Discourse of a Man with his Ba

Translated by Wim van den Dungen


This comes from Wim van den Dungen’s excellent site on Egyptian texts. He has a much longer discussion, but I have separated out only the translation for use here. It is Berlin Papyrus N 3024. Dugen has the hieroglyphic text here. It is probably a 12th Dynasty (18th-20th c., BC) composition. The markup for textual problems is as follows:
  • (...) documentary remarks
  • --- short lacuna
  • ------ long lacuna
  • { } proposed restorations
  • ... incomprehensible ? sections
  • layout of the dialogue and punctuation are not part of the original text
    Please report errors to me (link at end of page). -Alan Humm
Summary: This document has never acquired a stable name. It has also been called:
  • Dispute between a man and his ba
  • Dispute over suicide
  • Debate between a man tired of life and his soul
  • The Man who was tired of Life
  • The sufferer and the soul
Some have seen it as a suicide note, but I think the final portion (last six lines) make it clear that he has decided to live. Some translators translate Ka as ‘soul,’ which may be about as close as we are going to come with a single English word. Dungen points out that it means both “ vital force and vehicle of personified desire.” Lacking a single word the translators (here Dungen is dependent on Lichtheim) choose to simply introduce the Egyptian word into the translation, and trust us to catch on. The one consistent change I have made is to replace “Lo” with “Look” throughout the first canto, mostly because I have never heard anyone use “Lo” in conversational English.

FIRST section

<first section missing>
<opening lines are torn & incomplete>
-------

{My Ba opened its mouth to me, to answer what I said:}

------ 1 your --- to say ----- {their tongue} will not be partial ----- payment. Their tongue is not partial.

SECOND section

I opened my mouth to my Ba, to answer what it had said:

5 This is too much for me today,
that my Ba does not converse with me!
It is too great for exaggeration.
it is like deserting me!
Don't go my Ba!
Attend to me in this!
------
--- in my body like a net of cord,
10 but it will not be able to escape the day of pain!

Behold! My Ba neglects me. I do not listen to it!
Drags me toward death before {I} come to it,
casts {me} on fire so as to burn me!
------
15 It shall stay close to me on the day of pain!
It shall stand on that side,
like a praise-singer does.
Such is he who goes forth.
He has brought himself.

O my Ba, foolish to belittle the sorrow due to life,
leads me toward death before I come to it!
Sweeten 20 the West for me! Is that difficult?
Life is a passage and trees fall.
Trample on wrong, put down my misery!
May Thoth judge me, he who pacifies the gods!
May Khons defend me, 25 the scribe of truth!
May Re hear my speech, even he who conducts the Bark of the Sun!
May Isdes defend me in the Holy Hall!
For my suffering is pressing, a {weight} too heavy a burden to be borne by me. It would be a sweet relief, if the gods 30 drove off my body's secrets!

THIRD section

What my Ba said to me:

Are you not a man?
Are you not alive?
So what do you gain by complaining about life like a lord of wealth?

FOURTH section

I said:

I have not passed away yet,
but that is not the point!
Surely, if you run away, you will not 35 be cared for,
with every criminal saying: "I will seize you."
Though you are death, your name lives.
Yonder is the place of rest, the heart's goal.
For the West is a dwelling-place, a voyage.

If my Ba listens to me without 40 making difficulties with its heart in accord with me, it shall be happy! I shall make it reach the West like one who is in his tomb and whose burial a survivor tends.

43 I shall make a cool shelter over your corpse, so as to make another Ba 45 in oblivion envious! I shall make a cool shelter, so that you shall not be cold, and will make another Ba who is scorched envious! I shall quench my thirst at the place at the river over which I made shade, so as to make another Ba who is hungry envious!

But if you lead 50 me toward death in this way, you will not find a place to rest in the West. So be clement, my Ba, my brother, until my heir comes, one who will present the offerings and wait at the tomb on the day of burial, having prepared the bier 55 of the necropolis.

FIFTH section

My Ba opened its mouth to me, to answer what I said:

If you think of burial, it is heartbreak ; it is the gift of tears, causing a man's misery ; it is taking a man from his house, to cast him on the high ground. Then, you will not go up to see 60 the sunlight. They who built in granite, who erected halls in excellent tombs of fine construction, so that the builders should become gods, their offering-stones are desolate, like the oblivious dead, who died on the riverbank for lack of a survivor, 65 when the flood has taken its toll, and the sunlight likewise, to whom only the fishes at the water's edge talk!

Listen to me!
Look, it is good for people to listen.
Follow the happy day and forget worry!

