Essay: Rolf & the Report of Wenamun

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Who was the first great traveler of literary history?…

…Rolf Potts asks in this article about one of the oldest recorded travelogues.

The incomplete travelogue, written on papyrus, was found in Egypt in 1890.  It recounts the misadventures of a priest’s travels form Thebes to Phoenicia (modern Lebanon) almost 3,000 years ago.  

The surviving travelogue is brief and Rolf Potts tells the story with the help of his 14 year old nephew.  

The result is an amusing comic strip which has more in common with Asterix the Gaul than the heroics of Odysseus, while the abrupt ending of Wenamun’s misadventures is used to suggest something a bit more Carry on Cleo than a serious diplomatic mission.   

The comic strip is a more engaging way of discovering Wenamun’s travels compared to the available, brief translations.  This is fitting because, as Rolf points out, Wenamun’s travels are not of mythic proportions and are closer to most people’s experience of travel which, instead of as adventurers and heroes, is more often as “novices, improvisers, and sometimes, fools”.

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