The Egyptians believed that at one time all the great gods and goddesses lived upon earth, and that they ruled Egypt in much the same way as the Pharaohs with whom they were more or less acquainted. They went about among men and took a real personal interest in their affairs, and, according to tradition, they spared no pains in promoting their wishes and well-being. Their rule was on the whole beneficent, chiefly because in addition to their divine attributes they possessed natures, and apparently bodily constitutions that were similar to those of men.
Like men also they were supposed to feel emotions and passions, and to be liable to the accidents that befell men, and to grow old, and even to die. The greatest of all the gods was Rā, and he reigned over Egypt for very many years. His reign was marked by justice and righteousness, and he was in all periods of Egyptian history regarded as the type of what a king should be. When men instead of gods reigned over Egypt they all delighted to call themselves sons of Rā, and every king believed that Rā was his true father, and regarded his mother's husband as his father only in name.
This belief was always common in Egypt, and even Alexander the Great found it expedient to adopt it, for he made a journey to the sanctuary of Amen (Ammon) in the Oasis of Sīwāh in order to be officially acknowledged by the god. Having obtained this recognition, he became the rightful lord of Egypt.
I. The Destruction of Mankind
This Legend is cut in hieroglyphs on the walls of a small chamber in the tomb of Seti I about 1350 B.C. When Rā, the self-begotten and self-formed god, had been ruling gods and men for some time, men began to complain about him, saying,
"His Majesty hath become old. His bones have turned into silver, his flesh into gold, and his hair into real lapis-lazuli."
His Majesty heard these murmurings and commanded his followers to summon to his presence his Eye (i.e. the goddess Hathor), Shu, Tefnut, Keb, Nut, and the father and mother gods and goddesses who were with him in the watery abyss of Nu, and also the god of this water, Nu. They were to come to him with all their followers secretly, so that men should not suspect the reason for their coming, and take flight, and they were to assemble in the Great House in Heliopolis, where Rā would take counsel with them.
In due course all the gods assembled in the Great House, and they ranged themselves down the sides of the House, and they bowed down in homage before Rā until their heads touched the ground, and said,
"Speak, for we are listening."
Then Rā addresing Nu, the father of the first-born gods, told him to give heed to what men were doing, for they whom he had created were murmuring against him. And he said,
"Tell me what ye would do. Consider the matter, invent a plan for me, and I will not slay them until I have heard what ye shall say concerning this thing."
"Thou, O my son Rā, art greater than the god who made thee (i.e. Nu himself), thou art the king of those who were created with thee, thy throne is established, and the fear of thee is great. Let thine Eye (Hathor) attack those who blaspheme thee."
And Rā said,
"Lo, they have fled to the mountains, for their hearts are afraid because of what they have said."
The gods replied,
"Let thine Eye go forth and destroy those who blasphemed thee, for no eye can resist thine when it goeth forth in the form of Hathor."
Thereupon the Eye of Rā, or Hathor, went in pursuit of the blasphemers in the mountains, and slew them all. On her return Rā welcomed her, and the goddess said that the work of vanquishing men was dear to her heart. Rā then said that he would be the master of men as their king, and that he would destroy them. For three nights the goddess Hathor-Sekhmet waded about in the blood of men, the slaughter beginning at Hensu (Herakleopolis Magna).
Then the Majesty of Rā ordered that messengers should be sent to Abu, a town at the foot of the First Cataract, to fetch mandrakes (?), and when they were brought he gave them to the god Sekti to crush. When the women slaves were bruising grain for making beer, the crushed mandrakes (?) were placed in the vessels that were to hold the beer, together with some of the blood of those who had been slain by Hathor. The beer was then made, and seven thousand vessels were filled with it.
When Rā saw the beer he ordered it to be taken to the scene of slaughter, and poured out on the meadows of the four quarters of heaven. The object of putting mandrakes (?) in the beer was to make those who drank fall asleep quickly, and when the goddess Hathor came and drank the beer mixed with blood and mandrakes (?) she became very merry, and, the sleepy stage of drunkenness coming on her, she forgot all about men, and slew no more.
At every festival of Hathor ever after "sleepy beer" was made, and it was drunk by those who celebrated the feast.
Now, although the blasphemers of Rā had been put to death, the heart of the god was not satisfied, and he complained to the gods that he was smitten with the "pain of the fire of sickness."
"My heart is weary because I have to live with men; I have slain some of them, but worthless men still live, and I did not slay as many as I ought to have done considering my power."
To this the gods replied,
"Trouble not about thy lack of action, for thy power is in proportion to thy will."
Here the text becomes fragmentary, but it seems that the goddess Nut took the form of a cow, and that the other gods lifted Rā on to her back. When men saw that Rā was leaving the earth, they repented of their murmurings, and the next morning they went out with bows and arrows to fight the enemies of the Sun-god. As a reward for this Rā forgave those men their former blasphemies, but persisted in his intention of retiring from the earth.
He ascended into the heights of heaven, being still on the back of the Cow-goddess Nut, and he created there Sekhet-hetep and Sekhet-Aaru as abodes for the blessed, and the flowers that blossomed therein he turned into stars. He also created the millions of beings who lived there in order that they might praise him.
The height to which Rā had ascended was now so great that the legs of the Cow-goddess on which he was enthroned trembled, and to give her strength he ordained that Nut should be held up in her position by the godhead and upraised arms of the god Shu. This is why we see pictures of the body of Nut being supported by Shu.
The legs of the Cow-goddess were supported by the various gods, and thus the seat of the throne of Rā became stable. When this was done Rā caused the Earth-god Keb to be summoned to his presence, and when he came he spake to him about the venomous reptiles that lived in the earth and were hostile to him. Then turning to Thoth, he bade him to prepare a series of spells and words of power, which would enable those who knew them to overcome snakes and serpents and deadly reptiles of all kinds.
