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The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians

Chapter III - Stories Of Magicians Who Lived Under The Ancient Empire

[Page 25] The short stories of the wonderful deeds of ancient Egyptian magicians here given are found in the Westcar Papyrus, which is preserved in the Royal Museum in Berlin, where it is numbered P. 3033. This papyrus was the property of Miss Westcar of Whitchurch, who gave it to the eminent German Egyptologist, Richard Lepsius, in 1839; it was written probably at some period between the twelfth and eighteenth dynasties. The texts were first edited and translated by Professor Erman.

 

I. The Magician Ubaaner and the Wax Crocodile

The first story describes an event which happened in the reign of Nebka, a king of the third dynasty. It was told by Prince Khāfrā to King Khufu (Cheops). The magician was called Ubaaner,[1] and he was the chief Kher-heb in the temple of Ptah of Memphis, and a very learned man. He was a married man, but his wife loved a young man who worked in the fields, and she sent him by the hands of one of her maids a box containing a supply of very fine clothes. Soon after receiving this gift the young man proposed to the magician's wife that they should meet and talk in a certain booth or lodge in her garden, and she instructed the steward to have the lodge made ready for her to receive her friend in it.

When this was done, she went to the lodge, and she [Page 26] sat there with the young man and drank beer with him until the evening, when he went his way. The steward, knowing what had happened, made up his mind to report the matter to his master, and as soon as the morning had come, he went to Ubaaner and informed him that his wife had spent the previous day drinking beer with such and such a young man.

Ubaaner then told the steward to fetch him his casket made of ebony and silver-gold, which contained materials and instruments used in working magic, and when it was brought him, he took out some wax, and fashioned a figure of a crocodile seven spans long.

He then recited certain magical words over the crocodile, and said to it,

"When the young man comes to bathe in my lake thou shalt seize him."

Then giving the wax crocodile to the steward, Ubaaner said to him, "When the young man goes down to the lake to bathe according to his daily habit, thou shalt throw the crocodile into the water after him." Having taken the crocodile from his master the steward departed.

Then the wife of Ubaaner told the steward to set the little lodge in the garden in order, because she was going to spend some time there. When the steward had furnished the lodge, she went there, and the young peasant paid her a visit. After leaving the lodge he went and bathed in the lake, and the steward followed him and threw the wax crocodile into the water; it immediately turned into a large crocodile 7 cubits (about 11 feet) long and seized the young man and swallowed him up.

When this took place the magician Ubaaner was with the king, and he remained in attendance upon him for seven days, during which time the young man was in the lake, with no air to breathe. When the seven days were ended King Nebka proposed to take a walk with the magician. Whilst they were going along Ubaaner asked the king if he would care to see a wonderful thing that had happened to a young peasant, and the king said he would, and forthwith walked to the place to which the magician led him.

When they arrived at the lake Ubaaner uttered a spell over the crocodile, and commanded [Page 27] it to come up out of the water bringing the young man with him; and the crocodile did so.

When the king saw the beast he exclaimed at its hideousness, and seemed to be afraid of it, but the magician stooped down fearlessly, and took the crocodile up in his hand, and lo, the living crocodile had disappeared, and only a crocodile of wax remained in its place. Then Ubaaner told King Nebka the story of how the young man had spent days in the lodge in the garden talking and drinking beer with his wife, and His Majesty said to the wax crocodile,

"Get thee gone, and take what is thine with thee."

And the wax crocodile leaped out of the magician's hand into the lake, and once more became a large, living crocodile. And it swam away with the young man, and no one ever knew what became of it afterwards. Then the king made his servants seize Ubaaner's wife, and they carried her off to the ground on the north side of the royal palace, and there they burned her, and they scattered her ashes in the river. When King Khufu had heard the story he ordered many offerings to be made in the tomb of his predecessor Nebka, and gifts to be presented to the magician Ubaaner.