A common man ploughs his plot. He loads his harvest into 70 a boat. He tows the freight, for his feast day is approaching and he saw the darkness of a North wind arise. He is vigilant in the boat when the Sun sets and gets out with his wife and children, and they perish by a pool infested by 75 night with crocodiles. When at last he sat down, he broke out, saying: "I do not weep for that mother, for whom there is no coming from the West to be on earth another time. I grieve for her children broken in the egg, who have seen the face of Khenty [the crocodile-god] 80 before they have lived!"

A common man asks for an early meal. His wife says to him: "It is for supper." He goes outside to relieve himself for a moment. When he turns back to his house, he is like another man, and though his wife pleads with him, he does not hear her, after he has relieved himself, and the household is distraught. 85

SIXTH section

I opened my mouth to my Ba, to answer what it had said:

FIRST CANTO: the denial of one's Name

Look! My name is loathsome.
Look! More than carrion smell
    on a summer's day when the sky burns.

Look! My name is loathsome.
Look! More than a catch of fish
    90 on fishing days when the sky burns.

Look! My name is loathsome.
Look! More than ducks smell.
    More than a clump of reeds full of waterfowl.

Look! My name is loathsome.
Look! More than fishermen smell.
    More than the 95 marsh-pools where they fish.

Look! My name is loathsome.
Look! More than crocodiles smell.
    More than a shore-site full of crocodiles.

Look! My name is loathsome.
Look! More than that of a wife
    about whom lies are told to the husband.

Look! My name 100 is loathsome.
Look! More than that of a strong youth
    who is said to belong to one who rejects him.

Look! My name is loathsome.
Look! More than the town of a king
    that utters sedition behind his back.

SECOND CANTO: the denial of the others

To whom shall I speak today?
Brothers are bad,
    the friends of today do not love.

To whom 105 shall I speak today?
Hearts are greedy,
    everyone robs his neighbour's goods.

{To whom shall I speak today?}
Kindness has perished,
    violence rules all.

To whom shall I speak today?
One is content with evil,
    goodness is debased everywhere.

To whom shall I speak 110 today?
He who should enrage decent men by his crimes,
    is acclaimed by everyone for his evil deeds.

To whom shall I speak today?
Men plunder.
    Everyone robs his neighbour's goods.

To whom shalI I speak today?
The criminal is an intimate friend.
    The brother with whom one dealt is 115 a foe.

To whom shall I speak today?
Forgotten is the past.
    Today one does not help him who helped.

To whom shall I speak today?
Brothers are evil.
    One goes to strangers for affection.

To whom shall I speak today?
Faces are blank.
    Everyone turns his face from 120 his brothers.

To whom shall I speak today?
Hearts are greedy,
    there is no heart to put one's trust in.

To whom shall I speak today?
Gone are the just.
    The land is left over to the evildoers.

To whom shall I speak today?
One lacks an intimate.
    One resorts to darkness 125 to complain.

To whom shall I speak today?
The cheerful heart is gone
    and he with whom one walked is no more.

To whom shall I speak today?
I am burdened with grief
from lack of one who enters the heart.

To whom shall I speak today?
Wrong roams the Earth,
    130 and there is no end to it.

THIRD CANTO: the denial of life & glorification of death

Death is in front of my face today,
{like} health to the sick,
    like deliverance from detention.

Death is in front of my face today,
like the fragrance of myrrh,
    like a shelter on a windy day.

Death is in front of my face today,
135 like the fragrance of lotus,
    like sitting on the shore of drunkenness.

Death is in front of my face today,
like a well-trodden way,
    like coming home from war.

Death is in front of my face today,
like the clearing of the sky,
    as when a man grasps 140 what he did not know before.

Death is in front of my face today,
like a man's longing to see his home,
    having spent many years in captivity.

FOURTH CANTO:

In truth, he who is yonder will be a living god,
    punishing the crime of him who does it.

In truth, he who is yonder will stand in the Bark of the Sun,
    making its bounty flow 145 to the temples.

In truth, he who is yonder will be a wise man,
who cannot, when he speaks, be stopped
    from appealing to Re!

SEVENTH section

What my Ba said to me:

Throw complaint over the fence,
    you my comrade, my brother!
May you make offering upon the brazier, 150 and cling to life by the means you describe! Yet love me here, having put aside the West!

But when it is wished that you attain the West, that your body joins the earth, then I shall alight after you have become weary, and then we shall dwell together!"

Colophon: It is finished 155 from beginning to end, as it was found in writing.

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