Thoth did so, and the spells which he wrote under the direction of Rā served as a protection of the servants of Rā ever after, and secured for them the help of Keb, who became sole lord of all the beings that lived and moved on and in his body, the earth. Before finally relinquishing his active rule on earth, Rā summoned Thoth and told him of his desire to create a Light-soul in the Tuat and in the Land of the Caves.
Over this region he appointed Thoth to rule, and he ordered him to keep a register of those who were there, and to mete out just punishments to them. In fact, Thoth was to be ever after the representative of Rā in the Other World.
II. The Legend of Rā and Isis
This Legend is found written in the hieratic character upon a papyrus preserved in Turin, and it illustrates a portion of the preceding Legend. We have seen that Rā instructed Thoth to draw up a series of spells to be used against venomous reptiles of all kinds, and the reader will perceive from the following summary that Rā had good reason for doing this.
The Legend opens with a list of the titles of Rā, the "self-created god," creator of heaven, earth, breath of life, fire, gods, men, beasts, cattle, reptiles, feathered fowl, and fish, the King of gods and men, to whom cycles of 120 years are as years, whose manifold names are unknown even by the gods.
The text continues:
"Isis had the form of a woman, and knew words of power, but she was disgusted with men, and she yearned for the companionship of the gods and the spirits, and she meditated and asked herself whether, supposing she had the knowledge of the Name of Rā, it was not possible to make herself as great as Rā was in heaven and on the earth? Meanwhile Rā appeared in heaven each day upon his throne, but he had become old, and he dribbled at the mouth, and his spittle fell on the ground.
One day Isis took some of the spittle and kneaded up dust in it, and made this paste into the form of a serpent with a forked tongue, so that if it struck anyone the person struck would find it impossible to escape death. This figure she placed on the path on which Rā walked as he came into heaven after his daily survey of the Two Lands (i.e. Egypt).
Soon after this Rā rose up, and attended by his gods he came into heaven, but as he went along the serpent drove its fangs into him. As soon as he was bitten Rā felt the living fire leaving his body, and he cried out so loudly that his voice reached the uttermost parts of heaven.
The gods rushed to him in great alarm, saying,
"What is the matter?"
At first Rā was speechless, and found himself unable to answer, for his jaws shook, his lips trembled, and the poison continued to run through every part of his body. When he was able to regain a little strength, he told the gods that some deadly creature had bitten him, something the like of which he had never seen, something which his hand had never made. He said,
"Never before have I felt such pain; there is no pain worse than this."
Rā then went on to describe his greatness and power, and told the listening gods that his father and mother had hidden his name in his body so that no one might be able to master him by means of any spell or word of power. In spite of this something had struck him, and he knew not what it was.
"Is it fire?"
"Is it water? My heart is full of burning fire, my limbs are shivering, shooting pains are in all my members."
All the gods round about him uttered cries of lamentation, and at this moment Isis appeared. Going to Rā she said,
"What is this, O divine father? What is this? Hath a serpent bitten thee? Hath something made by thee lifted up its head against thee? Verily my words of power shall overthrow it; I will make it depart in the sight of thy light."
Rā then repeated to Isis the story of the incident, adding,
"I am colder than water, I am hotter than fire. All my members sweat. My body quaketh. Mine eye is unsteady. I cannot look on the sky, and my face is bedewed with water as in the time of the Inundation."
Then Isis said,
"Father, tell me thy name, for he who can utter his own name liveth."
"I am the maker of heaven and earth.
I knit together the mountains and whatsoever liveth on them.
I made the waters.
I made Mehturit to come into being.
I made Kamutef. I made heaven, and the two hidden gods of the horizon, and put souls into the gods.
I open my eyes, and there is light;
I shut my eyes, and there is darkness.
I speak the word[s], and the waters of the Nile appear.
I am he whom the gods know not.
I make the hours.
I create the days.
I open the year.
I make the river [Nile].
I create the living fire whereby works in the foundries and workshops are carried out.
I am Khepera in the morning, Rā at noon, and Temu in the evening."
Meanwhile the poison of the serpent was coursing through the veins of Rā, and the enumeration of his works afforded the god no relief from it. Then Isis said to Rā,
"Among all the things which thou hast named to me thou hast not named thy name. Tell me thy name, and the poison shall come forth from thee."
Rā still hesitated, but the poison was burning in his blood, and the heat thereof was stronger than that of a fierce fire. At length he said,
Then Rā hid himself from the gods, and for a season his throne in the Boat of Millions of Years was empty. When the time came for the heart of the god to pass into Isis, the goddess said to Horus, her son,
"The great god shall bind himself by an oath to give us his two eyes (i.e. the sun and the moon)."
When the great god had yielded up his name Isis pronounced the following spell:
"Flow poison, come out of Rā. Eye of Horus, come out of the god, and sparkle as thou comest through his mouth. I am the worker. I make the poison to fall on the ground. The poison is conquered. Truly the name of the great god hath been taken from him. Rā liveth! The poison dieth! If the poison live Rā shall die."
These were the words which Isis spoke, Isis the great lady, the Queen of the gods, who knew Rā by his own name.
In late times magicians used to write the above Legend on papyrus above figures of Temu and Heru-Hekenu, who gave Rā his secret name, and over figures of Isis and Horus, and sell the rolls as charms against snake bites.
