One of the most interesting tales that have come down to us in Egyptian dress is the tale commonly called the "Tale of the Two Brothers." It is found written in the hieratic character upon a papyrus preserved in the British Museum (D'Orbiney, No. 10,183), and the form which the story has there is that which was current under the nineteenth dynasty, about 1300 B.C. The two principal male characters in the story, Anpu and Bata, were originally gods, but in the hands of the Egyptian story-teller they became men, and their deeds were treated in such a way as to form an interesting fairy story.
It is beyond the scope of this little book to treat of the mythological ideas that underlie certain parts of the narrative, and we therefore proceed to give a rendering of this very curious and important "fairy tale."
Image: A Page of the Hieratic Text of the Tale of Two Brothers.
It is said that there were two brothers, [the children] of one mother and of one father; the name of the elder was Anpu, and Bata was the name of the younger. Anpu had a house and a wife, and Bata lived with him like a younger brother. It was Bata who made the clothes; he tended and herded his cattle in the fields, he ploughed the land, he did the hard work during the time of harvest, and he kept the account of everything that related to the fields.
And Bata was a most excellent farmer, and his like there was not in the whole country-side; and behold, the power of the God was in him.
And very many days passed during which Anpu's young brother tended his flocks and herds daily, and he returned to his house each evening loaded with field produce of every kind.
And when he had returned from the fields, he set [food] before his elder brother, who sat with his wife drinking and eating, and then Bata went out to the byre and [slept] with the cattle. On the following morning as soon as it was day, Bata took bread-cakes newly baked, and set them before Anpu, who gave him food to take with him to the fields.
Then Bata drove out his cattle into the fields to feed, and [as] he walked behind them they said unto him,
"The pasturage is good in such and such a place,"
and he listened to their voices, and took them where they wished to go. Thus the cattle in Bata's charge became exceedingly fine, and their calves doubled in number, and they multiplied exceedingly. And when it was the season for ploughing Anpu said unto Bata,
"Come, let us get our teams ready for ploughing the fields, and our implements, for the ground hath appeared, and it is in the proper condition for the plough.
Go to the fields and take the seed-corn with thee to-day, and at daybreak to-morrow we will do the ploughing";
this is what he said to him. And Bata did everything which Anpu had told him to do. The next morning, as soon as it was daylight, the two brothers went into the fields with their teams and their ploughs, and they ploughed the land, and they were exceedingly happy as they ploughed, from the beginning of their work to the very end thereof.
Now when the two brothers had been living in this way for a considerable time, they were in the fields one day [ploughing], and Anpu said to Bata,
"Run back to the farm and fetch some [more] seed corn."
And Bata did so, and when he arrived there he found his brother's wife seated dressing her hair. And he said to her,
"Get up and give me some seed corn that I may hurry back to the fields, for Anpu ordered me not to loiter on the way."
Anpu's wife said to him,
"Go thyself to the grain shed, and open the bin, and take out from it as much corn as thou wishest; I could fetch it for thee myself, only I am afraid that my hair would fall down on the way."
Then the young man went to the bin, and filled a very large jar full of grain, for it was his desire to carry off a large quantity of seed corn, and he lifted up on his shoulders the pot, which was filled full of wheat and barley, and came out of the shed with it. And Anpu's wife said to him,
"How much grain hast thou on thy shoulders?"
And Bata said to her,
"Three measures of barley and two measures of wheat, in all five measures of grain; that is what I have on my shoulders."
These were the words which he spake to her. And she said to him,
"How strong thou art! I have been observing thy vigorousness day by day."
And her heart inclined to him, and she entreated him to stay with her, promising to give him beautiful apparel if he would do so. Then the young man became filled with fury like a panther of the south because of her words, and when she saw how angry he was she became terribly afraid. And he said to her,
"Verily thou art to me as my mother, and thy husband is as my father, and being my elder brother he hath provided me with the means of living.
Thou hast said unto me what ought not to have been said, and I pray thee not to repeat it. On my part I shall tell no man of it, and on thine thou must never declare the matter to man or woman."
Then Bata took up his load on his shoulders, and departed to the fields. And when he arrived at the place where his elder brother was they continued their ploughing and laboured diligently at their work.
And when the evening was come the elder brother returned to his house. And having loaded himself with the products of the fields, Bata drove his flocks and herds back to the farm and put them in their enclosures.
