Egyptian Myth and Legend
Folk Tales of Fifty Centuries
A Faithless Lady--The Wax Crocodile--Pharaoh's Decree--Story of the Green Jewel--A Sad-hearted King--Boating on the Lake--How the Waters were divided--Dedi the Magician--His Magical Feats--A Prophecy --Khufu's Line must fall--Birth of the Future Kings--Goddesses as Dancing Girls--Ghostly Music and Song--Tale of a King's Treasure--Fearless Thieves--A Brother's Bravery--Pharaoh's Soldiers are tricked--How a Robber became a Prince--King visits the Underworld.
KING KHUFU sat to hear tales told by his sons regarding the wonders of other days and the doings of magicians. The Prince Khafra stood before him and related the ancient story of the wax crocodile.
Once upon a time a Pharaoh went towards the temple of the god Ptah. His counsellers and servants accompanied him. It chanced that he paid a visit to the villa of the chief scribe, behind which there was a garden with a stately summer house and a broad artificial lake. Among those who followed Pharaoh was a handsome youth, and the scribe's wife beheld him with love. Soon afterwards she sent gifts unto him, and they had secret meetings. They spent a day in the summer house, and feasted there, and in the evening the youth bathed in the lake. The chief butler then went to his master and informed him what had come to pass.
The scribe bade the servant to bring a certain magic box, and when he received it he made a small wax crocodile, over which he muttered a spell. He placed
it in the hands of the butler, saying: "Cast this image into the lake behind the youth when next he bathes himself "
On another day, when the scribe dwelt with Pharaoh, the lovers were together in the summer house, and at eventide the youth went into the lake. The butler stole through the garden, and stealthily he cast into the water the wax image, which was immediately given life. It became a great crocodile that seized the youth suddenly and took him away.
Seven days passed, and then the scribe spoke to the Pharaoh regarding the wonder which had been done, and made request that His Majesty should accompany him to his villa. The Pharaoh did so, and when they both stood beside the lake in the garden the scribe spoke magic words, bidding the crocodile to appear. As he commanded, so did it do. The great reptile came out of the water carrying the youth in its jaws.
The scribe said: "Lo! it shall do whatever I command to be done."
Said the Pharaoh: "Bid the crocodile to return at once to the lake."
Ere he did that, the scribe touched it, and immediately it became a small image of wax again. The Pharaoh was filled with wonder, and the scribe related unto him all that had happened, while the youth stood waiting.
Said His Majesty unto the crocodile: "Seize the wrongdoer." The wax image was again given life, and, clutching the youth, leaped into the lake and disappeared. Nor was it ever seen after that.
Then Pharaoh gave command that the wife of the scribe should be seized. On the north side of the house she was bound to a stake and burned alive, and what remained of her was thrown into the Nile.
Such was the tale told by Khafra. Khufu was well pleased, and caused offerings of food and refreshment to be placed in the tombs of the Pharaoh and his wise servant.
Prince Khafra stood before His Majesty, and said: "I will relate a marvel which happened in the days of King Sneferu, thy father." Then he told the story of the green jewel.
Sneferu was one day disconsolate and weary. He wandered about the palace with desire to be cheered, nor was there aught to take the gloom from his mind. He caused his chief scribe to be brought before him, and said: "I would fain have entertainment, but cannot find any in this place."
The scribe said: "Thy Majesty should go boating on the lake, and let the rowers be the prettiest girls in your harem. It will delight your heart to see them splashing the water where the birds dive and to gaze upon the green shores and the flowers and trees. I myself will go with you."
The king consented, and twenty virgins who were fair to behold went into the boat, and they rowed with oars of ebony which were decorated with gold. His Majesty took pleasure in the outing, and the gloom passed from his heart as the boat went hither and thither, and the girls sang together with sweet voices.
It chanced, as they were turning round, an oar handle brushed against the hair of the girl who was steering, and shook from it a green jewel, which fell into the water. She lifted up her oar and stopped singing, and the others grew silent and ceased rowing.
Said Sneferu: "Do not pause; let us go on still farther."
The girls said: "She who steers has lifted her oar."
Said Sneferu to her: "Why have you lifted your oar?"
"Alas, I have lost my green jewel she said it has fallen into the lake."
Sneferu said: "I will give you another; let us go on."
The girl pouted and made answer: "I would rather have my own green jewel again than any other."
