Ancient Egyptian Writing Advice

The Papyrus Lansing

Abouts -1800 the scribe Nebmare-nakht devoted an entire papyrus to dunking on every other profession in the Middle Kingdom, all addressed to one lazy pupil. It’s quite hilarious, and contains some useful (albeit dickish) advice for writers today.

Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume II: The New Kingdom

The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

Nebmar is literally trying to beat this message into his recalcitrant pupil (Wenemdiamun):

But though I beat you with every kind of stick, you do not listen. If I knew another way of doing it, I would do it for you, that you might listen.

Writing is more enjoyable than enjoying a basket of b3y [?] and beans; more enjoyable than a mother’s giving birth, when her heart knows no distaste. She is constant in nursing her son; her breast is in his mouth every day. Happy is the heart of him who writes; he is young each day.

The papyrus is full of admonitions like this, asking why Wenemdiamum is forever shirking and twerking and not focusing. As the teacher said:

You follow the path of pleasure; you make friends with revelers. You have made your home in the brewery, as one who thirsts for beer. You sit in the parlor with an idler. You hold the writings in contempt. You visit the whore. Do not do these things! What are they for? They are of no use. Take note of it!

Why Should One Write?

Nebmar offers both positive and negative reasons to be a writer. The greatest positive is the sheer love of the craft. Beyond the high-ranking job of a scribe, beyond it being less shit than other vocations, writing was a sheer pleasure for Nebmar, eclipsing both women and wine. As he wrote:

Love writing, shun dancing; then you become a worthy official. Do not long for the marsh thicket. Turn your back on throw stick and chase. By day write with your fingers; recite by night. Befriend the scroll, the palette. It pleases more than wine. Writing for him who knows it is better than all other professions. It pleases more than bread and beer, more than clothing and ointment. It is worth more than an inheritance in Egypt, than a tomb in the west.

Nebmar hints that writing is the best vocation for both this life and the next, which we’ll cover in the next papyrus. But at this point he is just trying to keep Wenemdiamum out of the brothel. He does this primarily by comparing writing negatively to every other career out there. As the subheading of Miriam Lichtheim’s book states: All occupations are bad except that of the scribe.

It’s Better Than…

Nebmar says, “See for yourself with your own eye. The occupations lie before you.” He says washerman are limp and exhausted, potters are smeared with clay, cobblers have a penetrating odor, watchmen don’t see the sun, and merchants go up and down the river only to pay the taxman. Why is being a scribe better and above them all? Nebmar says: