Egyptian Myth and Legend
Tale of the Fugitive Prince
A Libyan Campaign--Death of King Amenemhet--The Prince's Flight --Among the Bedouins--An Inquisitive Chief--The Prince is honoured--A Rival Hero--Challenge to Single Combat--Senuhet victorious--Egyptian Love of Country--Appeal to Pharaoh--Prince returns Home--Welcome at the Court--A Golden Friend--An Old Man made Happy.
SENUHET, "son of the sycamore", was a hereditary prince of Egypt. When war was waged against the Libyans he accompanied the royal army, which was commanded by Senusert, the chosen heir of the great Amenemhet. As it fell, the old king died suddenly on the seventh day of the second month of Shait. Like the Horus hawk he flew towards the sun. Then there was great mourning in the palace; the gates were shut and sealed and noblemen prostrated themselves outside; silence fell upon the city.
The campaign was being conducted with much success. Many prisoners were taken and large herds of cattle were captured. The enemy were scattered in flight.
Now the nobles who were in possession of the palace took counsel together, and they dispatched a trusted messenger to Prince Senusert, so that he might be secretly informed of the death of his royal father. All the king's sons were with the army, but none of them were called when the messenger arrived. The messenger spoke unto no man of what had befallen save Senusert alone.
Now it chanced that Senuhet was concealed nigh to
the new king when the secret tidings were brought to him. He heard the words which the messenger spoke, and immediately he was stricken with fear; his heart shook and his limbs trembled. But he retained his presence of mind. His first thought was for his own safety; so he crept softly away until he found a safe hiding place. He waited until the new king and the messenger walked on together, and they passed very close to him as he lay concealed in a thicket. [*1]
No sooner had they gone out of hearing than Senuhet hastened to escape from the land of Egypt. He made his way southward, wondering greatly as he went if civil war had broken out. When night was far spent he lay down in an open field and slept there. In the morning he hastened along the highway and overtook a man who showed signs of fear. The day passed, and at eventide he crossed the river on a raft to a place where there were quarries. He was then in the region of the goddess Hirit of the Red Mountains, and he turned northward. On reaching a frontier fortress, which had been built to repel the raiding Bedouin archers, he concealed himself lest he should be observed by the sentinels.
As soon as it grew dark he continued his journey. He travelled all night long, and when dawn broke he reached the Qumor valley. . . . His strength was well-nigh spent. He was tortured by thirst; his tongue was parched and his throat was swollen. Greatly he suffered, and he moaned to himself: "Now I begin to taste of death". Yet he struggled on in his despair, and suddenly his heart was cheered by the sound of a man's voice and the sweet lowing of cows.
He had arrived among the Bedouins. One of them spoke to him kindly, and first gave him water to drink
and then some boiled milk. The man was a chief, and he perceived that Senuhet was an Egyptian of high rank. He showed him much kindness, and when the fugitive was able to resume his journey the Bedouin gave him safe conduct to the next camp. So from camp to camp Senuhet made his way until he reached the land of the Edomites, and then he felt safe there.
About a year went past, and then Amuanishi, chief of Upper Tonu, sent a messenger to Senuhet, saying: "Come and reside with me and hear the language of Egypt spoken."
There were other Egyptians in the land of Edom, and they had praised the prince highly, so that the chief desired greatly to see him.
Amuanishi spoke to Senuhet, saying: "Now tell me frankly why you have fled to these parts. Is it because someone has died in the royal palace? Something appears to have happened of which I am not aware."
Senuhet made evasive answer: "I certainly fled hither from the country of the Libyans, but not because I did anything wrong. I never spoke or acted treasonably, nor have I listened to treason. No magistrate has received information regarding me. I really can give no explanation why I came here. It seems as if I obeyed the will of King Amenemhet, whom I served faithfully and well."
The Bedouin chief praised the great king of Egypt, and said that his name was dreaded as greatly as that of Sekhet, the lioness goddess, in the time of famine.