III. The Legend of Horus of Behutet and the Winged Disk
The text of this Legend is cut in hieroglyphs on the walls of the temple of Edfu, in Upper Egypt, and some of the incidents described in it are illustrated by large bas-reliefs. The form of the Legend here given dates from the Ptolemaic Period, but the subject matter is some thousands of years older. The great historical fact underlying the Legend is the Conquest of Egypt by some very early king who invaded Egypt from the south, and who succeeded in conquering every part of it, even the northern part of the Delta. The events described are supposed to have taken place whilst Rā was still reigning on the earth.
The Legend states that in the three hundred and sixty-third year of the reign of Rā-Harmakhis, the ever living, His Majesty was in Ta-sti (i.e. the Land of the Bow, or Nubia) with his soldiers; the enemy had reviled him, and for this reason the land is called "Uauatet" to this day. From Nubia Rā sailed down the river to Apollinopolis (Edfu), and Heru-Behutet, or Horus of Edfu, was with him.
On arriving there Horus told Rā that the enemy were plotting against him, and Rā told him to go out and slay them.
Horus took the form of a great winged disk, which flew up into the air and pursued the enemy, and it attacked them with such terrific force that they could neither see nor hear, and they fell upon each other, and slew each other, and in a moment not a single foe was left alive. Then Horus returned to the Boat of Rā-Harmakhis, in the form of the winged disk which shone with many colours, and said,
"Advance, O Rā, and look upon thine enemies who are lying under thee in this land."
Rā set out on the journey, taking with him the goddess Ashtoreth, and he saw his enemies lying on the ground, each of them being fettered. After looking upon his slaughtered foes Rā said to the gods who were with him,
"Behold, let us sail in our boat on the water, for our hearts are glad because our enemies have been overthrown on the earth."
So the Boat of Rā moved onwards towards the north, and the enemies of the god who were on the banks took the form of crocodiles and hippopotami, and tried to frighten the god, for as his boat came near them they opened their jaws wide, intending to swallow it up together with the gods who were in it. Among the crew were the Followers of Horus of Edfu, who were skilled workers in metal, and each of these had in his hands an iron spear and a chain.
These "Blacksmiths" threw out their chains into the river and allowed the crocodiles and hippopotami to entangle their legs in them, and then they dragged the beasts towards the bows of the Boat, and driving their spears into their bodies, slew them there. After the slaughter the bodies of six hundred and fifty-one crocodiles were brought and laid out before the town of Edfu. When Thoth saw these he said,
"Let your hearts rejoice, O gods of heaven, Let your hearts rejoice, O ye gods who dwell on the earth. The Young Horus cometh in peace. On his way he hath made manifest deeds of valour, according to the Book of slaying the Hippopotamus."
And from that day they made figures of Horus in metal.
Then Horus of Edfu took the form of the winged disk, and set himself on the prow of the Boat of Rā. He took with him Nekhebet, goddess of the South, and Uatchet, goddess of the North, in the form of serpents, so that they might make all the enemies of the Sun-god to quake in the South and in the North. His foes who had fled to the north doubled back towards the south, for they were in deadly fear of the god.
Horus pursued and overtook them, and he and his blacksmiths had in their hands spears and chains, and they slew large numbers of them to the south-east of the town of Thebes in Upper Egypt. Many succeeded in escaping towards the north once more, but after pursuing them for a whole day Horus overtook them, and made a great slaughter among them. Meanwhile the other foes of the god, who had heard of the defeats of their allies, fled into Lower Egypt, and took refuge among the swamps of the Delta.
Horus set out after them, and came up with them, and spent four days in the water slaying his foes, who tried to escape in the forms of crocodiles and hippopotami. He captured one hundred and forty-two of the enemy and a male hippopotamus, and took them to the fore part of the Boat of Rā. There he hacked them in pieces, and gave their inward parts to his followers, and their mutilated bodies to the gods and goddesses who were in the Boat of Rā and on the river banks in the town of Heben.
Then the remnant of the enemy turned their faces towards the Lake of the North, and they attempted to sail to the Mediterranean in boats; but the terror of Horus filled their hearts, and they left their boats and fled to the district of Mertet-Ament, where they joined themselves to the worshippers of Set, the god of evil, who dwelt in the Western Delta.
Horus pursued them in his boat for one day and one night without seeing them, and he arrived at the town of Per-Rehui. At length he discovered the position of the enemy, and he and his followers fell upon them, and slew a large number of them; he captured three hundred and eighty-one of them alive, and these he took to the Boat of Rā, then, having slain them, he gave their carcases to his followers or bodyguard, who presumably devoured them. The custom of eating the bodies of enemies is very old in Egypt, and survives in some parts of Africa to this day.
Then Set, the great antagonist of Horus, came out and cursed him for the slaughter of his people, using most shameful words of abuse. Horus stood up and fought a duel with Set, the "Stinking Face," as the text calls him, and Horus succeeded in throwing him to the ground and spearing him. Horus smashed his mouth with a blow of his mace, and having fettered him with his chain, he brought him into the presence of Rā, who ordered that he was to be handed over to Isis and her son Horus, that they might work their will on him.
Here we must note that the ancient editor of the Legend has confounded Horus the ancient Sun-god with Horus, son of Isis, son of Osiris. Then Horus, the son of Isis, cut off the heads of Set and his followers in the presence of Rā, and dragged Set by his feet round about throughout the district with his spear driven through his head and back, according to the order of Rā.
The form which Horus of Edfu had at that time was that of a man of great strength, with the face and back of a hawk; on his head he wore the Double Crown, with feathers and serpents attached, and in his hands he held a metal spear and a metal chain.
And Horus, the son of Isis, took upon himself a similar form, and the two Horuses slew all the enemies on the bank of the river to the west of the town of Per-Rehui. This slaughter took place on the seventh day of the first month of the season Pert, which was ever afterwards called the "Day of the Festival of Sailing."
