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The Tale of Sinuhe

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Tale of Sinuhe ostraconTale of Sinuhe ostracon
Publication details ▽ Publication details △

Also known as
Sinuhe, The Story of Sinuhe

First publication
c.1875 BCE

Literature form


Writing language
Middle Egyptian

Author's country

Approx. 19,000 words

Full text of The Tale of Sinuhe

Translated by Alan H. Gardiner (1916):

I was a henchman who followed his lord, a servant of the Royal harim attending on the hereditary princess, the highly-praised Royal Consort of Sesostris in the pyramid-town of Khnem-esut, the Royal Daughter of Amenemmes in the Pyramid-town of Ka-nofru, even Nofru, the revered.

In year 30, third month of Inundation, day 7, the god attained his horizon, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Sehetepebre. He flew to heaven and was united with the sun's disk; the flesh of the god was merged in him, who made him. Then was the Residence hushed; hearts were filled with mourning; the Great Portals were closed; the courtiers crouched head on lap; the people grieved.

In year 30, third month of Inundation, day 7, the god attained his horizon, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Sehetepebre. He flew to heaven and was united with the sun's disk; the flesh of the god was merged in him, who made him. Then was the Residence hushed; hearts were filled with mourning; the Great Portals were closed; the courtiers crouched head on lap; the people grieved.

Now His Majesty had dispatched an army to the land of the Temhi, and his eldest son was the captain thereof, the good god Sesostris. Even now he was returning, having carried away captives of the Tehenu and cattle of all kinds beyond number. And the Companions of the Royal Palace sent to the western border to acquaint the king's son with the matters that had come to pass at the Court. And the messengers met him on the road, they reached him at time of night. Not a moment did he wait; the Falcon flew away with his henchmen, not suffering it to be known to his army. Howbeit, message had been sent to the Royal Children who were with him in this army, and one of them had been summoned. And lo, I stood and heard his voice as he was speaking, being a little distance aloof; and my heart became distraught, my arms spread apart, trembling having fallen on all my limbs. Leaping I betook myself thence to seek me a hiding-place, and placed me between two brambles so as to sunder the road from its traveller.

I set out southward, yet purposed not to approach the Residence; for I thought there would be strife, and I had no mind to live after him. I crossed the waters of Mewoti hard by the Sycamore, and arrived in Island-of-Snofru. I tarried there in the open fields, and was afoot early, when it was day. I met a man who rose up in my path; he showed dismay of me and feared. When the time of supper came, I drew nigh to the town of Gu.

I ferried over in a barge without a rudder, by the help of a western breeze; and passed on by the East of the quarry in the district Mistress-of-the-Red-Mountain. I gave a road to my feet northward and attained the Wall of the Prince, which was made to repel the Setiu and to crush the Sandfarers. I bowed me down in a thicket through fear lest the watcher on the wall for the day might see.

I went on at time of night, and when it dawned I reached Petni. I halted at the Island-of-Kemwer. An attack of thirst overtook me; I was parched, my throat burned, and I said: This is the taste of death. Then I lifted my heart, and gathered up my body. I heard the sound of the lowing of cattle, and espied men of the Setiu.

A sheikh among them, who was aforetime in Egypt, recognized me, and gave me water; he boiled for me milk. I went with him to his tribe, and they entreated me kindly.

Land gave me to land. I set forth to Byblos, I pushed on to Kedme. I spent half a year there; then Enshi son of Amu, prince of Upper Retenu, took me and said to me: Thou farest well with me, for thou hearest the tongue of Egypt. This he said, for that he had become aware of my qualities, he had heard of my wisdom; Egyptian folk, who were there with him, had testified concerning me. And he said to me: Wherefore art thou come hither? Hath aught befallen at the Residence? And I said to him: Sehetepebre is departed to the horizon, and none knoweth what has happened in this matter. And I spoke again dissembling: I came from the expedition to the land of the Temhi, and report was made to me, and my understanding reeled, my heart was no longer in my body; it carried me away on the path of the wastes. Yet none had spoken evil of me, none had spat in my face. I had heard no reviling word, my name had not been heard in the mouth of the herald. I know not what brought me to this country. It was like the dispensation of God. (...)

