Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Onchsheshonqy 8/8

There is no one who will not die (P. Onch. 8/8).
The statement in Onchsheshonqy seems banal enough but it plays an interesting role in Onchsheshonqy. The frame story of Onchsheshonqy is all about death. It begins with an assassination plot against the Pharaoh. The plot goes awry and the conspirators are executed. Onchsheshonqy, however, is not put to death because he was not involved in the plot. His friend, however, is already dead and while he has not been killed yet, there is a chance that he will still be executed. So death lingers in the background against which the sayings are written down. Even the king, who decrees life and death, is mortal.

Death actually played a much larger role in ancient Egyptian society than it does in ours. A third of all babies born would die before reaching their first birthday. A quarter of those left would not make it to puberty. While people could live as long as they do today (Shenoute, for example, lived to be more than a hundred), it was much rarer for them to do so.

Onchsheshonqy's warning is actually more needed in our day than it was in his.