Egyptian Tales, First Series
by ed. by W. M. Flinders Petrie
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D.C.L., LL.D.., PH.D., HON. F.S.A. (SCOT.)




















IT is strange that while literature occupies so much attention as at present, and while fiction is the largest division of our book-work, the oldest literature and fiction of the world should yet have remained unpresented to English readers. The tales of ancient Egypt have appeared collectively only in French, in the charming volume of Maspero's "Contes Populaires"; while some have been translated into English at scattered times in volumes of the "Records of the Past." But research moves forward; and translations that were excellent twenty years ago may now be largely improved, as we attain more insight into the language.

For another reason also there is a wide ground for the present volume. In no case have any illustrations been attempted, to give that basis for imagination which is all the more needed when reading of an age and a land unfamiliar to our ideas. When following a narrative, whether of real events or of fiction, many persons—perhaps most—find themselves unconsciously framing in their minds the scenery and the beings of which they are reading. To give a correct picture of the character of each of the various ages to which these tales belong, has been the aim of the present illustrations. A definite period has been assigned to each tale, in accordance with the indications, or the history, involved in it; and, so far as our present knowledge goes, all the details of life in the scenes here illustrated are rendered in accord with the period of the story.

To some purely scholastic minds it may seem presumptuous to intermingle translations of notable documents with fanciful illustrations. But, considering the greater precision with which in recent years we have been able to learn the changes and the fashions of ancient life in Egypt, and the essentially unhistorical nature of most of these tales, there seems ample reason to provide such material for the reader's imagination in following the stories; it may-give them more life and reality, and may emphasise the differences which existed between the different periods to which these tales refer.

It will be noticed how the growth of the novel is shadowed out in the varied grounds and treatment of the tales. The earliest is purely a collection of marvels or fabulous incidents of the simplest kind. Then we advance to contrasts between town and country, between Egypt and foreign lands. Then personal adventure, and the interest in schemes and successes, becomes the staple material; while only in the later periods does character come in as the groundwork. The same may be seen in English literature—first the tales of wonders and strange lands, then the novel of adventure, and lastly the novel of character.

In translating these documents into English I have freely used the various translations already published in other languages; but in all cases more or less revision and retranslation from the original has been made. In this matter I am indebted to Mr. F. Ll. Griffith, who has in some cases—as in Anpu and Bata—almost entirely retranslated the original papyrus. The material followed in each instance will be found stated in the notes accompanying the tales. As to the actual phraseology, I am alone responsible for that. How far original idiom should be retained in any translation is always a debated question, and must entirely depend on the object in view. Here the purpose of rendering the work intelligible to ordinary readers required the modifying of some idioms and the paraphrasing of others. But so far as possible the style and tone of the original has been preserved, and whatever could be easily followed has been left to speak for itself. In many plainnesses of speech the old Egyptian resembled the modern Oriental, or our own forefathers, more than ourselves in this age of squeamishness as yet unparalleled in the world. To avoid offence a few little modifications of words have been made; but rather than give a false impression by tampering with any of the narrative, I have omitted the sequel of the last tale and given only an outline of it. The diction adopted has been the oldest that could be used without affectation when dealing with the early times. It has been purposely modified in the later tales; and in the last—which is of Ptolemaic authorship—a modern style has been followed as more compatible with the later tone of the narrative.

For the illustrations Mr. Tristram Ellis's familiarity with Egypt has been of good account in his life-like scenes here used. For each drawing I have searched for the material among the monuments and remains of the age in question. The details of the dresses, the architecture, and the utensils, are all in accord with the period of each tale. In the tale of Setnau two different styles are introduced. Ahura is probably of the time of Amenhotep III., whereas Setnau is a son of Ramessu II.; and the change of fashion between the two different dynasties has been followed as distinctive of the two persons, one a ka or double of the deceased, the other a living man. To the reader who starts with the current idea that all Egyptians were alike, this continual change from one period to another may seem almost fanciful. But it rests on such certain authority that we may hope that this little volume may have its use as an object-lesson in practical archaeology.

The use and abuse of notes is a matter of dispute. To be constantly interrupted in reading by some needless and elementary explanation is an impertinence both to the author and the reader: the one cannot resent it, the other therefore resents it for both. But what is to be deemed needless entirely depends on the reader: I have been asked in what country Pompei is, as it is not in the English Gazetteer. Rather than intrude, then, on the reader when he is in high discourse with the ancients, I humbly set up my interpreter's booth next door; and if he cares to call in, and ask about any difficulties, I shall be glad to help him if I can. Not even numbers are intruded to refer to notes; for how often an eager reader has been led off his trail, and turned blithely to refer to 37 or 186 only to find, "See J. Z. xxxviii. 377," at which he gnashed his teeth and cursed such interruptions. So those to whom the original tales are obscure are humbly requested to try for some profit from the remarks after them, that have been gleaned by the translator,

Much might be said by a "folk-lorist"—in proportion to his ardour. But as there are folk-lorists and folk-lorists, and the schools of Rabbi Andrew and Rabbi Joseph write different targums, I have left each to make his own commentary without prejudice.


One day, when King Khufu reigned over all the land, he said to his chancellor, who stood before him, "Go call me my sons and my councillors, that I may ask of them a thing." And his sons and his councillors came and stood before him, and he said to them, "Know ye a man who can tell me tales of the deeds of the magicians?"

Then the royal son Khafra stood forth and said, "I will tell thy majesty a tale of the days of thy forefather Nebka, the blessed; of what came to pass when he went into the temple of Ptah of Ankhtaui."


"His majesty was walking unto the temple of Ptah, and went unto the house of the chief reciter Uba-aner, with his train. Now when the wife of Uba-aner saw a page, among those who stood behind the king, her heart longed after him; and she sent her servant unto him, with a present of a box full of garments.

"And he came then with the servant. Now there was a lodge in the garden of Uba-aner; and one day the page said to the wife of Uba-aner, 'In the garden of Uba-aner there is now a lodge; behold, let us therein take our pleasure.' So the wife of Uba-aner sent to the steward who had charge over the garden, saying, 'Let the lodge which is in the garden be made ready.' And she remained there, and rested and drank with the page until the sun went down.

"And when the even was now come the page went forth to bathe. And the steward said, 'I must go and tell Uba-aner of this matter.' Now when this day was past, and another day came, then went the steward to Uba-aner, and told him of all these things.

"Then said Uba-aner, 'Bring me my casket of ebony and electrum.' And they brought it; and he fashioned a crocodile of wax, seven fingers long: and he enchanted it, and said, 'When the page comes and bathes in my lake, seize on him.' And he gave it to the steward, and said to him, 'When the page shall go down into the lake to bathe, as he is daily wont to do, then throw in this crocodile behind him.' And the steward went forth bearing the crocodile.

"And the wife of Uba-aner sent to the steward who had charge over the garden, saying, 'Let the lodge which is in the garden be made ready, for I come to tarry there.'

"And the lodge was prepared with all good things; and she came and made merry therein with the page. And when the even was now come, the page went forth to bathe as he was wont to do. And the steward cast in the wax crocodile after him into the water; and, behold! it became a great crocodile seven cubits in length, and it seized on the page.

"And Uba-aner abode yet seven days with the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Nebka, the blessed, while the page was stifled in the crocodile. And after the seven days were passed, the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Nebka, the blessed, went forth, and Uba-aner went before him.

"And Uba-aner said unto his majesty, 'Will your majesty come and see this wonder that has come to pass in your days unto a page?' And the king went with Uba-aner. And Uba-aner called unto the crocodile and said, 'Bring forth the page.' And the crocodile came forth from the Jake with the page. Uba-aner said unto the king, 'Behold, whatever I command this crocodile he will do it.' And his majesty said, 'I pray you send back this crocodile." And Uba-aner stooped and took up the crocodile, and it became in his hand a crocodile of wax. And then Uba-aner told the king that which had passed in his house with the page and his wife. And his majesty said unto the crocodile, 'Take to thee thy prey.' And the crocodile plunged into the lake with his prey, and no man knew whither he went.

"And his majesty the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Nebka, the blessed, commanded, and they brought forth the wife of Uba-aner to the north side of the harem, and burnt her with fire, and cast her ashes in the river.

"This is a wonder that came to pass in the days of thy forefather the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Nebka, of the acts of the chief reciter Uba-aner."

His majesty the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Khufu, then said, "Let there be presented to the king Nebka, the blessed, a thousand loaves, a hundred draughts of beer, an ox, two jars of incense; and let there be presented a loaf, a jar of beer, a jar of incense, and a piece of meat to the chief reciter Uba-aner; for I have seen the token of his learning." And they did all things as his majesty commanded.


The royal sou Bau-f-ra then stood forth and spake. He said, "I will tell thy majesty of a wonder which came to pass in the days of thy father Seneferu, the blessed, of the deeds of the chief reciter Zazamankh. One day King Seneferu, being weary, went throughout his palace seeking for a pleasure to lighten his heart, but he found none. And he said, 'Haste, and bring before me the chief reciter and scribe of the rolls Zazamankh'; and they straightway brought him. And the king said, 'I have sought in my palace for some delight, but I have found none.' Then said Zazamankh to him, 'Let thy majesty go upon the lake of the palace, and let there be made ready a boat, with all the fair maidens of the harem of thy palace; and the heart of thy majesty shall be refreshed with the sight, in seeing their rowing up and down the water, and seeing the goodly pools of the birds upon the lake, and beholding its sweet fields and grassy shores; thus will thy heart be lightened. And I also will go with thee. Bring me twenty oars of ebony, inlayed with gold, with blades of light wood, inlayed with electrum; and bring me twenty maidens, fair in their limbs, their bosoms and their hair, all virgins; and bring me twenty nets, and give these nets unto the maidens for their garments.' And they did according to all the commands of his majesty.

"And they rowed down the stream and up the stream, and the heart of his majesty was glad with the sight of their rowing. But one of them at the steering struck her hair, and her jewel of new malachite fell into the water. And she ceased her song, and rowed not; and her companions ceased, and rowed not. And his majesty said, 'Row you not further?' And they replied, 'Our little steerer here stays and rows not.' His majesty then said to her, 'Wherefore rowest thou not?' She replied, 'It is for my jewel of new malachite which is fallen in the water.' And he said to her, 'Row on, for behold I will replace it.' And she answered, 'But I want my own piece back in its setting.' And his majesty said, 'Haste, bring me the chief reciter Zazamankh,' and they brought him. And his majesty said, 'Zazamankh, my brother, I have done as thou sayedst, and the heart of his majesty is refreshed with the sight of their rowing. But now a jewel of new malachite of one of the little ones is fallen in the water, and she ceases and rows not, and she has spoilt the rowing of her side. And I said to her, "Wherefore rowest thou not?" and she answered to me, "It is for my jewel of new malachite which is fallen in the water." I replied to her, "Row on, for behold I will replace it"; and she answered to me, "But I want my own piece again back in its setting."' Then the chief reciter Zazamankh spake his magic speech. And he placed one part of the waters of the lake upon the other, and discovered the jewel lying upon a shard; and he took it up and gave it unto its mistress. And the water, which was twelve cubits deep in the middle, reached now to twenty-four cubits after he turned it. And he spake, and used his magic speech; and he brought again the water of the lake to its place. And his majesty spent a joyful day with the whole of the royal house. Then rewarded he the chief reciter Zazamankh with all good things. Behold, this is a wonder that came to pass in the days of thy father, the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Seneferu, of the deeds of the chief reciter, the scribe of the rolls, Zazamankh." Then said the majesty of the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Khufu, the blessed, "Let there be presented an offering of a thousand cakes, one hundred draughts of beer, an ox, and two jars of incense to the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Sene-feru, the blessed; and let there be given a loaf, a jar of beer, and a jar of incense to the chief reciter, the scribe of the rolls, Zazamankh; for I have seen the token of his learning." And they did all things as his majesty commanded.


The royal son Hordedef then stood forth and spake. He said, "Hitherto hast thou only heard tokens of those who have gone before, and of which no man knoweth their truth But I will show thy majesty a man of thine own days." And his majesty said, "Who is he, Hordedef?" And the royal son Hordedef answered, "It is a certain man named Dedi, who dwells at Dedsneferu. He is a man of one hundred and ten years old; and he eats five hundred loaves of bread, and a side of beef, and drinks one hundred draughts of beer, unto this day. He knows how to restore the head that is smitten off; he knows how to cause the lion to follow him trailing his halter on the ground; he knows the designs of the dwelling of Tahuti. The majesty of the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Khufu, the blessed, has long sought for the designs of the dwelling of Tahuti, that he may make the like of them in his pyramid."

And his majesty said, "Thou, thyself, Hordedef, my son, bring him to me." Then were the ships made ready for the king's son Hordedef, and he went up the stream to Dedsneferu. And when the ships had moored at the haven, he landed, and sat him in a litter of ebony, the poles of which were of cedar wood overlayed with gold. Now when he drew near to Dedi, they set down the litter. And he arose to greet Dedi, and found him lying on a palmstick couch at the door of his house; one servant held his head and rubbed him, and another rubbed his feet,

And the king's son Hordedef said, "Thy state is that of one who lives to good old age; for old age is the end of our voyage, the time of embalming, the time of burial. Lie, then, in the sun, free of infirmities, without the babble of dotage: this is the salutation to worthy age. I come from far to call thee, with a message from my father Khufu, the blessed, for thou shalt eat of the best which the king gives, and of the food which those have who follow after him; that he may bring thee in good estate to thy fathers who are in the tomb."

And Dedi replied to him, "Peace to thee! Peace to thee! Hordedef, son of the king, beloved of his father. May thy father Khufu, the blessed, praise thee, may he advance thee amongst the elders, may thy ka prevail against the enemy, may thy soul know the right road to the gate of him who clothes the afflicted; this is the salutation to the king's son." Then the king's son, Hordedef, stretched forth his hands to him, and raised him up, and went with him to the haven, giving unto him his arm. Then said Dedi, "Let there he given me a boat, to bring me my youths and my books." And they made ready for him two boats with their rowers. And Dedi went down the river in the barge in which was the king's son Hordedef. And when he had reached the palace, the king's son, Hordedef, entered in to give account unto his majesty the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Khufu, the blessed. Then said the king's son Hordedef, "O king, life, wealth, and health! My lord, I have brought Dedi." His majesty replied, "Bring him to me speedily." And his majesty went into the hall of columns of Pharaoh (life, wealth, and health), and Dedi was led before him. And his majesty said, "Wherefore is it, Dedi, that I have not yet seen thee?" And Dedi answered, "He who is called it is that comes; the king (life, wealth, and health) calls me, and behold I come," And his majesty said, "Is it true, that which men say, that thou canst restore the head which is smitten off?" And Dedi replied, "Truly, I know that, O king (life, wealth, and health), my lord." And his majesty said, "Let one bring me a prisoner who is in prison, that his punishment may be fulfilled." And Dedi said, "Let it not be a man, O king, my lord; behold we do not even thus to our cattle." And a duck was brought unto him, and its head was cut off. And the duck was laid on the west side of the hall, and its head on the east side of the hall. And Dedi spake his magic speech. And the duck fluttered along the ground, and its head came likewise; and when it had come part to part the duck stood and quacked. And they brought likewise a goose before him, and he did even so unto it. His majesty caused an ox to be brought, and its head cast on the ground. And Dedi spake his magic speech. And the ox stood upright behind him, and followed him with his halter trailing on the ground.

And King Khufu said, "And is it true what is said, that thou knowest the number of the designs of the dwelling of Tahuti?" And Dedi replied, "Pardon me, I know not their number, O king (life, wealth, and health), but I know where they are." And his majesty said, "Where is that?" And Dedi replied, "There is a chest of whetstone in a chamber named the plan-room, in Heli-opolis; they are in this chest." And Dedi said further unto him, "O king (life, wealth, and health), my lord, it is no It that is to bring them to thee." And his m'jesty said, "Who, then, is it that shall bring them to me?" And Dedi answered to him, "It is the eldest of the three children who are in the body of Rud-didet who shall bring them to thee." And his majesty said, "Would that it may be as thou sayest! And who is this Rud-didet?" And Dedi replied, "She is the wife of a priest of Ra, lord of Sakhebu. And she has conceived these three sons by Ra, lord of Sakhebu, and the god has promised her that they shall fulfil this noble office (of reigning) over all this land, and that the eldest of them shall be high priest in Heliopolis." And his majesty's heart became troubled for this; but Dedi spake unto him, "What is this that thou thinkest, O king (life, wealth, health), my lord? Is it because of these three children? I tell thee thy son shall reign, and thy son's son, and then one of them." His majesty said, "And when shall Rud-didet bear these?" And he replied, "She shall bear them on the 26th of the month Tybi." And his majesty said, "When the banks of the canal of Letopolis are cut, I will walk there that I may see the temple of Ra, lord of Sakhebu." And Dedi replied, "Then I will cause that there be four cubits of water by the banks of the canal of Letopolis." When his majesty returned to his palace, his majesty said, "Let them place Dedi in the house of the royal son Hordedef, that he may dwell with him, and let them give him a daily portion of a thousand loaves, a hundred draughts of beer, an ox, and a hundred bunches of onions." And they did everything as his majesty commanded.

And one day it came to pass that Rud-didet felt the pains of birth. And the majesty of Ra, lord of Sakhebu, said unto Isis, to Nebhat, to Meskhent, to Hakt, and to Khnumu, "Go ye, and deliver Rud-didet of these three children that she shall bear, who are to fulfil this noble office over all this land; that they may build up your temples, furnish your altars with offerings, supply your tables of libation, and increase your endowments." Then went these deities; their fashion they made as that of dancing-girls, and Khnumu was with them as a porter. They drew near unto the house of Ra-user, and found him standing, with his girdle fallen. And they played before him with their instruments of music. But he said unto them, "My ladies, behold, here is a woman who feels the pains of birth." They said to him, "Let us see her, for we know how to help her." And he replied, "Come, then." And they entered in straightway to Rud-didet, and they closed the door on her and on themselves. Then Isis stood before her, and Nebhat stood behind her, and Hakt helped her. And Isis said, "O child, by thy name of User-ref, do not do violence." And the child came upon her hands, as a child of a cubit; its bones were strong, the beauty of its limbs was like gold, and its hair was like true lapis lazuli. They washed him, and prepared him, and placed him on a carpet on the brickwork. Then Meskhent approached him and said, "This is a king who shall reign over all the land." And Khnumu gave strength to his limbs. Then Isis stood before her, and Nebhat stood behind her, and Hakt helped her. And Isis said, "O child, by thy name of Sah-ra, stay not in her." Then the child came upon her hands, a child of a cubit; its bones were strong, the beauty of its limbs was like gold, and its hair was like true lapis lazuli. They washed him, and prepared him, and layed him on a carpet on the brickwork. Then Meskhent approached him and said, "This is a king who shall reign over all the land." And Khnumu gave strength to his limbs. Then Isis stood before her, and Nebhat stood behind her, and Hakt helped her. And Isis said, "O child, by thy name of Kaku, remain not in darkness in her." And the child came upon her hands, a child of a cubit; its bones were strong, the beauty of its limbs was like gold, and its hair was like true lapis lazuli. And Meskhent approached him and said, "This is a king who shall reign over all the land." And Khnumu gave strength to his limbs. And they washed him, and prepared him, and layed him on a carpet on the brickwork.

And the deities went out, having delivered Rud-didet of the three children. And they said, "Rejoice! O Ra-user, for behold three children are born unto thee." And he said unto them, "My ladies, and what shall I give unto ye? Behold, give this bushel of barley here unto your porter, that ye may take it as your reward to the brew-house." And Khnumu loaded himself with the bushel of barley. And they went away toward the place from which they came. And Isis spake unto these goddesses, and said, "Wherefore have we come without doing a marvel for these children, that we may tell it to their father who has sent us?" Then made they the divine diadems of the king (life, wealth, and health), and laid them in the bushel of barley. And they caused the clouds to come with wind and rain; and they turned back again unto the house. And they said, "Let us put this barley in a closed chamber, sealed up, until we return northward, dancing." And they placed the barley in a close chamber.

And Rud-didet purified herself, with a purification of fourteen days. And she said to her handmaid, "Is the house made ready?" And she replied, "All things are made ready, but the brewing barley is not yet brought." And Rud-didet said, "Wherefore is the brewing barley not yet brought?" And the servant answered, "It would all of it long since be ready if the barley had not been given to the dancing-girls, and lay in the chamber under their seal." Rud didet said, "Go down, and bring of it, and Ra-user shall give them in its stead when he shall come," And the handmaid went, and opened the chamber. And she heard talking and singing, music and dancing, quavering, and all things which are performed for a king in his chamber. And she returned and told to Rud-didet all that she had heard. And she went through the chamber, but she found not the place where the sound was. And she layed her temple to the sack, and found that the sounds were in it. She placed it in a chest, and put that in another locker, and tied it fast with leather, and layed it in the store-room, where the things were, and sealed it. And Ra-user came returning from the field; and Rud-didet repeated unto him these things; and his heart was glad above all things; and they sat down and made a joyful day.

And after these days it came to pass that Rud-didet was wroth with her servant, and beat her with stripes. And the servant said unto those that were in the house, "Shall it be done thus unto me? She has borne three kings, and I will go and tell this to his majesty King Khufu the blessed." And she went, and found the eldest brother of her mother, who was binding his flax on the floor. And he said to her, "Whither goest thou, my little maid?" And she told him of all these things. And her brother said to her, "Wherefore comest thou thus to me? Shall I agree to treachery?" And he took a bunch of the flax to her, and laid on her a violent blow. And the servant went to fetch a handful of water, and a crocodile carried her away.

Her uncle went therefore to tell of this to Rud-didet; and he found Rud-didet sitting, her head on her knees, and her heart beyond measure sad. And he said to her, "My lady, why makest thou thy heart thus?" And she answered, "It is because of this little wretch that was in the house; behold she went out saying, 'I will go and tell it.'" And he bowed his head unto the ground, and said, "My lady, she came and told me of these things, and made her complaint unto me; and I laid on her a violent blow. And she went forth to draw water, and a crocodile carried her away."

(The rest of the tale is lost.)


The tales or the magicians are only preserved in a single copy, and of that the beginning is entirely lost. The papyrus was brought from Egypt by an English traveller, and was purchased by the Berlin Museum from the property of Lepsius, who had received it from the owner, Miss Westcar: hence it is known as the Westcar papyrus. It was written probably in the XIIth Dynasty, but doubtless embodied tales, which had been floating for generations before, about the names of the early kings. It shows us probably the kind of material that existed for the great recension of the pre-monu-mental history, made in the time of Seti I. Those ages of the first three dynasties were as long before that recension as we are after it; and this must always be remembered in considering the authority of the Egyptian records.

This papyrus has been more thoroughly studied than most, perhaps more than any other. Erman has devoted two volumes to it; publishing the whole in photographic facsimile, transcribed in hieroglyphs, transcribed in the modern alphabet, translated literally, translated freely, commented on and discussed word by word, and with a complete glossary of all words used in it. This exhaustive publication is named "Der Marchen des Papyrus Westcar." Moreover, Maspero has given a current translation in the "Contes Populaires," 2nd edit. pp. 53-86.

The scheme of these tales is that they are all told to King Khufu by his sons; and as the beginning is lost, eight lines are here added to explain this and introduce the subject. The actual papyrus begins with the last few words of a previous tale concerning some other magician under an earlier king. Then comes the tale of Khafra, next that of Bau-f-ra, and lastly that of Hor-dedef.

It need hardly be said that these tales are quite fictitious. The king and his successor Khafra are real, but the other sons cannot be identified; and the confusion of supposing three kings of the Vth Dynasty to be triplets born early in the IVth Dynasty, shows what very vague ideas of their own history the Egyptians had when these tales were formed. This ^ does not prevent our seeing that they embodied some very important traditions, and gives us an unequalled picture of the early civilisation.

In the earliest tale or the three there seems at first sight merely a sketch of faithlessness and revenge. But there is probably much more in it. To read it aright we must bear in mind the position of woman in ancient Egypt. If, in later ages, Islam has gone to the extreme of the man determining his own divorce at a word, in early times almost the opposite system prevailed. All property belonged to the woman; all that a man could earn, or inherit, was made over to his wife; and families always reckoned back further on the mother's side than the father's. As the changes in historical times have been in the direction of men's rights, it is very unlikely that this system of female predominance was invented or introduced, but rather that it descends from primitive times. In this tale we see, then, at the beginning of our knowledge of the country, the clashing of two different social systems. The reciter is strong for men's rights, he brings destruction on the wife, and never even gives her name, but always calls her merely "the wife of Uba-aner." But behind all this there is probably the remains of a very different system. The servant employed by the mistress seems to see nothing outrageous in her proceedings; and even the steward, who is on the master's side, waits a day or two before reporting matters. When we remember the supremacy in properly and descent which women held in Egypt, and then read this tale, it seems that it belongs to the close of a social system like that of the Nairs, in which the lady makes her selection—with variations from time to time. The incident of sending a present of clothing is curiously like the tale about a certain English envoy, whose proprieties were sadly ruffled in the Nair country, when a lady sent him a grand shawl with an intimation of her choice. The priestesses of Amen retained to the last this privilege of choice, as being under divine, and not human protection; but it seems to have become unseemly in late times.

The hinging of this tale, and of those that follow it, upon the use of magic, shows how thoroughly the belief in magic powers was ingrained in the Egyptians. Now such a belief implies the presence of magicians, and shows how familiar must have been the claim to such powers, and the practising of the tricks of witchcraft, so prevalent in Africa in modern times. The efficacy of a model, such as this crocodile of wax, is an idea continually met with in Egypt. The system of tomb furniture and decoration, of ka statues, of ushabtis or figures to work for the deceased, and the models placed in foundation deposits, all show how a model was supposed to have the efficacy of an actual reality. Even in the latest tale of all (written in Ptolemaic times), Setnau makes a model of a boat and men, to be sunk in the river to work for him. The reconversion of the crocodile to wax, on being taken up by the magician, reminds us of the serpent becoming again a rod when taken up by Aaron.

The punishment of burning alive is very rarely, if ever, mentioned in Egyptian history, though it occurs in modern Egyptian tales: and it looks as if it were brought in here rather as a dire horror for the climax than as a probable incident. The place of the penalty, in front of the harem, or the private portion of the palace, was evidently for the intimi-' dation of other ladies.

At the close of each tale, King Khufu, to whom it is told, orders funerary offerings by the usual formula, to be presented in honour of the king under whom the wonder took place. On the tablets of the tombs in the early times, there is usually recorded the offering—or, rather, the pious desire that there should be offered—thousands of loaves, of oxen, of gazelles, of cranes, &c., for a deceased person. Such expression cost no more by the thousand than by the dozen, so thousands came to be the usual expression in all ordaining of offerings.