His Majesty said to the chief scribe: "I am given great enjoyment by this novelty; indeed my mind is much refreshed as the girls row me up and down the lake. Now one of them has lost her green jewel, which has dropped into the water, and she wants it back again and will not have another to replace it."
The chief scribe at once muttered a spell. Then by reason of his magic words the waters of the lake were divided like a lane. He went down and found the green jewel which the girl had lost, and came back with it to her. When he did that, he again uttered words of power, and the waters came together as they were before.
The king was well pleased, and when he had full enjoyment with the rowing upon the lake he returned to the palace. He gave gifts to the chief scribe, and everyone wondered at the marvel which he had accomplished.
Such was Khafra's tale of the green jewel, and King Khufu commanded that offerings should be laid in the tombs of Sneferu and his chief scribe, who was a great magician.
Next Prince Hordadef stood before the king, and he said: "Your Majesty has heard tales regarding the wonders performed by magicians in other days, but I can bring forth a worker of marvels who now lives in the kingdom."
King Khufu said: "And who is he, my son?"
"His name is Dedi," answered Prince Hordadef. "He is a very old man, for his years are a hundred and ten. Each day he eats a joint of beef and five hundred loaves of bread, and drinks a hundred jugs of beer. He can smite off the head of a living creature and restore it again; he can make a lion follow him; and he knows the secrets of the habitation of the god Thoth, which Your Majesty has desired to know so that you may design the chambers of your pyramid."
King Khufu said: "Go now and find this man for me, Hordadef."
The prince went down to the Nile, boarded a boat, and sailed southward until he reached the town called Dedsnefru, where Dedi had his dwelling. He went ashore, and was carried in his chair of state towards the magician, who was found lying at his door. When Dedi was awakened, the king's son saluted him and bade him not to rise up because of his years. The prince said: "My royal father desires to honour you, and will provide for you a tomb among your people."
Dedi blessed the prince and the king with thankfulness, and he said to Hordadef: "Greatness be thine; may your Ka have victory over the powers of evil, and may your Khu follow the path which leads to Paradise."
Hordadef assisted Dedi to rise up, and took his arm to help him towards the ship. He sailed away with the prince, and in another ship were his assistants and his magic books.
"Health and strength and plenty be thine," said Hordadef, when he again stood before his royal father King Khufu. "I have come down stream with Dedi, the great magician."
His Majesty was well pleased, and said: "Let the man be brought into my presence."
Dedi came and saluted the king, who said: "Why have I not seen you before?"
"He that is called cometh," answered the old man; "you have sent for me and I am here."
"It is told," King Khufu said, "that you can restore the head that is taken from a live creature." [*1]
"I can indeed, Your Majesty," answered Dedi.
The king said: "Then let a prisoner be brought forth and decapitated."
"I would rather it were not a man," said Dedi; "I do not deal even with cattle in such a manner."
A duck was brought forth and its head was cut off, and the head was thrown to the right and the body to the left. Dedi spoke magic words. Then the head and the body came together, and the duck rose up and quacked loudly. The same was done with a goose.
King Khufu then caused a cow to be brought in, and its head was cut off. Dedi restored the animal to life again, and caused it to follow him.
His Majesty then spoke to the magician and said: "It is told that you possess the secrets of the dwelling of the god Thoth."
Dedi answered: "I do not possess them, but I know where they are concealed, and that is within a temple chamber at Heliopolis. There the plans are kept in a box, but it is no insignificant person who shall bring them to Your Majesty."
"I would fain know who will deliver them unto me," King Khufu said.
Dedi prophesied that three sons would be born to Rud-dedit, wife of the chief priest of Ra. The eldest would become chief priest at Heliopolis and would
possess the plans. He and his brothers would one day sit upon the throne and rule over all the land.
King Khufu's heart was filled with gloom and alarm when he heard the prophetic words of the great magician.
Dedi then said: "What are your thoughts, O King? Behold your son will reign after you, and then his son. But next one of these children will follow."
King Khufu was silent. Then he spoke and asked: "When shall these children be born?"
Dedi informed His Majesty, who said: "I will visit the temple of Ra at that time."
Dedi was honoured by His Majesty, and thereafterwards dwelt in the house of the Prince Hordadef. He was given daily for his portion an ox, a thousand loaves of bread, a hundred jugs of beer, and a hundred bunches of onions.
