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The letter of lady Ir, UC 32203

From the town site near the modern town of Lahun, about 1800 BC

Besides several dozen letters from and to men, the Lahun papyri include two, differently formulated, from or to a woman. In one of those two, a woman called Ir complains to a superior that she has been entrusted with working women who are unable to weave, and that therefore she has been unable to deliver a quota of woven linen expected from her: this reinforces an association of women with weaving, found in two administrative documents of the period. She seems to justify her own absence by saying that she entered the temple for purification of the month - the writing is difficult to decipher at this point. This may be a rare reference to purifying rites at menstruation. She also complains that the superior wrongly entrusted a young girl called Heremheb with the task of looking after a guest, a man called Qemau.

It is uncertain whether the lady Ir wrote her own letter, or dictated to a secretary. The handwriting is jagged, and the writer has used vertical instead of horizontal lines, in contrast to most letters from Lahun. These traits might be taken as evidence that the writer had learned to write informally, for example, if a wealthy woman learned to write from friends or family: there is no evidence for women being trained formally to write.

 

Translation

Despatch of the lady of the house Ir communicating to the Lord (may he live, prosper and be healthy) that all matters of the Lord (may he live, prosper and be healthy) are well and good in all their places, in the favour of the dual king Khakheperra and all the gods as this humble servant desires.

It is a communication to the Lord (may he live, prosper and be healthy) concerning that observation of the Lord (may he live, prosper and be healthy)

'Are you well [] left out (?) about our bringing requests, because, have you carried out all your tasks - may [your?] hearing be good'.

It is a communication to the Lord (may he live, prosper and be healthy) about those servantwomen who are here unable to weave clothes [] It is just that the clothes were still on the loom, when this humble servant himself [Note!] had arrived - because this humble servant had gone into the temple on day 20 for monthly (?) purification. The Lord (may he live, prosper and be healthy) didn't bring it with him (= didn't manage it?).

It was a mistake to entrust the young girl Heremheb with the arrival of [Qe]mau. The Lord (may he live, prosper and be healthy) should spend a day here - see, all the clothes due from me are at the temple, as yarn laid out and with no means of weaving it.

It is a communication to the Lord (may he live, prosper and be healthy).

May the hearing of the Lord (may he live, prosper and be healthy) be good.'

(click on the image for a larger picture)

 

see too gender

 

References


 

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