 

II. The Magician Tchatchamānkh and the Gold Ornament

The Prince Baiufrā stood up and offered to relate to King Khufu (Cheops) a story of a magician called Tchatchamānkh, who flourished in the reign of Seneferu, the king's father. The offer having been accepted, Baiufrā proceeded to relate the following: On one occasion it happened that Seneferu was in a perplexed and gloomy state of mind, and he wandered distractedly about the rooms and courts of his palace seeking to find something wherewith to amuse himself, but he failed to do so. Then he bethought himself of the court magician Tchatchamānkh, and he ordered his servants to summon him to the presence.

When the great Kher-heb and scribe arrived, he addressed him as "my brother," and told him that he had been wandering about in his palace seeking for amusement, and had failed to find [Page 28] it. The magician promptly suggested to the king that he should have a boat got ready, decorated with pretty things that would give pleasure, and should go for a row on the lake.

The motions of the rowers as they rowed the boat about would interest him, and the sight of the depths of the waters, and the pretty fields and gardens round about the lake, would give him great pleasure.

"Let me,"

said the magician,

"arrange the matter. Give me twenty ebony paddles inlaid with gold and silver, and twenty pretty maidens with flowing hair, and twenty network garments wherein to dress them."

The king gave orders for all these things to be provided, and when the boat was ready, and the maidens who were to row had taken their places, he entered the boat and sat in his little pavilion and was rowed about on the lake. The magician's views proved to be correct, for the king enjoyed himself, and was greatly amused in watching the maidens row. Presently the handle of the paddle of one of the maidens caught in her long hair, and in trying to free it a malachite ornament which she was wearing in her hair fell into the water and disappeared.

The maiden was much troubled over her loss, and stopped rowing, and as her stopping threw out of order the strokes of the maidens who were sitting on the same seat as she was, they also stopped rowing.

Thereupon the king asked why the rowing had ceased, and one of the maidens told him what had happened; and when he promised that the ornament should be recovered, the maiden said words which seem to mean that she had no doubt that she should recover it. On this Seneferu caused Tchatchamānkh to be summoned into the presence, and when he came the king told him all that had happened. Then the magician began to recite certain spells, the effect of which was to cause the water of the lake first to divide into two parts, and then the water on one side to rise up and place itself on the water on the other side.

The boat, presumably, sank down gently on the ground of the lake, for the malachite ornament was seen lying there, and the magician fetched it, and returned it to its owner. The depth of the water in the middle of the lake where the ornament [Page 29] dropped was 12 cubits (between 18 and 19 feet), and when the water from one side was piled up on that on the other, the total depth of the two sections taken together was, we are told, 24 cubits. As soon as the ornament was restored to the maiden, the magician recited further spells, and the water lowered itself, and spread over the ground of the lake, and so regained its normal level.

His Majesty, King Seneferu, assembled his nobles, and having discussed the matter with them, made a handsome gift to his clever magician. When King Khufu had heard the story he ordered a large supply of funerary offerings to be sent to the tomb of Seneferu, and bread, beer, flesh, and incense to the tomb of Tchatchamānkh.

 

III. The Magician Teta who Restored Life to Dead Animals, etc.

When Baiufrā had finished the story given above, Prince Herutataf, the son of King Khufu, and a very wise man, with whose name Egyptian tradition associated the discovery of certain chapters of the Book of the Dead, stood up before his father to speak, and said to him,

"Up to the present thou hast only heard tales about the wisdom of magicians who are dead and gone, concerning which it is quite impossible to know whether they be true or not.

Now, I want Thy Majesty to see a certain sage who is actually alive during thy lifetime, whom thou knowest not."

His Majesty Khufu said,

"Who is it, Herutataf?"

And Prince Herutataf replied,

"He is a certain peasant who is called Teta, and he lives in Tet-Seneferu. He is one hundred and ten years old, and up to this very day he eats five hundred bread-cakes (sic), and a leg of beef, and drinks one hundred pots of beer.

He knows how to reunite to its body a head which has been cut off, he knows how to make a lion follow him whilst the rope with which he is tied drags behind him on the ground, and he knows the numbers of the Apet chambers (?) of the shrine (?) of Thoth."