And behold, Anpu's wife was smitten with fear, because of the words which she had spoken to Bata, and she took some grease and a piece of linen, and she made herself to appear like a woman who had been assaulted, and who had been violently beaten by her assailant, for she wished to say to her husband,
"Thy young brother hath beaten me sorely."
And when Anpu returned in the evening according to his daily custom, and arrived at his house, he found his wife lying on the ground in the condition of one who had been assaulted with violence. She did not [appear to] pour water over his hands according to custom, she did not light a light before him; his house was in darkness, and she was lying prostrate and sick.
And her husband said unto her,
"Who hath been talking to thee?"
And she said unto him,
"No one hath been talking to me except thy young brother. When he came to fetch the seed corn he found me sitting alone, and he spake words of love to me, and he told me to tie up my hair.
But I would not listen to him, and I said to him, 'Am I not like thy mother? Is not thy elder brother like thy father?' Then he was greatly afraid, and he beat me to prevent me from telling thee about this matter.
Now, if thou dost not kill him I shall kill myself, for since I have complained to thee about his words, when he cometh back in the evening what he will do [to me] is manifest."
Then the elder brother became like a panther of the southern desert with wrath. And he seized his dagger, and sharpened it, and went and stood behind the stable door, so that he might slay Bata when he returned in the evening and came to the byre to bring in his cattle. And when the sun was about to set Bata loaded himself with products of the field of every kind, according to his custom, [and returned to the farm].
And as he was coming back the cow that led the herd said to Bata as she was entering the byre,
"Verily thy elder brother is waiting with his dagger to slay thee; flee thou from before him";
and Bata hearkened to the words of the leading cow. And when the second cow as she was about to enter into the byre spake unto him even as did the first cow, Bata looked under the door of the byre, and saw the feet of his elder brother as he stood behind the door with his dagger in his hand. Then he set down his load upon the ground, and he ran away as fast as he could run, and Anpu followed him grasping his dagger.
And Bata cried out to Rā-Harmakhis (the Sun-god) and said,
"O my fair Lord, thou art he who judgeth between the wrong and the right."
And the god Rā hearkened unto all his words, and he caused a great stream to come into being, and to separate the two brothers, and the water was filled with crocodiles. Now Anpu was on one side of the stream and Bata on the other, and Anpu wrung his hands together in bitter wrath because he could not kill his brother.
Then Bata cried out to Anpu on the other bank, saying,
"Stay where thou art until daylight, and until the Disk (i.e. the Sun-god) riseth. I will enter into judgment with thee in his presence, for it is he who setteth right what is wrong.
I shall never more live with thee, and I shall never again dwell in the place where thou art. I am going to the Valley of the Acacia."
And when the day dawned, and there was light on the earth, and Rā-Harmakhis was shining, the two brothers looked at each other. And Bata spake unto Anpu, saying,
"Why hast thou pursued me in this treacherous way, wishing to slay me without first hearing what I had to say? I am thy brother, younger than thou art, and thou art as a father and thy wife is as a mother to me. Is it not so?
When thou didst send me to fetch seed corn for our work, it was thy wife who said,
'I pray thee to stay with me,'
but behold, the facts have been misrepresented to thee, and the reverse of what happened hath been put before thee."
Then Bata explained everything to Anpu, and made him to understand exactly what had taken place between him and his brother's wife. And Bata swore an oath by Rā-Harmakhis, saying,
"By Rā-Harmakhis, to lie in wait for me and to pursue me, with thy knife in thy hand ready to slay me, was a wicked and abominable thing to do."
And Bata took [from his side] the knife which he used in cutting reeds, and drove it into his body, and he sank down fainting upon the ground. Then Anpu cursed himself with bitter curses, and he lifted up his voice and wept; and he did not know how to cross over the stream to the bank where Bata was because of the crocodiles.
And Bata cried out to him, saying,
"Behold, thou art ready to remember against me one bad deed of mine, but thou dost not remember my good deeds, or even one of the many things that have been done for thee by me.
Shame on thee!
Get thee back to thy house and tend thine own cattle, for I will no longer stay with thee.
I am going to cast a spell on my heart, so that I may be able to place it on a flower of the Acacia tree. When this Acacia is cut down my heart shall fall to the ground, and thou shalt come to seek for it.