Then said he to me: How shall yon land fare without him, the beneficent god, the fear of whom was throughout the lands like Sakhmet in a year of plague? Spake I to him and answered him: Of a truth his son has entered the Palace and has taken the inheritance of his father. A god is he without a peer; none other surpasses him. A master of prudence is he, excellent in counsel, efficacious in decrees. Goings and comings are at his command. It is he who subdued the foreign lands while his father was within his Palace, and reported to him what was ordered him to do. Valiant is he, achieving with his strong arm; active, and none is like to him, when he is seen charging down on Ro-pedtiu, or approaching the mellay. A curber of horns is he, a weakener of hands; his enemies cannot marshal their ranks. Vengeful is he, a smasher of foreheads; none can stand in his neighbourhood. Long of stride is he, destroying the fugitive; these is no ending for any that turns his back to him. Stout of heart is he when he sees a multitude; he suffers not sloth to encompass his heart. Headlong is he when he falls upon the Easterners; his joy is to plunder the Ro-pedtiu. He seizes the buckles, he tramples under foot; he repeats not his blow in order to kill. None can turn his shaft or bend his bow. The Pedtiu flee before him as before the might of the Great Goddess. He fights without end; he spares not and these is no remnant. He is a master of grace, great in sweetness; he conquers through love. His city loves him more than itself, it rejoices over him more than over its god. Men and women pass by in exultation concerning him, now that he is king. He conquered while yet in the egg; his face has been set toward kingship ever since he was born. He is one who multiplies those who were born with him. He is unique, god-given. This land that he rules rejoices. He is one who enlarges his borders. He will conquer the southern lands, but he heeds not the northern lands. He was made to smite the Setiu, and to crush the Sandfarers. Send to him, let him know thy name. Utter no curse against His Majesty. He fails not to do good to the land that is loyal to him.

Said he to me: Of a truth Egypt is happy, since it knows that he prospers. But thou, behold, thou art here; thou shalt dwell with me, and I will entreat thee kindly.

And he placed me even before his children, and mated me with his eldest daughter. He caused me to choose for myself of his country, of the best that belonged to him on his border to another country. It was a goodly land called Yaa. Figs were in it and grapes, and its wine was more abundant than its water. Plentiful was its honey, many were its olives; all manner of fruits were upon its trees. Wheat was in it and spelt, and limitless cattle of all kinds. Great also was that which fell to my portion by reason of the love bestowed on me. He made me ruler of a tribe of the best of his country. Food was provided me for my daily fare, and wine for my daily portion, cooked meat and roast, fowl, over and above the animals of the desert; for men hunted and laid before me in addition to the quarry of my dogs. And there were made for me many dainties, and milk prepared in every way.

I spent many years, and my children grew up as mighty men, each one controlling his tribe. The messenger who fared north, or south to the Residence, tarried with me, for I caused all men to tarry. I gave water to the thirsty, and set upon the road him who was strayed; I rescued him who was plundered. When the Setiu waxed insolent to oppose the chieftains of the deserts, I counselled their movements; for this prince of Retenu caused me to pass many years as commander of his host. Every country against which I marched, when I made my assault it was driven from its pastures and wells. I spoiled its cattle, I made captive its inhabitants, I took away their food, I slew people in it; by my strong arm, by my bow, by my movements and by my excellent counsels. I found favour in his heart and he loved me, he marked my bravery and placed me even before his children, when he had seen that my hands prevailed.

There came a mighty man of Retenu and flaunted me in my tent. He was a champion without a peer, and had subdued the whole of Retenu. He vowed that he would fight with me, he planned to rob me, he plotted to spoil my cattle, by the counsel of his tribesfolk. The prince communed with me and I said: I know him not, forsooth I am no confederate of his, nor one who strode about his encampment. Yet have I ever opened his door, or overthrown his fence ? Nay, it is envy because he sees me doing thy behest. Assuredly, I am like a wandering bull in the midst of a strange herd, and the steer of those cattle charges him, a long-horn attacks him. Is there a humble man who is beloved in the condition of a master? There is no Pedti that makes cause with a man of the Delta. What can fasten the papyrus to the rock? Does a bull love combat and shall then a stronger bull wish to sound the retreat through dread lest that one might equal him? If his heart be toward fighting, let him speak his will. Does God ignore what is ordained for him, or knows he how the matter stands ?