Now His Majesty had been seeking for a long time past for the number of the [Page 30] Apet chambers (?) of Thoth, for he had wished to make something like it for his "horizon."[2]

And King Khufu said to his son Herutataf,

"My son, thou thyself shalt go and bring the sage to me";

thereupon a boat was made ready for Prince Herutataf, who forthwith set out on his journey to Tet-Seneferu, the home of the sage. When the prince came to the spot on the river bank that was nearest to the village of Teta, he had the boat tied up, and he continued his journey overland seated in a sort of sedan chair made of ebony, which was carried or slung on bearing poles made of costly sesentchem wood inlaid or decorated with gold.

When Herutataf arrived at the village, the chair was set down on the ground, and he got out of it and stood up ready to greet the old man, whom he found lying upon a bed, with the door of his house lying on the ground. One servant stood by the bed holding the sage's head and fanning him, and another was engaged in rubbing his feet.

Herutataf addressed a highly poetical speech to Teta, the gist of which was that the old man seemed to be able to defy the usual effects of old age, and to be like one who had obtained the secret of everlasting youth, and then expressed the hope that he was well. Having paid these compliments, which were couched in dignified and archaic language, Herutataf went on to say that he had come with a message from his father Khufu, who hereby summoned Teta to his presence.

"I have come,"

he said,

"a long way to invite thee, so that thou mayest eat the food, and enjoy the good things which the king bestows on those who follow him, and so that he may conduct thee after a happy life to thy fathers who rest in the grave."

The sage replied,

"Welcome, Prince Herutataf, welcome, O thou who lovest thy father. Thy father shall reward thee with gifts, and he shall promote thee to the rank of the senior officials of his court.

Thy Ka[3] shall fight successfully against thine enemy, thy soul knows the ways of the Other World, and thou shalt arrive [Page 31] at the door of those who are apparelled in ... I salute thee, O Prince Herutataf."

Herutataf then held out his hands to the sage and helped him to rise from the bed, and he went with him to the river bank, Teta leaning on his arm. When they arrived there Teta asked for a boat wherein his children and his books might be placed, and the prince put at his disposal two boats, with crews complete; Teta himself, however, was accommodated in the prince's boat and sailed with him.

When they came to the palace, Prince Herutataf went into the presence of the king to announce their arrival, and said to him,

"O king my lord, I have brought Teta";

and His Majesty replied,

"Bring him in quickly."

Then the king went out into the large hall of his palace, and Teta was led into the presence. His Majesty said,

"How is it, Teta, that I have never seen thee?"

And Teta answered,

"Only the man who is summoned to the presence comes; so soon as the king summoned me I came."

His Majesty asked him, saying,

"Is it indeed true, as is asserted, that thou knowest how to rejoin to its body the head which hath been cut off?"

Teta answered,

"Most assuredly do I know how to do this, O king my lord."

His Majesty said,

"Let them bring in from the prison a prisoner, so that his death-sentence may be carried out."

Then Teta said,

"Let them not bring a man, O king my lord. Perhaps it may be ordered that the head shall be cut off some other living creature."

So a goose was brought to him, and he cut off its head, and laid the body of the goose on the west side of the hall, and its head on the east side. Then Teta recited certain magical spells, and the goose stood up and waddled towards its head, and its head moved towards its body. When the body and the head came close together, the head leaped on to the body, and the goose stood up on its legs and cackled.

Then a goose of another kind called khetâa was brought to Teta, and he did with it as he had done with the other goose. His Majesty next caused an ox to be taken to Teta, and when he had cut off its head, and recited magical spells over the head and the body, the head rejoined itself to the [Page 32] body, and the ox stood up on its feet. A lion was next brought to Teta, and when he had recited spells over it, the lion went behind him, and followed him [like a dog], and the rope with which he had been tied up trailed on the ground behind the animal.

King Khufu then said to Teta,

"Is it true what they say that thou knowest the numbers of the Apet chambers (?) of the shrine (?) of Thoth?"

Teta replied,

"No. I do not know their number, O king my lord, but I do know the place where they are to be found."

His Majesty asked,

"Where is that?"

Teta replied,

"There is a box made of flint in a house called Sapti in Heliopolis."

The king asked,

"Who will bring me this box?"

Teta replied,

"Behold, O king my lord, I shall not bring the box to thee."

