The Mouse becomes Vizier in Ancient Egypt

Revised 23 May 2014
 
Examples of  hieroglypthic (top) and the same text in hieratic (bottom).  Source - www.schillerinstitute.org

Examples of hieroglyphic (top) and the same text in hieratic (bottom). Source –               http://www.schillerinstitute.org

Tales of mice and cats, such as the following, were popular in ancient Egypt. They were generally written in Middle Egyptian hieratic, which is a cursive form of hieroglyphic.  These texts are excellent exercises for aspiring scribes (or, as I was in the past, a student of hieratic in Egyptology classes).

 

Cartoons of cats and mice were as popular as were the fanciful stories about them, and appeared throughout Egyptian history. The portion of an ostracon that appears in the above header image is probably from the workmen’s village of Deir el-Medina, near ancient Thebes. It shows a mouse sipping beer out of a large container, through a bent straw, while being attended by a cat. A few other picture examples appear in this fanciful text:

 
In the kingdom of the animals there was a wise vizier. He was always at the pharaoh’s side, gave him advice, and dealt with the affairs of state in his name. He judged the subjects justly, but with clemency. At the beautiful age of 110 years he lay down and died. His majesty the king began to look among his courtiers whom he could choose as his new vizier. But no one pleased him, and there was nobody whom he could ask for advice…
 
 Then he had the idea to pose a riddle. Whoever could solve it, would be appointed vizier. He sent his messengers all over the country to proclaim the riddle. Its words were: “What is sweater than honey and more bitter than bile?”
 
The animals pondered the puzzle, but it was too difficult for them. Already the moon had wandered around the earth once, and no vizier had been found. Just as the moon set for the last time and Pharaoh was almost despairing, a tiny mouse came running and whispered into the king’s ear: “The office of vizier.”
 
This was the puzzle’s solution. Pharaoh raised his head, praised the little mouse and appointed him to be his vizier. The mouse was solemnly inducted into its new office. Pharaoh presented him with the gold of honour and received his oath of allegiance as vizier. He read out the virtues of a just vizier. Henceforth the mouse was to sit at the Pharaoh’s right.
 
Soon, everything was ready. The mouse’s family rode in the first carriage, followed by a vehicle with well-wishers. Beautifully dressed up with a lotus flower on his head, the mouse sat on a little dais, behind him was a follower. All of the pavilion was covered in garlands. A cat carrying a fan stepped forward, and handed the new vizier a bowl with fragrant food expressing her best wishes. She was followed by a fox carrying a huge bouquet of flowers, who was so excited that he stammered when he wanted to wish him well. But the fox at the great harp continued playing the song of praise to its end unperturbed, and the mouse took pleasure in all the beauty. eye-liner and the mirror:
 
This well-wisher was succeeded by a very long train of animals doing homage to the mouse. They brought flowers, wine and cakes, jewellery, weapons and clothes in chests. All the while they made music incessantly. The mouse vizier was sitting on his throne full of dignity and accepted the honours in a dignified manner.
Muse in a pleated costume being attended by cats.  Source - Deir el-Medina.

Mouse in a pleated costume being attended by cats. Source – Deir el-Medina.

 
mouse being carried by jackal priests.  Source - H. Ollermannn, Turin Museum.

Mouse being carried by jackal priests. Source – H. Ollermannn, Turin Museum.

All the animals enjoyed themselves. They ate the food with relish, made merry, fooled around and competed at board games.

Mouse being tended by two cats during festivities.  
Source – Drawing on papyrus, Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
An accident almost occurred during the celebrations. A crocodile had brought along a little fish which he loved very much. When a hyena perceived the appetizing little creature she desired to eat the animal child. But the crocodile defended it with its scaly tail and no harm befell it. The crocodile let the incident pass, but a little dog had observed it and told its mother. The bitch would have liked to accuse the hyena before the vizier, but the husband of the hyena and the puppy’s father begged her to remain silent for harmony’s sake. This is how the festivities had a happy ending.
 
The following day the mouse began performing his official functions, among them sitting in judgment. Immediately, some malefactors were led into the prison. A cat and a dog were dragged off, their front paws in stocks. A bailiff urged them forward with a cudgel. The cat carried her possessions on her head when she was led into gaol. The mouse vizier was severe, but just.
 
But the mouse was given to violent fits of anger. He got excited and there was the danger that in his ire he would exceed the measure of punishment. He was especially touchy when the charge was theft. Thus, one day he had a Nubian child violently beaten by the cat bailiff for having pinched a few dates. The guilty child raised his arms and begged for mercy. But the mouse remained pitiless. The child’s wails did not move him.
 
An honored mouse at court, being served by a cat.  Probably from Deir el-Medina, western Thebes.  Source -

An honored mouse at court, being served by a cat. Probably from Deir el-Medina, western Thebes. Source –  Ostracon 

 This came to the knowledge of the pharaoh. He called his vizier, reprimanded him severely and bade him to correct the injustice. What did the mouse do? He ordered the Nubian child to beat the cat just as the cat had beaten the child. As the cat was completely innocent, the child hesitated to punish her. But the mouse demanded obedience, therefore the child beat the poor cat until she cried pitiably.
 
When the pharaoh heard this tale he was angered like a panther from Upper Egypt. He would not suffer a hot head in his realm, who at first punished without giving much thought and then tried to make amends for one injustice by committing another. He immediately dismissed his vizier ignominiously from office. And this did not satisfy him: He felt such revulsion towards the mouse that he did not want to see him nor any of his kind ever more.
 
Cat carrying a house mouse.
Cat carrying a house mouse. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Therefore he proclaimed loudly:
 
“From this hour onward, all mice shall disappear from the fields and shall live underground only!”
 
 Thus the king spoke and thus it happened. This is the reason why mice live in subterranean holes to this day.
 

Adapted from –Ancient Egyptian tales: The mouse as vizier , by Reshafim

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About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
This entry was posted in Cats, Egypt-Ancient, Food, History-Ancient, Humor, Hyena and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Mouse becomes Vizier in Ancient Egypt

  1. ritaroberts says:

    Love this tale Diana, Thank you !

    Like

  2. dianabuja says:

    Reblogged this on DIANABUJA'S BLOG: Africa, The Middle East, Agriculture, History and Culture and commented:

    For your weekend enjoyment, here is a blog that I have revised about what happens when a mouse becomes vizier in Ancient Egypt. It is a lovely tale, numerous, but also a story that emphasizes the importance of justice. The text was apparently used in scribal classes when teaching ancient Egyptian. Please enjoy!

    Like

  3. Pingback: At what age can a female cat get pregnant? And when do cats start to mate? | Taking care of your pet

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