Senuhet again spoke, saying: "Know now that the son of Amenemhet sits on the throne. He is a just and tactful prince, an excellent swordsman, and a brave warrior who has never yet met his equal. He sweeps the barbarians from his path; he hurls himself upon
robbers; he crushes heads and strikes down those who oppose him, for he is indeed a valiant hero without fear. He is also a swift runner when pursuing his foes, and he smites them with the claws of a lion, for they cannot escape him. Senusert rejoices in the midst of the fray, and none can withstand him. To his friends he is the essence of courtesy, and he is much loved throughout the land; all his subjects obey him gladly. Although he extends his southern frontier he has no desire to invade the land of the Bedouins. If it happens, however, that he should come hither, tell him that I dwell amongst ye."
The chief heard, and then said: "My desire is that Egypt may flourish and have peace. As for yourself, you will receive my hospitality so long as you please to reside here."
Then Senuhet was given for wife the eldest daughter of the chief of Upper Tonu. He was also allowed to select for himself a portion of land in that excellent country which is called Aia. There was abundance of grapes and figs; wine was more plentiful than water; the land flowed with milk and honey; olives were numerous and there were large supplies of corn and wheat, and many cattle of every kind.
The chief honoured Senuhet greatly and made him a prince in the land so that he was a ruler of a tribe. Each day the Egyptian fared sumptuously on cooked flesh and roasted fowl and on the game he caught, or which was brought to him, or was captured by his dogs, and he ever had bread and wine. His servants made butter and gave him boiled milk of every kind as he desired.
Many years went past. Children were born to him and they grew strong, and, in time, each ruled over a tribe. When travellers were going past, they turned
aside to visit Senuhet, because he showed great hospitality; he gave refreshment to those who were weary; and if it chanced that a stranger was plundered, he chastised the wrongdoers; he restored the stolen goods and gave the man safe conduct.
Senuhet commanded the Bedouins who fought against invaders, for the chief of Upper Tonu had made him general of the army. Many and great were the successes he achieved. He captured prisoners and cattle and returned with large numbers of slaves. In battle he fought with much courage with his sword and his bow; he displayed great cunning on the march and in the manner in which he arranged the plan of battle The chief of Tonu loved him dearly when he perceived how powerful he had become, and elevated Senuhet to still higher rank.
There was a mighty hero in Tonu who had achieved much renown, and he was jealous of the Egyptian. The man had no other rival in the land; he had slain all who dared to stand up against him. He was brave and he was bold, and he said: "I must needs combat with Senuhet. He has not yet met me."
The warrior desired to slay the Egyptian and win for himself the land and cattle which he possessed.
When the challenge was received, the chief of Tonu was much concerned, and spoke to Senuhet, who said:
"I know not this fellow. He is not of my rank and I do not associate with his kind. Nor have I ever done him any wrong. If he is a thief who desires to obtain my goods, he had better be careful of how he behaves himself. Does he think I am a steer and that he is the bull of war? If he desires to fight with me, let him have the opportunity. As it is his will, so let
it be. Will the god forget me? Whatever happens will happen as the god desires."
Having spoken thus, Senuhet retired to his tent and rested himself. Then he prepared his bow and made ready his arrows, and he saw that his arms were polished.
When dawn came, the people assembled round the place of combat. They were there in large numbers; many had travelled from remote parts to watch the duel. All the subjects of the chief of Tonu desired greatly that Senuhet should be the victor. But they feared for him. Women cried "Ah!" when they saw the challenging hero, and the men said one to another: "Can any man prevail over this warrior? See, he carries a shield and a lance and a battleaxe, and he has many javelins."
Senuhet came forth. He pretended to attack, and his adversary first threw the javelins; but the Egyptian turned them aside with his shield, and they fell harmlessly to the ground. The warrior then swung his battleaxe; but Senuhet drew his bow and shot a swift arrow. His aim was sure, for it pierced his opponent's neck so that he gave forth a loud cry and fell forward upon his face. Senuhet seized the lance, and, having thrust it through the warrior's body, he raised the shout of victory.
