Egyptian Tales 2
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Egyptian Tales is an an anthology of stories from early ancient Egyptian papyri by Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie. Second series covers the period from XVIIIth to XIXth dynasty.

Egyptian Tales

W. M. Flinders Petrie

Translated from the Papyri

Illustrated by Tristram Ellis

Egyptian Tales 2


AS the scope of the first series of these Tales seems to have been somewhat overlooked, a few words of introduction may not be out of place before this second volume.

It seems that any simple form of fiction is supposed to be a “fairy tale:” which implies that it has to do with an impossible world of imaginary beings. Now the Egyptian Tales are exactly the opposite of this, they relate the doings and the thoughts of men and women who are human — sometimes “very human,” as Mr. Balfour said. Whatever there is of supernatural elements is a very part of the beliefs and motives of the people whose lives are here pictured. But most of what is here might happen in some corner of our own country to-day, where ancient beliefs may have a home. So far, then, from being fairy tales there is not a single being that could be termed a fairy in the whole of them.

Another notion that seems to be about is that the only possible object of reading any form of fiction is for pure amusement, to fill an idle hour and be forgotten and if these tales are not as amusing as some jester of to-day, then the idler says, Away with them as a failure! For such a person, who only looks to have the tedium of a vacuous mind relieved, these tales are not in the least intended. But the real and genuine charm of all fiction is that of enabling the reader to place himself in the mental position of, another, to see with the eyes, to feel with the thoughts, to reason with the mind, of a wholly different being. All the greatest work has this charm. It may be to place the reader in new mental positions, or in a different level of the society that he already knows, either higher or lower; or it may be to make alive to him a society of a different land or age. Whether he read “Treasure Island” or “Plain Tales from the Hills,” “The Scarlet Letter,” “Old Mortality,” or “Hypatia,” it is the transplanting of the reader into a new life, the doubling of his mental experience, that is the very power of fiction. The same interest attaches to these tales. In place of regarding Egyptians only as the builders of pyramids and the makers of mummies, we here see the men and women as they lived, their passions, their foibles, their beliefs, and their follies. The old refugee Sanehat craving to be buried with his ancestors in the blessed land, the enterprise and success of the Doomed Prince, the sweetness of Bata, the misfortunes of Ahura, these all live before us, and we can for a brief half hour share the feelings and see with the eyes of those who ruled the world when it was young. This is the real value of these tales, and the power which still belongs to the oldest literature in the world.

XVIIIth Dynasty

The Taking of Joppa

There was once in the time of King Men-kheper-ra a revolt of the servants of his majesty who were in Joppa; and his majesty said, “Let Tahutia go with his footmen and destroy this wicked Foe in Joppa.” And he called one of his followers, and said moreover, “Hide thou my great cane, which works wonders, in the baggage of Tahutia that my power may go with him.”

Now when Tahutia came near to Joppa, with all the footmen of Pharaoh, he sent unto the Foe in Joppa, and said, “Be hold now his majesty, King Men-kheper-ra, has sent all this great army against thee; but what is that if my heart is as thy heart? Do thou come, and let us talk in the field, and see each other face to face.” So Tahutia came with certain of his men; and the Foe in Joppa came likewise, but his charioteer that was with him was true of heart unto the king of Egypt. And they spoke with one another in his great tent, which Tahutia had placed far off from the soldiers. But Tahutia had made ready two hundred sacks, with cords and fetters, and had made a great sack of skins with bronze fetters, and many baskets: and they were in his tent, the sacks and the baskets, and he had placed them as the forage for the horses is put in baskets. For whilst the Foe in Joppa drank with Tahutia, the people who were with him drank with the footmen of Pharaoh, and made merry with them. And when their bout of drinking was past, Tahutia said to the Foe in Joppa, “If it please thee, while I remain with the women and children of thy own city, let one bring of my people with their horses, that they may give them provender, or let one of the Apuro run to fetch them.” So they came, and hobbled their horses, and gave them provender, and one found the great cane of Men-kheper-ra (Tahutmes III.), and came to tell of it to Tahutia. And thereupon the Foe in Joppa said to Tahutia, “My heart is set on examining the great cane of Men-kheper-ra, which is named ‘… tautnefer.’ By the ka of the King Men-kheper-ra it will be in thy hands to-day; now do thou well and bring thou it to me.” And Tahutia did thus, and he brought the cane of King Men-kheper-ra. And he laid hold on the Foe in Joppa by his garment, and he arose and stood up, and said, “Look on me, O Foe in Joppa; here is the great cane of King Men-kheper-ra, the terrible lion, the son of Sekhet, to whom Amen his father gives power and strength.” And he raised his hand and struck the forehead of the Foe in Joppa, and he fell helpless before him. He put him in the sack of skins and he bound with gyves the hands of the Foe in Joppa, and put on his feet the fetters with four rings. And he made them bring the two hundred sacks which he had cleaned, and made to enter into them two hundred soldiers, and filled the hollows with cords and fetters of wood, he sealed them with a seal, and added to them their rope-nets and the poles to bear them. And he put every strong footman to bear them, in all six hundred men, and said to them, “When you come into the town you shall open your burdens, you shall seize on all the inhabitants of the town, and you shall quickly put fetters upon them.”