We are so accustomed to think of tedium as something modern, that it seems strange to find in the oldest tales [Page 16] in the world how the first king of whom we know anything was bored by his pleasures. A reward for discovering a new pleasure is the very basis of the tale of Sneferu; and the wise man's remedy of a day in the country is still the best resource, though all that we know as human history has tried its experiments in enjoyment since then. The flavour of the ballet thrown in, by the introduction of the damsels of the household clad in fishing nets, is not yet obsolete in modern amusements; and even in this century Muhammed Ali had resource to the same way of killing time, as he was rowed about by his harem, but on an artificial lake.

The use of two large oars for steering explains the detail of the story. The oars were one on each side of the stern, and were each managed by a steerer. From the tale we see that the steerer led the song of the rowers, and if the leader ceased, all that side of the boat ceased also.. The position of the lost jewel upon the hair shows that it was in a fillet set with inlaying, like that seen on early figures, such as Nefert at Medum, who wears a fillet of rosettes to retain the hair; and the position of the steering oar attached to a post, with the handle rising high in the air, explains how it could strike the fillet and displace the jewel.

The last tale is really double, a tale within a tale. It begins with the wonders done by Dedi, and then goes on with the [Page 22] history or the children about whom he prophesied to Khufu.

The village of Dedi was probably near Medum, as in the temple of Sneferu at Medum an offering was found presented by a worshipper to the gods of Ded-sneferu: hence the background which is here given for the scene of Hordedef leading old Dedi. The translation of "the designs of the dwelling of Tahuti" is not certain; but the passage seems to refer to some architectural plan which was desired for the pyramid.

The story of Rud-didet is remarkable historically. She is said to be wife of the priest of Ra, her children are sons of Ra, and they are the first three kings of the Vth dynasty, and supplanted the line of Khufu. This points to the Vth Dynasty having been a priestly usurpation; and on looking at its history we see two confirmations of this. The title "Son of Ra" is so common in most ages in Egypt that it is taken for granted, and is applied in lists to any second cartouche; but it is not found until well into the Vth Dynasty; the earlier kings were not descendants of Ra, and it is only on arriving at this dynasty, which claimed descent from Ra, through the wife of the priest of Ra, that we find the claim of each king to be a "son of Ra." Another confirmation of this priestly descent is the abundance of priesthoods established for the kings of the Vth Dynasty; a care which agrees with their having a priestly origin; while in the tale it is particularly said that they would build up the temples, furnish the altars with offerings, supply the tables of libations, and increase the religious endowments.

The names of the three children are a play upon the names of the first three kings of the Vth Dynasty. User-kaf is made into User-ref; Sahu-ra is written Sah-ra; and Kaka is Kaku; thus making allusions to their births. The comparison of the hair to true lapis lazuli seems very strange; but there is often a confusion between black aind blue in uneducated races, and azrak means either dark blue or green, or black, at present in Arabic. Lapis lazuli is brought in to the name of the queen of Ramessu VI., who was called "gold and lazuli," Nub-khesdeb; recalling the comparison here of personal beauty to these precious materials.

It is noticeable here that in a tale of the Vth Dynasty, certainly written as early as the XIIth Dynasty, we find professional dancers commonly recognised, and going on travels through the country, with a porter.

From this tale we also learn that Egyptian women underwent a purification of fourteen days, during which they kept apart and did not attend to any household matters. The mistress of the house here inquires if the preparations are made for the feast on her return to household affairs; and hears then how the beer cannot be made for lack of the barley.

The securing of the sack is just in accord with the remains of this early period; the use of boxes, of thongs of leather for tying and of clay sealings for securing property, were all familiar matters in the XIIth Dynasty, as we learn from Kahun.

The present close of the tale is evidently only a stage in it, when the treacherous maid meets with the common doom of the wicked in Egyptian romance. How it was continued is a matter of speculation, but Khufu ought certainly to reappear and to order great rewards for Dedi, who up to this has only had maintenance on his requisite scale provided for him. Yet it is imperative that the children shall be saved from his wrath, as they are the kings of the Vth Dynasty. There may be a long episode lost of their flight and adventures.

One reference to a date needs notice. The 25th of the month Tybi is said to be the predicted birthday of the children; and Khufu refers to going to Sakhebu about that time apparently, when the banks of the canal are cut and the land was drying after the inundation, whereon Dedi threatens that the water shall still be deep there. This points to 25th Tybi being about the close of the inundation. This would be about the case both in the beginning of the IVth Dynasty, and also in the XIIth Dynasty, when the papyrus was perhaps written: hence there is nothing conclusive to be drawn from this allusion so far. But when we compare this tale with those following, we see good ground for its belonging to a time before the XIIth Dynasty The following tale of the peasant and the workman evidently belongs to the IXth or Xth Dynasties, when Herakleopolis was the capital, and Sanehat is certainly of the XIIth Dynasty. Yet in those we see character and incident made the basis of interest, in place of the childish profusion of marvels of the Tales of the Magicians. It seems impossible not to suppose that they belong to very different ages and canons of taste; and hence we cannot refer the crudities of the Khufu tales to the time of the far more elaborate and polished recital of the adventures of Sanehat in the XIIth Dynasty. Being thus obliged to suppose an earlier date for these tales, the allusion to the month Tybi throws us back to a very early period—the IVth Dynasty—for their original outlines. Doubtless they were modified by reciters, and probably took shape in the Vth or VIth Dynasties; but yet we must regard them as belonging practically to the age to which they refer.




There dwelt in the Sekhet Hemat—or salt country—a peasant called the Sekhti, with his wife and children, his asses and his dogs; and he trafficked in all good things of the Sekhet Hemat to Henenseten. Behold now he went with rushes, natron, and salt, with wood and pods, with stones and seeds, and all good products of the Sekhet Hemat. And this Sekhti journeyed to the south unto Henenseten; and when he came to the lands of the house of Fefa, north of Denat, he found a man there standing on the bank, a man called Hemti—the workman—son of a man called Asri, who was a serf of the High Steward Meruitensa. Now said this Hemti, when he saw the asses of Sekhti, that were pleasing in his eyes, "Oh that some good god would grant me to steal away the goods of Sekhti from him!"

Now the Hemti's house was by the dyke of the tow-path, which was straitened, and not wide, as much as the width of a waist cloth: on the one side of it was the water, and on the other side of it grew his corn. Hemti said then to his servant, "Hasten I bring me a shawl from the house," and it was brought instantly. Then spread he out this shawl on the face of the dyke, and it lay with its fastening on the water and its fringe on the corn.

Now Sekhti approached along the path used by all men. Said Hemti, "Have a care, Sekhti! you are not going to trample on my clothes!" Said Sekhti, "I will do as you like, I will pass carefully." Then went he up on the higher side. But Hemti said, "Go you over my corn, instead of the path?" Said Sekhti, "I am going carefully; this high field of corn is not my choice, but you have stopped your path with your clothes, and will you then not let us pass by the side of the path?" And one of the asses filled its mouth with a cluster of corn. Said Hemti, "Look you, I shall take away your ass, Sekhti, for eating my corn; behold it will have to pay according to the amount of the injury." Said Sekhti, "I am going carefully; the one way is stopped, therefore took I my ass by the enclosed ground, and do you seize it for filling its mouth with a cluster of corn? Moreover, I know unto whom this domain belongs, even unto the Lord Steward Meruitensa. He it is who smites every robber in this whole land; and shall I then be robbed in his domain?"

Said Hemti, "This is the proverb which men speak: 'A poor man's name is only his own matter.' I am he of whom you spake, even the Lord Steward of whom you think." Thereon he took to him branches of green tamarisk and scourged all his limbs, took his asses, and drave them into the pasture. And Sekhti wept very greatly, by reason of the pain of what he had suffered. Said Hemti, "Lift not up your voice, Sekhti, or you shall go to the Demon of Silence." Sekhti answered, "You beat me, you steal my goods, and now would take away even my voice, O demon of silence! If you will restore my goods, then will I cease to cry out at your violence."

Sekhti stayed the whole day petitioning Hemti, but he would not give ear unto him. And Sekhti went his way to Khenensuten to complain to the Lord Steward Meruitensa. He found him coming out from the door of his house to embark on his boat, that he might go to the judgment hall. Sekhti said, "Ho! turn, that I may please thy heart with this discourse. Now at this time let one of thy followers whom thou wilt, come to me that I may send him to thee concerning it." The Lord Steward Meruitensa made his follower, whom he chose, go straight unto him, and Sekhti sent him back with an account of all these matters. Then the Lord Steward Meruitensa accused Hemti unto the nobles who sat with him; and they said unto him, "By your leave: As to this Sekhti of yours, let him bring a witness. Behold thou it is our custom with our Sekhtis; witnesses come with them; behold, that is our custom. Then it will be fitting to beat this Hemti for a trifle of natron and a trifle of salt; if he is commanded to pay for it, he will pay for it." But the High Steward Meruitensa held his peace; for he would not reply unto these nobles, but would reply unto the Sekhti.