Then all the people rejoiced together, and Senuhet gave thanks to Mentu, the war god of Thebes, as did also the followers of the slain hero, for he had oppressed them greatly. The Chief Ruler of Tonu embraced the victorious prince with glad heart.
Senuhet took possession of all the goods and cattle which the boastful warrior had owned, and destroyed his house. So he grew richer as time went on. But old age was coming over him. In his heart he desired
greatly to return to Egypt again and to be buried there. His thoughts dwelt on this matter and he resolved to make appeal unto King Senusert. Then he drew up a petition and dispatched it in the care of a trusted messenger to the royal palace. Addressing His Majesty, "the servant of Horus" and "Son of the Sun" Senuhet wrote:--
I have reposed my faith in the god, and lo! he has not failed me. . . . Although I fled away from Egypt my name is still of good repute in the palace. I was hungry when I fled and now I supply food unto others; I was naked when I fled and now I am clad in fine linen; I was a wanderer and now I have many followers; I had no riches when I fled and now possess land and a dwelling. . . . I entreat of Your Majesty to permit me to sojourn once again in the place of my birth which I love dearly so that when I die my body may be embalmed and laid in a tomb in my native land. I, who am a fugitive, entreat you now to permit me to return home. . . . Unto the god I have given offerings so that my desire may be fulfilled, for my heart is full of regret--I who took flight to a foreign country.
May Your Majesty grant my request to visit once again my native land so that I may be your favoured subject. I humbly salute the queen. It is my desire to see her once again and also the children so that life may be renewed in my blood. Alas! I am growing old, my strength is diminishing; mine eyes are dim; I totter when I walk and my heart is feeble. Well, I know that death is at hand. The day of my burial is not far off. . . . Ere I die, may I gaze upon the queen and bear her talk about her children so that my heart may be made happy until the end.
King Senusert read the petition which Senuhet had sent unto him and was graciously pleased to grant his request. He sent presents to his fugitive subject, and messages from the princes, his royal sons, accompanied His Majesty's letter, which declared:
These are the words of the King. . . . What did you do,
or what has been done against you, that you fled away to a foreign country? What went wrong? I know that you never calumniated me, but although your words may have been misrepresented, you did not speak next time in the gathering of the lords even when called upon. . . . Do not let this matter be remembered any longer. See, too, that you do not change your mind again. . . . As for the queen, she is well and receives everything she desires. She is in the midst of her children. . . .
Leave all your possessions, and when you return here you may reside in the palace. You will be my closest friend. Do not forget that you are growing older each day now; that the strength of your body is diminishing and that your thoughts dwell upon the tomb. You will be given seemly burial; you will be embalmed; mourners will wail at your funeral; you will be given a gilded mummy case which will be covered with a cypress canopy and drawn by oxen; the funeral hymn will be sung and the funeral dance will be danced; mourners will kneel at your tomb crying with a loud voice so that offerings may be given unto you. Lo! all shall be as I promise. Sacrifices will be made at the door of your tomb; a pyramid will be erected and you will lie among princes. . . . You must not die in a foreign country. You are not to be buried by Bedouins in a sheepskin. The mourners of your own country will smite the ground and mourn for you when you are laid in your pyramid.
When Senuhet received this gracious message he was overcome with joy and wept; he threw himself upon the sand and lay there. Then he leapt up and cried out: "Is it possible that such good fortune has befallen an unfaithful subject who fled from his native land unto a hostile country? Great mercy is shown unto me this day. I am delivered from the fear of death."