Thou shalt pass seven years in seeking for it, but let not thy heart be sick with disappointment, for thou shalt find it. When thou findest it, place it in a vessel of cold water, and verily my heart shall live again, and shall make answer to him that attacketh me.
And thou shalt know what hath happened to me [by the following sign].
A vessel of beer shall be placed in thy hand, and it shall froth and run over; and another vessel with wine in it shall be placed [in thy hand], and it shall become sour. Then make no tarrying, for indeed these things shall happen to thee."
So the younger brother departed to the Valley of the Acacia, and the elder brother departed to his house. And Anpu's hand was laid upon his head, and he cast dust upon himself [in grief for Bata], and when he arrived at his house he slew his wife, and threw her to the dogs, and he sat down and mourned for his young brother.
And when many days had passed, Bata was living alone in the Valley of the Acacia, and he spent his days in hunting the wild animals of the desert; and at night he slept under the Acacia, on the top of the flowers of which rested his heart.
And after many days he built himself, with his own hand, a large house in the Valley of the Acacia, and it was filled with beautiful things of every kind, for he delighted in the possession of a house.
And as he came forth [one day] from his house, he met the Company of the Gods, and they were on their way to work out their plans in their realm.
And one of them said unto him,
"Hail, Bata, thou Bull of the gods, hast thou not been living here alone since the time when thou didst forsake thy town through the wife of thy elder brother Anpu?
Behold, his wife hath been slain [by him], and moreover thou hast made an adequate answer to the attack which he made upon thee";
and their hearts were very sore indeed for Bata.
Then Rā-Harmakhis said unto Khnemu,
And Khnemu made a wife to live with Bata, and her body was more beautiful than the body of any other woman in the whole country, and the essence of every god was in her; and the Seven Hathor Goddesses came to her, and they said,
"She shall die by the sword."
And Bata loved her most dearly, and she lived in his house, and he passed all his days in hunting the wild animals of the desert so that he might bring them and lay them before her. And he said to her,
"Go not out of the house lest the River carry thee off, for I know not how to deliver thee from it.
My heart is set upon the flower of the Acacia, and if any man find it I must do battle with him for it";
and he told her everything that had happened concerning his heart.
And many days afterwards, when Bata had gone out hunting as usual, the young woman went out of the house and walked under the Acacia tree, which was close by, and the River saw her, and sent its waters rolling after her; and she fled before them and ran away into her house. And the River said,
"I love her,"
and the Acacia took to the River a lock of her hair, and the River carried it to Egypt, and cast it up on the bank at the place where the washermen washed the clothes of Pharaoh, life, strength, health [be to him]! And the odour of the lock of hair passed into the clothing of Pharaoh.
Then the washermen of Pharaoh quarrelled among themselves, saying,
"There is an odour [as of] perfumed oil in the clothes of Pharaoh."
And quarrels among them went on daily, and at length they did not know what they were doing. And the overseer of the washermen of Pharaoh walked to the river bank, being exceedingly angry because of the quarrels that came before him daily, and he stood still on the spot that was exactly opposite to the lock of hair as it lay in the water. Then he sent a certain man into the water to fetch it, and when he brought it back, the overseer, finding that it had an exceedingly sweet odour, took it to Pharaoh.
And the scribes and the magicians were summoned into the presence of Pharaoh, and they said to him,
We therefore pray thee send ambassadors into every land to seek her out. And as concerning the ambassador to the Valley of the Acacia, we beg thee to send a strong escort with him to fetch her."
And His Majesty said unto them,
"What we have decided is very good,"
and he despatched the ambassadors.
And when many days had passed by, the ambassadors who had been despatched to foreign lands returned to make a report to His Majesty, but those who had gone to the Valley of the Acacia did not come back, for Bata had slain them, with the exception of one who returned to tell the matter to His Majesty.
Then His Majesty despatched foot-soldiers and horsemen and charioteers to bring back the young woman, and there was also with them a woman who had in her hands beautiful trinkets of all kinds, such as are suitable for maidens, to give to the young woman.
And this woman returned to Egypt with the young woman, and everyone in all parts of the country rejoiced at her arrival. And His Majesty loved her exceedingly, and he paid her homage as the Great August One, the Chief Wife.
And he spake to her and made her tell him what had become of her husband, and she said to His Majesty,
"I pray thee to cut down the Acacia Tree and then to destroy it."
Then the King caused men and bowmen to set out with axes to cut down the Acacia, and when they arrived in the Valley of the Acacia, they cut down the flower on which was the heart of Bata, and he fell down dead at that very moment of evil.
