The Eloquent Peasant

Shadi Abdel Salam

Salam directed only two fiction films, the peerless The Night of Counting the Years (1969) and this 20-minute adaptation of The Eloquent Peasant, one of Ancient Egypt’s most celebrated works of literature.

The Film

Pieced together from several differing versions, The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant was written in classical Middle Egyptian and composed around 2200 BC. A combined folk story, morality play and poem, it tells of the peasant Khunanup and his donkey who stumble into lands owned by the nobleman Rensi. Khunanup’s possessions are stolen but he is accused of theft. He pleads his case to the Pharaoh, who is impressed by the peasant’s speech. Although realizing Khunanup has been wronged, Pharaoh withholds judgement so he can listen, over and over again, to the peasant’s remarkable eloquence.

Each plea by Khunanup to Pharaoh becomes another variation on the concept of Maat. Variously translated as status quo, truth, justice, order and righteousness, Maat transcends mere human existence and is part of Ancient Egyptian cosmological thought.

Khunanup is played by Ahmed Marei, the young Egyptologist from The Night of Counting the Years.

Notes on the Restoration

The World Cinema Foundation and Bologna’s Cinema Ritrovato used the original 35mm camera and sound negatives preserved at the Egyptian Film Centre in Cairo to produce a new 35mm inter-negative for digital restoration.

 Notes by Rod Bishop