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Gender Roles In Ancient Egypt Essay

Payton Stanaway History 102-01 4:40-5:35 Based on evidence in The Instructions of Ptah-hotep and The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant, information can be inferred from a number of different aspects involving the way of life in Pharonic Egypt. These texts offer an insight into the world in which these ancient Egyptians lived. Through a complex and diverse system of government, these people were able to maintain a stable and successful civilization for many years. They had profound ideals of behavior that, when applied to their way of life, proved to be very influential.

They adopted their beliefs and traditions that were passed down from generation to generation. They were also part of a complex hierarchal system of government that allowed these people to be ranked within their households and through the public sphere as well. Through these ancient texts, a sense is given of what life is like for these people using explicit descriptions of social and political values. There are a variety of social and gender relations that come out of Pharonic Egypt. The first comes from The Instructions of Ptah-hotep.

In this text we see the ways in which these people were expected to act towards others of different and similar social classes. We find that Ptahhotep refers to a number of different examples that his son may come into contact with. First, he addresses the poor and explains that if you are a poor man, you should be serving a man of wealth, you should respect what he has acquired. He was not just given wealth, he had to work for it. Even though man was required to work for their possessions, Ptah-hotep explains that “it is the god who makes him worthy and protects him while he sleeps” (Ptah-hotep 10).

When we refer to a complex system of social and gender relations, we often base our ideas off of what we know today as a complex society. This was much different in Pharonic Egypt. These people were indeed advanced, however, in ways we must be careful when connecting them to todays way of thinking. Money is a big part of our lives today and it was for the Egyptians as well. The difference comes in the way their society viewed it. Ptah-hotep explains how important it is that once you have enough money to support you and your family, you should not waste your time searching for more wealth.

He instructs his son to follow his heart, it is not wise to have a lot of money if you yourself are not happy (Ptah-hotep 11). Ptah-hotep also touches on the importance of why and how people become who they are within a complex system of social and political relations. He goe explain in further detail that only gods can give advancements within society, if you try to fight your way up the ranks, you will not be helped in any way by the gods (Ptah-hotep 13). Ptahhotep’s final words deal strictly with gender relations within this society and the role women play.

Husbands are expected to, once they have established a functioning household and prosper to a certain extent, to love their wife, to feed her, and to make her happy, because she plays a vital role with the gods. The gods see women as a fertile breeding ground, a very important aspect within this culture. However, despite all this, the husband is instructed to “keep her from power, restrain her —Her eye is her storm when she gazes—Thus will you make her stay in your house” (Ptah-hotep 21).

In contrast to what Ptahhotep says about women in this society, the high steward Rensi explains his position in which men and women are socially created and maintained through society. He says, “If you have nothing, she has nothing. If there’s nothing against her, then there is nothing against you. If you don’t act, she does not act” (Eloquent Peasant 174). In the Eloquent peasant, women are seen more as an equal to the men in the sense that what they do, affects how the other will be treated and viewed within the society.

This difference gives us the impression that there ere different interpretations within the social and gender relations as well as a possible difference within the various legal procedures of this time. The Eloquent Peasant offers us many details regarding how powerful and precise these forms of government had to be in order for a society like Pharonic Egypt to function. This system was not simply one mans decision, the peasant was forced to go through a process that involved him listening to Rensi’s instructions from the king. The king wanted to show the peasant patience and trust towards the system. There is a reason they have him go through this.

They want him to learn that this process is more than relentless procedures and questioning, it is a highly specialized system with specific procedures that all have one goal in mind. They want to give the peasant a sense that he matters, and that he is learning a vital lesson along the way a lesson of patience (Eloquent Peasant 179). Through this assumption, we are able to suggest that Rensi’s silence represents how even though this form of government may be higher in power than the peasant, they respect the peasant along with the rest of the lower class and treat them as equals in that sense.

Ptah-hotep also speaks of how people of different classes should treat each other and it coincides with actions depicted within the Eloquent Peasant. Using specific examples of social order, Ptah-hotep shows exactly how people are expected to act when they come into contact with various people. He explains that when coming into contact with someone who is ranked higher than you, you should not argue back with them and try to make them agree with you. He instructs his son not to oppose him while he is in action, for “your self-control will match his pile of words” (Ptahhotep 2).

He does the same thing with someone who is an equal. While an equal is speaking morally wrong or bad, make yourself seem better than him by your ability to be silent (Ptahhotep 3). With a poor man who is not your equal, Ptah-hotep instructs his son not to attack the man because he is weak. He is supposed to leave this man alone because the giver of the law will will criticize or correct this man (Ptah-hotep 4). In the beginning of the Eloquent Peasant, we see a striking contradiction to this rule Ptah-hotep gives his son.

A man by the name of Nemtynakht beats the peasant and his donkey taking all of the peasant’s possessions and money. The peasant came to petition the high steward Rensi nine times using the same concept that, “crime does not attain its goal; he who is helpful reaches land” (Eloquent Peasant 181). Having to petition this nine times could imply that this form of government and judicial process may not be working for the Egyptians. If it takes nine petitions to resolve something as small as this, you could infer that they are having even greater difficulties involving trade and violence with other cultures.

It is only evident when you read closer as to why the king and Rensi are doing what they are. The king made up his mind at the first petition but he does not do what we would expect him to do. He has the peasant perform multiple petitions. The king feels so strongly about this mans ability to speak and how he is able to move people with his eloquence of speech, that he uses him to play a large role in the public sphere of Egyptian society. The king and Rensi respect this man to a level that allows him to serve as an example for how their judicial process works.

Either way the peasant would have had his possessions returned and his life would have carried on. However, the king was very clever and turned a simple trial into something he could use to strengthen his ties with his people and add power to his legal system. By reading ancient text from these time periods, we are able to grasp a deeper understanding of what was going on during this time of history. Through these two texts, we see that there are contradictions as well as consistent images of Egyptian society.

Mostly in part because of the context these texts were written. The Instructions of Ptah-hotep are instructions originating from one of the most important figures in Egyptian society, the Mayor of the city, Ptah-hotep. Where as The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant is told from the perspective of a peasant who has just lost all of his possessions. Each text offers us vital details from the Egyptian society and allows us to analyze certain aspects that, without these texts, would not be possible.

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