And on the following morning when the light had come upon the earth, and the Acacia had been cut down, Anpu, Bata's elder brother, went into his house and sat down, and he washed his hands; and one gave him a vessel of beer, and it frothed up, and the froth ran over, and one gave him another vessel containing wine, and it was sour.
Then he grasped his staff, and [taking] his sandals, and his apparel, and his weapons which he used in fighting and hunting, he set out to march to the Valley of the Acacia. And when he arrived there he went into Bata's house, and he found his young brother there lying dead on his bed; and when he looked upon his young brother he wept on seeing that he was dead.
Then he set out to seek for the heart of Bata, under the Acacia where he was wont to sleep at night, and he passed three years in seeking for it but found it not.
And when the fourth year of his search had begun, his heart craved to return to Egypt, and he said,
"I will depart thither to-morrow morning";
that was what he said to himself. And on the following day he walked about under the Acacia all day long looking for Bata's heart, and as he was returning [to the house] in the evening, and was looking about him still searching for it, he found a seed, which he took back with him, and behold, it was Bata's heart.
Then he fetched a vessel of cold water, and having placed the seed in it, he sat down according to his custom. And when the night came, the heart had absorbed all the water; and Bata [on his bed] trembled in all his members, and he looked at Anpu, whilst his heart remained in the vessel of water. And Anpu took up the vessel wherein was his brother's heart, which had absorbed the water.
And Bata's heart ascended its throne [in his body], and Bata became as he had been aforetime, and the two brothers embraced each other, and each spake to the other.
And Bata said to Anpu,
"Behold, I am about to take the form of a great bull, with beautiful hair, and a disposition (?) which is unknown. When the sun riseth, do thou mount on my back, and we will go to the place where my wife is, and I will make answer [for myself].
Then shalt thou take me to the place where the King is, for he will bestow great favours upon thee, and he will heap gold and silver upon thee because thou wilt have brought me to him.
For I am going to become a great and wonderful thing, and men and women shall rejoice because of me throughout the country."
And on the following day Bata changed himself into the form of which he had spoken to his brother.
Then Anpu seated himself on his back early in the morning, and when he had come to the place where the King was, and His Majesty had been informed concerning him, he looked at him, and he had very great joy in him.
And he made a great festival, saying,
and the people rejoiced everywhere throughout the whole country. And Pharaoh loaded Anpu with silver and gold, and he dwelt in his native town, and the King gave him large numbers of slaves, and very many possessions, for Pharaoh loved him very much, far more than any other person in the whole land.
And when many days had passed by the bull went into the house of purification, and he stood up in the place where the August Lady was, and said unto her,
"Look upon me, I am alive in very truth."
And she said unto him,
"Who art thou?"
And he said unto her,
"I am Bata. When thou didst cause the Acacia which held my heart to be destroyed by Pharaoh, well didst thou know that thou wouldst kill me.
Nevertheless, I am alive indeed, in the form of a bull. Look at me!"
And the August Lady was greatly afraid because of what she had said concerning her husband [to the King]; and the bull departed from the place of purification. And His Majesty went to tarry in her house and to rejoice with her, and she ate and drank with him; and the King was exceedingly happy.
And the August Lady said to His Majesty,
"Say these words:
'Whatsoever she saith I will hearken unto for her sake,'
and swear an oath by God that thou wilt do them."
And the King hearkened unto everything which she spake, saying,
"I beseech thee to give me the liver of this bull to eat, for he is wholly useless for any kind of work."
And the King cursed many, many times the request which she had uttered, and Pharaoh's heart was exceedingly sore thereat.
On the following morning, when it was day, the King proclaimed a great feast, and he ordered the bull to be offered up as an offering, and one of the chief royal slaughterers of His Majesty was brought to slay the bull.
And after the knife had been driven into him, and whilst he was still on the shoulders of the men, the bull shook his neck, and two drops of blood from it fell by the jambs of the doorway of His Majesty, one by one jamb of Pharaoh's door, and the other by the other, and they became immediately two mighty acacia trees, and each was of the greatest magnificence.
"Two mighty acacia trees, whereat His Majesty will marvel exceedingly, have sprung up during the night by the Great Door of His Majesty."