Now, although Set in the form of a man had been slain, he reappeared in the form of a great hissing serpent, and took up his abode in a hole in the ground without being noticed by Horus. Rā, however, saw him, and gave orders that Horus, the son of Isis, in the form of a hawk-headed staff, should set himself at the mouth of the hole, so that the monster might never reappear among men. This Horus did, and Isis his mother lived there with him. Once again it became known to Rā that a remnant of the followers of Set had escaped, and that under the direction of the Smait fiends, and of Set, who had reappeared, they were hiding in the swamps of the Eastern Delta.
Horus of Edfu, the winged disk, pursued them, speared them, and finally slew them in the presence of Rā. For the moment there were no more enemies of Rā to be found in the district on land, although Horus passed six days and six nights in looking for them; but it seems that several of the followers of Set in the forms of water reptiles were lying on the ground under water, and that Horus saw them there.
At this time Horus had strict guard kept over the tomb of Osiris in Anrutef, because he learned that the Smait fiends wanted to come and wreck both it and the body of the god. Isis, too, never ceased to recite spells and incantations in order to keep away her husband's foes from his body. Meanwhile the "blacksmiths" of Horus, who were in charge of the "middle regions" of Egypt, found a body of the enemy, and attacked them fiercely, slew many of them, and took one hundred and six of them prisoners.
The "blacksmiths" of the west also took one hundred and six prisoners, and both groups of prisoners were slain before Rā. In return for their services Rā bestowed dwelling-places upon the "blacksmiths," and allowed them to have temples with images of their gods in them, and arranged for offerings and libations to be made to them by properly appointed priests of various classes.
Shortly after these events Rā discovered that a number of his enemies were still at large, and that they had sailed in boats to the swamps that lay round about the town of Tchal, or Tchar, better known as Zoan or Tanis. Once more Horus unmoored the Boat of Rā, and set out against them; some took refuge in the waters, and others landed and escaped to the hilly land on the east.
For some reason, which is not quite apparent, Horus took the form of a mighty lion with a man's face, and he wore on his head the triple crown. His claws were like flints, and he pursued the enemy on the hills, and chased them hither and thither, and captured one hundred and forty-two of them.
He tore out their tongues, and ripped their bodies into strips with his claws, and gave them over to his allies in the mountains, who, no doubt, ate them. This was the last fight in the north of Egypt, and Rā proposed that they should sail up the river and return to the south. They had traversed all Egypt, and sailed over the lakes in the Delta, and down the arms of the Nile to the Mediterranean, and as no more of the enemy were to be seen the prow of the boat of Rā was turned southwards.
Thoth recited the spells that produced fair weather, and said the words of power that prevented storms from rising, and in due course the Boat reached Nubia. When it arrived Horus found in the country of Uauatet men who were conspiring against him and cursing him, just as they had at one time blasphemed Rā.
Horus, taking the form of the winged disk, and accompanied by the two serpent-goddesses, Nekhebet and Uatchet, attacked the rebels, but there was no fierce fighting this time, for the hearts of the enemy melted through fear of him. His foes cast themselves before him on the ground in submission, they offered no resistance, and they died straightway.
Horus then returned to the town of Behutet (Edfu), and the gods acclaimed him, and praised his prowess. Rā was so pleased with him that he ordered Thoth to have a winged disk, with a serpent on each side of it, placed in every temple in Egypt in which he (i.e. Rā) was worshipped, so that it might act as a protector of the building, and drive away any and every fiend and devil that might wish to attack it. This is the reason why we find the winged disk, with a serpent on each side of it, above the doors of temples and religious buildings throughout the length and breadth of Egypt.
In many places in the text that contains the above Legend there are short passages in which attempts are made to explain the origins of the names of certain towns and gods. All these are interpolations in the narrative made by scribes at a late period of Egyptian history. As it would be quite useless to reproduce them without many explanatory notes, for which there is no room in this little book, they have been omitted.
IV. The Legend of Khnemu and a Seven Years' Famine
This Legend is cut in hieroglyphs on a large rounded block of granite, which stands on the south-east portion of Sāhal, a little island in the First Cataract in Upper Egypt, two or three miles to the south of the modern town of Aswān, the ancient Syene. The form of the Legend, and the shapes of the hieroglyphs, and the late spelling of the words, prove that the inscription is the work of the Ptolemaic Period, though it is possible that the Legend in its simplest form is as old as the period to which it is ascribed in the Sāhal text, namely, the third dynasty, about 4100 B.C.
The subject of the Legend is a terrible famine, which lasted for seven years, in the reign of King Tcheser, and which recalls the seven years' famine that took place in Egypt when Joseph was there. This famine was believed to have been caused by the king's neglect to worship properly the god Khnemu, who was supposed to control the springs of the Nile, which were asserted by the sages to be situated between two great rocks on the Island of Elephantine.
The Legend sets forth that the Viceroy of Nubia, in the reign of Tcheser, was a nobleman called Meter, who was also the overseer of all the temple properties in the South. His residence was in Abu, or Elephantine, and in the eighteenth year of his reign the king sent him a despatch in which it was written thus:
"This is to inform thee that misery hath laid hold upon me as I sit upon the great throne, and I grieve for those who dwell in the Great House.
My heart is grievously afflicted by reason of a very great calamity, which is due to the fact that the waters of the Nile have not risen to their proper height for seven years. Grain is exceedingly scarce, there are no garden herbs and vegetables to be had at all, and everything which men use for food hath come to an end. Every man robbeth his neighbour.