Senuhet sent an answer unto the king saying:
Thou mighty god, what am I that you should favour me thus? . . . If Your Majesty will summon two princes who know what occurred they will relate all that came to pass . . . . It was not my desire to flee from Egypt. I fled as in a dream . . . . I
was not followed. I had not heard of any rebellious movement, nor did any magistrate receive my name . . . . I fled as if I had been ordered to flee by His Majesty . . . . As you have commanded, I will leave my riches behind me, and those who are my heirs here will inherit them. . . . May Your Majesty have eternal life.
When he had written this to His Majesty, Senuhet gave a great feast and he divided his wealth among his children. His eldest son became the leader of the tribe, and he received the land and the corn fields, the cattle and the fruit trees, in that pleasant place. Then Senuhet turned his face towards the land of Egypt. He was met on the frontier by the officer who commanded the fort, who sent tidings to the palace of Senuhet's approach. A boat laden with presents went to meet him, and the fugitive spoke to all the men who were in it as if he were of their own rank, for his heart was glad.
A night went past, and when the land grew bright again he drew nigh to the palace. Four men came forth to conduct him, and the children waited his coming in the courtyard as did also the nobles who led him before the king.
His Majesty sat upon his high throne in the great hall which is adorned with silver and gold. Senuhet prostrated himself. The king did not at first recognize him, yet he spoke kindly words; but the poor fugitive was unable to make answer; he grew faint; his eyes were blinded and his limbs were without strength; it seemed as if he were about to die.
The king said: "Help him to rise up so that we may converse one with another."
The courtiers lifted Senuhet, and His Majesty said: "So you have returned again. I perceive that in skulking about in foreign lands and playing the fugitive in
the desert you have worn yourself out. You have grown old, Senuhet. . . . But why do you not speak? Have you become deceitful like the Bedouin. Declare your name. What causes you to feel afraid?"
Senuhet found his tongue and said: "I am unnerved, Your Majesty. I have naught to answer for. I have not done that which deserves the punishment of the god. . . . I am faint, and my heart has grown weak, as when I fled. . . . Once again I stand before Your Majesty; my life is in your hands; do with me according to your will."
As he spoke, the royal children entered the great hall, and His Majesty said to the queen:
"This is Senuhet. Look at him. He has come like a desert dweller in the attire of a Bedouin."
The queen uttered a cry of astonishment, and the children laughed, saying: "Surely it is not him, Your Majesty?"
The king said: "Yes, it is Senuhet."
Then the royal children decked themselves with jewels and sang before the king, each tinkling a sweet sistrum. They praised His Majesty and called upon the gods to give him health and strength and prosperity, and they pleaded for Senuhet, so that royal favours might be conferred upon him.
Mighty thy words and swift thy will! Then bless thy servant in thy sight-- With air of life his nostrils fill, Who from his native land took flight. Thy presence fills the land with fear; Then marvel not he fled away-- All cheeks grow pale when thou art near; All eyes are stricken with dismay. The king said: "Senuhet must not tremble in my presence, for he will be a golden friend and chief among
the courtiers. Take him hence that he may be attired as befits his rank."
Then Senuhet was conducted to the inner chamber, and the children shook hands with him. He was given apartments in the house of a prince, the son of the king, in which he obtained dainties to eat. There he could sit in a cool chamber; there he could eat refreshing fruit; there he could attire himself in royal garments and anoint his body with perfumes; and there courtiers waited to converse with him and servants to obey his will.
He grew young again. His beard was shaved off, and his baldness was covered with a wig. The smell of the desert left him when his rustic garments were thrown away, and he was dressed in linen garments and anointed with perfumed oil. Once again he lay upon a bed--he who had left the sandy desert to those accustomed to it.
In time Senuhet was provided with a house in which a courtier had dwelt, when it had been repaired and decorated. He was happy there, and his heart was made glad by the children who visited him. The royal children were continually about his house.
King Senusert caused a pyramid to be erected for Senuhet; his statue was also carved at His Majesty's command, and it was decorated with gold.
"It was for no ordinary man," adds the scribe, who tells us that he copied the story faithfully, "that the king did all these things. Senuhet was honoured greatly by His Majesty until the day of his death."