And men and women rejoiced in them everywhere in the country, and the King made offerings unto them. And many days after this His Majesty put on his tiara of lapis-lazuli, and hung a wreath of flowers of every kind about his neck, and he mounted his chariot of silver-gold, and went forth from the Palace to see the two acacia trees. And the August Lady came following after Pharaoh [in a chariot drawn by] horses, and His Majesty sat down under one acacia, and the August Lady sat under the other.
And when she had seated herself the Acacia spake unto his wife, saying,
"O woman, who art full of guile, I am Bata, and I am alive even though thou hast entreated me evilly.
Well didst thou know when thou didst make Pharaoh to cut down the Acacia that held my heart that thou wouldst kill me, and when I transformed myself into a bull thou didst cause me to be slain."
And several days after this the August Lady was eating and drinking at the table of His Majesty, and the King was enjoying her society greatly, and she said unto His Majesty,
"Swear to me an oath by God, saying, I will hearken unto whatsoever the August Lady shall say unto me for her sake; let her say on."
And he hearkened unto everything which she said, and she said,
"I entreat thee to cut down these two acacia trees, and to let them be made into great beams";
and the King hearkened unto everything which she said. And several days after this His Majesty made cunning wood-men to go and cut down the acacia trees of Pharaoh, and whilst the August Lady was standing and watching their being cut down, a splinter flew from one of them into her mouth, and she knew that she had conceived, and the King did for her everything which her heart desired.
And many days after this happened she brought forth a man child, and one said to His Majesty,
"A man child hath been born unto thee";
and a nurse was found for him and women to watch over him and tend him, and the people rejoiced throughout the whole land. And the King sat down to enjoy a feast, and he began to call the child by his name, and he loved him very dearly, and at that same time the King gave him the title of "Royal son of Kash." Some time after this His Majesty appointed him "Erpā" of the whole country. And when he had served the office of Erpā for many years, His Majesty flew up to heaven (i.e. he died).
And the King (i.e. Bata) said,
"Let all the chief princes be summoned before me, so that I may inform them about everything which hath happened unto me."
And they brought his wife, and he entered into judgment with her, and the sentence which he passed upon her was carried out. And Anpu, the brother of the King, was brought unto His Majesty, and the King made him Erpā of the whole country. When His Majesty had reigned over Egypt for twenty years, he departed to life (i.e. he died), and his brother Anpu took his place on the day in which he was buried.
Here endeth the book happily [in] peace.
Under the heading of this chapter may well be included the Story of the Shipwrecked Traveller. The text of this remarkable story is written in the hieratic character upon a roll of papyrus, which is preserved in the Imperial Library at St. Petersburg. It is probable that a layer of facts underlies the story, but the form in which we have it justifies us in assigning to it a place among the fairy stories of Ancient Egypt.
Prefixed to the narrative of the shipwrecked traveller is the following:
"A certain servant of wise understanding hath said, Let thy heart be of good cheer, O prince.
Verily we have arrived at [our] homes. The mallet hath been grasped, and the anchor-post hath been driven into the ground, and the bow of the boat hath grounded on the bank. Thanksgivings have been offered up to God, and every man hath embraced his neighbour.
Our sailors have returned in peace and safety, and our fighting men have lost none of their comrades, even though we travelled to the uttermost parts of Uauat (Nubia), and through the country of Senmut (Northern Nubia). Verily we have arrived in peace, and we have reached our own land [again].
Hearken, O prince, unto me, even though I be a poor man. Wash thyself, and let water run over thy fingers.
I would that thou shouldst be ready to return an answer to the man who addresseth thee, and to speak to the King [from] thy heart, and assuredly thou must give thine answer promptly and without hesitation. The mouth of a man delivereth him, and his words provide a covering for [his] face.
Act thou according to the promptings of thine heart, and when thou hast spoken [thou wilt have made him] to be at rest."
The shipwrecked traveller then narrates his experiences in the following words: I will now speak and give thee a description of the things that [once] happened to me myself [when] I was journeying to the copper mines of the king.
I went down into the sea in a ship that was one hundred and fifty cubits (225 feet) in length, and forty cubits (60 feet) in breadth, and it was manned by one hundred and fifty sailors who were chosen from among the best sailors of Egypt. They had looked upon the sky, they had looked upon the land, and their hearts were more understanding than the hearts of lions.