The people wish to walk about, but are unable to move.
The baby waileth, the young man shuffleth along on his feet through weakness.
The hearts of the old men are broken down with despair, their legs give way under them, they sink down exhausted on the ground, and they lay their hands on their bellies [in pain].
The officials are powerless and have no counsel to give, and when the public granaries, which ought to contain supplies, are opened, there cometh forth from them nothing but wind.
Everything is in a state of ruin. I go back in my mind to the time when I had an adviser, to the time of the gods, to the Ibis-god [Thoth], and to the chief Kher-heb priest Imhetep (Imouthis), the son of Ptah of his South Wall.
[Tell me, I pray thee], Where is the birthplace of the Nile? What god or what goddess presideth over it?
What kind of form hath the god? For it is he that maketh my revenue, and who filleth the granaries with grain. I wish to go to [consult] the Chief of Het-Sekhmet, whose beneficence strengtheneth all men in their works.
I wish to go into the House of Life, and to take the rolls of the books in my own hands, so that I may examine them [and find out these things]."
Having read the royal despatch the Viceroy Meter set out to go to the king, and when he came to him he proceeded to instruct the king in the matters about which he had asked questions. The text makes the king say:
"[Meter] gave me information about the rise of the Nile, and he told me all that men had written concerning it; and he made clear to me all the difficult passages [in the books], which my ancestors had consulted hastily, and which had never before been explained to any king since the time when Rā [reigned].
And he said to me: There is a town in the river wherefrom the Nile maketh his appearance. 'Abu' was its name in the beginning: it is the City of the Beginning, it is the Name of the City of the Beginning.
It is called 'Netchemtchem ānkh.'
Here are the 'Two Qerti,' which are the two breasts wherefrom every good thing cometh.
Here is the bed of the Nile, here the Nile-god reneweth his youth, and here he sendeth out the flood on the land.
Here his waters rise to a height of twenty-eight cubits; at Hermopolis (in the Delta) their height is seven cubits.
Here the Nile-god smiteth the ground with his sandals, and here he draweth the bolts and throweth open the two doors through which the water poureth forth.
In this town the Nile-god dwelleth in the form of Shu, and he keepeth the account of the products of all Egypt, in order to give to each his due. Here are kept the cord for measuring land and the register of the estates.
Here the god liveth in a wooden house with a door made of reeds, and branches of trees form the roof; its entrance is to the south-east. Round about it are mountains of stone to which quarrymen come with their tools when they want stone to build temples to the gods, shrines for sacred animals, and pyramids for kings, or to make statues.
Here they offer sacrifices of all kinds in the sanctuary, and here their sweet-smelling gifts are presented before the face of the god Khnemu.
In the quarries on the river bank is granite, which is called the 'stone of Abu.'
The names of its gods are:
- Sept (Sothis, the dog-star),
- Hep (the Nile-god),
- and Nephthys.
Here are found precious stones (a list is given),
- ruby, &c.,
- and seeds of plants that are used in making incense.
These were the things which I learned from Meter [the Viceroy]."
Having informed the king concerning the rise of the Nile and the other matters mentioned in his despatch, Meter made arrangements for the king to visit the temple of Khnemu in person. This he did, and the Legend gives us the king's own description of his visit. He says: I entered the temple, and the keepers of the rolls untied them and showed them to me. I was purified by the sprinkling of holy water, and I passed through the places that were prohibited to ordinary folk, and a great offering of cakes, ale, geese, oxen, &c., was offered up on my behalf to the gods and goddesses of Abu. Then I found the god [Khnemu] standing in front of me, and I propitiated him with the offerings that I made unto him, and I made prayer and supplication before him. Then he opened his eyes, and his heart inclined to me, and in a majestic manner he said unto me:
"I am Khnemu who fashioned thee. My two hands grasped thee and knitted together thy body; I made thy members sound, and I gave thee thy heart.
Yet the stones have been lying under the ground for ages, and no man hath worked them in order to build a god-house, to repair the [sacred] buildings which are in ruins, or to make shrines for the gods of the South and North, or to do what he ought to do for his lord, even though I am the Lord [the Creator].
I am Nu, the self-created, the Great God, who came into being in the beginning.
[I am] Hep [the Nile-god] who riseth at will to give health to him that worketh for me.
I am the Governor and Guide of all men, in all their periods, the Most Great, the Father of the gods, Shu, the Great One, the Chief of the earth.
The two halves of heaven are my abode.
The Nile is poured out in a stream by me, and it goeth round about the tilled lands, and its embrace produceth life for every one that breatheth, according to the extent of its embrace....
I will make the Nile to rise for thee, and in no year shall it fail, and it shall spread its water out and cover every land satisfactorily. Plants, herbs, and trees shall bend beneath [the weight of] their produce.
The goddess Rennet (the Harvest goddess) shall be at the head of everything, and every product shall increase a hundred thousandfold, according to the cubit of the year.
The people shall be filled, verily to their hearts' desire, yea, everyone. Want shall cease, and the emptiness of the granaries shall come to an end.
The fertility of the land shall be according to the desire [of the husbandman], and it shall be greater than it hath ever been before."
At the sound of the word "crops" the king awoke, and the courage that then filled his heart was as great as his former despair had been.
Having left the chamber of the god the king made a decree by which he endowed the temple of Khnemu with lands and gifts, and he drew up a code of laws under which every farmer was compelled to pay certain dues to it. Every fisherman and hunter had to pay a tithe. Of the calves cast one tenth were to be sent to the temple to be offered up as the daily offering. Gold, ivory, ebony, spices, precious stones, and woods were tithed, whether their owners were Egyptians or not, but no local tribe was to levy duty on these things on their road to Abu.
