Author: Megan Mitchell (Stonehill College)
This rich philosophical piece that dates from Egypt’s Middle Kingdom is an exploration of political authority. After his property is unfairly seized by a conniving official, the peasant Khunanup petitions the official’s superior to correct the injustice. Chike Jeffers, in his 2013 article “Embodying Justice in Ancient Egypt: The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant as a Classic of Political Philosophy,” argues that this text includes reflection on the nature and value of political authority by outlining the role of the bearer of authority as “leader, safeguard and creator of good” through an “argument from dysfunction.” That is, in contrast to the approach found in many Western texts in which the nature and value of political authority is explored by imaging a state of nature, this text assumes well-functioning political authority as a starting point and argues for its conception by pointing out what has gone wrong.
Lichtheim, Miriam. Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol. 1: The Old and Middle Kingdoms. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1973.
Simpson, William Kelly. 2003. The Literature of Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Stories, Instructions, Stelae, Autobiographies, and Poetry. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
The translation that Jeffers uses for his piece can be found in Lichthiem.
Chike Jeffers, “Embodying Justice in Ancient Egypt: The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant as a Classic of Political Philosophy,” British Journal For The History Of Philosophy Vol. 21(3), 2013.
Texts that present a different conception of the nature of political authority or ground it in a state of nature including Hobbes, Leviathan; Locke, Second Treatise on Civil Government; Plato, Euthyphro, Apology, Crito.