Now Sekhti came to appeal to the Lord Steward Meruitensa, and said, "O my Lord Steward, greatest of the great, guide of the needy:

When thou embarkest on the lake of truth,— Mayest thou sail upon it with a fair wind; May thy mainsail not fly loose. May there not be lamentation in thy cabin; May not misfortune come after thee. May not thy mainstays be snapped; Mayest thou not run aground. May not the wave seize thee; Mayest thou not taste the impurities of the river; Mayest thou not see the face of fear. May the fish come to thee without escape; Mayest thou reach unto plump waterfowl. For thou art the orphan's father, the widow's husband, The desolate woman's brother, the garment of the motherless. Let me celebrate thy name in this land for every virtue. A guide without greediness of heart; A great one without any meanness. Destroying deceit, encouraging justice; Coming to the cry, and allowing utterance. Let me speak, do thou hear and do justice; O praised! whom the praised ones praise. Abolish oppression, behold me, I am overladen, Reckon with me, behold me defrauded."

Now the Sekhti made this speech in the time of the majesty of the King Neb-ka-n-ra, blessed. The Lord Steward Meruitensa went away straight to the king and said, "My lord, I have found one of these Sekhti, excellent of speech, in very truth; stolen are his goods, and he has come to complain to me of the matter."

His majesty said, "As thou wishest that I may see health! lengthen out his complaint, without replying to any of his speeches. He who desireth him to continue speaking should be silent; behold, bring us his words in writing, that we may listen to them. But provide for his wife and his children, and let the Sekhti himself also have a living. Thou must cause one to give him his portion without letting him know that thou art he who is giving it to him."

There were given to him four loaves and two draughts of beer each day; which the Lord Steward Meruitensa provided for him, giving it to a friend of his, who furnished it unto him. Then the Lord Steward Meruitensa sent the governor of the Sekhet Hemat to make provision for the wife of the Sekhti, three rations of corn each day.

Then came the Sskhti a second time, and even a third time, unto the Lord Steward Meruitensa; but he told two of his followers to go unto the Sekhti, and seize on him, and beat him with staves. But he came again unto him, even unto six times, and said—

"My Lord Steward-Destroying deceit, and encouraging justice; Raising up every good thing, and crushing every evil; As plenty comes removing famine, As clothing covers nakedness, As clear sky after storm warms the shivering; As fire cooks that which is raw, As water quenches the thirst; Look with thy face upon my lot; do not covet, but content me without fail; do the right and do not evil."

But yet Meruitensa would not hearken unto his complaint; and the Sekhti came yet, and yet again, even unto the ninth time. Then the Lord Steward told two of his followers to go unto the Sekhti; and the Sekhti feared that he should be beaten as at the third request. But the Lord Steward Meruitensa then sa^; d unto him, "Fear not, Sekhti, for what thou has done. The Sekhti has made many speeches, delightful to the heart of his majesty and I take an oath—as I eat bread, and as I drink water—that thou shalt be remembered to eternity." Said the Lord Steward, "Moreover, thou shalt be satisfied when thou shalt hear of thy complaints" He caused to be written on a clean roll of papyrus each petition to the end, and the Lord Steward Meruitensa sent it to the majesty of the King Neb-ka-n-ra, blessed, and it was good to him more than anything that is in the whole land: but his majesty said to Meruitensa, "Judge it thyself; I do not desire it."

The Lord Steward Meruitensa made two of his followers to go to the Sekhet Hemat, and bring a list of the household of the Sekhti; and its amount was six persons, beside his oxen and his goats, his wheat and his barley, his asses and his dogs; and moreover he gave all that which belonged unto the Hemti to the Sekhti, even all his property and his offices, and the Sekhti was beloved of the king more than all his overseers, and ate of all the good things of the king, with all his household.


Of the tale of the peasant and the workman three copies, more or less imperfect, remain to us. At Berlin are two papyri, Nos. 2 and 4, containing parts of the tale, published in fascimile in the "Denkmaler" of Lepsius vi. 108-110 and 113; while portions of another copy exist in the Butler papyrus; and lately fragments of the same have been collated in the collection of Lord Amherst of Hackney. These last have been published in the Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, xiv. 558. The number of copies seem to show that this was a popular tale in early times; it certainly is of a more advanced type than the earlier tales of magic, though it belongs to a simpler style than the tales which follow. It has been translated partially by Chabas and Goodwin, and also by Maspero, but most completely by Griffith in the Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, referred to above.

The beginning of the tale is lost in all the copies, and an introductory sentence is here added in brackets, to explain the position of affairs at the opening of the fragment. The essence of the tale is the difference in social position between the Sekhti, or peasant, and the Hemti, or workman—the fellah and the client of the noble; and the impossibility of getting justice against a client, unless by some extraordinary means of attracting his patron's attention, is the basis of the action. There is not a single point of incident here which might not be true in modern times; every turn of it seems to live, as one reads it in view of country life in Egypt.

The region of the tale is Henenseten, or Herakleopolis, now Ahnas, a little south of the Fayum. This was the seat of the IXth and Xth Dynasties, apparently ejected from Memphis by a foreign invasion of the Delta; and here it is that the High Steward lives and goes to speak to the king. The district of the Sekhti is indicated by his travelling south to Henenseten, and going with asses and not by boat. Hence we are led to look for the Sekhet Hemat, or salt country, in the borders of the Fayum lake, whence the journey would be southward, and across the desert. This lake was not regulated artificially until the XIIth Dynasty; and hence at the period of this tale it was a large sheet of water, fluctuating with each rise and fall of the Nile, and bordered by lagoons where rushes would flourish, and where salt and natron would accumulate daring the dry season of each year. At the present time the lake of the Fayum is brackish, and the cliffs which border it contain so much salt that rain pools which collect on them are not drinkable. The paths and roads of Egypt are not protected by law as in Western countries. Each person encroaches on a path or diverts it as may suit his purpose, only checked by the liberties taken by passers-by in trespassing if a path be insufficient. Hence, it is very usual to see a house built over half of a path, and driving the traffic into the field or almost over the river bank. In this case the Hemti had taken in as much of the path as he could, and left it but a narrow strip along the top of the canal bank. The frequent use of the public way for drying clothes, or spreading out property, gave the idea of choking the way altogether, and leaving no choice but trespassing on the crops. No sooner does a donkey pause, or even pass, by a field of corn than he snatches a mouthful, and in a delay or altercation such as this the beast is sure to take the advantage. Donkeys carrying loads by cornfields are usually muzzled with rope nets, to prevent their feeding; and even sheep and goats are also fended in the same way.

The proverb, "A poor man's name is only his own matter," refers to the independent fellah having no patron or protector who will take up and defend his name from accusations, as the interests of clients and serfs would be protected. This being the case, Hemti therefore seizes on the property, and drives the asses into his own pasture field.

The scene of Meruitensa laying the case before the nobles who sat with him is interesting as showing that even simple cases were not decided by one judge, but referred to a council. Similarly, Una lays stress on the private trial of the queen being confided to him and only one other judge. Apparently, referring cases to a bench of judges was the means of preventing corruption.

The speeches of the Sekhti were given at full length in the papyrus, but owing to injuries we cannot now entirely recover them; they are all in much the same strain, only the first and last are translated here, and the others are passed over. The style of these speeches was evidently looked on as eloquent in those days, and this papyrus really seems to show the time when long-drawn comparisons and flowery wishes were in fashion. It is far different from later compositions, as it is also from the earlier simple narration of crude marvels in the tales of the magicians.

The close of the tale is defective, but from the remains it appears to have ended by the gift of the Hemti's property to the oppressed Sekhti and the triumph of the injured peasant.




The wise servant said, "Let thy heart be satisfied, O my lord, for that we have come back to the country; after we have long been on board, and rowed much, the prow has at last touched land. All the people rejoice, and embrace us one after another. Moreover, we have come back in good health, and not a man is lacking; although we have been to the ends of Wawat, and gone through the land of Senmut, we have returned in peace, and our land—behold, we have come back to it. Hear me, my lord; I have no other refuge. Wash thee, and turn the water over thy ringers; then go and tell the tale to the majesty."

His lord replied, "Thy heart continues still its wandering words! but although the mouth of a man may save him, his words may also cover his face with confusion. Wilt thou do then as thy heart moves thee? This that thou wilt say, tell quietly."

The sailor then answered, "Now I shall tell that which has happened to me, to my very self I was going to the mines of Pharaoh, and I went down on the sea on a ship of 150 cubits long and 40 cubits wide, with 150 sailors of the best of Egypt, who had seen heaven and earth, and whose hearts were stronger than lions. They had said that the wind would not be contrary, or that there would be none. But as we approached the land the wind arose, and threw up waves eight cubits high. As for me, I seized a piece of wood; but those who were in the vessel perished, without one remaining. A wave threw me on an island, after that I had been three days alone, without a companion beside my own heart. I laid me in a thicket, and the shadow covered me. Then stretched I my limbs to try to find something for my mouth. I found there figs and grapes, all manner of good herbs, berries and grain, melons of all kinds, fishes and birds. Nothing was lacking. And I satisfied myself; and left on the ground that which was over, of what my arms had been filled withal. I dug a pit, I lighted a fire, and I made a burntoffering unto the gods.

"Suddenly I heard a noise as of thunder, which I thought to be that of a wave of the sea. The trees shook, and the earth was moved. I uncovered my face, and I saw that a serpent drew near. He was thirty cubits long, and his beard greater than two cubits; his body was as overlayed with gold, and his colour as that of true lazuli. He coiled himself before me.

