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( Originally Published 1913 )
In the Berlin Museum there is a manuscript, known as the Westcar papyrus, containing tales of magicians. It was written in the Middle Kingdom, but refers to a much earlier time, and represents the stories as told to King Khufu (Cheops, the builder of the Great Pyramid) by his sons. Two of these are here given, with slight modifications, from the version by W. M. Flinders Petrie, in his "Egyptian Tales."These remarkable fictions of remote antiquity are in strange contrast with other remains of Egyptian literature, yet are closely akin to Oriental stories of later times.
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."
THE MAGICAL CROCODILE
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 him. 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.
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, ajar 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.
THE LOST JEWEL
The royal son Baufra 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 dawn 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, inlaid with gold, with blades of light wood, inlaid 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 tile chief reciter, Zazamankh,"and they brought him. And his majesty said, "Zazamankh, my brother, I have done as thou saidst, 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. 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.
Note - The Book of Exodus shows the influence of the magicians in the affairs of Egypt. These tales, belonging to a still earlier period, confirm this idea. The transformation of the wax crocodile to a living reptile recalls the story of the magicians' rods changed to serpents. The reciter, who entertains the king with stories, is also the chief scribe of the rolls, that is, keeper of the archives or librarian of the palace, and likewise a powerful magician. Yet his wife, as in tragedies of later date, proves unfaithful, and indicates her illicit choice by a present of garments. A singular vengeance follows detection of the crime. The king approves the reciter's exercise of his power, and orders the guilty wife to be burnt. The second story is of lighter tone, yet not without a trace of Biblical coloring. Even in remote antiquity kings suffered from ennui, and their courtiers were obliged to find diversion for them. Success was liberally rewarded. Respect for the deified ancestor required that he also should be honored with an offering, perhaps only nominal.