At night-time I strung my bow, and tried my arrows. I drew out my dagger, and polished my weapons. Day dawned and Retenu was already come; it had stirred up its tribes and had assembled the countries of a half of it, it had planned this fight. Forth he came against me where I stood, and I posted myself near him. Every heart burned for me. Women and men jabbered. Every heart was sore for me, saying: Is there another mighty man who can fight against him? Then his shield, his battle-axe and his armful of javelins fell, when I had escaped from his weapons and had caused his arrows to pass by me, uselessly sped; while one approached the other. I shot him, my arrow sticking in his neck. He cried aloud, and fell on his nose. I laid him low with his own battle-axe, and raised my shout of victory over his back. Every 'A'am shrieked. I gave thanks to Montu, but his serfs mourned for him. This prince Enshi, son of Amu, took me to his embrace. Then carried I off his possessions, and spoiled his cattle. What he had devised to do unto me, that did I unto him. I seized what was in his tent, I ransacked his encampment.

I became great thereby, I grew large in my riches, I became abundant in my flocks. Thus God hath done, so as to shew mercy to him whom he had condemned, whom he had made wander to another land. For today is his heart satisfied. A fugitive fled in his season; now the report of me is in the Residence. A laggard lagged because of hunger; now give I bread to my neighbour. A man left his country because of nakedness; but I am clad in white raiment and linen. A man sped for lack of one whom he should send; but I am a plenteous owner of slaves. Beautiful is my house, wide my dwelling-place; the remembrance of me is in the Palace.

O God, whosoever thou art that didst ordain this flight, show mercy and bring me to the Residence! Peradventure thou wilt grant me to see the place where my heart dwelleth. What matter is greater than that my corpse should be buried in the land wherein I was born? Come to my aid! A happy event has befallen. I have caused God to be merciful. May he do the like again so as to ennoble the end of him whom he had abased, his heart grieving for him whom he had compelled to live abroad. If it so be that today he is merciful, may he hear the prayer of one afar off, may he restore him whom he had stricken to the place whence he took him.

O may the King of Egypt show mercy to me, that I may live by his mercy. May I salute the Lady of the Land who is in his Palace. May I hear the behests of her children. O let my flesh grow young again, for old age has befallen, feebleness has overtaken me, mine eyes are heavy, my hands are weak, my legs refuse to follow, my heart is weary, and death approaches me, when they shall bear me to the city of Eternity. Let me serve my Sovereign Lady. O let her discourse to me of her children's beauty. May she spend an eternity over me!

Now it was told the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Kheperkere concerning this pass wherein I was. Thereupon His Majesty sent to me with gifts of the Royal bounty, and gladdened the heart of this his servant, as it had been the prince of any foreign country. And the Royal Children who were within his Palace caused me to hear their behests.


Horus, Life-of-Births; Two Goddesses, Life-of-Births; King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Kheperkere; Son of Re, Sesostris, living for ever and ever. A Royal decree unto the henchman Sinuhe. Behold, this decree of the King is brought to thee to instruct thee as following: - Thou hast traversed the foreign lands and art gone forth from Kedme to Retenu; land gave thee to land, self-counselled by thine own heart. What hadst thou done, that aught should be done against thee? Thou hadst not blasphemed, that thy words should be reproved. Thou hadst not spoken in the council of the nobles, that thy utterances should be banned. This determination, it seized thine own heart, it was not in my heart against thee. This thy Heaven, who is in the Palace, is established and prospereth daily; she hath her part in the kingship of the land, her children are at the Court. Mayest thou long enjoy the goodly things that they shall give thee; mayest thou live by their bounty. Come thou to Egypt, that thou mayst see the Residence where thou didst grow, that thou mayst kiss the earth at the Great Portals and have thy lot among the Companions. For today already thou hast begun to be old, thy manhood is spent. Bethink thee of the day of burial, the passing into beatitude: how that the night shall be devoted to thee with ointments, with bandages from the hands of Tayt; and a funeral procession shall be made for thee on the day of joining the earth; the mummy-shell of gold, with head of lazuli; and a heaven above thee; and thou placed upon the hearse, oxen dragging thee, musicians in front of thee; and there shall be performed the dance of the Muu at the door of thy tomb; and the offering-list shall be invoked for thee and slaughterings made beside thy stele; thy columns being shapen of white stone amid the tombs of the Royal Children. Thus shalt thou not die abroad. 'A'amu shall not escort thee. Thou shalt not he placed in a sheep-skin, when thy mound is made. Yea, all these things shall fall to the ground. Wherefore think of thy corpse, and come.

