Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Shipwrecked Sailor

Let's escape for awhile to a place far away and to a time very remote. This story has elements that touch us today. Its concerns and its style seem contemporary in places. It's touching. There is only one known copy of this story at the Leningrad museum. It is written in cursive and translated many times in several languages. And I'm amazed at how widely the interpretations vary. I hasten to add that I'm also astounded how Egyptologist manage to make sense of the original demotic. I cannot do that. I've studied them side by side, the cursive demotic to classic hieroglyphs, but honestly, I don't know how they do it. They impress me deeply. I think the key to understanding demotic is imaging it written with a crude brush and how you would manage that. Accepting yourself using a primitive brush to scribble proper hieroglyphs will go some distance in comprehension. I think.

Here is page one in original Demotic so you can see what a mess it amounts to. Our page one, of course, the original is a continuous scroll. And here is the same demotic text put into much clearer hieroglyphs.

That site breaks the story into 16 pages. The bit in red is fairly standard opening. We must notice the pictures begin on the right, and the animals are facing right. So the text is read top to bottom, right to left.

It is not translated into English there. But it is transliterated into presumed Egyptian sounds. Here. It's written in the code that Egyptologist use to specify how they're reading the signs. They're sounding it out as they go. As we do ourselves when learning to read English.

The hieroglyphs match another site that does translate them into English. And although no expert myself I can see a lot of mistakes. I notice that programmers do very well at this. There is something about programming languages that lends itself to picking this up. They impress me too. They blow me away, actually.

But the translations in English hardly match at all. The liberty that translator take is quite incredible. Were I to show this translation and transliteration to the classes I'm following they'd pick the thing apart a lot more thoroughly than I do.

Let's see.

This is a wonderful translation of the story that does not follow the text strictly at all. But it does tell the story wonderfully where the more strict and straighter translation leaves room for further interpretation, as it must, or it doesn't make sense in English.

They explain first before digging into the story, this occurs during the reign of Amenemhet, this guy about 2000 years b.c., a time of peace and prosperity following 200 years of turmoil. Ships were going around all over the place, up the Nile to the south through Nubia so far as Ethopia, and along the Red Sea out to Indian Ocean to the strange land of Punt, seeking treasure of jewels, and spices and incense. Back in Egypt these boatmen were interested in gaining access to the royal court to gain patronage for further adventures based on their previous achievements.

But like the United States today to have access to Pharaoh Obama you must go though Grand Vizier Hillary Clinton, cut her in hugely, by way of Huma. One day far off Wikileaks will be studied in a similar fashion.

A boatman is talking to an aristocrat either by birth or by appointment or by achievement. These positions of power are shown various ways. The territorial divisions were called nomes and they were ruled by aristocrat nomarchs.

The signs for the ruler that the boatman is speaking to and seeking audience with the pharaoh is a lion symbol above a human forearm pronounced 'hat eh.' One translation has "lord" in English where there is no sign for lord (a basket without a handle). The translation we're looking at by the programmer uses the word "count" and that's obviously ridiculous. There weren't any counts in ancient Egypt. (graff) in the Dutch translation. Yet another translation uses, "mayor."  Let's overlook all these discrepancies and just accept he's a big wig standing between the adventurer and the king. The sailor is trying to get access to the king through the nomarch.

On with the story.

The sailor brags to the nomarch he has such an amazing story to tell that the Pharaoh will shower both with riches once he hears it.

The nomarch is used to people coming to him with outrageous stories. He finds the sailor wearisome to bear. He tells the sailor, this had better be good or you'll condemn yourself by your own mouth. Make it good or I'll have you tossed out. But if it is good, then I'll introduce you to Obama. I meant to say the Pharaoh just now. Therefore, speak at your own risk.

"I am free of exaggeration." the adventurer tells the nomarch his story is so good that once he hears it he'll be begging him to come see the pharaoh. The sailor proceeds.

[A story within a story. I had imagined that telescoping a somewhat modern technique.]

He was on his way to the king's mine in a very large ship, the dimensions are given in cubits. A cubit being 18 inches, the length of an average man's forearm from elbow to wrist. Except for the long cubit, 22 inches, the length of a larger man's forearm. So we're estimating lengths here. It's a big boat. And the boat is maned by a lot of sailors, the best in all Egypt, not a fool among them. They've seen everything and nothing scares these guys.

They rowed and sailed down the Red Sea and out into the Indian ocean. The captain and steersman swore they know all the signs of the weather but still they were caught up in a storm that drove them toward the land. The boat was lifted up and crashed down and the boat broke apart killing everybody except the sailor telling the story. He grabbed ahold of a piece of broken mast and held on for dear life. He was lifted up above the waves, carried above the sharp rocks and deposited on sand where he crawled for cover under some trees and waited out the storm.

