National Geographic : 1941 Oct
The Egyptian Scribe and His Equipment T HE career of "scribe" in ancient Egypt was as exacting in its re quirements as it was honorable and profitable in its rewards. A young man fortunate enough to have passed through the great school of scribes at Memphis or, later, at Thebes was ex pected not only to be able to read, write, and draw with a skill approach ing perfection but also to have a thorough knowledge of the language, literature, and history of his country. Furthermore he must be well versed in mathematics, bookkeeping, law, management and maintenance of per sonnel, general administrative proce dure, and even such subjects as me chanics, surveying, and architectural design. Once a man had qualified as a scribe, he automatically became a member of the educated official class. This status exempted him from menial labor of any sort, and he could rise through a series of recognized stages to the very highest offices in the land. The scribe of page 451, seated with his fellows in the chancellery of a great estate of the Vth Dynasty, is engaged in making an inventory of his lord's linen supply. He is assisted in the task by a fat under-treasurer, who is reading off to him the distin guishing marks written on a corner of each sheet. The writer sits cross-legged, mak ing the tightly stretched front of his linen kilt serve as a desk. He writes from right to left in a fine "hieratic" hand, using a slender brush composed of a reed with a carefully frayed and trimmed tip. His excellent paper is made of nar row strips of the pith of the papyrus reed, crossed in two directions, pressed together, and subsequently burnished. His writing pigments black and red-are contained in the two bowls of an alabaster palette, or ink-stand, which may be seen lying on the floor by his right knee. To the ring on the end of the palette is attached a pointed piece of rag or other substance, which serves as an eraser. Next to this is the hard stone slab and grinder for pulverizing the pigment. The scribe's bronze basin, contain ing the water for mixing his pigments, rests on the leather trunk, in which he keeps his rolls of fresh papyrus. The small inscribed cylinder, sus pended from his neck, bears his mas ter's name, and is used for sealing documents, cases of goods, and other items pertaining to the estate. Linen cloth, as we have seen, was woven in Egypt from remote prehis toric times. Usually of excellent quality, it varied in texture from a coarse burlap-like cloth to the finest, gossamer cambric. Ordinarily the cloth was woven in long sheets, or bolts, finished at one end with a long fringe, and having a selvage edge and short selvage fringe along the sides. In addition to weavers' marks, woven into the fabric, the sheets were often marked at one corner with a short ink inscription, giving the name of the individual, estate, or govern ment department to which they be longed. The latter marks are similar in appearance and, to some extent, in purpose to the modern laundry marks. Dated sheets, found on mummies, have been valuable aids to researchers who have sought to recon struct some of the more obscure pe riods in Egyptian history.