The Ghost of Amenemhat – Philippe de Felice

In this essay, Philippe de Felice surveys one of the masterpieces of ancient Egyptian literature, “The Instruction of Amenemhat”, dating from c. 1920 BCE, which describes the assassination of Pharaoh Amenemhat I, the founder of the 12th dynasty (1938–c. 1756 BCE). The murder in the palace inspired one of the first and most dramatic poems of world literature, in which the ghost of the murdered pharaoh warns his son and successor to be wary of dark treachery. It became one of the most enduringly popular works in ancient Egypt, recited in public performances for centuries. As Philippe de Felice explains, apart from being a startlingly emotional poem of regret and revenge, the Instruction’s was also has a subtle political message: Amenemhat was in fact a usurper and the astonishing purpose of the poem was to reinforce the legitimacy of the rule of his son Senwosret, one of the greatest rulers of Ancient Egypt. It is one of the earliest examples of propaganda in world political literature.

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