Now although they were able to say beforehand when a tempest was coming, and could tell when a squall was going to rise before it broke upon them, a storm actually overtook us when we were still on the sea. Before we could make the land the wind blew with redoubled violence, and it drove before it upon us a wave that was eight cubits (12 feet) [high].
A plank was driven towards me by it, and I seized it; and as for the ship, those who were therein perished, and not one of them escaped.
Then a wave of the sea bore me along and cast me up upon an island, and I passed three days there by myself, with none but mine own heart for a companion; I laid me down and slept in a hollow in a thicket, and I hugged the shade.
And I lifted up my legs (i.e. I walked about), so that I might find out what to put in my mouth, and I found there figs and grapes, and all kinds of fine large berries; and there were there gourds, and melons, and pumpkins as large as barrels (?), and there were also there fish and water-fowl.
There was no [food] of any sort or kind that did not grow in this island. And when I had eaten all I could eat, I laid the remainder of the food upon the ground, for it was too much for me [to carry] in my arms.
I then dug a hole in the ground and made a fire, and I prepared pieces of wood and a burnt-offering for the gods.
And I heard a sound [as of] thunder, which I thought to be [caused by] a wave of the sea, and the trees rocked and the earth quaked, and I covered my face.
And I found [that the sound was caused by] a serpent that was coming towards me. It was thirty cubits (45 feet) in length, and its beard was more than two cubits in length, and its body was covered with [scales of] gold, and the two ridges over its eyes were of pure lapis-lazuli (i.e. they were blue); and it coiled its whole length up before me.
And it opened its mouth to me, now I was lying flat on my stomach in front of it, and it said unto me,
"Who hath brought thee hither?
Who hath brought thee hither, O miserable one?
Who hath brought thee hither?
If thou dost not immediately declare unto me who hath brought thee to this island, I will make thee to know what it is to be burnt with fire, and thou wilt become a thing that is invisible.
Thou speakest to me, but I cannot hear what thou sayest; I am before thee, dost thou not know me?"
Then the serpent took me in its mouth, and carried me off to the place where it was wont to rest, and it set me down there, having done me no harm whatsoever; I was sound and whole, and it had not carried away any portion of my body.
And it opened its mouth to me whilst I was lying flat on my stomach, and it said unto me,
"Who hath brought thee thither?
Who hath brought thee hither, O miserable one?
Who hath brought thee to this island of the sea, the two sides of which are in the waves?"
"I am one who was travelling to the mines on a mission of the king in a ship that was one hundred and fifty cubits long, and fifty cubits in breadth, and it was manned by a crew of one hundred and fifty men, who were chosen from among the best sailors of Egypt.
They had looked upon the sky, they had looked upon the earth, and their hearts were more understanding than the hearts of lions.
They were able to say beforehand when a tempest was coming, and to tell when a squall was about to rise before it broke.
The heart of every man among them was wiser than that of his neighbour, and the arm of each was stronger than that of his neighbour; there was not one weak man among them. Nevertheless it blew a gale of wind whilst we were still on the sea and before we could make the land.
A gale rose, which continued to increase in violence, and with it there came upon [us] a wave eight cubits [high].
A plank of wood was driven towards me by this wave, and I seized it; and as for the ship, those who were therein perished and not one of them escaped alive [except] myself.
And now behold me by thy side! It was a wave of the sea that brought me to this island."
And the serpent said unto me,
"Have no fear, have no fear, O little one, and let not thy face be sad, now that thou hast arrived at the place where I am. Verily, God hath spared thy life, and thou hast been brought to this island where there is food. There is no kind of food that is not here, and it is filled with good things of every kind.
Verily, thou shalt pass month after month on this island, until thou hast come to the end of four months, and then a ship shall come, and there shall be therein sailors who are acquaintances of thine, and thou shalt go with them to thy country, and thou shalt die in thy native town."
[And the serpent continued,]
"What a joyful thing it is for the man who hath experienced evil fortunes, and hath passed safely through them, to declare them! I will now describe unto thee some of the things that have happened unto me on this island.
I used to live here with my brethren, and with my children who dwelt among them; now my children and my brethren together numbered seventy-five. I do not make mention of a little maiden who had been brought to me by fate. And a star fell [from heaven], and these (i.e. his children, and his brethren, and the maiden) came into the fire which fell with it.
I myself was not with those who were burnt in the fire, and I was not in their midst, but I [well-nigh] died [of grief] for them. And I found a place wherein I buried them all together.