Smiting theFoe Smiting the Foe

The two hundred sacksThe two hundred sacks

Then one went out and said unto the charioteer of the Foe in Joppa, “Thy master is fallen; go, say to thy mistress, ‘A pleasant message! For Sutekh has given Tahutia to us, with his wife and his children; behold the beginning of their tribute,’ that she may comprehend the two hundred sacks, which are full of men and cords and fetters.” So he went before them to please the heart of his mistress, saying, “We have laid hands on Tahutia.” Then the gates of the city were opened before the footmen: they entered the city, they opened their burdens, they laid hands on them of the city, both small and great, they put on them the cords and fetters quickly; the power of Pharaoh seized upon that city. After he had rested Tahutia sent a message to Egypt to the King Men-kheper-ra his lord, saying, “Be pleased, for Amen thy good father has given to thee the Foe in Joppa, together with all his people, likewise also his city. Send, therefore, people to take them as captives that thou mayest fill the house of thy father Amen Ra, king of the gods, with men-servants and maid-servants, and that they may be overthrown beneath thy feet for ever and ever.”


This tale of the taking of Joppa appears to be probably on an historical basis. Tahutia was a well-known officer of Tahutmes III.; and the splendid embossed dish of weighty gold which the king presented to him is one of the principal treasures of the Louvre museum. It is ornamented with groups of fish in the flat bottom, and a long inscription around the side.

Unfortunately the earlier part of this tale has been lost; but in order to render it intelligible I have restored an opening to it, without introducing any details but what are alluded to, or necessitated, by the existing story. The original text begins at the star.

It is evident that the basis of the tale is the stratagem of the Egyptian general, offering to make friends with the rebel of Joppa, while he sought to trap him. To a Western soldier such an unblushing offer of being treacherous to his master the king would be enough to make the good faith of his proposals to the enemy very doubtful. But in the East offers of wholesale desertion are not rare. In Greek history it was quite an open question whether Athens or Persia would retain a general’s service; in Byzantine history a commander might be in favour with the Khalif one year and with the Autokrator the next; and in the present century the entire transfer of the Turkish fleet to Mohammed Ali in 1840 is a grand instance of such a case.

The scheme of taking a fortress by means of smuggling in soldiers hidden in packages has often recurred in history; but this taking of Joppa is the oldest tale of the kind yet known. Following this we have the wooden horse of Troy. Then comes in mediaeval times the Arab scheme for taking Edessa, in 1038 A.D., by a train of five hundred camels bearing presents for the Autokrator at Constantinople. The governor of Edessa declined to admit such travellers, and a bystander, hearing some talking in the baskets slung on the camels, soon gave the alarm, which led to the destruction of the whole party; the chief alone, less hands, ears, and nose, being left to take the tale back to Bagdad. And in fiction there are the stories of a lady avenging her husband by introducing men hidden in skins, and the best known version of all in the “Arabian Nights,” of Ali Baba and the thieves.

It appears from the tale that the conference of Tahutia with the rebel took place between the town and the Egyptian army, but near the town. Then Tahutia proposes to go into the town as a pledge of his sincerity, while the men of the town were to supply his troops with fodder. But he appears to have remained talking with the rebel in the tent, until the lucky chance of the stick turned up. This cleared the way for a neater management of his plan, by enabling him to quietly make away with the chief, without exciting his suspicions beforehand.

The name of the cane of the king is partly illegible; but we know how many actual sticks and personal objects have their own names inscribed on them. Nothing had a real entity to the Egyptian mind without an individual name belonging to it.

The message sent by the charioteer presupposes that he was in the secret; and he must therefore have been an Egyptian who had not heartily joined in the rebellion. From the conclusion we see that the captives taken as slaves to Egypt were by no means only prisoners of war, but were the ordinary civil inhabitants of the conquered cities, “them of the city, both small and great.”

