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First published in the United States in 1949 and widely condemned as obscene, The Egyptian outsold every other novel published that year, and remains a classic; readers worldwide have testified to its life-changing power. It is a full-bodied re-creation of a largely forgotten era in the world’s history: the Egypt of the 14th century B.C.E., when pharaohs and gods contended with the near-collapse of history’s greatest empire. This epic tale encompasses the whole of the then-known world, from Babylon to Crete, from Thebes to Jerusalem, while centering around one unforgettable figure: Sinuhe, a man of mysterious origins who rises from the depths of degradation to become personal physician to Pharaoh Akhnaton.
struggle for I have my own future to think of and would not have the people hate me. O Sinuhe my friend! Much water has flowed down the Nile since the day of our last meeting in that stinking Syria. I have just come from the land of Kush, where by Pharaoh’s command I have disbanded the garrisons and brought the Negro troops back to Thebes, so that in the south the country is undefended. If this goes on, it can be but a question of time before disturbances break out in Syria. Revolt may bring
and make extracts from them; for a physician must be able to prepare his own remedies at need. Many of us grumbled at this, not seeing the use of it, since by merely writing a prescription one could obtain from the House of Life all the known remedies correctly mixed and measured. Later, however, this knowledge was to stand me in good stead, as I shall show. We had to learn the names of the different parts of the body, also the functions and purpose of every human organ. We learned to handle
quarter, furnished it according to my means, and bought a slave-a scraggy fellow with one eye, but good enough for me. His name was Kaptah. He assured me that his one eye was my good fortune, for now he could tell my would-be patients in the waiting room that he had been stone blind when I had bought him and that I had given him back partial sight. I had pictures painted on the walls of the waiting room. In one of these Imhotep the Wise, the god of doctors, was shown giving me instruction. I was
embalming. Then said I to the corpse washers, “I am Sinuhe, the son of Senmut, and my name is inscribed in the Book of Life, though a hard destiny has deprived me of silver enough to pay for my parents’ burial. Therefore, I beseech you in the name of Ammon and of all the gods of Egypt; embalm the bodies of my parents, and I will serve you to the best of my skill for as long as it takes to complete their preservation.” They swore at my stubbornness and cursed me, but at last the poxeaten foreman
accepted Kaptah’s money, hitched a hook under my father’s chin and slung him into the great bath. He did the same to my mother, throwing her into the same bath. There were thirty of these baths. Every day one of them was filled and one emptied so that the bodies of the poor lay for thirty days steeped in salt and lye to preserve them against death. Nothing more than this was done for them though I did not know it at the time. I had to return to my father’s house with the shroud, which bore upon