Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Onchsheshonqy 7/19

A vulgar man who puffs up his character increases his stench (P. Onch 7/19)
 The expression rendered here as "vulgar man," rmṯ ḫm, has been translated as "little man" (Glanville) or "small man" (Lichtheim). My interpretation is based on the dialogue that Setne and Tabubu have in P. Setne I 5/3-10 where Tabubu uses the same expression, rmṯ ḫm, in her reply to Setne's offer of 10 gold pieces to sleep with her:
I am pure; I am not a vulgar person (rmṯ ḫm). (P. Setne I 5/8-9).
Tabubu repeats this phrase several times (P. Setne 5/19, 23, 25). She refuses to have sex with Setne in the street (P. Setne I 5/10) or anywhere until he (P. Setne I 5/19-20) and his family (P. Setne I 5/23-24) have all signed the marriage contract. This sets up a contrast between the actions of a pure person, and those of a vulgar person.

The expression translated "puffs up" means to increase, make big, but the expression "big" refers not just to size but with people it means to be wealthy, important. The leading men in society were called the "big men."

The term translated "stench" is a term of opprobrium with a long history, going back nearly two millennia before Onchsheshonqy.

Onchsheshonqy's point is that increasing the wealth or power of a vulgar person simply increases the power of his vulgarity. It does not improve his character. Wealth and status do not change what we are. An increase in fame, money, or power usually do not magnify or even improve our good qualities, they tend to magnify our bad qualities. Most mortals do not handle power well and usually the best way to bring our someone's bad qualities is to increase their power or wealth or popularity.