The gold dish which the king gave to the tomb of Tahuti is so splendid that it deserves some notice, especially as it has never been published in England. It is circular, about seven inches across, with vertical sides an inch high. The inside of the bottom bears a boss and rosette in the centre, a line of swimming fish around that, and beyond all a chain of lotus flowers. On the upright edge is an incised inscription, “Given in praise by the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Ra-men-kheper, to the hereditary chief, the divine father, the beloved by God, filling the heart of the king in all foreign lands and in the isles in the midst of the great sea, filling stores with lazuli, electrum, and gold, keeper of all foreign lands, keeper of the troops, praised by the good gold lord of both lands and his ka, — the royal scribe Tahuti deceased.” This splendid piece of gold work was therefore given in honour of Tahuti at his funeral, to be placed in his tomb for the use of his ka. The weight of it is very nearly a troy pound, being 5,729 grains or four utens. The allusion on it to the Mediterranean wars of Tahuti, “satisfying the king in all foreign lands and in the isles in the midst of the great sea,” is just in accord with this tale of the conquest of Joppa.

Beside this golden bowl there are many other objects from Tahuti’s tomb which must have been very rich, and have escaped plundering until this century. A silver dish, broken, and a canopic jar of alabaster, are in Paris; another canopic jar, a palette, a kohl vase, and a heart scarab set in gold, are in Leyden; while in Darmstadt is the dagger of this great general. This piece of a popular tale founded on an incident of his Syrian wars has curiously survived, while the more solid official records of his conquests has perished in the wreck of history. His tomb even is unknown, although it has been plundered; perhaps his active life of foreign service did not give him that leisure to carve and decorate it, which was so laboriously spent by the home-living dignitaries of Thebes.

Close of the XVIIIth Dynasty

The Doomed Prince

There once was a king to whom no son was born; and his heart was grieved, and he prayed for himself unto the gods around him for a child. They decreed that one should be born to him. And his wife, after her time was fulfilled, brought forth a son. Then came the Hathors to decree for him a destiny; they said, “His death is to be by the crocodile, or by the serpent, or by the dog.” Then the people who stood by heard this, and they went to tell it to his majesty. Then his majesty’s heart sickened very greatly. And his majesty caused a house to be built upon the desert; it was furnished with people and with all good things of the royal house, that the child should not go abroad. And when the child was grown, he went up upon the roof, and he saw a dog; it was following a man who was walking on the road. He spoke to his page, who was with him, “What is this that walks behind the man who is coming along the road?” He answered him, “This is a dog.” The child said to him, “Let there be brought to me one like it.” The page went to repeat it to his majesty. And his majesty said, “Let there be brought to him a little pet dog, lest his heart be sad.” And behold they brought to him the dog.

The prince’s house The prince’s house

Then when the days increased after this, and when the child became grown in all his limbs, he sent a message to his father saying, “Come, wherefore am I kept here? Inasmuch as I am fated to three evil fates, let me follow my desire. Let God do what is in His heart.” They agreed to all he said, and gave him all sorts of arms, and also his dog to follow him, and they took him to the east country, and said to him, “Behold, go thou whither thou wilt.” His dog was with him, and he went northward, following his heart in the desert, while he lived on all the best of the game of the desert. He went to the chief of Naha-raina.

And behold there had not been any born to the chief of Naharaina, except one daughter. Behold, there had been built for her a house; its seventy windows were seventy cubits from the ground. And the chief caused to be brought all the sons of the chiefs of the land of Khalu, and said to them, “He who reaches the window of my daughter, she shall be to him for a wife.”

Going into the desertGoing into the desert

The climbing suitors The climbing suitors

And many days after these things, as they were in their daily task, the youth rode by the place where they were. They took the youth to their house, they bathed him, they gave provender to his horses, they brought all kinds of things for the youth, they perfumed him, they anointed his feet, they gave him portions of their own food; and they spake to him, “Whence comest thou, goodly youth?” He said to them, “I am son of an officer of the land of Egypt; my mother is dead, and my father has taken another wife. And when she bore children, she grew to hate me, and I have come as a fugitive from before her.” And they embraced him, and kissed him.

And after many days were passed, he said to the youths, “What is it that ye do here?” And they said to him, “We spend our time in this: we climb up, and he who shall reach the window of the daughter of the chief of Naharaina, to him will he given her to wife.” He said to them, “If it please you, let me behold the matter, that I may come to climb with you.” They went to climb, as was their daily wont: and the youth stood afar off to behold; and the face of the daughter of the chief of Naharaina was turned to them. And another day the sons came to climb, and the youth came to climb with the sons of the chiefs. He climbed, and he reached the window of the daughter of the chief of Naharaina. She kissed him, she embraced him in all his limbs.

