Mini Episode: Memphis River Blues

A scribe yearns for a holiday…

Between 1400 and 1300 BCE, scribes wrote poems in a genre that I call “Memphis Blues.” They wrote of their tiredness, their need for a holiday, and their longing to travel to the great city of Men-nefer, aka Memphis. As they composed these works, they participated in a tradition that has modern counterparts.


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Translations for this episode come from the work of John L. Foster, professor of English Literature and lifelong Egyptologist. His work is beautiful, poetical, but takes certain liberties with the ancient grammar. For those who’d like a more “academic” rendition, the two poems are below.

A Scribe Yearns to Travel

Behold, my heart has gone forth furtively, and travels to a place that it knows. It has gone downstream that it may see Heka-Ptah (Ptah the Ruler).

However, if only I could sit and wait for my heart, that it may tell me the condition of Memphis. No task can I accomplish as my heart is sundered from its place. Come to me, o Ptah, that thou mayest take me to Memphis; suffer me to see thee unhindered.

I crave for sleep all the time, my heart is not in my body, evil has seized all my limbs, my eye is faint through looking, my ear hears not, my voice is hoarse, all my words are upside-down.

Be gracious to me; mayest thou cause me to overcome them.

Translation by Ricardo A. Caminos, Late Egyptian Miscellanies, 1954.


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