When the dawn arrived and storm passed he gave thanks to the gods for sparing his life. He made offerings and realized he is the only human around. But what an island! It had everything to meet his immediate needs. There were figs and grapes within easy reach herbs and berries and grain, melons and all kind fishes and birds right there for the taking.

Upon satisfying himself he made offering to the gods. And while he sat there satisfied he heard another storm approaching, the trees lashing and the noise of a storm and the ground shook but there were no waves. He uncovered his face and saw a giant snake approach him, thirty cubits long. You can do this in your head, eighteen inches, a foot and a half times thirty, 45 feet long, this snake. Unless it's the tall guy's arm type of cubit then it's a fifty-five foot snake. It's a giant snake. The snake is covered in gold and has eyes of pure lapis lazuli.

The serpent coiled entirely right in front of the sailor who was flat on stomach and it reared up its head high above him and asked, "what brings you here little man?

The translation that we're looking at says "young man" but there is no symbol for youth, no symbol for child. The symbol used is the wren meaning small (or bad) and the determinative for man. It's interesting, I think, one translator has the snake address the sailor "little man" throughout, and another decides "young man' is better. Given the emphasis of the snake's size, my own opinion is 'little man' fits better. Nowhere else in the description of the crew is youth mentioned, rather, their experience is emphasized. The snake threatens, "Tell me right now or I'll burn you to a crisp so hard you'll actually disappear. Come on. I'm waiting. Tell me something I haven't heard before."

[A story within a story within a story.]

Then the snake picked up the sailor in his mouth without biting him or crushing him carried him off to his home and demanded again, "What brought you here? Tell me how you came to my island."

The sailor was on his stomach before the snake as if he were in front of his king. He told the snake he was there on the orders of his king. On a boat and he repeats the dimensions, a hundred fifty cubits long (225 feet, we're getting good at this) with the intention of bringing treasure from the mines. He relates the incident of the storm that killed the whole crew, and him hanging onto a section of broken mast, and being thrown onto the island by a gigantic wave and how he's been there for three days already.

The serpent says, "fear not, fear not, (actually, the hieroglyphs say, fear not x 2) little man and don't show any sadness because you came to my island this way when everyone else died and that means that Amon-Re put you here on this island of blessings filled with good things where you want for nothing. And let me predict your future, here you will stay for four moths when a ship will pass by from Egypt and it will take you back home and you'll live until the end of your days and die there in your own city and be laid to rest in the tomb you prepared.

The snake continued, "Now, let me tell you about this island, because it's great to hear strange things after fear leaves you. And you will in fact have a great story to tell when you get back home and kneel in front of your king.

[A reflexive story]

You see, I lived here on this island with my own family of seventy-five snakes, adults and children including a lovely girl snake that was struck by lightning and burnt to ashes. As for you, I think you'll be safe because heaven doesn't have any lightning bolts for someone who lived though such dangers as you have. If you will just be patient and abide here you will return in the fullness of time and be reunited with your wife and your children and hold them in your arms once again.

The sailor bowed and thanked the snake for his comforting words and said to the snake, if all you have told me comes true and all that really does happen then I will go before my king and tell him all this and mention your greatness and I'll return and bring to you sacred oil and perfumes and incense such as offered to gods. And I will tell my king of the wonders of this island and I will make sacrifices to you and the Pharaoh will send a ship filled with the riches of Egypt as homage to your greatness.

The serpent laughed. The very idea. You are not rich in perfumes, I own all the perfums of Punt! Only the oil you mention is scarce here, but you will never bring it because after you're gone this island will vanish and you will never see it again. However, no doubt, the gods will reveal this island sometime in the future to some other adventurer.

So the sailor waited patiently and dwelt there satisfied on the island for four months when one day he noticed a ship in the distance. He climbed a tree and made out the boat and its crew were Egyptian. He ran to the serpent to tell him but the serpent already knew. "Goodbye, wanderer. Return safely to your home and may blessing go with you."

Then he bowed before the snake and thanked him. The snake gave him gifts of precious perfumes, cassia and other sweet types of wood, cypress and incense and kohl, and ivory and other treasures. And when he loaded the ship and the sailors pushed off then the island appeared to move away from them as if floating on the sea and as night fell and the moon shined there was no island there anymore, only waves.