Every artisan also was to pay tithe, with the exception of those who were employed in the foundry attached to the temple, and whose occupation consisted in making the images of the gods. The king further ordered that a copy of this decree, the original of which was cut in wood, should be engraved on a stele to be set up in the sanctuary, with figures of Khnemu and his companion gods cut above it. The man who spat upon the stele [if discovered] was to be "admonished with a rope."
V. The Legend of the Wanderings of Isis
The god Osiris, as we have seen in the chapter on the Egyptian Religion in the accompanying volume, lived and reigned at one time upon earth in the form of a man. His twin-brother Set was jealous of his popularity, and hated him to such a degree that he contrived a plan whereby he succeeded in putting Osiris to death. Set then tried to usurp his brother's kingdom and to make himself sole lord of Egypt, and, although no text states it distinctly, it is clear that he seized his brother's wife, Isis, and shut her up in his house.
Isis was, however, under the protection of the god Thoth, and she escaped with her unborn child, and the following Legend describes the incidents that befell her, and the death and revivification of Horus. It is cut in hieroglyphs upon a large stone stele which was made for Ānkh-Psemthek, a prophet of Nebun in the reign of Nectanebus I, who reigned from 373 B.C. to 360 B.C. The stele was dug up in 1828 at Alexandria, and was given to Prince Metternich by Muhammad Alī Pāsha; it is now commonly known as the "Metternich Stele."
The Legend is narrated by the goddess herself, who says:
I am Isis. I escaped from the dwelling wherein my brother Set placed me. Thoth, the great god, the Prince of Truth in heaven and on earth, said unto me:
"Come, O goddess Isis [hearken thou], it is a good thing to hearken, for he who is guided by another liveth. Hide thyself with thy child, and these things shall happen unto him.
His body shall grow and flourish, and strength of every kind shall be in him. He shall sit upon his father's throne, he shall avenge him, and he shall hold the exalted position of 'Governor of the Two Lands.'"
I left the house of Set in the evening, and there accompanied me Seven Scorpions, that were to travel with me, and sting with their stings on my behalf. Two of them, Tefen and Befen, followed behind me, two of them, Mestet and Mestetef, went one on each side of me, and three, Petet, Thetet, and Maatet, prepared the way for me.
I charged them very carefully and adjured them to make no acquaintance with any one, to speak to none of the Red Fiends, to pay no heed to a servant (?), and to keep their gaze towards the ground so that they might show me the way. And their leader brought me to Pa-Sui, the town of the Sacred Sandals, at the head of the district of the Papyrus Swamps.
When I arrived at Teb I came to a quarter of the town where women dwelt. And a certain woman of quality spied me as I was journeying along the road, and she shut her door in my face, for she was afraid because of the Seven Scorpions that were with me.
Then they took counsel concerning her, and they shot out their poison on the tail of Tefen. As for me, a peasant woman called Taha opened her door, and I went into the house of this humble woman. Then the scorpion Tefen crawled in under the door of the woman Usert [who had shut it in my face], and stung her son, and a fire broke out in it; there was no water to put it out, but the sky sent down rain, though it was not the time of rain. And the heart of Usert was sore within her, and she was very sad, for she knew not whether her son would live or die; and she went through the town shrieking for help, but none came out at the sound of her voice. And I was sad for the child's sake, and I wished the innocent one to live again. So I cried out to her, saying, Come to me! Come to me! There is life in my mouth.
I am a woman well known in her town. I can destroy the devil of death by a spell which my father taught me. I am his daughter, his beloved one.
Then Isis laid her hands on the child and recited this spell:
"O poison of Tefent, come forth, fall on the ground; go no further.
O poison of Befent, come forth, fall on the ground.
I am Isis, the goddess, the mistress of words of power.
I am a weaver of spells, I know how to utter words so that they take effect.
Hearken to me, O every reptile that biteth (or stingeth), and fall on the ground.
O poison of Mestet, go no further.
O poison of Mestetef, rise not up in his body.
O poison of Petet and Thetet, enter not his body.
O poison of Maatet, fall on the ground.
Ascend not into heaven, I command you by the beloved of Rā, the egg of the goose which appeareth from the sycamore.
My words indeed rule to the uttermost limit of the night.
I speak to you, O scorpions.
I am alone and in sorrow, and our names will stink throughout the nomes....
The child shall live!
The poison shall die!
For Rā liveth and the poison dieth.
Horus shall be saved through his mother Isis, and he who is stricken shall likewise be saved."
Meanwhile the fire in the house of Usert was extinguished, and heaven was content with the utterance of Isis. Then the lady Usert was filled with sorrow because she had shut her door in the face of Isis, and she brought to the house of the peasant woman gifts for the goddess, whom she had apparently not recognised.
The spells of the goddess produced, of course, the desired effect on the poison, and we may assume that the life of the child was restored to him. The second lot of gifts made to Isis represented his mother's gratitude.
Exactly when and how Isis made her way to a hiding place cannot be said, but she reached it in safety, and her son Horus was born there.
The story of the death of Horus she tells in the following words:
"I am Isis. I conceived a child, Horus, and I brought him forth in a cluster of papyrus plants (or, bulrushes). I rejoiced exceedingly, for in him I saw one who would make answer for his father.
I hid him, and I covered him up carefully, being afraid of that foul one [Set], and then I went to the town of Am, where the people gave thanks for me because they knew I could cause them trouble.
I passed the day in collecting food for the child, and when I returned and took Horus into my arms, I found him, Horus, the beautiful one of gold, the boy, the child, lifeless!
He had bedewed the ground with the water of his eye and with the foam of his lips.