His Majesty asked,

"Who then shall bring it to me?"

Teta answered,

"The oldest of the three children of Rut-tetet shall bring it unto thee."

His Majesty said,

"It is my will that thou shalt tell me who this Rut-tetet is."

Teta answered,

"This Rut-tetet is the wife of a priest of Rā of Sakhabu,[4] who is about to give birth to three children of Rā. He told her that these children should attain to the highest dignities in the whole country, and that the oldest of them should become high priest[5] of Heliopolis."

On hearing these words the heart of the king became sad; and Teta said,

"Wherefore art thou so sad, O king my lord? Is it because of the three children? I say unto thee, Verily thy son, verily his son, verily one of them."

His Majesty asked,

"When will these three children be born?"

Teta answered,

"Rut-tetet will give them birth on the fifteenth day of the first month of Pert."[6]

The king then made a remark the exact meaning of which it is difficult to follow, but from one part of it it is clear that he expressed his determination to go and visit the temple of Rā of Sakhabu, which seems to have been situated on or near the great canal of [Page 33] the Letopolite nome. In reply Teta declared that he would take care that the water in the canal should be 4 cubits (about 6 feet) deep, i.e. that the water should be deep enough for the royal barge to sail on the canal without difficulty.

The king then returned to his palace and gave orders that Teta should have lodgings given him in the house of Prince Herutataf, that he should live with him, and that he should be provided with one thousand bread-cakes, one hundred pots of beer, one ox, and one hundred bundles of vegetables. And all that the king commanded concerning Teta was done.

 

IV. The Story of Rut-tetet and the Three Sons of Rā

The last section of the Westcar Papyrus deals with the birth of the three sons of Rā, who have been mentioned above. When the day drew nigh in which the three sons were to be born, Rā, the Sun-god, ordered the four goddesses, Isis, Nephthys,[7] Meskhenet,[8] and Heqet,[9] and the god Khnemu,[10] to go and superintend the birth of the three children, so that when they grew up, and were exercising the functions of rule throughout all Egypt, they should build temples to them, and furnish the altars in them with offerings of meat and drink in abundance.

Then the four goddesses changed themselves into the forms of dancing women, and went to the house wherein the lady Rut-tetet lay ill, and finding her husband, the priest of Rā, who was called Rāuser, outside, they clashed their cymbals together, and rattled their sistra, and tried to make him merry. When Rāuser objected to this and told them that his wife lay ill inside the house, they replied,

"Let us see her, for we know [Page 34] how to help her";

so he said to them and to Khnemu who was with them, "Enter in," and they did so, and they went to the room wherein Rut-tetet lay. Isis, Nephthys, and Heqet assisted in bringing the three boys into the world. Meskhenet prophesied for each of them sovereignty over the land, and Khnemu bestowed health upon their bodies. After the birth of the three boys, the four goddesses and Khnemu went outside the house, and told Rāuser to rejoice because his wife Rut-tetet had given him three children. Rāuser said,

"My Ladies, what can I do for you in return for this?"

Having apparently nothing else to give them, he begged them to have barley brought from his granary, so that they might take it away as a gift to their own granaries; they agreed, and the god Khnemu brought the barley. So the goddesses set out to go to the place whence they had come.

When they had arrived there Isis said to her companions:

"How is it that we who went to Rut-tetet [by the command of Rā] have worked no wonder for the children which we could have announced to their father, who allowed us to depart [without begging a boon]?"

So they made divine crowns such as belonged to the Lord (i.e. King), life, strength, health [be to him!], and they hid them in the barley. Then they sent rain and storm through the heavens, and they went back to the house of Rāuser, apparently carrying the barley with them, and said to him,

"Let the barley abide in a sealed room until we dance our way back to the north."

So they put the barley in a sealed room. After Rut-tetet had kept herself secluded for fourteen days, she said to one of her handmaidens,

"Is the house all ready?"

and the handmaiden told her that it was provided with everything except jars of barley drink, which had not been brought. Rut-tetet then asked why they had not been brought, and the handmaiden replied in words that seem to mean that there was no barley in the house except that which belonged to the dancing goddesses, and that that was in a chamber which had been sealed with their seal. Rut-tetet then told her to go and fetch some of the barley, for she was quite [Page 35] certain that when her husband Rāuser returned he would make good what she took.