And one went to rejoice the heart of her father, and said to him, “One of the people has reached the window of thy daughter.” And the prince inquired of the messenger, saying, “The son of which of the princes is it?” And he replied to him, “It is the son of an officer, who has come as a fugitive from the land of Egypt, fleeing from before his stepmother when she had children.” Then the chief of Naharaina was exceeding angry; and he said, “Shall I indeed give my daughter to the Egyptian fugitive? Let him go back whence he came.” And one came to tell the youth, “Go back to the place thou earnest from.” But the maiden seized his hand; she swore an oath by God, saying, “By the being of Ra Harakhti, if one takes him from me, I will not eat, I will not drink, I shall die in that same hour.” The messenger went to tell unto her father all that she said. Then the prince sent men to slay the youth, while he was in his house. But the maiden said, “By the being of Ra, if one slay him I shall be dead ere the sun goeth down. I will not pass an hour of life if I am parted from him.” And one went to tell her father. Then the prince made them bring the youth with the maiden. The youth was seized with fear when he came before the prince. But he embraced him, he kissed him all over, and said, “Oh! tell me who thou art; behold, thou art to me as a son.” He said to him, “I am a son of an officer of the land of Egypt; my mother died, my father took to him a second wife; she came to hate me, and I fled a fugitive from before her.” He then gave to him his daughter to wife; he gave also to him a house, and serfs, and fields, also cattle and all manner of good things.

Reaching the windowReaching the window

Love’s rescueLove’s rescue

But after the days of these things were passed, the youth said to his wife, “I am doomed to three fates — a crocodile, a serpent, and a dog.” She said to him, “Let one kill the dog which belongs to thee.” He replied to her, “I am not going to kill my dog, which I have brought up from when it was small.” And she feared greatly for her husband, and would not let him go alone abroad.

And one went with the youth toward the land of Egypt, to travel in that country. Behold the crocodile of the river, he came out by the town in which the youth was. And in that town was a mighty man. And the mighty man would not suffer the crocodile to escape. And when the crocodile was bound, the mighty man went out and walked abroad. And when the sun rose the mighty man went back to the house; and he did so every day, during two months of days.

Now when the days passed after this, the youth sat making a good day in his house.

And when the evening came he lay down on his bed, sleep seized upon his limbs; and his wife filled a bowl of milk, and placed it by his side. Then came out a serpent from his hole, to bite the youth; behold his wife was sitting by him, she lay not down. Thereupon the servants gave milk to the serpent, and he drank, and was drunk, and lay upside down. Then his wife made it to perish with the blows of her dagger. And they woke her husband, who was astonished; and she said unto him, “Behold thy God has given one of thy dooms into thy hand; He will also give thee the others.” And he sacrificed to God, adoring Him, and praising His spirits from day to day.

The bowl of milkThe bowl of milk

And when the days were passed after these things, the youth went to walk in the fields of his domain. He went not alone, behold his dog was following him. And his dog ran aside after the wild game, and he followed the dog. He came to the river, and entered the river behind his dog. Then came out the crocodile, and took him to the place where the mighty man was. And the crocodile said to the youth, “I am thy doom, following after thee.…”

[Here the papyrus breaks off.]


This tale is preserved in one of the Harris papyri (No. 500) in the British Museum. It has been translated by Goodwin, Chabas, Maspero, and Ebers. The present version is adapted from that of Maspero, with frequent reference by Mr. Griffith to the original.

The marvellous parentage of a fated or gifted hero is familiar in Eastern tales, and he is often described as a divine reward to a long-childless king. This element of fate or destiny is, however, not seen before this age in Egyptian ideas; nor, indeed, would it seem at all in place with the simple, easygoing, joyous life of the early days. It belongs to an age when ideals possess the mind, when man struggles against his circumstances, when he wills to be different from what he is. Dedi or the shipwrecked sailor think nothing about fate, but live day by day as life comes to them. There is here, then, a new element, that of striving and of unrest, quite foreign to the old Egyptian mind. The age of this tale is shown plainly in the incidents. The prince goes to the chief of Naharaina, a land probably unknown to the Egyptians until the Asiatic conquests of the XVIIIth Dynasty had led them to the upper waters of the Euphrates. In earlier days Sanehat fled to the frontier at the Wady Tumilat, and was quite lost to Egypt when he settled in the south of Palestine. But when the Doomed Prince goes out of Egypt he goes to the chief of Naharaina, as the frontier State. This stamps the tale as subsequent to the wars of the Tahutimes family, and reflects rather the peaceful intercourse of the great monarch Amenhotep the Third. If it belonged to the Ramessides we should not hear of Naharaina, which was quite lost to them, but rather of Dapur (Tabor) and Kadesh, and of the Hittites as the familiar frontier power.

