longer) talks with me.” It is really too great to be exaggerated. It is like abandoning me. Let [not] my soul go away; it should wait for me because of…It will not (10) thereby succeed in escaping from the day of misfortune

My soul opened its mouth to me, that it might answer what I had said: “If thou art thinking of burial, that is heart’s distress. It is a bringing of tears, making a man sad. It is taking a man out of his house, (so that) he is left on the hillside, (whence) thou shalt never go up above that thou mightiest see (60) the suns. They who build in granite and who hew out chambers in a pyramid, good men in good work, as soon as the builders have become gods, their offering-stones are as bare, for lack of a survivor, as (those of) the weary ones, the dead on the dyke – (65) the waters take hold of an end of him, and the sunlight as well, and the fish of the water-banks talk to them. Listen to me. Behold, it is good for men to listen. Pursue the happy day and forget care!

“The poor man plows his plot of ground and loads his harvest (70) into a ship’s hold. He makes the journey by towing (the boat), because) his feast day is approaching. When he sees the forthcoming of an evening of high water, he is vigilant in the ship when Re retires, (and so) comes out (safely), with his wife and his children being lost on the lake, treacherous (75) with crocodiles in the night. At last he sits down, when he can take part in speech, saying: I am not weeping for that mother, (though) there is no coming forth from the West for her, for another (time­) on earth. (But) I am concerned about her (unborn) children, broken in the egg, who saw the face of the crocodile-god (80) before they had (even) lived!’
“The poor man asks for and afternoon mean, (but) his wife says to him: ‘It’s for supper!’ He goes out-of-doors to grumble for a while. If he comes back into the house and is like another man, his wife is (still) experienced in him: that he does not listen to her (but) grumbles, (85) unresponsive to communications.”
I opened my mouth to my soul, that I might answer what it had said:

Behold, my name will reek through thee
More than the stench of bird droppings
On summer days, when the sky is hot.
Behold, my name will reek through thee
(More than) a fish-handler
On the day of the catch, when the sky
is hot.
Behold, my name will reek through thee
More than the stench of fishermen,
More than the stagnant pools which
they have fished.
Behold, my name will reek through thee
More than the stench of crocodiles,
More than sitting in the assembly
among the crocodiles.

Behold, my name will reek through thee
More than a (married) woman
Against whom a lie had been told
because of a man.
Behold, my name will reek through thee
More than a sturdy boy of whom it is said:

“He belongs to his rival!”
Behold, my name will reek through thee
(More than) a treacherous town, which
plots rebellion,
Of which (only) the outside can be seen.

To whom can I speak today?
(One’s) fellows are evil;
The friends of today do not love.
To whom can I speak today?
Hearts are rapacious:
Every man seizes his fellow’s goods.
(To whom can I speak today?)
The gentle man has perished,
(But) the violent man has access to everybody.
To whom can I speak today? (110)
(Though) a man should arouse wrath by his evil
character,
He (only) stirs everyone to laughter, (so) wicked is
his sin.
To whom can I speak today?
Men are plundering;
Everyman seizes his fellow’s (goods).
To whom can I speak today?
The foul fiend is an intimate,
(But) a brother, with whom one worked,
has become an enemy.
To whom can I speak today?
No one thinks of yesterday;
No one at this time act for him who has acted.
To whom can I speak today?
(One’s) follows are evil;
One has recourse to strangers for uprightness of
heart.

To whom can I speak today?
Faces have disappeared:
Every man has a downcast face toward his fel
lows. (120)
To whom can I speak today?
Hearts are rapacious;
No man has a heart upon which one may rely.
To whom can I speak today?
There are no righteous;
The land is left to those who do wrong.
To whom can I speak today?
There is lack of an intimate (friend);
One has recourse to an unknown to complain to him.
To whom can I speak today?
There is no one contended of heart;

That man with whom one went, he no (longer) exists.
To whom can I speak today?
I am laden with wretchedness
For lack of an intimate (friend).
To whom can I speak today?
The sin which treads the earth,
It has no end. (130)

Death is in my sight today
(Like) the recovery of a sick man,
Like going out into the open after a confinement.
Death is in my sight today
Like the odor of myrrh
Like sitting under an awning on a breezy day.
Death is in my sight today
Like the odor of lotus blossoms,
Like sitting on the back of drunkenness.
Death is in my sight today
Like the passing away of rain,
Like the return of men to their houses from an expedition.
Death is in my sight today
Like the clearing of the sky,
Like a man fowling thereby for what he knew not.
Death is in my sight today,
Like the longing of a man to see his house (again),
After he has spent many years held in captivity.

Why surely, he who is yonder
Will be a living god,
Punishing a sin of him who commits it.
Why surely, he who is yonder
Will stand in the barque of the sun,
Causing that the choicest (offerings) therein be
given to the temples.
Why surely, he who is yonder
Will be a man of wisdom
Not hindered from appealing to Re when he speaks.’

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