Report of Wenamun

Report of Wenamun
Report of Wenamun

The Report of Wenamun literary text recounts events that took place during the reign of Pharaoh Ramses XI, who ruled from about 1104 until 1075 B.C.E. It is not known if this work was derived from a genuine report or is entirely a work of fiction.

Written during the twenty-first dynasty (c. 1081–931 B.C.E.), the tale reflects the political reality of this period, during which Egypt was divided. The northern region was ruled by a king who resided in the city of Tanis.

A high priest of Amun ruled the southern region from Thebes. As a result, the government was largely ineffective. This impotence is presented frankly in Wenamun’s story.

Wenamun Sails for Byblos

Sails for Byblos
Sails for Byblos

The author of the report calls himself Wenamun, Elder of the Portal of the Temple of Amun. He relates leaving Thebes to fetch the timber needed to build the sacred barque, or boat, of Amun, the supreme god of ancient Egypt.

After paying a call on King Smendes and his wife, Tantemon, in Tanis, Wenamun departed for Byblos (in Syria) on a Syrian ship. Within a month, he arrived at the harbor of Dor, Israel (present-day Tell Dor), where a crewman ran off with his gold and silver.

Wenamun lodged a complaint with the ruler of Dor, who had jurisdiction over incidents at the port. Wenamun reminded the unnamed ruler that the valuables that were stolen belonged to the rulers of Egypt, the ruler of Byblos, and Amun-Re. After nine days, the chief of Dor was unable to find the thief and could only offer Wenamun this advice: He should avoid Tyre on his way to Byblos.

prince of Byblos
prince of Byblos

Wenamun sailed safely to Byblos. Before disembarking to meet with Zekerbaal, prince of Byblos, he searched the ship and confiscated thirty deben of silver, almost equal to the amount of silver that had been stolen from him. Wenamun took lodging in a tavern, where he set up a shrine to Amun-of-the-Road.

Upon learning of Wenamun’s arrival, Zekerbaal ordered him out of the port. For twenty-nine days Wenamun defied Zekerbaal’s daily order to leave, saying he would depart only when there was a ship available that was bound for Egypt.

Wenamun and Zekerbaal

Zekerbaal’s attitude changed, however, when one of his servants fell into an ecstatic fit. The servant cried out that “the image” of Amun and the Egyptian envoy (Wenamun) should be brought to the palace, because Amun had sent them. And so, just as Wenamun was about to set sail, he was ordered to stay.

Wenamun and Zekerbaal
Wenamun and Zekerbaal

The next morning, Wenamun met with Zekerbaal at the palace. The prince asked for his written orders, but Wenamun had already given them to King Smendes. They argued briefly about the nature of Wenamun’s ship before getting down to business: Wenamun explained that he had come for the timber, which Zekerbaal’s predecessors had always given to Egypt.

 Zekerbaal agreed that they had given timber to Egypt, but only in exchange for six shiploads of Egyptian goods. Wenamun had brought nothing. Zekerbaal expressed sympathy that Wenamun had been made to undertake this task with no support. Formerly, it would not have been so.

This remark insulted Wenamun. He declared that he did have support—from Amun, lord of all ships and of Lebanon. In the past, those treasures were sent only because the kings could not send life and health.

material goods
material goods

Amun, who was the lord of life and health, granted these instead of mere material goods. If Zekerbaal were to provide the timber, the god would assure his prosperity and that of his people. Nevertheless, Wenamun dispatched a letter to Smendes, who replied with gold, silver, and other valuables.

Satisfied at last, Zekerbaal ordered the timber to be cut. But he was still unhappy with Wenamun’s conduct. He warned that if the Egyptian attempted to transport the timber during the stormy season, he would face Zekerbaal’s wrath. Wenamun soothed his host by proposing the wording of an inscription that would memorialize Zekerbaal’s generosity.

Wenamun’s subsequent attempts to obtain ships to return to Egypt were thwarted. Frustrated, he watched helplessly as southbound migratory birds passed by on their way to his homeland. Learning this, Zekerbaal sent wine, a sheep, and an Egyptian songstress to cheer Wenamun until the next day.

country of Alashiya
country of Alashiya

At last, Wenamun was able to leave. Once he was on his way, a storm took him to the country of Alashiya (on the island of Cyprus), where the inhabitants attempted to kill him. Wenamun fought his way to the home of Princess Hatiba, who, by means of an interpreter who spoke Egyptian, offered Wenamun safety.

Although we know that Wenamun survived to file his report, any other troubles that assailed him are unknown, as the papyrus is broken at this point.

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