"Then he opened his mouth, while that I lay on my face before him, and he said to me, 'What has brought thee, what has brought thee, little one, what has brought thee? If thou sayest not speedily what has brought thee to this isle, I will make thee know thyself; as a flame thou shalt vanish, if thou tellest me not something I have not heard, or which I knew not, before thee.'

"Then he took me in his mouth and carried me to his resting-place, and layed me down without any hurt. I was whole and sound, and nothing was gone from me. Then he opened his mouth against me, while that I lay on my face before him, and he said, 'What has brought thee, what has brought thee, little one, what has brought thee to this isle which is in the sea, and of which the shores are in the midst of the waves?'

"Then I replied to him, and holding my arms low before him, I said to him,' I was embarked for the mines by the order of the majesty, in a ship, 150 cubits was its length, and the width of it 40 cubits. It had 150 sailors of the best of Egypt, who had seen heaven and earth, and the hearts of whom were stronger than lions. They said that the wind would not be contrary, or that there would be none. Each of them exceeded his companion in the prudence of his heart and the strength of his arm, and I was not beneath any of them. A storm came upon us while we were on the sea. Hardly could we reach to the shore when the wind waxed yet greater, and the waves rose even eight cubits. As for me, I seized a piece of wood, while those who were in the boat perished without one being left with me for three days. Behold me now before thee, for I was brought to this isle by a wave of the sea.'

"Then said he to me, 'Fear not, fear not, little one, and make not thy face sad. If thou hast come to me, it is God who has let thee live. For it is He who has brought thee to this isle of the blest, where nothing is lacking, and which is filled with all good after another, until thou shalt be four months in this isle. Then a ship shall come from thy land with sailors, and thou shalt leave with them and go to thy country, and thou shalt die in thy town.

'"Converse is pleasing, and he who tastes of it passes over his misery. I will therefore tell thee of that which is in this isle. I am here with my brethren and my children around me; we are seventy-five serpents, children, and kindred; without naming a young girl who was brought unto me by chance, and on whom the fire of heaven fell, and burnt her to ashes.

"'As for thee if thou art strong, and if thy heart waits patiently, thou shalt press thy infants to thy bosom and embrace thy wife. Thou shalt return to thy house which is full of all good things, thou shalt see thy land, where thou shalt dwell in the midst of thy kindred.'

"Then I bowed, in my obeisance, and I touched the ground before him. 'Behold now that which I have told thee before. I shall tell of thy presence unto Pharaoh, I shall make him to know of thy greatness, and I will bring to thee of the sacred oils and perfumes, and of incense of the temples with which all gods are honoured. I shall tell, moreover, of that which I do now see (thanks to him), and there shall be rendered to thee praises before the fulness of all the land. I shall slay asses for thee in sacrifice, I shall pluck for thee the birds, and I shall bring for thee ships full of all kinds of the treasures of Egypt, as is comely to do unto a god, a friend of men in a far country, of which men know not.'

"Then he smiled at my speech, because of that which was in his heart, for he said to me, 'Thou art not rich in perfumes, for all that thou hast is but common incense. As for me I am prince of the land of Punt, and I have perfumes. Only the oil which thou sayedst thou wouldest bring is not common in this isle. But, when thou shalt depart from this place, thou shalt never more see this isle; it shall be changed into waves.'

"And, behold, when the ship drew near, according to all that he had told me before, I got me up into an high tree, to strive to see those who were within it. Then I came and told to him this matter; but it was already known unto him before. Then he said to me. 'Farewell, farewell, go to thy house, little one, see again thy children, and let thy name be good in thy town; these are my wishes for thee.'"


"Then I bowed myself before him, and held my arms low before him, and he, he gave me gifts of precious perfumes, of cassia, of sweet woods, of kohl, of cypress, an abundance of incense, of ivory tusks, of baboons, of apes, and all kind of precious things. I embarked all in the ship which was come, and bowing myself, I prayed God for him.

"Then he said to me, 'Behold thou shalt come to thy country in two months, thou shalt press to thy bosom thy children, and thou shalt rest in thy tomb.' After this I went down to the shore unto the ship, and I called to the sailors who were there. Then on the shore I rendered adoration to the master of this isle and to those who dwelt therein.

"When we shall come, in our return, to the house of Pharaoh, in the second month, according to all that the serpent has said, we shall approach unto the palace. And I shall go in before Pharaoh, I shall bring the gifts which I have brought from this isle into the country. Then he shall thank me before the fulness of all the land. Grant then unto me a follower, and lead me to the courtiers of the king. Cast thy eye upon me, after that I am come to land again, after that I have both seen and proved this. Hear my prayer, for it is good to listen to people. It was said unto me, 'Become a wise man, and thou shalt come to honour,' and behold I have become such."

This is finished from its beginning unto its end, even as it was found in a writing. It is written by the scribe of cunning fingers Ameni-amen-aa; may he live in life, wealth, and health!


This tale is only known in one copy, preserved in the Hermitage collection at St. Petersburg. The papyrus has not yet been published, either in facsimile or transcription. But two translations of it have appeared by M. Golenischeff: from the earlier a modified translation is given by Maspero in the "Contes Populaires," 2nd edit., pp. 133-146, and the later translation is in M. Golenischeff's excellent "Inventaire de la collection Egyptienne (Ermitage Imperial)," p. 177-182.

The tale is that of a returned sailor, speaking to his superior and telling his adventures, to induce him to send him on with an introduction to the king. At first his master professes to disbelieve him, and then the sailor protests that this happened to himself, and gives his narrative. The idea of an enchanted island, which has risen from the waves and will sink again, is here found to be one of the oldest plots for a tale of marvels. But the construction is far more advanced than that of the tales of the magicians. The family of serpents and the manner of the great serpent is well conceived, and there are many fine touches of literary quality: such as noise as of thunder, the trees shaking and the earth being moved at the appearance of the great serpent—the speeches of the serpent and his threat—the sailors who had seen heaven and earth—the contempt of the serpent for his offerings,

"As for me, I am prince of the land of Punt, and I have perfumes"—and the scene of departure. All of these points show a firm hand and practised taste, although there is still a style of simplicity clinging to it which agrees well to its date in the XIIth Dynasty.

The great serpent is not of a type usual in Egyptian designs. The human-headed uraeus is seldom bearded; and the best example of such a monster is on an Ethiopian temple, where a great uraeus has human arms and a lion's head. The colours again repeat the favourite combination expressive of splendour—gold and lazuli. Though lazuli is very rare in early times, yet it certainly was known in the XIIth Dynasty, as shown by the forms of some beads of lazuli.

The slaughter of asses in sacrifice is a very peculiar offering, and no sign of this is found in any representations or groups of offerings.

The colophon of the copyist at the end shows by the style of the name that it belongs to the earlier part of the XIIth Dynasty, and if so, the composition might be referred to the opening of foreign trade under Sankhkara or Amenemhat I.



The hereditary prince, royal seal-bearer, confidential friend, judge, keeper of the gate of the foreigners, true and beloved royal acquaintance, the royal follower Sanehat says:—

I attended my lord as a follower of the king, of the house of the hereditary princess, the greatly favoured, the royal wife, Ankhet-Usertesen, who shares the dwelling of the royal son Amenemhat in Kanefer.

In the thirtieth year, the month Paophi, the seventh day the god entered his horizon, the king Sehotepabra flew up to heaven and joined the sun's disc, the follower of the god met his maker. The palace was silenced, and in mourning, the great gates were closed, the courtiers crouching on the ground, the people in hushed mourning.

His majesty had sent a great army with the nobles to the land of the Temehu (Lybia), his son and heir, the good god king Usertesen as their leader. Now he was returning, and had brought away living captives and all kinds of cattle without end. The councillors of the palace had sent to the West to let the king know the matter that had come to pass in the inner hall. The messenger was to meet him on the road, and reach him at the time of evening: the matter was urgent. "A hawk had soared with his followers." Thus said he, not to let the army know of it Even if the royal sons who commanded in that army send a message, he was not to speak to a single one of them. But I was standing near, and heard his voice while he was speaking. I fled far away, my heart beating, my arms failing, trembling had fallen on all my limbs. I turned about in running to seek a place to hide me, and I threw myself between two bushes, to wait while they should pass by.


Then I turned me toward the south, not from wishing to come into this palace—for I knew not if war was declared—nor even thinking a wish to live after this sovereign,

I turned my back to the sycamore, I reached Shi-Seneferu, and rested on the open field. In the morning I went on and overtook a man, who passed by the edge of the road. He asked of me mercy, for he feared me. By the evening I drew near to Kher-ahau (? old Cairo), and I crossed the river on a raft without a rudder. Carried over by the west wind, I passed over to the east to the quarries of Aku and the land of the goddess Herit, mistress of the red mountain (Gebel Ahmar). Then I fled on foot, northward, and reached the walls of the prince, built to repel the Sati. I crouched in a bush for fear of being seen by the guards, changed each day, who watch on the top of the fortress. I took my way by night, and at the lighting or the day I reached Peten, and turned me toward the valley of Kemur. Then thirst hasted me on; I dried up, and my throat narrowed, and I said, "This is the taste of death." When I lifted up my heart and gathered strength, I heard a voice and the lowing of cattle. I saw men of the Sati, and one of them—a friend unto Egypt—knew me. Behold he gave me water and boiled me milk, and I went with him to his camp; they did me good, and one tribe passed me on to another. I passed on to Sun, and reached the land of Adim (Edom).

