Birmingham Egyptology

Forum report: Fairy tales in ancient Egypt

The report from the last Forum of this academic year is now available ( This was a fascinating discussion chaired by Kelee Siat which was focused mainly on the Tale of the Eloquent Peasant and The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor, but which also touched upon the stories and ‘fairy tales’ of many other cultures, ancient and modern.

Forum participants considered whether either of these Egyptian stories are fairy tales as we know them, and concluded that the Eloquent Peasant felt more realistic and therefore less fantastical. However, the audience involved can affect how this tale is viewed. In this regard, Kelee writes (in addition to her report):


‘A fairy tale is a tale with a fantasy element. Though the Eloquent Peasant is devoid of obvious fantasy elements there is still a reference to the cosmic order and balance – ma’at – which the king is part of. It is this balance that could in essence be viewed as a fantastical element of fantasy depending on the perspective of its audience who may hold or not hold similar beliefs of a cosmic balance: a modern audience might perceive the existence of such a cosmic order fantasy, whereas the ancient Egyptians might not have done. Therefore in light of modern perception it could become a fairy tale on these grounds.’


To the ancient Egyptians, ma’at was a part of life, and therefore its underlying influence in the peasant’s quest for justice was likely to be perfectly natural. However, to other cultures and in other times, metaphysical forces which govern the world may seem rather fantastical. In other words, it adds a superstitious, magical, and divine element to a story that is otherwise seemingly very much of this world, if a little dramatic, exaggerated and improbable (in particular the peasant shouting and insulting the authorties, including the Pharaoh).

The Forum will resume in the Autumn term. If you are interested in chairing a session or presenting your research please contact us

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