The Hathors here appear as the Fates, instead of the goddesses Isis, Nebhat, Mes-khent, and Hakt, of the old tale in the IVth Dynasty (see first series, p. 33); and we find in the next tale of Anpu and Bata, in the XIXth Dynasty, that the seven Hathors decree the fate of the wife of Bata. That Hathor should be a name given to seven deities is not strange when we see that Hathor was a generic name for a goddess. There was the Hathor of foreign lands, such as Punt or Sinai; there was the Hathor of home towns, as Dendera or Atfih; and Hathor was as widely known, and yet as local, as the Madonna. In short, to one of the races which composed the Egyptian people Hathor was the term for any goddess, or for a universal goddess to whom all others were assimilated. Why and how this title “house of Horus” should be so general is not obvious.

The variety of fate here predicted is like the vagueness of the fate of Bata’s wife, by “a sharp death.” It points to the Hathors predicting as seers, rather than to their having the control of the future. It bears the stamp of the oracle of Delphi, rather than that of a divine decree. In this these goddesses differ greatly from the Parcae, whose ordinances not even Zeus could withstand, as Lucian lets us know in one of the most audacious and philosophical of the dialogues. The Hathors seem rather to deal with what we should call luck than with fate: they see the nature of the close of life from its beginning, without either knowing or controlling its details.

In this tale we meet for the first time the idea of inaccessible and mysterious buildings; and from the resort to this element or curiosity in describing both the prince and the princess, it appears as if it were then a new motive in story-telling, and had not lost its power. To modern ears it is, of course, done to death since the “Castle of Otranto”; though as a minor element it can still be gently used by the poet and novelist in a moated grange, a house in a marsh or a maze. Another point of wonder, so well known in later times, is the large and mystic number of windows, like the 365 windows attributed to great buildings of the present age. It would not be difficult from these papyrus tales to start an historical dictionary of the elements of fiction: a kind of analysis that should be the death of much of the venerable stock-in-trade.

We see coming in here, more strongly than before, the use of emotions and the force of character. The generous friendship of the sons of the Syrian chiefs; then the burst of passionate love from the chiefs daughter, which saves the prince’s life twice over from her father, and guards him afterwards from his fates; again, the devotion of the prince to his favourite dog, in spite of all warnings — these show a reliance on personal emotion and feeling in creating the interest of the tale, quite different from the mere interest of incident which was employed earlier. The reason which the prince alleges for his leaving Egypt is also a touch of nature, the wish of a mother to oust her stepson in order to make way for her own children, one of the deepest and most elemental feelings of feminine nature.

The mighty man and the crocodile are difficult to understand, the more so as the tale breaks off in the midst of that part. It appears also as if there had been some inversion of the paragraphs; for, first, we read that the wife would not let the prince go alone, and one goes with him toward Egypt, and the crocodile of the Nile (apparently) is mentioned; then he is said to be sitting in his house with his wife; then he goes in the fields of his domain and meets the crocodile. It may be that a passage has dropped out, describing his wife’s accompanying him to settle in Egypt. But the mighty man — that is another puzzle. He binds a crocodile, and goes out while he is bound, but by night. The point of this is not clear. It may have been, however, that the mighty man went back to the house when the sun was high, that he might not lose his shadow. In Arabia there was a belief that a hyena could deprive a man of speech and motion by stepping on his shadow — analogous to the belief in many other lands of the importance of preserving the shadow, and avoiding the shadowless hour of high noon (Frazer, “Golden Bough,” p. 143). Hence the strength of the mighty man, and his magic power over the crocodile, would perhaps depend on his not allowing his shadow to disappear. And though Egypt is not quite tropical, yet shadows do practically vanish in the summer, the shadow of the thin branches of a tall palm appearing to radiate round its root without the stem casting any shade.

The use of milk to entice serpents is still well known in Egypt; and when a serpent appeared in some of my excavations in a pit, the men proposed to me to let down a saucer of milk to entice it out, that they might kill it.

The close of the tale would have explained much that is now lost to us. The crocodile boasts of being the fate of the prince; but his dog is with him, and one can hardly doubt that the dog attacks the crocodile. There is also the mighty man to come in and manage the crocodile. Then the dog is left to bring about the catastrophe. Or does the faithful wife rescue him from all the fates? Hardly so, as the prediction of the Hathors comes strictly to pass in the tale of Anpu and Bata. Let us hope that another copy may be found to give us the clue to the working of the Egyptian mind in this situation.

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