When I had dwelt there half a year Amu-an-shi—who is the prince of the Upper Tenu—sent for me and said: "Dwell thou with me that thou mayest hear the speech of Egypt." He said thus for that he knew of my excellence, and had heard tell of my worth, for men of Egypt who were there with him bore witness of me. Behold he said to me, "For what cause hast thou come hither? Has a matter come to pass in the palace? Has the king of the two lands, Sehetep-abra gone to heaven? That which has happened about this is not known." But I answered with concealment, and said, "When I came from the land of the Tamahu, and my desires were there changed in me, if I fled away it was not by reason of remorse that I took the way of a fugitive; I have not failed in my duty, my mouth has not said any bitter words, I have not heard any evil counsel, my name has not come into the mouth of a magistrate. I know not by what I have been led into this land." And Amu-an-shi said, "This is by the will of the god (king of Egypt), for what is a land like if it know not that excellent god, of whom the dread is upon the lands of strangers, as they dread Sekhet in a year of pestilence." I spake to him, and replied, "Forgive me, his son now enters the palace, and has received the heritage of his father. He is a god who has none like him, and there is none before him. He is a master of wisdom, prudent in his designs, excellent in his decrees, with good-will to him who goes or who comes; he subdued the land of strangers while his father yet lived in his palace, and he rendered account of that which his father destined him to perform. He is a brave man, who verily strikes with his sword; a valiant one, who has not his equal; he springs upon the barbarians, and throws himself on the spoilers; he breaks the horns and weakens the hands, and those whom he smites cannot raise the buckler. He is fearless, and dashes the heads, and none can stand before him. He is swift of foot, to destroy him who flies; and none who flees from him reaches his home. His heart is strong in his time; he is a lion who strikes with the claw, and never has he turned his back. His heart is closed to pity; and when he sees multitudes, he leaves none to live behind him. He is a valiant one who springs in front when he sees resistance; he is a warrior who rejoices when he flies on the barbarians. He seizes the buckler, he rushes forward, he never needs to strike again, he slays and none can turn his lance; and when he takes the bow the barbarians flee from his arms like dogs; for the great goddess has given to him to strike those who know her not; and if he reaches forth he spares none, and leaves nought behind. He is a friend of great sweetness, who knows how to gain love; his land loves him more than itself, and rejoices in him more than in its own god; men and women run to his call. A king, he has ruled from his birth; he, from his birth, has increased births, a sole being, a divine essence, by whom this land rejoices to be governed. He enlarges the borders of the South, but he covets not the lands of the North; he does not smite the Sati, nor crush the Nemau-shau If he descends here, let him know thy name, by the homage which thou wilt pay to his majesty. For he refuses not to bless the land which obeys him."

And he replied to me, "Egypt is indeed happy and well settled; behold thou art far from it, but whilst thou art with me I will do good unto thee." And he placed me before his children, he married his eldest daughter to me, and gave me the choice of all his land, even among the best of that which he had on the border of the next land. It is a goodly land, laa is its name. There are figs and grapes; there is wine commoner than water; abundant is the honey, many are its olives; and all fruits are upon its trees; there is barley and wheat, and cattle of kinds without end. This was truly a great thing that he granted me, when the prince came to invest me, and establish me as prince of a tribe in the best of his land. I had my continual portion of bread and of wine each day, of cooked meat, of roasted fowl, as well as the wild game which I took, or which was brought to me, besides what my dogs captured. They made me much butter, and prepared milk of all kinds. I passed many years, the children that I had became great, each ruling his tribe. When a messenger went or came to the palace, he turned aside from the way to come to me; for I helped every man. I gave water to the thirsty, I set on his way him who went astray, and I rescued the robbed. The Sati who went far, to strike and turn back the princes of other lands, I ordained their goings; for the Prince of the Tenu for many years appointed me to be general of his soldiers. In every land which I attacked I played the champion, I took the cattle, I led away the vassals, I carried off the slaves, I slew the people, by my sword, my bow, my marches and my good devices. I was excellent to the heart of my prince; he loved me when he knew my power, and set me over his children when he saw the strength of my arms.

A champion of the Tenu came to defy me in my tent: a bold man without equal, for he had vanquished the whole country. He said, "Let Sanehat fight with me;" for he desired to overthrow me, he thought to take my cattle for his tribe. The prince councilled with me. I said, "I know him not. I certainly am not of his degree, I hold me far from his place. Have I ever opened his door, or leaped over his fence? It is some envious jealousy from seeing me; does he think that I am like some steer among the cows, whom the bull overthrows? If this is a wretch who thinks to enrich himself at my cost, not a Bedawi and a Bedawi fit for fight, then let us put the matter to judgment. Verily a true bull loves battle, but a vain-glorious bull turns his back for fear of contest; if he has a heart for combat, let him speak what he pleases. Will God forget what He has ordained, and how shall that be known?" I lay down; and when I had rested I strung my bow, I made ready my arrows, I loosened my poignard, I furbished my arms. At dawn the land of the Tenu came together; it had gathered its tribes and called all the neighbouring people, it spake of nothing but the fight. Each heart burnt for me, men and women crying out; for each heart was troubled for me, and they said, "Is there another strong one who would fight with him? Behold the adversary has a buckler, a battle axe, and an armful of javelins." Then I drew him to the attack; I turned aside his arrows, and they struck the ground in vain. One drew near to the other, and he fell on me, and then I shot him. My arrow fastened in his neck, he cried out, and fell on his face: I drove his lance into him, and raised my shout of victory on his back. Whilst all the men of the land rejoiced, I, and his vassals whom he had oppressed, gave thanks unto Mentu. This prince, Amu-an-shi, embraced me. Then I carried off his goods and took his cattle, that which he had wished to do to me, I did even so unto him; I seized that which was in his tent, I spoiled his dwelling. As time went on I increased the richness of my treasures and the number of my cattle.

Petition to the king of Egypt.

"Now behold what the god has done for me who trusted in him. Having once fled away, yet now there is a witness of me in the palace. Once having fled away, as a fugitive,———now all in the palace give unto me a good name. After that I had been dying of hunger, now I give bread to those around. I had left my land naked, and now I am clothed in fine linen. After having been a wanderer without followers, now I possess many serfs. My house is fine, my land wide, my memory is established in the temple of all the gods. And let this flight obtain thy forgiveness; that I may be appointed in the palace; that I may see the place where my heart dwells. How great a thing is it that my body should be embalmed in the land where I was born! To return there is happiness. I have made offering to God, to grant me this thing. His heart suffers who has run away unto a strange land. Let him hear the prayer of him who is afar off, that he may revisit the place of his birth, and the place from which he removed.

"May the king of Egypt be gracious to me that I may live of his favour. And I render my homage to the mistress of the land, who is in his palace; may I hear the news of her children. Thus will my limbs grow young again. Now old age comes, feebleness seizes me, my eyes are heavy, my arms are feeble, my legs will not move, my heart is slow. Death draws nigh to me, soon shall they lead me to the city of eternity. Let me follow the mistress of all (the queen, his former mistress); lo! let her tell me the excellencies of her children; may she bring eternity to me."

Then the majesty of King Kheper-ka-ra, the blessed, spake upon this my desire that I had made to him. His majesty sent unto me with presents from the king, that he might enlarge the heart of his servant, like unto the province of any strange land; and the royal sons who are in the palace addressed themselves unto me.

Copy of the decree which was brought—to me who speak to you—to lead me back into Egypt.

"The Horus, life of births, lord of the crowns, life of births, king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Kheper-ka-ra, son of the Sun, Amen-em-hat, ever living unto eternity. Order for the follower Sanehat. Behold this order of the king is sent to thee to instruct thee of his will.

"Now, although thou hast gone through strange lands from Adim to Tenu, and passed from one country to another at the wish of thy heart—behold, what hast thou done, or what has been done against thee, that is amiss? Moreover, thou reviledst not; but if thy word was denied, thou didst not speak again in the assembly of the nobles, even if thou wast desired. Now, therefore, that thou hast thought on this matter which has come to thy mind, let thy heart not change again; for this thy Heaven (queen), who is in the palace is fixed, she is flourishing, she is enjoying the best in the kingdom of the land, and her children are in the chambers of the palace.

"Leave all the riches that thou hast, and that are with thee, altogether. When thou shalt come into Egypt behold the palace, and when thou shalt enter the palace, bow thy face to the ground before the Great House; thou shalt be chief among the companions. And day by day behold thou growest old; thy vigour is lost, and thou thinkest on the day of burial. Thou shalt see thyself come to the blessed state, they shall give thee the bandages from the hand of Tait, the night of applying the oil of embalming. They shall follow thy funeral, and visit the tomb on the day of burial, which shall be in a gilded case, the head painted with blue, a canopy of cypress wood above thee, and oxen shall draw thee, the singers going before thee, and they shall dance the funeral dance. The weepers crouching at the door of thy tomb shall cry aloud the prayers for offerings: they shall slay victims for thee at the door of thy pit; and thy pyramid shall be carved in white stone, in the company of the royal children. Thus thou shalt not die in a strange land, nor be buried by the Amu; thou shalt not be laid in a sheep-skin when thou art buried; all people shall beat the earth, and lament on thy body when thou goest to the tomb."

When this order came to me, I was in the midst of my tribe. When it was read unto me, I threw me on the dust, I threw dust in my hair; I went around my tent rejoicing and saying, "How may it be that such a thing is done to the servant, who with a rebellious heart has fled to strange lands? Now with an excellent deliverance, and mercy delivering me from death, thou shall cause me to end my days in the palace."

Copy of the answer to this order.

"The follower Sanehat says: In excellent peace above everything consider of this flight that he made here in his ignorance; Thou, the Good God, Lord of both Lands, Loved of Ra, Favourite of Mentu, the lord of Thebes, and of Amen, lord of thrones of the lands, of Sebek, Ra, Horus, Hathor, Atmu, and of his fellow-gods, of Sopdu, Neferbiu, Samsetu, Horus, lord of the east, and of the royal uraeus which rules on thy head, of the chief gods of the waters, of Min, Horus of the desert, Urrit, mistress of Punt, Nut, Harnekht, Ra, all the gods of the land of Egypt, and of the isles of the sea. May they give life and peace to thy nostril, may they load thee with their gifts, may they give to thee eternity without end, everlastingness without bound. May the fear of thee be doubled in the lands of the deserts. Mayest thou subdue the circuit of the sun's disc. This is the prayer to his master of the humble servant who is saved from a foreign land.

"O wise king, the wise words which are pronounced in the wisdom of the majesty of the sovereign, thy humble servant fears to tell. It is a great thing to repeat. O great God, like unto Ra in fulfilling that to which he has set his hand, what am I that he should take thought for me? Am I among those whom he regards, and for whom he arranges? Thy majesty is as Horus, and the strength of thy arms extends to all lands.

"Then let his Majesty bring Maki of Adma, Kenti-au-ush of Khenti-keshu, and Tenus from the two lands ol the Fenkhu; these are the princes who bear witness of me as to all that has passed, out of love for thyself. Does not Tenu believe that it belongs to thee like thy dogs. Behold this flight that I have made: I did not have it in my heart; it was like the leading of a dream, as a man of Adehi (Delta) sees himself in Abu (Elephantine), as a man of the plain of Egypt who sees himself in the deserts. There was no fear, there was no hastening after me, I did not listen to an evil plot, my name was not heard in the mouth of the magistrate; but my limbs went, my feet wandered, my heart drew me; my god commanded this flight, and drew me on; but I am not stiff-necked. Does a man fear when he sees his own land? Ra spread thy fear over the land, thy terrors in every strange land. Behold me now in the palace, behold me in this place; and lo! thou art he who is over all the horizon; the sun rises at thy pleasure, the water in the rivers is drunk at thy will, the wind in heaven is breathed at thy saying.

"I who speak to thee shall leave my goods to the generations to follow in this land. And as to this messenger who is come even let thy majesty do as pleaseth him, for one lives by the breath that thou givest. O thou who art beloved of Ra, of Horus, and of Hathor; Mentu, lord of Thebes, desires that thy august nostril should live for ever."

I made a feast in Iaa, to pass over my goods to my children. My eldest son was leading my tribe, all my goods passed to him, and I gave him my corn and all my cattle, my fruit, and all my pleasant trees. When I had taken my road to the south, and arrived at the roads of Horus, the officer who was over the garrison sent a messenger to the palace to give notice. His majesty sent the good overseer of the peasants of the king's domains, and boats laden with presents from the king for the Sati who had come to conduct me to the roads of Horus. I spoke to each one by his name, and I gave the presents to each as was intended. I received and I returned the salutation, and I continued thus until I reached the city of Thetu.

When the land was brightened, and the new day began, four men came with a summons for me; and the four men went to lead me to the palace. I saluted with both my hands on the ground; the royal children stood at the courtyard to conduct me: the courtiers who were to lead me to the hall brought me on the way to the royal chamber.

I found his Majesty on the great throne in the hall of pale gold. Then I threw myself on my belly; this god, in whose presence I was, knew me not. He questioned me graciously, but I was as one seized with blindness, my spirit fainted, my limbs failed, my heart was no longer in my bosom, and I knew the difference between life and death. His majesty said to one of the companions, "Lift him up, let him speak to me." And his majesty said, "Behold thou hast come, thou hast trodden the deserts, thou hast played the wanderer. Decay falls on thee, old age has reached thee; it is no small thing that thy body should be embalmed, that the Pedtiu shall not bury thee. Do not, do not, be silent and speechless; tell thy name; is it fear that prevents thee?" I answered in reply, "I fear, what is it that my lord has said that I should answer it? I have not called on me the hand of God, but it is terror in my body, like that which brings sudden death. Now behold I am before thee; thou art life; let thy majesty do what pleaseth him."

The royal children were brought in, and his majesty said to the queen, "Behold thou Sanehat has come as an Amu, whom the Sati have produced."

She cried aloud, and the royal children spake with one voice, saying, before his majesty, "Verily it is not so, O king, my lord." Said his majesty, "It is verily he." Then they brought their collars, and their wands, and their sistra in their hands, and displayed them before his majesty; and they sang—

"May thy hands prosper, O king; May the ornaments of the Lady of Heaven continue. May the goddess Nub give life to thy nostril; May the mistress of the stars favour thee, when thou sailest south and north. All wisdom is in the mouth of thy majesty; Thy uraeus is on thy forehead, thou drivest away the miserable.

"Thou art pacified, O Ra, lord of the lands; They call on thee as on the mistress of all. Strong is thy horn, Thou lettest fly thine arrow. Grant the breath to him who is without it; Grant good things to this traveller, Samehit the Pedti, born in the land of Egypt, Who fled away from fear of thee, And fled this land from thy terrors. Does not the face grow pale, of him who beholds thy countenance; Docs not the eye fear, which looks upon thee."

Said his majesty, "Let him not fear, let him be freed from terror. He shall be a Royal Friend amongst the nobles; he shall be put within the circle of the courtiers. Go ye to the chamber of praise to seek wealth for him."

When I went out from the palace, the royal children offered their hands to me; we walked afterwards to the Great Gates. I was placed in a house of a king's son, in which were delicate things, a place of coolness, fruits of the granary, treasures of the White House, clothes of the king's guardrobe, frankincense, the finest perfumes of the king and the nobles whom he loves, in every chamber. All the servitors were in their several offices.

Years were removed from my limbs: I was shaved, and polled my locks of hair; the foulness was cast to the desert with the garments of the Nemau-sha. I clothed me in fine linen, and anointed myself with the fine oil of Egypt; I laid me on a bed. I gave up the sand to those who lie on it; the oil of wood to him who would anoint himself therewith. There was given to me the mansion of a lord of serfs, which had belonged to a royal friend. There many excellent things were in its buildings; all its wood was renewed. There were brought to me portions from the palace, thrice and four times each day; besides the gifts of the royal children, always, without ceasing. There was built for me a pyramid of stone amongst the pyramids. The overseer of the architects measured its ground; the chief treasurer wrote it; the sacred masons cut the well; the chief of the labourers on the tombs brought the bricks; all things used to make strong a building were there used. There were given to me peasants; there were made for me a garden, and fields in it before my mansion, as is done for the chief royal friend. My statue was inlayed with gold, its girdle of pale gold; his majesty caused it to be made. Such is not done to a man of low degree.

May I be in the favour of the king until the day shall come of my death.

(This is finished from beginning to end, as was found in the writing.)


The Adventures of Sanehat appears to have been a popular tale, as portions of three copies remain. The first papyrus known (Berlin No. 1) was imperfect at the beginning; but since then a flake of limestone found in a tomb bore the beginning of the tale, and the same part is found on a papyrus in the Amherst collection. The main text has been translated by Chabas ("Le papyrus de Berlin," 37-51), Goodwin, and Maspero ("Mel. d'arch.," iii. 68, 140, and "Contes Populaire," 89-130); while the beginning is treated in "Memoires de l'institut Egyptien," ii. 1-23, and in Proc. S.B.A., 452. The present translation is mainly based on Mr. Griffith's readings in all cases of difficulty.

This is perhaps the most interesting of all the tales, because it bears such signs of being written in the times of which it treats, it throws so much light on the life of the time in Egypt and Syria, and if not a real narrative, it is at least so probable that it may be accepted without much difficulty. For my own part, I incline to look on it as strictly historical; and in the absence of a single point of doubt, I shall here treat it as seriously as the biographical inscriptions of the early tombs. Possibly some day the tomb of Sanehat may be found, and the whole inscription be read complete upon the walls.

The name Sa-nehat means "son of the sycamore," probably from his having been born, or living, at some place where was a celebrated sacred sycamore. This was a common tree in ancient, as in modern, Egypt; but an allusion in the tale, to Sanehat turning his back on the sycamore, when he was fleeing apparently up the west side of the Delta, makes it probable that the sycamore was that of Aa-tenen, now Batnun, at the middle of the west side of the Delta.

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