They sailed north for two months and arrived at Egypt and hurried across the desert to Thebes. And here we are. Please introduce me to the king, I need to tell him about this adventure and put these gifts at his feet that the king of the serpents gave him. I need to ask the king to make me commander of a royal ship to sail again to the shores of Punt.

The Grand Vizier laughed loudly and pleased and he said, now that is truly a great story. Whether or not I believe your tale of adventure you tell it so well it's sure to delight the Pharaoh, life, health, strength be upon him. So come with me right now and you're sure to be rewarded and so will I.

So they went to the king Amenemhet and he was delighted by the story of the shipwrecked sailor so much that his chief scribe, one Ameniamena-a wrote it all down on a scroll of papyrus so that it can be read to this very day.


This transliteration and translation, by the computer programmer has quite a few incongruencies that I find surprising. And I'm wondering, given his excellence throughout the whole thing, how or why he allowed them to pass. Again, I'm hardly an expert, but they seem too obvious.

ex. The phrase is "we have reached home." The classes are extremely fussy about these things. Far more so than I am. I honestly don't care about how the words sound. I'm not interested in trying to speak this language. All I care about is what the symbols mean. Mine is a limited goal. Nevertheless to persist I must go along with proper Egyptologists. They're forcing me to pay attention to their strange ways or else I'll never go anywhere. So I must distinguish between phonograms, logograms, and determinatives. This is where programers excel and I do not. This is where I learn from them. So it's interesting to me to detect their apparent mistakes. The programmer is better at this than I am.

Throughout the programmer breaks it down very well. But, this, the bit at the begining:

The first portion. He specifies that all three symbols are phonograms but provides only two consonants. The forearm is sounded, "eh," a glottal stop, They use another symbol for that, a superscript italicized "c", so then,  "m k" If you are sounding it out then it makes a big difference. It's rather obvious and I wonder about his reasoning. I'm curious. 

Another.  "May it please you, count."  This was the odd translation at the beginning. The nomarch aristocrat cannot be a count. But that is the word that he chose. A matter of style, and we'll let it pass. But also this:

The classes would not accept this. You see the lion and you think, "hat". The type of "h" is the sharp kind. And there is the forearm again appropriately transliterated with sup script italicized 'c'. The programmer is labeling the lion and the forearm as logograms while providing their phonograms. The j is determinative meaning this stuff before it refers to a man and it is not pronounced. It comes at the end of the string. The forearm is not at the end. The transliterated and unpronounced j should be at the end.

One last example. 

We're sounding them out as we go. We vocalize r t  or in plain English, "r eh t" then glance down at the transliteration provided and see d with a line under it, a dj sound, and two extra j's. those things would usually mean the seated figure that is not pronounced. If the first one, a mouth and and the forearm really are logograms then they would mean mouth and arm, and we know the forearm is not pronounced j (really, they mean i, and I don't know why Egyptologist decided to go with j instead, but all at once they switched to the British way of doing it, but there is nothing here to support the d or the two j's. I wonder what he is thinking. And so on through the whole story. There are such maddening things throughout, whereby sounding them out simply does not match and this code of a code of a code that is supposed to help Egyptologist specify what they intend for the pictures are not being helpful at all. I could be wrong about all of this but my transliteration would differ significantly and so do other transliterators, as here. It would drive me a bit crazy if I cared more about it. 


rcommal said...

Oh, please, Chip Ahoy: Did you not notice, did you forget, that a long, long time ago, I spoke about stuff about which I cared so very much, from earliest age. I cared about the folks who were considered defective when I was in elementary school in the '60s (we got to see them only during art days and music days, and, once in a while, special PE days). That experience inspired me, oh, yes, it did, sir.

I'd repeat how that affected the choices I made later--except that, from what I can tell--that sort of thing wouldn't mean a flea's knee, much less a rat's ass to you, Chip Ahoy, anymore.

Hey, so it goes. *shrug* *ok* *whatever*

Chip Ahoy said...

Go on and repeat how that affected the choices you made. I'm listening.

Mumpsimus said...

Remarkably similar to the stories of the "1,001 Nights," several millennia later.

Chip Ahoy said...

It occurred to me later the giant snake thing seems akin to Chinese type dragon. And a lot like an exaggerated phallic fixation. A lot of fear of that imaginary massive hose shaped thing rising up and over the child-like figure of grown adult male adventurer reduced to prostration before it. No wonder then that the Vizier laughed and the Pharaoh like it so well. And odd too the story predicts its own everlasting telling, and it actually comes true if by a single copy. It makes me wonder how many scrolls said similar things but are lost to history, how many similar brags lost to events like the library fire in Alexandria.