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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

74                    Writing and Literature
favourite remains the Story of Sinuhe, the tale of an Egyptian
who, overhearing by accident the tidings of the violent death
of King Ammenemes I, fled to Palestine and there rose to a
position of eminence and esteem. There is a graphic account
of his fight with an envious Syrian brave. In old age Sinuhe
was overcome by longing for his own country, and the lyrical
passage describing the way in which his desire came to the ears
of Pharaoh has both poetry and subtlety. A copy of the royal
letter of recall is inserted at this point, together with Sinuhe's
adulatory answer to it. Could a better method have been
devised of conveying an Egyptian's deep sense of the honour
conferred up on him, or revealing the reciprocal attitudes of sove-
reign and subject ? Yet Peet does not mince words in his con-
demnation of this passage! Ds gustibus! The narrative of the
homeward journey, of Sinuhe's reception at the court, and of
the honours heaped upon him, could hardly be bettered. A
delicious touch occurs where it is told how the queen and the
little princesses are ushered in to see the travel-stained and out-
landishly clad exile:
'Then His Majesty said to the Royal Consort: Behold Sinuhe who
has come as an Asiatic, the offspring of Setm-folk. She gave a great
cry, and the Royal Children shrieked out all together. And they said
to His Majesty: It is not really he, O Sovereign my lord. And His
Majesty said: Yes, it is really he!'
In the small compass of three hundred and fifty lines a life
of adventure is recounted from start to finish, and a personality
portrayed with consummate skill. We see Sinuhe alternately
panic-stricken, a self-confident fighter, a humble suppliant, and
then again overcome by awe in the presence of the king of
Egypt. Humour and pathos are there, bombast too—and why
not, since bombast was a genuinely Egyptian trait ? I am not
prepared to recant my former estimate of this tale.1
1 I cannot refrain from quoting the letter of a great writer, to whom I had
confided my belief that the Story of Sinuhe could rank as a world-classic: