Egyptian Tales
Category: History
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Egyptian Tales is an an anthology of stories from early ancient Egyptian papyri by Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie. In the first series, all four chapters begin with the core story, and are concluded with a brief historical context of the tale's historical era and recent scholarship on the story.

Egyptian Tales

W. M. Flinders Petrie

Translated from the Papyri

Illustrated by Tristram Ellis

Egyptian Tales


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales of the Magicians

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

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

Khafra's Tale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The steward and the wax crocodileThe steward and the wax crocodile

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

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

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

Braufra's Tale

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

“And they rowed down the stream and up the stream, and the heart of his majesty was glad with the sight of their rowing. But one of them at the steering struck her hair, and her jewel of new malachite fell into the water. And she ceased her song, and rowed not; and her companions ceased, and rowed not. And his majesty said, ‘Row you not further?’ And they replied, ‘Our little steerer here stays and rows not.’ His majesty then said to her, ‘Wherefore rowest thou not?’ She replied, ‘It is for my jewel of new malachite which is fallen in the water.’ And he said to her, ‘Row on, for behold I will replace it.’ And she answered, ‘But I want my own piece back in its setting.’ And his majesty said, ‘Haste, bring me the chief reciter Zazamankh,’ and they brought him. And his majesty said, ‘Zazamankh, my brother, I have done as thou sayedst, and the heart of his majesty is refreshed with the sight of their rowing. But now a jewel of new malachite of one of the little ones is fallen in the water, and she ceases and rows not, and she has spoilt the rowing of her side. And I said to her, “Wherefore rowest thou not?” and she answered to me, “It is for my jewel of new malachite which is fallen in the water.” I replied to her, “Row on, for behold I will replace it”; and she answered to me, “But I want my own piece again back in its setting.”’ Then the chief reciter Zazamankh spake his magic speech. And he placed one part of the waters of the lake upon the other, and discovered the jewel lying upon a shard; and he took it up and gave it unto its mistress. And the water, which was twelve cubits deep in the middle, reached now to twenty-four cubits after he turned it. And he spake, and used his magic speech; and he brought again the water of the lake to its place. And his majesty spent a joyful day with the whole of the royal house. Then rewarded he the chief reciter Zazamankh with all good things.

Zazamankh finding the jewelZazamankh finding the jewel

Behold, this is a wonder that came to pass in the days of thy father, the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Seneferu, of the deeds of the chief reciter, the scribe of the rolls, Zazamankh.” Then said the majesty of the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Khufu, the blessed, “Let there be presented an offering of a thousand cakes, one hundred draughts of beer, an ox, and two jars of incense to the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Seneferu, the blessed; and let there be given a loaf, a jar of beer, and a jar of incense to the chief reciter, the scribe of the rolls, Zazamankh; for I have seen the token of his learning.” And they did all things as his majesty commanded.

Hordedef leading Dedi to the shipHordedef leading Dedi to the ship

Hordedef’s Tale

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

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

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

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

Dedi enchanting the duckDedi enchanting the duck

And King Khufu said, “And is it true what is said, that thou knowest the number of the designs of the dwelling of Tahuti?” And Dedi replied, “Pardon me, I know not their number, O king (life, wealth, and health), but I know where they are.” And his majesty said, “Where is that?” And Dedi replied, “There is a chest of whetstone in a chamber named the plan-room, in Heli-opolis; they are in this chest.” And Dedi said further unto him, “O king (life, wealth, and health), my lord, it is not I that is to bring them to thee.” And his m’jesty said, “Who, then, is it that shall bring them to me?” And Dedi answered to him, “It is the eldest of the three children who are in the body of Rud-didet who shall bring them to thee.” And his majesty said, “Would that it may be as thou sayest! And who is this Rud-didet?” And Dedi replied, “She is the wife of a priest of Ra, lord of Sakhebu. And she has conceived these three sons by Ra, lord of Sakhebu, and the god has promised her that they shall fulfil this noble office (of reigning) over all this land, and that the eldest of them shall be high priest in Heliopolis.” And his majesty’s heart became troubled for this; but Dedi spake unto him, “What is this that thou thinkest, O king (life, wealth, health), my lord? Is it because of these three children? I tell thee thy son shall reign, and thy son’s son, and then one of them.” His majesty said, “And when shall Rud-didet bear these? “And he replied, “She shall bear them on the 26th of the month Tybi.” And his majesty said, “When the banks of the canal of Letopolis are cut, I will walk there that I may see the temple of Ra, lord of Sakhebu.” And Dedi replied, “Then I will cause that there be four cubits of water by the banks ot the canal of Letopolis.” When his majesty returned to his palace, his majesty said, “Let them place Dedi in the house of the royal son Hordedef, that he may dwell with him, and let them give him a daily portion of a thousand loaves, a hundred draughts of beer, an ox, and a hundred bunches of onions.” And they did everything as his majesty commanded.

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

The goddesses and Khnumo coming to Ra-userThe goddesses and Khnumo coming to Ra-user

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

The goddesses hiding the crownThe goddesses hiding the crown

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

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

The handmaid listening to the festivityThe handmaid listening to the festivity

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

(The rest of the tale is lost.)


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

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

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

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

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

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