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© Copyright 1997, Jim Loy
Note: The Eloquent Peasant is an ancient Egyptian story.
In the reign of Lord of the Two Lands Nubkaura, Son of Ra Amenemhat II, given life forever, there was a peasant named Sekhti, who lived near an oasis in the Western desert. One day, he loaded up his donkeys with goods to be sold in the city. He loaded natron, and reeds, and salt, and wood, and seeds. He said good bye to his wife and children, and set out for the city.
On his journey, he encountered the lands owned by the high official Meritensa. The lands were overseen by the evil man Hemti. Hemti saw the peasant approaching, and wondered how he could rob Sekhti of his donkeys and goods. He ordered one of his servants to go to the house, and bring one of his fine sheets. Hemti spread the sheet across the path. It stretched from Hemti's grain field to the river on the other side of the path.
When Sekhti approached, Hemti called out to him, "Be careful, peasant. Don't let your donkeys trample my sheet."
Sekhti replied, "I will do as you wish." And he led his donkeys out into the field.
Hemti cried, "Now you're trampling my grain."
Sekhti replied, "How can I avoid trampling your grain, when you won't let me use the path?" And then one of the donkeys began eating Hemti's grain.
Hemti seized the donkey, and said, "I will take this animal as payment for the damage that it has done."
Sekhti cried, "First you kept me from using the path. I tried to be careful, but then you seize my donkey for trampling and eating your grain. I know that this land belongs to the just Meritensa, who judges the thieves and evil-doers of the land. Surely, he won't let me be robbed on his own land."
Hemti beat Sekhti and took his donkeys and goods. He said, "The Lord Meritensa will believe me, the overseer of his lands. He won't believe the word of a mere peasant."
Sekhti cried out from the beating. Hemti said, "Be silent, or I will send you to the Lord of Silence." Sekhti stayed there the rest of the day, and tried to convince Hemti to return his property.
Then Sekhti went to the city, to look for the Lord Meritensa. Eventually, he found Meritensa at the river, about to get into a boat. Sekhti called, "Hail to thee, my Lord! Let me tell you the story of how I have been wronged." Meritensa ordered one of his scribes to write down Sekhti's story.
Later Sekhti appeared before the Lord Meritensa, and other judges, in the Hall of Judgement. After he told his story, the other judges told Meritensa that they knew that Hemti was dishonest, but, since Sekhti was a peasant, they would have to hear the testimony of other witnesses before they would believe his story. Meritensa was upset by what the other judges said. But, he ordered Sekhti to go and find witnesses to the crime, and bring them to the Hall of Judgement.
Sekhti could find no witnesses. And he returned to the Hall of Judgement. He praised Meritensa, "O my Lord, greatest of the great, friend of the poor. May you have good fortune wherever you may go. May you sail in fair weather, wherever you wish, and never experience fear, for truth shall bring you back to harbor. For you are the father to those that are orphaned, you are the widow's husband, the desolate woman's brother, the garment of the motherless. Let me sing your praises throughout the land, for you are a guide without thought of reward, a great one who is never greedy, one who destroys lies, loves justice, and hears the words of the most humble. Therefore hear my prayer, and give me true justice. Put an end to my oppression, restore that which has been stolen from me." And he said more, which the scribes wrote down.
Meritensa was delighted to hear this eloquent speech from a peasant. He said that he would consider the case, and that he would like to hear more on the next day.
Meritensa then hurried to the presence of the Son of Ra, Amenemhat. Meritensa said, "O Your Highness, life, health, and prosperity to you. I have found a peasant named Sekhti who is wonderfully eloquent." And he told the king of Sekhti's story.
After the scribes had read Sekhti's speech to the king, he exclaimed, "It is a joy to hear such eloquence. Do not give him justice, just yet. I want to hear more of his speeches. Have your scribes write down his words, and have these words brought to me. Make sure that he has a place to stay, and enough to eat. And take care of his wife and children.
So, day after day, Sekhti returned to the Hall of Judgement. And each day, he praised Meritensa and the king. And each day, he pleaded for justice. And scribes recorded all of his words. But Meritensa pretended not to listen to him. Sekhti criticized Meritensa for not giving him justice, and Meritensa had him beaten for this.
On the ninth day, Sekhti was ready to give up. He gave one last speech. "O great one, you destroy evil and encourage that which is good. Your justice and mercy are like the plenty which drives away famine, they are like the clear sky that follows a storm, they are like water that quenches thirst. Give me justice for the wrong that was done to me."
When Sekhti saw that Meritensa did not respond, he left, dejected. Meritensa sent two men to go get Sekhti and return him to the Hall of Judgement. Sekhti feared that he was going to be beaten again, and perhaps killed. But, Meritensa said to him, "Fear not, Sekhti. Your speeches have been read to the Good God, Amenemhat, may he live forever and ever. He has praised you. Come with me now to the palace, so that you may be rewarded."
And the king ordered that all of Sekhti's property be returned to him. And he also gave Sekhti all of Hemti's property, making Hemti the poorest of peasants. And the king made Sekhti overseer of the lands of Meritensa.
And Sekhti spoke often in the palace, as the king delighted to hear him. And Sekhti prospered and was famous, all the days of his life.
And justice ruled in Egypt.
Note: One of the books, which I read, calls the peasant Khunanup. Another merely calls him a peasant. The names Hemti and Meritensa also differ from book to book. Even so, I suspect that this is a true story.
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