Thereupon the handmaiden went to the chamber, and broke it open, and she heard in it loud cries and shouts, and the sounds of music and singing and dancing, and all the noises which men make in honour of the birth of a king, and she went back and told Rut-tetet what she had heard.

Then Rut-tetet herself went through the room, and could not find the place where the noises came from, but when she laid her temple against a box, she perceived that the noises were inside it. She then took this box, which cannot have been of any great size, and put it in another box, which in turn she put in another box, which she sealed, and then wrapping this in a leather covering, she laid it in a chamber containing her jar of barley beer or barley wine, and sealed the door.

When Rāuser returned from the fields, Rut-tetet related to him everything that had happened, and his heart was exceedingly glad, and he and his wife sat down and enjoyed themselves.

A few days after these events Rut-tetet had a quarrel with her handmaiden, and she slapped her well. The handmaiden was very angry, and in the presence of the household she said words to this effect: Dost thou dare to treat me in this way? I who can destroy thee? She has given birth to three kings, and I will go and tell the Majesty of King Khufu of this fact. The handmaiden thought that, if Khufu knew of the views of Rāuser and Rut-tetet about the future of their three sons, and the prophecies of the goddesses, he would kill the children and perhaps their parents also.

With the object in her mind of telling the king the handmaiden went to her maternal uncle, whom she found weaving flax on the walk, and told him what had happened, and said she was going to tell the king about the three children. From her uncle she obtained neither support nor sympathy; on the contrary, gathering together several strands of flax into a thick rope he gave her a good beating with the same.

A little later the handmaiden went to the river or canal to fetch some water, and whilst she was filling her pot a crocodile seized her and carried her away and, [Page 36] presumably, ate her. Then the uncle went to the house of Rut-tetet to tell her what had happened, and he found her sitting down, with her head bowed over her breast, and exceedingly sad and miserable.

He asked her, saying,

"O Lady, wherefore art thou so sad?"

And she told him that the cause of her sorrow was the handmaiden, who had been born in the house and had grown up in it, and who had just left it, threatening that she would go and tell the king about the birth of the three kings. The uncle of the handmaiden nodded his head in a consoling manner, and told Rut-tetet how she had come to him and informed him what she was going to do, and how he had given her a good beating with a rope of flax, and how she had gone to the river to fetch some water, and how a crocodile had carried her off.

There is reason to think that the three sons of Rut-tetet became the three kings of the fifth dynasty who were known by the names of Khāfrā, Menkaurā, and Userkaf. The stories given above are valuable because they contain elements of history, for it is now well known that the immediate successors of the fourth dynasty, of which Khufu, Khāfrā, and Menkaurā, the builders of the three great pyramids at Gīzah, were the most important kings, were kings who delighted to call themselves sons of Rā, and who spared no effort to make the form of worship of the Sun-god that was practised at Anu, or Heliopolis, universal in Egypt.

It is probable that the three magicians, Ubaaner, Tchatchamānkh, and Teta were historical personages, whose abilities and skill in working magic appealed to the imagination of the Egyptians under all dynasties, and caused their names to be venerated to a remote posterity.

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- Footnotes:

1.

This name means "splitter of stones." It will be remembered that the late Sir H.M. Stanley was called the "stone-splitter," because of his great strength of deed and word.

2.

These were probably books and instruments which the magicians of the day used in making astrological calculations, or in working magic.

3.

The "double," or the vital force.

4.

A town which seems to have been situated in the second nome or "county" of Lower Egypt; the Greeks called the nome Letopolites.

5.

His official title was "Ur-mau."

6.

The season Pert = November 15 - March 15.

7.

Isis and Nephthys were the daughters of Keb and Nut, and sisters of Osiris and Set; the former was the mother of Horus, and the latter of Anubis.

8.

A goddess who presided over the birth of children.

9.

A very ancient Frog-goddess, who was associated with generation and birth.

10.

A god who assisted at the creation of the world, and who fashioned the bodies of men and women.

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