This decree reached me as I stood in the midst of my tribesfolk. It was read aloud to me, and I laid me on my belly and touched the soil, I strewed it on my hair. And I went about my encampment rejoicing, and saying: How should such things be done to a servant whom his heart led astray to barbarous lands? Fair in sooth is the graciousness which delivereth me from death; inasmuch as thy ka will grant me to accomplish the ending of my body at home.


The servant of the harim Sinuhe says: - Fair hail! Discerned is this flight that thy servant made in his witlessness, yea even by thy ka, thou good god, lord of the two lands, whom Re loves and Montu, lord of Thebes, praises Amun lord of Karnak, Sobk, Re, Horus, Hathor, Atum with his Ennead, Sopdu, Neferbaiu, Semseru, Horus of the East, the Lady of Imet who rests on thy head, the Conclave upon the waters, Min in the midst of the deserts, Wereret lady of Punt, Har-uer-re, and all the gods of Ti-muri and of the islands of the sea: they give life and strength to thy nose, they endue thee with their gifts, they give to thee eternity illimitable, time without bourn; the fear of thee is bruited abroad in corn-lands and desert-hills, thou hast subdued all the circuit of the sun.

This thy servant's prayer to his lord to rescue him in the West, the lord of Perception, who perceiveth lowly folk, he perceived it in his noble Palace. Thy servant feared to speak it; now it is like some grave circumstance to repeat it. Thou great god, peer of Re in giving discretion to one toiling for himself, this thy servant is in the hand of a good counsellor in his behoof; verily I am placed beneath his guidance. For Thy Majesty is the victorious Horus, thy hands are strong against all lands. Let now Thy Majesty cause to be brought Maki from Kedme, Khentiaush from Khentkesh, Menus from the lands of the Fenkhu. They are renowned princes, who have grown up in love of thee, albeit unremembered. Retenu is thine, like to thy hounds.

But as touching this thy servant's flight, I planned it not, it was not in my heart, I conceived it not, I know not what sundered me from my place. It was the manner of a dream, as when a Delta-man sees himself in Elephantine, a man of the marshes in Ta-seti. I had not feared. None had pursued after me. I had heard no reviling word. My name had not been heard in the mouth of the herald. Nay, but my body quivered, my feet began to scurry, my heart directed me, the god who ordained this flight drew me away. Yet am I not stiff-backed, inasmuch as suffering the fear of a man that knows his land. For Re has set the fear of thee throughout the land, the dread of thee in every foreign country. Whether I be at home or whether I be in this place, it is thou that canst obscure yon horizon. The sun riseth at thy pleasure, the water in the rivers is drunk at thy will, the air in heaven is breathed at thy word. Thy servant will hand over the viziership which thy servant hath held in this place. But let Thy Majesty do as pleaseth thee. Men live by the breath that thou givest. Re, Horus and Hathor love this thy august nose, which Montu, lord of Thebes, wills shall live eternally.

Envoys came to this servant, and I was suffered to spend a day in Yaa to hand over my possessions to my children, my eldest son taking charge of my tribe, all my possessions being in his hand, my serfs and all my cattle, my fruit and every pleasant tree of mine. Then came this humble servant southward and halted at Paths-of-Horus. The commander who was there, in charge of the frontier-patrol sent a message to the Residence to bear tidings. And His Majesty sent a trusty head-fowler of the Palace, having with him ships laden with presents of the Royal bounty for the Setiu that were come with me to conduct me to Paths-of-Horus. And I named each several one of them by his name. Brewers kneaded and strained in my presence, and every serving-man made busy with his task.

