05 April 2011

Beck Before Beck?

The Wisdom of Amene-em-opet was first found by Wallis Budge in 1888. It appears to have been written in the Egypt of the New Kingdom, during the reigns of the Ramesses, sometime between 1279 and 1069 BCE. It is particularly well-known because so many passages parallel verses in the Proverbs of Solomon. What seems to have been missed, though, is a brilliant description of The Beck, three millennia before his time:
Pass by the speeches of the always aggravated man
faster than wind over wave –
He is one who destroys, builds only with his tongue,
so that he speaks of things in empty words.
He answers, aching to do battle,
and his purpose is to injure;
He fosters strife among all people,
loading his speech with lies.
He knits a slippery meaning out of intertwisted words,
fighting and quarreling he comes and goes,
Then dines at home
while his retorts are festering outside.
One day his wrongs will rise to censure him,
woe to his children then!
If only Khnum would take him back into his hands –
to the potter’s wheel with the hot-mouthed man! –
That he might knead some sense into his senseless skull.
For he is like the jackal’s offspring in the cattle-pen:
It turns its eye against its own companions,
it makes the herdsmen gibber,
It runs before the wind like stormy weather,
it dims the brightness of the sun,
It flicks its tail like the young crocodile,
it leaps upon its prey –
Its lips are sweetened, its tongue darts out,
and a fire burns in its belly.
Make no attempt to humor such a one –
let the respect that once you offered be no more.


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