His body was motionless, his heart did not beat, and his muscles were relaxed."
Then Isis sent forth a bitter cry, and lamented loudly her misfortune, for now that Horus was dead she had none to protect her, or to take vengeance on Set. When the people heard her voice they went out to her, and they bewailed with her the greatness of her affliction. But though all lamented on her behalf there was none who could bring back Horus to life.
"woman who was well known in her town, a lady who was the mistress of property in her own right,"
went out to Isis, and consoled her, and assured her that the child should live through his mother. And she said,
"A scorpion hath stung him, the reptile Āunab hath wounded him."
Then Isis bent her face over the child to find out if he breathed, and she examined the wound, and found that there was poison in it, and then taking him in her arms,
"she leaped about with him like a fish that is put upon hot coals,"
uttering loud cries of lamentation. During this outburst of grief the goddess Nephthys, her sister, arrived, and she too lamented and cried bitterly over her sister's loss; with her came the Scorpion-goddess Serqet.
Nephthys at once advised Isis to cry out for help to Rā, for, said she, it is wholly impossible for the Boat of Rā to travel across the sky whilst Horus is lying dead.
Then Isis cried out, and made supplication to the Boat of Millions of Years, and the Sun-god stopped the Boat. Out of it came down Thoth, who was provided with powerful spells, and, going to Isis, he inquired concerning her trouble.
"What is it, what is it, O Isis, thou goddess of spells, whose mouth hath skill to utter them with supreme effect? Surely no evil thing hath befallen Horus, for the Boat of Rā hath him under its protection. I have come from the Boat of the Disk to heal Horus."
Then Thoth told Isis not to fear, but to put away all anxiety from her heart, for he had come to heal her child, and he told her that Horus was fully protected because he was the
Dweller in his disk,
and the firstborn son of heaven,
and the Great Dwarf,
and the Mighty Ram,
and the Great Hawk,
and the Holy Beetle,
and the Hidden Body,
and the Governor of the Other World,
and the Holy Benu Bird,
and by the spells of Isis and the names of Osiris and the weeping of his mother and brethren, and by his own name and heart. Turning towards the child Thoth began to recite his spells and said,
"Wake up, Horus! Thy protection is established. Make thou happy the heart of thy mother Isis. The words of Horus bind up hearts and he comforteth him that is in affliction. Let your hearts rejoice, O ye dwellers in the heavens. Horus who avenged his father shall make the poison to retreat.
That which is in the mouth of Rā shall circulate, and the tongue of the Great God shall overcome [opposition]. The Boat of Rā standeth still and moveth not, and the Disk (i.e. the Sun-god) is in the place where it was yesterday to heal Horus for his mother Isis.
Come to earth, draw nigh, O Boat of Rā, O ye mariners of Rā; make the boat to move and convey food of the town of Sekhem (i.e. Letopolis) hither, to heal Horus for his mother Isis....
Come to earth, O poison!
I am Thoth, the firstborn son, the son of Rā.
Tem and the company of the gods have commanded me to heal Horus for his mother Isis.
The poison is as the daughter of its own flame; it is destroyed because it smote the strong son.
Your temples are safe, for Horus liveth for his mother."
Then the child Horus returned to life, to the great joy of his mother, and Thoth went back to the Boat of Millions of Years, which at once proceeded on its majestic course, and all the gods from one end of heaven to the other rejoiced.
Isis entreated either Rā or Thoth that Horus might be nursed and brought up by the goddesses of the town of Pe-Tep, or Buto, in the Delta, and at once Thoth committed the child to their care, and instructed them about his future.
Horus grew up in Buto under their protection, and in due course fought a duel with Set, and vanquished him, and so avenged the wrong done to his father by Set.
VI. The Legend of Khensu-Nefer-Hetep and the Princess of Bekhten
Here for convenience' sake may be inserted the story of the Possessed Princess of Bekhten and the driving out of the evil spirit that was in her by Khensu-Nefer-hetep. The text of the Legend is cut in hieroglyphs on a large sandstone tablet which was discovered by J.F. Champollion in the temple of Khensu at Thebes, and was removed by Prisse d'Avennes in 1846 to Paris, where it is now preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale.
The form of the Legend which we have is probably the work of the priests of Khensu, about 1000 B.C., who wished to magnify their god, but the incidents recorded are supposed to have taken place at the end of the fourteenth century B.C., and there may indeed be historical facts underlying the Legend.
The text states that the king of Egypt, Usermaātrā-setepenrā Rāmeses-meri-Amen, i.e. Rameses II, a king of the nineteenth dynasty about 1300 B.C., was in the country of Nehern, or Mesopotamia, according to his yearly custom, and that the chiefs of the country, even those of the remotest districts from Egypt, came to do homage to him, and to bring him gifts, i.e. to pay tribute.
Their gifts consisted of gold, lapis-lazuli, turquoise, and costly woods from the land of the god, and each chief tried to outdo his neighbour in the magnificence of his gifts. Among these tributary chiefs was the Prince of Bekhten, who, in addition to his usual gift, presented to the king his eldest daughter, and he spake words of praise to the king, and prayed for his life. His daughter was beautiful, and the king thought her the most beautiful maiden in the world, and he gave her the name of Neferu-Rā and the rank of "chief royal wife," i.e. the chief wife of Pharaoh. When His Majesty brought her to Egypt she was treated as the Queen of Egypt.
One day in the late summer, in the fifteenth year of his reign, his Majesty was in Thebes celebrating a festival in honour of Father Amen, the King of the gods, in the temple now known as the Temple of Luxor, when an official came and informed the king that
"an ambassador of the Prince of Bekhten had arrived bearing many gifts for the Royal Wife."