The day came when the sons of the woman Rud-dedit were to be born. Then the high priest of Ra, her husband, prayed unto the goddess Isis and her sister Nepthys; to Meskhent, goddess of birth; and to the frog goddess Hekt; and to the creator god Khnumu, who gives the breath of life. These he entreated to have care of the three babes who were to become three kings of Egypt, one after the other.
The deities heard him. Then came the goddesses as dancing girls, who went about the land, and the god Khnumu followed them as their burden bearer. When they reached the door of the high priest's dwelling they danced before him. He entreated them to enter, and they did according to his desire, and shut themselves in the room with the woman Rud-dedit.
Isis called the first child who was born Userkaf, and said: "Let no evil be done by him". The goddess Meskhent prophesied that he would become King of
Egypt. Khnumu, the creator god, gave the child strength.
The second babe was named Sahura by the goddess Isis. Meskhent prophesied that he also would become a king. Khnumu gave him his strength.
The third was called Kaka. Meskhent said: "He shall also be a king", and Khnumu gave him strength.
Ere the dancing girls took their departure the high priest gave a measure of barley to their burden bearer, and Khnumu carried it away upon his shoulders.
They all went upon their way, and Isis said: "Now let us work a wonder on behalf of these children, so that their father may know who hath sent us unto his house.
Royal crowns were fashioned and concealed in the measure of barley which had been given them. Then the deities caused a great storm to arise, and in the midst of it they returned to the dwelling of the high priest, and they put the barley in a cellar, and sealed it, saying they would return again and take it away.
It came to pass that after fourteen days Rud-dedit bade her servant to bring barley from the cellar so that beer might be made.
The girl said: "There is none left save the measure which was given unto the dancing girls."
"Bring that then," said Rud-dedit, "and when the dancing girls return I will give them its value."
When the servant entered the cellar she heard the low sounds of sweet music and dancing and song. She went and told her mistress of this wonder, and Rud-dedit entered the cellar, and at first could not discover whence the mysterious sounds issued forth. At length she placed her ear against the sack which contained the barley given to the dancing girls, and found that the music was within it. She at once placed the sack in a
chest and locked it, and then told her husband, and they rejoiced together.
Now it happened that one day Rud-dedit was angry with her servant, and smote her heavily. The girl vowed that she would be avenged and said: "Her three children will become kings. I will inform King Khufu of this matter."
So the servant went away and visited her uncle, who was her mother's eldest brother. Unto him she told all that had happened and all she knew regarding the children of her mistress.
He was angry with her and spoke, saying: "Why come to me with this secret? I cannot consent to make it known as you desire."
Then he struck the girl, who went afterwards to draw water from the Nile. On the bank a crocodile seized her, and she was devoured.
The man then went towards the dwelling of Rud-dedit and he found her mourning with her head upon her knees. He spoke, saying: "Why is your heart full of gloom?"
Rud-dedit answered him: "Because my servant girl went away to reveal my secret."
The man bowed and said: "Behold! she came unto me and told me all things. But I struck her, and she went towards the river and was seized by a crocodile." [*1]
So was the danger averted. Nor did King Khufu ever discover the babes regarding whom Dedi had prophesied. In time they sat upon the throne of Egypt.
A folk tale regarding the king who reigned in Egypt
before Khufu was related by a priest to Herodotus, the Greek historian.
The monarch was called Rhampsinitus. He built the western portion of the temple of Ptah. He also erected two statues--one to Summer, which faced the north, and was worshipped; and the other to Winter, which faced the south, but was never honoured. The king possessed great wealth, and he caused to be constructed beside the palace a strong stone chamber in which he kept his riches. One of the builders, however, contrived to place a stone in such a manner that it could be removed from the outside.
It chanced that, after the king had deposited his treasure in the chamber, this builder was stricken with illness and knew his end was nigh. He had two sons, and he told them his secret regarding the stone, and gave them the measurements, so that they might locate it.
After the man died the sons went forth in the darkness of night, and when they found the stone they removed it. Then they entered the chamber, and carried away much treasure, and ere they departed they closed up the wall again.
The king marvelled greatly when he discovered that his riches had been plundered, for the seals of the door were unbroken, and he knew not whom to suspect. Again and again the robbers returned, and the treasure diminished greatly. At length the king caused traps to be laid in the chamber, for his guards, who kept watch at the entrances, were unable to prevent the mysterious robberies.
