The Craft of a Good Scribe

History, Narrative and Meaning in the First Tale of Setne Khaemwas


In The Craft of a Good Scribe, Steve Vinson offers a comprehensive study of the Demotic Egyptian First Tale of Setne Khaemwas (Third Century BCE), the first to appear since 1900. "First Setne" is the most important extant Demotic literary text, and among the most important fictional compositions from any period of ancient Egypt. The tale, which is by turns lurid, tragic and ultimately comic, deals with Setne's theft of a magic book written by the god Thoth himself, and subsequently Setne's punishment through a hallucinatory encounter with the ghostly femme fatale Tabubue.

Vinson provides a new textual edition and commentary, and explores the tale's cultural background, its modern reception, and approaches to its interpretation as a work of literature.

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Steve Vinson (Ph.D.1995, Johns Hopkins University) is an Associate Professor of Egyptology at Indiana University – Bloomington. He is author of The Nile Boatman at Work (1998), and many articles on ancient Egyptian ships and shipping and on ancient Egyptian literature.
List of Maps and Illustrations


1 A Work of Unexpected QualityIntroduction to this book, its goals, methodology and scope

2 The Mask of KhaemwasKhaemwas: his life, his legend and his legacy

3 An Unfathomable Snare of the Evil OneDiscovery and early scholarly reception (1867–1937)

4 An Excellently Weird and Romantic StoryEarlier popular reception (1868–1932)

5 From Daffodils to DerridaLater popular reception (1931 to 1972)

Narrative and Meaning

6 The “First Tale of Setne Khaemwas”Transliteration, translation and commentary

7 Repetition, Mirroring and mise en abymeFundamental aspects of narrative structure

8 Buffalo Buffalo BuffaloWord play, ambiguity, humor; comedy and tragedy

9 At What Is It That He Gazed?Description and focalization

10 Ihweret, Tabubue and the “Magic Book of Thoth”Conclusions and interpretations

Works Cited


I Primary Sources
II Words Discussed
III General Index
IV Narratological and Literary Terms

All those interested in the language and literature of ancient Egypt, in ancient literature more broadly, in narrative theory, and in Egyptomania and the popular reception of ancient Egypt.
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