The Instruction of Amenemhet
Be thou in splendour like the god, my son . . . Hearken and hear my words, if thou wouldst reign In Egypt and be ruler of the world, Excelling in thy greatness. . . . Live apart In stern seclusion, for the people heed The man who makes them tremble; mingle not Alone among them; have no bosom friend, Nor intimate, nor favourite in thy train-- These serve no goodly purpose. Ere to sleep Thou liest down, prepare to guard thy life-- A man is friendless in the hour of trial. . . . I to the needy gave, the orphan nourished, Esteemed alike the lowly and the great; But he who ate my bread made insurrection, And those my hands raised up, occasion seized Rebellion to create. . . . They went about All uniformed in garments that I gave And deemed me but a shadow. . . . Those who shared My perfumes for anointment, rose betimes And broke into my harem. Through the land Beholden are my statues, and men laud The deeds I have accomplished . . . yet I made A tale heroic that hath ne'er been told, And triumphed in a conflict no man saw. Surely these yearned for bondage when they smote The king who set them free. . . . Methinks, my son, Of no avail is liberty to men Grown blind to their good fortune. I had dined At eve and darkness fell. I sought to rest [p. 219] For I was weary. On my bed I lay And gave my thoughts release, and so I slept . . . The rebels 'gan to whisper and take arms With treacherous intent . . . I woke and heard And like the desert serpent waited there All motionless but watchful. Then I sprang To fight and I alone. . . . A warrior fell, And lo! he was the captain of my guard. Ah! had I but his weapons in that hour I should have scattered all the rebel band-- Mighty my blows and swift! . . . but he, alas! Was like a coward there . . . . Nor in the dark, And unprepared, could I achieve renown. Hateful their purpose! . . . I was put to shame. Thou wert not nigh to save. . . . Announced I then That thou didst reign, and I had left the throne. And gave commands according to thy will. . . . Ah! as they feared me not, 't was well to speak With courtesy before them. . . . Would I could Forget the weakness of my underlings! My son, Senusert, say--Are women wont To plot against their lords? Lo! mine have reared a brood of traitors, and assembled round a rebel band forsworn. They did deceive My servants with command to pierce the ground For speedy entry. Yet to me from birth Misfortune hath a stranger been. I ne'er Have met mine equal among valiant men. Lo! I have set in order all the land. From Elephantine adown the Nile I swept in triumph: so my feet have trod The outposts of my kingdom. . . . Mighty deeds Must now be measured by the deeds I've done. [p. 220] I loved the corn god. . . . I have grown the grain In every golden valley where the Nile Entreated me; none hungered in my day, None thirsted, and all men were well content-- They praised me, saying: "Wise are his commands". I fought the lion and the crocodile, I smote the dusky Nubians, and put The Asian dogs to flight. Mine house I built. Gold-decked with azure ceilings, and its walls Have deep foundations; doors of copper are, The bolts of bronze. . . . It shall endure all time. Eternity regards it with dismay! I know each measurement, O Lord of All! Men came to see its beauties, and I heard In silence while they praised it. No man knew The treasure that it lacked. . . . I wanted thee, My son, Senusert. . . . Health and strength be thine! I lean upon thee, O my heart's delight; For thee I look on all things. . . . Spirits sang In that glad hour when thou wert born to me. All things I've done, now know, were done for thee; For thee must I complete what I began Until the end draws nigh. . . . O be my heart The isle of thy desire. . . . The white crown now Is given thee, O wise son of the god-- I'll hymn thy praises in the bark of Ra. . . . Thy kingdom at Creation was. 'T is thine As it was mine--how mighty were my deeds! Rear thou thy statues and adorn thy tomb. . . . I struck thy rival down . . . . . 'T would not be wise To leave him nigh thee . . . . Health and strength be thine!
^208:1 No reason is given in the story for Senuhet's sudden alarm.