Soon after the brothers returned. They removed the stone, and one of them entered stealthily. He went towards the treasure, as was his custom, but was suddenly caught in a trap. In a moment he realized that escape
was impossible, and he reflected that he would be put to death on the morrow, while his brother would be seized and similarly punished. So he said to himself: "I alone will die."
When he had thus resolved to save his brother, he called to him softly in the darkness, bidding him to enter cautiously. He made known his great misfortune, and said: "I cannot escape, nor dare you tarry long lest you be discovered, When they find me here I will be recognized, and they will seize you and put you to death. Cut off my head at once, so that they may not know who I am, and thus save your own life."
With a sad heart the brother did as he was desired, and carried away the head. Ere he escaped in the darkness he replaced the stone, and no man saw him.
When morning came the king was more astounded than ever to find a headless body entrapped in the treasure chamber, for the door had not been opened, and yet two men had entered and one had escaped. He commanded that the corpse should be hung on the palace wall, and stationed guards at the place, bidding them to keep strict watch, so that they might discover if anyone came to sorrow for the dead man. But no one came nigh.
Meanwhile the mother grieved in secret. Her heart was filled with anger because the body was exposed in such a manner, and she threatened to inform the king regarding all that had happened if her other son would not contrive to carry away the corpse. The young man attempted to dissuade her, but she only repeated her threat, and that firmly. He therefore made preparations to obtain possession of the corpse.
He hired several asses, and on their backs he put many skins of wine. In the evening he drove them towards the palace. When he drew near to the guards
who kept watch over his brother's body he removed the stoppers of some of the skins. The wine ran forth upon the highway, and he began to lament aloud, and beat his head as if he were in sore distress. The soldiers ran towards the asses and seized them, and caught the wine in vessels, claiming it for themselves. At first the brother pretended to be angry, and abused the men; but when they had pacified him, as they thought, he spoke to them pleasantly and began to make secure the stoppers of all the skins.
In a short time he was chatting with the guards, and pretended to be much amused when they bantered him over the accident. Then he invited them to drink, and they filled their flasks readily. So they began, and the young man poured out wine until they were all made very drunk. When they fell asleep, the cunning fellow took down his brother's body, and laid it upon the back of one of the asses. Ere he went away he shaved the right cheeks of the soldiers. His mother welcomed him on his return in the darkness and was well pleased.
The king was very angry when he discovered how the robber had tricked the guards, but he was still determined to have him taken. He sent forth his daughter in disguise, and she waited for the criminal. She spoke to several men, and at length she found him, because he came to know that he was sought and desired to deal cunningly with her. So he addressed her, and she offered to be his bride if he would tell her the most artful thing and also the most wicked thing he had ever done.
He answered readily: "The most wicked thing I ever did was to cut off my brother's head when he was caught in a trap in the royal treasure chamber, and the most artful was to deceive the king's guards and carry away the body."
The princess tried to seize him, but he thrust forth his brother's arm, which he carried under his robe, and when she clutched it he made speedy escape.
Great was then the astonishment of the king at the cunning and daring of the robber. He caused a proclamation to be made, offering him a free pardon and a generous reward if he would appear at the palace before him. The man went readily, and His Majesty was so delighted with his speeches and great ingenuity that he gave him his daughter in marriage. There is no more artful people than the Egyptians, but this man had not his equal in the land.
It was told that this same king journeyed to the land of Death, where he played dice with the goddess Isis [*1] and now won and now lost. She gave to him a napkin embroidered with gold, and on his return a great festival was held, and it was repeated every year thereafter. On such occasions it was customary to blindfold a priest and lead him to the temple of Isis, where he was left alone. It was believed that two wolves met him and conducted him back to the spot where he was found. The Egyptians esteemed Isis and Osiris [*2] as the greatest deities of the underworld.
^147:1 This trick is still performed by Egyptian conjurors.
^150:1 The manuscript, which is part of the "Westcar Papyrus", ends here. It was purchased in Egypt by a Miss Westcar, and is now preserved in the Berlin museum. The beginning and end had been torn off. The children referred to became the first three kings of the Fifth Dynasty, which marks the political ascendancy of the Ra cult.
^154:1 Herodotus gives Demeter (Ceres).
^154:2 Ceres and Bacchus.