Egypt, Israel, and the Ancient Mediterranean World: Studies in Honor of Donald B. Redford

By Gary N. Knoppers; Antoine Hirsch | Go to book overview

WHAT WENAMUN COULD HAVE BOUGHT:
THE VALUE OF HIS STOLEN GOODS*

Ronald J. Leprohon

Since I first read The Story of Wenamun1 under Donald Redford's guidance many years ago, I thought it fitting for me to offer this small contribution in honor of his many years as teacher, mentor, and friend.

The ideal condition

Would be, I admit, that men should be right by instinct;

But since we are all likely to go astray,

The reasonable thing is to learn from those who can teach.

(Sophocles, Antigone, line 720)

The mention in a recent publication that Wenamun's stolen goods were of little value (de Spens 1998:122)2 has prompted me to endeavor to evaluate the stolen goods, and what they might have represented to Wenamun in what we would now refer to as “buying power.” Toward the beginning of the story, upon his arrival at the seaport of Dor, one of his own sailors—part of a Syrian crew3—steals the precious goods that Wenamun had brought with him.4 Wenamun narrates the theft as such:

“A man of my own ship fled, after having stolen one gold vessel worth 5 deben, four silver jars worth 20 deben, and a bag with 11 deben

* A version of this paper was originally read at the Annual Conference of the
American Research Center in Egypt, Chicago, April 1999.

1 The question of whether Wenamun is a story has long been debated, with many
scholars arguing passionately for fact or fiction. Here is not the place to repeat this
discussion, but the present author thinks it safe to assume that it is fiction, as Baines
(1999) has now convincingly shown; see also lately Egberts (1998:94) and Eyre (1999:
237). Other summaries of the debate are found in Bunnens (1979:46–48) and Scheep-
ers (1992:356–60).

2 See, however, Myśliewic (2000:23), who mentions that a “considerable amount”
of silver and gold was stolen from Wenamun.

3 Perhaps the fact that the crew taking Wenamun to Byblos was foreign made the
theft more palatable and somehow less surprising to the jingoistic ancient Egyptian
audience; see also Liverani (1990:252).

4 On the theft and its logistics, see the interesting remarks by Green (1979:119-
20).

-167-

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