The ambassador was brought into the presence with his gifts, and having addressed the king in suitable words of honour, and smelt the ground before His Majesty, he told him that he had come to present a petition to him on behalf of the Queen's sister, who was called Bentresht (i.e. daughter of joy). The princess had been attacked by a disease, and the Prince of Bekhten asked His Majesty to send a skilled physician to see her.
Straightway the king ordered his magicians (or medicine men) to appear before him, and also his nobles, and when they came he told them that he had sent for them to come and hear the ambassador's request. And, he added, choose one of your number who is both wise and skilful; their choice fell upon the royal scribe Tehuti-em-heb, and the king ordered him to depart to Bekhten to heal the princess.
When the magician arrived in Bekhten he found that Princess Bentresht was under the influence of a malignant spirit, and that this spirit refused to be influenced in any way by him; in fact all his wisdom and skill availed nothing, for the spirit was hostile to him.
Then the Prince of Bekhten sent a second messenger to His Majesty, beseeching him to send a god to Bekhten to overcome the evil spirit, and he arrived in Egypt nine years after the arrival of the first ambassador. Again the king was celebrating a festival of Amen, and when he heard of the request of the Prince of Bekhten he went and stood before the statue of Khensu, called "Nefer-hetep," and he said,
"O my fair lord, I present myself a second time before thee on behalf of the daughter of the Prince of Bekhten."
He then went on to ask the god to transmit his power to Khensu, "Pa-ari-sekher-em-Uast," the god who drives out the evil spirits which attack men, and to permit him to go to Bekhten and release the Princess from the power of the evil spirit. And the statue of Khensu Nefer-hetep bowed its head twice at each part of the petition, and this god bestowed a fourfold portion of his spirit and power on Khensu Pa-ari-sekher-em-Uast.
Then the king ordered that the god should set out on his journey to Bekhten carried in a boat, which was accompanied by five smaller boats and by chariots and horses. The journey occupied seventeen months, and the god was welcomed on his arrival by the Prince of Bekhten and his nobles with suitable homage and many cries of joy.
The god was taken to the place where Princess Bentresht was, and he used his magical power upon her with such good effect that she was made whole at once. The evil spirit who had possessed her came out of her and said to Khensu:
"Welcome, welcome, O great god, who dost drive away the spirits who attack men. Bekhten is thine; its people, both men and women, are thy servants, and I myself am thy servant. I am going to depart to the place whence I came, so that thy heart may be content concerning the matter about which thou hast come. I beseech Thy Majesty to give the order that thou and I and the Prince of Bekhten may celebrate a festival together."
The god Khensu bowed his head as a sign that he approved of the proposal, and told his priest to make arrangements with the Prince of Bekhten for offering up a great offering. Whilst this conversation was passing between the evil spirit and the god the soldiers stood by in a state of great fear. The Prince of Bekhten made the great offering before Khensu and the evil spirit, and the Prince and the god and the spirit rejoiced greatly. When the festival was ended the evil spirit, by the command of Khensu,
"departed to the place which he loved."
The Prince and all his people were immeasurably glad at the happy result, and he decided that he would consider the god to be a gift to him, and that he would not let him return to Egypt. So the god Khensu stayed for three years and nine months in Bekhten, but one day, whilst the Prince was sleeping on his bed, he had a vision in which he saw Khensu in the form of a hawk leave his shrine and mount up into the air, and then depart to Egypt. When he awoke he said to the priest of Khensu,
"The god who was staying with us hath departed to Egypt; let his chariot also depart."
And the Prince sent off the statue of the god to Egypt, with rich gifts of all kinds and a large escort of soldiers and horses. In due course the party arrived in Egypt, and ascended to Thebes, and the god Khensu Pa-ari-sekher-em-Uast went into the temple of Khensu Nefer-hetep, and laid all the gifts which he had received from the Prince of Bekhten before him, and kept nothing for his own temple. This he did as a proper act of gratitude to Khensu Nefer-hetep, whose gift of a fourfold portion of his spirit had enabled him to overcome the power of the evil spirit that possessed the Princess of Bekhten.
Thus Khensu returned from Bekhten in safety, and he re-entered his temple in the winter, in the thirty-third year of the reign of Rameses II. The situation of Bekhten is unknown, but the name is probably not imaginary, and the country was perhaps a part of Western Asia.
The time occupied by the god Khensu in getting there does not necessarily indicate that Bekhten was a very long way off, for a mission of the kind moved slowly in those leisurely days, and the priest of the god would probably be much delayed by the people in the towns and villages on the way, who would entreat him to ask the god to work cures on the diseased and afflicted that were brought to him.
We must remember that when the Nubians made a treaty with Diocletian they stipulated that the goddess Isis should be allowed to leave her temple once a year, and to make a progress through the country so that men and women might ask her for boons, and receive them.
Footnotes and references:
i.e. in the period of summer. The season Shemmu began in April and ended about July 15.
An ancient Cow-goddess of heaven.
A form of Amen-Rā.
About the middle of November.
A district of Herakleopolis.
An allusion to the royal title of Pharaoh, in Egyptian Per-aa, the "Great House," in whom and by whom all the Egyptians were supposed to live.
A famous priest and magician of Memphis, who was subsequently deified.
A part of Memphis.
i.e. Hermopolis, the town of Thoth.
i.e. the library of the temple.
The two caverns which contained the springs of the Nile.
The king was standing before a statue with movable eyes.
i.e. the number of the cubits which the waters of the Nile shall rise.
These places were in the seventh nome of Lower Egypt (Metelites).
Southern Arabia and a portion of the east coast of Africa near Somaliland.