Then I set out and sailed, until I reached the town of Ithtoue. And when the land was lightened and it was morning there came men to summon me, ten coming and ten going to convey me to the Palace. And I pressed my forehead to the ground between the sphinxes, the Royal Children standing in the gateway against my coming. The Companions that had been ushered into the forecourt showed me the way to the Hall of Audience. And I found His Majesty on a throne in a gateway of gold; and I stretched myself on my belly and my wit forsook me in his presence, albeit this god greeted me joyously. Yea, I was like a man caught in the dusk; my soul fled, my flesh quaked, and my heart was not in my body, that I should know life from death.

Thereupon His Majesty said to one of those Companions: Raise him up, let him speak to me. And His Majesty said: Lo, thou art come, thou hast trodden the deserts, thou hast traversed the wastes; eld has prevailed against thee, thou hast reached old age. It is no small matter that thy corpse should be buried without escort of Pedtiu. But do not thus, do not thus, staying ever speechless, when thy name is pronounced.

But verily I feared punishment, and answered him with the answer of one afraid: What speaketh my lord to me? Would I might answer it, and may not. Lo, it is the hand of God, yea the dread that is in my body, like that which caused this fateful flight. Behold, I am in thy presence. Thine is life; may Thy Majesty do as pleaseth thee.

The Royal Children were caused to be ushered in. Then His Majesty said to the Royal Consort: Behold Sinuhe, who is come as an 'A'am, an offspring of Setiu-folk. She gave a great cry, and the Royal Children shrieked out all together. And they said to His Majesty: It is not really he, O Sovereign, my lord. And His Majesty said: Yea, it is really he.

Then brought they their necklaces, their rattles and their sistra, and presented them to His Majesty: - Thy hands be on the Beauteous one, O enduring King, on the ornament of the Lady of Heaven. May Nub give life to thy nose, may the Lady of the Stars join herself to thee. Let the goddess of Upper Egypt fare north, and the goddess of Lower Egypt fare south, united and conjoined in the name of T h y Majesty. May the Uraeus be set upon thy brow. Thou hast delivered thy subjects out of evil. May Re, lord of the lands, show thee grace. Hail to thee, and also to our Sovereign Lady. The horn of thy bow is slacked, thine arrow loosened. Give breath to one that is stifled, and grant us our goodly guerdon in the person of this sheikh Si-mehyt, the Pedti born in Ti-muri. He fled through fear of thee; he left this land through dread of thee. But as for the face of him who sees Thy Majesty, it blenches not; as for the eye that regardeth thee, it fears not.

Then said His Majesty: Nay, but he shall not fear, he shall not dread. For he shall be a Companion among the magistrates, he shall be set in the midst of the nobles. Get you gone to the Chamber of Adornment to wait upon him.

So when I was gone forth from the Hall of Audience, the Royal Children giving me their hands, we went together to the Great Portals, and I was placed in the house of a Royal Son. There was noble equipment in it, a bathroom and painted devices of the horizon; costly things of the Treasury were in it. Garments of Royal stuff were in every chamber, unguent and the fine oil of the King and of the courtiers whom he loves; and every serving-man made busy with his task. Years were caused to pass away from my flesh, I was shaved and my hair was combed. A burden was given over to the desert, and clothing to the Sandfarers. And I was clad in soft linen, and anointed with fine oil; by night I lay upon a bed. I gave up the sand to them that dwell therein, and oil of wood to him who smears himself with it. There was given to me the house of a provincial governor, such as a Companion may possess; many artificers built it, and all its woodwork was new appointed. And meals were brought to me from the Palace three times, yea four times, a day, over and above that which the Royal Children gave, without remiss.

And there was constructed for me a tomb of stone in the midst of the tombs; the masons that hew tombs marked out its ground-plan; the master-draughtsmen designed in it; the master-sculptors carved in it; and the master-architects who are in the Necropolis bestowed their care upon it. And all the gear that is placed in a tomb-shaft went to its equipment. And ka-servants were given to me, and there was made for me a sepulchral garden, in which were fields, in front of my abode, even as is done for a chief Companion. And my statue was overlaid with gold, and its apron was of real gold. It was His Majesty caused it to be made.

There is no poor man for whom the like hath been done; and I enjoyed the favours of the Royal bounty until the day of death came.


— from Notes on the Story of Sinuhe, Alan H. Gardiner, Librairie Honoré Champion, Paris, 1916.


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