Friday, 3 October 2014

Some Things Never Change

What comes to mind when you think about the Egyptians? Pyramids, Pharaohs, The Sphinx? The Egyptians have left behind quite a remarkable piece of their culture in their temples and tombs as well as their beautiful hieroglyph writing. Normally the focus is on the the burial chambers of the kings and queens, the riches, the splendour of their final resting place and the the elaborate measures that went into preparing them for the long journey to the next phase of life.

I'm always interested when I see a news item on Egypt. When another discovery or perhaps a new theory is put into the public I read it and wonder about Ancient Egypt and what it was really like. What kind of daily life did they have? Were their lives filled with mundane tasks like ours i.e. going to work and taking care of their families, or was it a different kind of existence. A lot of the hieroglyphs tell stories of great lives and battles but you don't ordinarily get to see what the "everyday" people were like. Amid the bronzed men and ornately clad women, there were people who went through life much like you and me.

At the Bodleian Library in Oxford, there is a small unassuming papyrus fragment from the second or third century, badly tattered by time, that tells a little tale of ordinary life. It's a letter, and I love that this letter still exists. Monuments and temples tell of greatness, but letters tell of life. This little piece of history is a letter from a boy to his father. It's a small missive but it speaks volumes in terms of giving you an idea of how similar life back then was to life today and I think it's such a telling letter because it shows emotion as well as familiarity. Compare it to the letter Mrs. Duffy had on her blog Letter Matters recently and they could have been written within days of one another.

Here is a transcription of Theon's letter to his father:

Theon to his father Theon, greetings. A nice thing to do, not taking me with you to the city. If you refuse to take me with you to Alexandria, I shall not write you a letter or speak to you or wish you good health. So: if you go to Alexandria I shall not take your hand or greet you ever again. If you refuse to take me, this is what happens. And my mother said to Archelaos, “He’s upsetting me, take him away!” A nice thing to do, sending me these grand presents, a hill of beans. They put us off the track that day, the 12th, when you sailed. Well then, send for me, I beg you. If you don’t send for me, I shan’t eat, I shan’t drink. There! I pray for your health. [Address] Deliver to Theon from Theonas his son.
[Source: P. Parsons, City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish, London, 2007, p. 129]

What a brilliant find. Letters are still such a powerful element in our lives after all this time.

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