The entire Tale of the Eloquent Peasant has been preserved in separate parts among four papyri that date from between 2061 and 1665 B.C.E. This story, about the peasant KhunAnup, raises important questions about the role of deities in the granting of justice. The text contains irony and even satire.
Khun-Anup, a peasant who lived in the Wadi Natrun region of Egypt, loaded up his donkeys with goods and walked to the Nile Valley to trade his wares. Along the riverbank, he met a man named Nemty-Nakht, who coveted the birds, herbs, and other items KhunAnup had brought. Nemty-Nakht had his servant stretch a cloth in the roadway. Rather than walk on the linen, Khun-Anup drove his donkeys into the ﬁeld, and Nemty-Nakht accused him of trespassing. As the two men argued, one of Khun-Anup’s donkeys took a mouthful of Nemty-Nakht’s barley. NemtyNakht accused the peasant of stealing his barley, and he seized the donkeys and their load as repayment for the loss. When Khun-Anup threatened to go to the high steward, Rensi, Nemty-Nakht beat him.
For ten days, Khun-Anup pleaded with Nemty-Nakht to return his donkeys and goods, to no avail. So Khun-Anup went on to the town where Rensi lived. Rensi heard his complaint and denounced Nemty-Nakht to the magistrates, who were not sympathetic. They believed that Khun-Anup was one of NemtyNakht’s peasants with an unjustiﬁed gripe.
Khun-Anup praised Rensi most poetically, pleading with him to settle the case. Rensi was so impressed with the peasant’s eloquence that he reported the incident to King Nebkaure. Intrigued, the king ordered Rensi not to give an answer to the peasant. Instead, Rensi was instructed to keep Khun-Anup pleading and record his speeches. Rensi was also to provide the peasant and his family with what they needed, without letting them know the source of their good fortune.
Khun-Anup made eight more petitions before Rensi, who did not reply until after thethird petition. The response was the order thatKhun-Anup should be beaten. In each petition, the peasant praised those who upheld maat (truth, justice, rightful order) and criticizedthose who turned their backs on it. KhunAnup’s pleas become more desperate and personal. By the eighth petition, he called Rensi selﬁsh and a thief. Rensi, he said, might be an important man of wealth, but maat is eternal. Khun-Anup begged Rensi to speak and to follow maat.
Finally, at the end of his ninth petition, Khun-Anup accused the high steward of not listening. Unable to ﬁnd justice, Khun-Anup announced that he would complain to the god of the dead, Anubis. (Certain scholars have interpreted this as a reference to suicide.) At this point, Rensi ordered the guards to bring KhunAnup in to see him. The peasant was afraid that this would be the end of him.
Rensi had Khun-Anup’s speeches read aloud and brought to the king. King Nebkaure was greatly pleased by the peasant’s ﬁne words. At last, the king ordered Rensi to make judgment in the case. Khun-Anup not only recouped what he lost to Nemty-Nakht but was awarded some of his accuser’s belongings.