Now, if thou art strong, and thy heart flourisheth, thou shalt fill both thy arms (i.e. embrace) with thy children, and thou shalt kiss thy wife, and thou shalt see thine own house, which is the most beautiful thing of all, and thou shalt reach thy country, and thou shalt live therein again together with thy brethren, and dwell therein."
Then I cast myself down flat upon my stomach, and I pressed the ground before the serpent with my forehead, saying,
"I will describe thy power to the King, and I will make him to understand thy greatness.
I will cause to be brought unto thee the unguent and spices called aba, and hekenu, and inteneb, and khasait, and the incense that is offered up in the temples, whereby every god is propitiated.
I will relate [unto him] the things that have happened unto me, and declare the things that have been seen by me through thy power, and praise and thanksgiving shall be made unto thee in my city in the presence of all the nobles of the country.
I will slaughter bulls for thee, and will offer them up as burnt-offerings, and I will pluck feathered fowl in thine [honour].
And I will cause to come to thee boats laden with all the most costly products of the land of Egypt, even according to what is done for a god who is beloved by men and women in a land far away, whom they know not."
Then the serpent smiled at me, and the things which I had said to it were regarded by it in its heart as nonsense, for it said unto me,
"Thou hast not a very great store of myrrh [in Egypt], and all that thou hast is incense.
Behold, I am the Prince of Punt, and the myrrh which is therein belongeth to me.
And as for the heken which thou hast said thou wilt cause to be brought to me, is it not one of the chief [products] of this island?
And in due course, even as the serpent had predicted, a ship arrived, and I climbed up to the top of a high tree, and I recognised those who were in it. Then I went to announce the matter to the serpent, but I found that it had knowledge thereof already.
And the serpent said unto me,
"A safe [journey], a safe [journey], O little one, to thy house. Thou shalt see thy children [again].
I beseech thee that my name may be held in fair repute in thy city, for verily this is the thing which I desire of thee."
Then I threw myself flat upon my stomach, and my two hands were folded humbly before the serpent. And the serpent gave me a [ship-] load of things, namely, myrrh, heken, inteneb, khasait, thsheps and shaas spices, eye-paint (antimony), skins of panthers, great balls of incense, tusks of elephants, greyhounds, apes, monkeys, and beautiful and costly products of all sorts and kinds.
And when I had loaded these things into the ship, and had thrown myself flat upon my stomach in order to give thanks unto it for the same, it spake unto me, saying,
"Verily thou shalt travel to [thy] country in two months, and thou shalt fill both thy arms with thy children, and thou shalt renew thy youth in thy coffin."
Then I went down to the place on the sea-shore where the ship was, and I hailed the bowmen who were in the ship, and I spake words of thanksgiving to the lord of this island, and those who were in the ship did the same. Then we set sail, and we journeyed on and returned to the country of the King, and we arrived there at the end of two months, according to all that the serpent had said.
And I entered into the presence of the King, and I took with me for him the offerings which I had brought out of the island.
And the King praised me and thanked me in the presence of the nobles of all his country, and he appointed me to be one of his bodyguard, and I received my wages along with those who were his [regular] servants.
Cast thou thy glance then upon me [O Prince], now that I have set my feet on my native land once more, having seen and experienced what I have seen and experienced. Hearken thou unto me, for verily it is a good thing to hearken unto men.
And the Prince said unto me,
"Make not thyself out to be perfect, my friend! Doth a man give water to a fowl at daybreak which he is going to kill during the day?"
Here endeth [The Story of the Shipwrecked Traveller], which hath been written from the beginning to the end thereof according to the text that hath been found written in an [ancient] book. It hath been written (i.e. copied) by Ameni-Amen-āa, a scribe with skilful fingers.
Life, strength, and health be to him!
Footnotes and references:
i.e. the waters of the Inundation had subsided, leaving the ground visible.
The god who fashioned the bodies of men.
i.e. Prince of Kash, or Viceroy of the Sūdān.
i.e. hereditary chief, or heir.
According to the colophon, the papyrus was written for an officer of Pharaoh's treasury, called Qakabu, and the scribes Herua and Meremaptu by Annana, the scribe, the lord of books. The man who shall speak [against] this book shall have Thoth for a foe!
The sea was the Red Sea, and the narrator must have been on his way to Wādī Maghārah or Sarābīt al-Khādim in the Peninsula of Sinai.