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Tales of Ancient Egypt:
Princess Ahura:
The Magic Book, c. 1100 BCE

We were the two children of the King Merneptah, and he loved us very much, for he had no others; and Naneferkaptah was in his palace as heir over all the land. And when we were grown, the king said to the queen, "I will marry Naneferkaptah to the daughter of a general, and Ahura to the son of another general." And the queen said, "No, he is the heir, let him marry his sister, like the heir of a king, none other is fit for him." And the king said, " That is not fair; they had better be married to the children of the general." And the queen said, "It is you who are not dealing rightly with me." And the king answered, "If I have no more than these two children, is it right that they should marry one another? I will marry Naneferkaptah to the daughter of an officer, and Ahura to the son of another officer. It has often been done so in our family."

And at a time when there was a great feast before the king, they came to fetch me to the feast. And I was very troubled, and did not behave as I used to do. And the king said to me, "Ahura, have you sent some one to me about this sorry matter, saying, "Let me be married to my elder brother?'" I said to him, "Well, let me marry the son of an officer, and he marry the daughter of another officer, as it often happens so in our family." I laughed, and the king laughed. And the king told the steward of the palace,"Let them take Ahura to the house of Naneferkaptah tonight, and all kinds of good things with her." So they brought me as a wife to the house of Naneferkaptah; and the king ordered them to give me presents of silver and gold, and things from the palace.

And Naneferkaptah passed a happy time with me, and received all the presents from the palace; and we loved one another. And when I expected a child, they told the king, and he was most heartily glad; and he sent me many things, and a present of the best silver and gold and linen. And when the time came, I bore this little child that is before you. And they gave him the name of Merab, and registered him in the book of the "House of Life."

And when my brother Naneferkaptah went to the cemetery of Memphis, he did nothing on earth but read the writings that are in the catacombs of the kings and on the tablets of the "House of Life," and the inscriptions that are seen on the monuments, and he worked hard on the writings. And there was a priest there called Nesiptah; and as Naneferkaptah went into a temple to pray, it happened that he went behind this priest, and was reading the inscriptions that were on the chapels of the gods. And the priest mocked him and laughed. So Naneferkaptah said to him, "Why are you laughing at me? "And he replied, "I was not laughing at you, or if I happened to do so, it was at your reading writings that are worthless. If you wish so much to read writings, come to me, and I will bring you to the place where the book is that Thoth himself wrote with his own hand, and which will bring you to the gods. When you read but two pages in this, you will enchant the heaven, the earth, the abyss, the mountains, and the sea; you shall know what the birds of the sky and the crawling things are saying; you shall see the fishes of the deep, for a divine power is there to bring them up out of the depth. And when you read the second page, if you are in the world of ghosts, you will become again in the shape you were in on earth. You will see the sun shining in the sky, with all the gods, and the full moon."

And Naneferkaptah said, "By the life of the king! Tell me of anything you want done, and I'll do it for you, if you will only send me where this book is." And the priest answered Naneferkaptah, "If you want to go to the place where the book is, you must give me a hundred pieces of silver for my funeral, and provide that they shall bury me as a rich priest." So Naneferkaptah called his lad and told him to give the priest a hundred pieces of silver; and he made them do as he wished, even everything that he asked for. Then the priest said to Naneferkaptah, "This book is in the middle of the river at Koptos, in an iron box; in the iron box is a bronze box; in the bronze box is a sycamore box; in the sycamore box is an ivory and ebony box; in the ivory and ebony box is a silver box; in the silver box is a golden box; and in that is the book. It is twisted all round with snakes and scorpions and all the other crawling things around the box in which the book is; and there is a deathless snake by the box." And when the priest told Naneferkaptah, he did not know where on earth he was, he was so much delighted.

And when he came from the temple, he told me all that had happened to him. And he said, "I shall go to Koptos, for I must fetch this book; I will not stay any longer in the north." And I said, "Let me dissuade you, for you prepare sorrow and you will bring me into trouble in the Thebaid." And I laid my hand on Naneferkaptah, to keep him from going to Koptos, but he would not listen to me; and he went to the king, and told the king all that the priest had said. The king asked him, "What is it that you want?" And he replied, "Let them give me the royal boat with its belongings, for I will go to the south with Ahura and her little boy Merab, and fetch this book without delay." So they gave him the royal boat with its belongings, and we went with him to the haven, and sailed from there up to Koptos.

Then the priests of Isis of Koptos, and the high priest of Isis, came down to us without waiting, to meet Naneferkaptah, and their wives also came to me. We went into the temple of Isis and Harpokrates; and Naneferkaptah brought an ox, a goose, and some wine, and made a burnt offering and a drink offering before Isis of Koptos and Harpokrates. They brought us to a very fine house, with all good things; and Naneferkaptah spent four days there and feasted with the priests of Isis of

Koptos, and the wives of the priests of Isis also made holiday with me.

And the morning of the fifth day came; and Naneferkaptah called a priest to him, and made a magic cabin that was full of men and tackle. He put the spell upon it and put life into it, and gave them breath, and sank it in the water. He filled the royal boat with sand, and took leave of me, and sailed from the haven: and I sat by the river at Koptos that I might see what would become of him. And he said, "Workmen, work for me, even at the place where the book is." And they toiled by night and by day; and when they had reached it in three days, he threw the sand out and made a shoal in the river. And then he found on it entwined serpents and scorpions, and all kinds of crawling things around the box in which the book was; and by it he found a deathless snake around the box. And he laid the spell upon the entwined serpents and scorpions and all kinds of crawling things which were around the box, that they would not come out. And he went to the deathless snake, and fought with him, and killed him; but he came to life again, and took a new form. He then fought again with him a second time; but he came to life again, and took a third form. He then cut him in two parts, and put sand between the parts, that he should not appear again.

Naneferkaptah then went to the place where he found the box. He uncovered a box of iron, and opened it; he found then a box of bronze, and opened that; then he found a box of sycamore wood, and opened that; again he found a box of ivory and ebony, and opened that; yet, he found a box of silver, and opened that; and then he found a box of gold; he opened that, and found the book in it. He took the book from the golden box, and read a page of spells from it. He enchanted the heaven and the earth, the abyss, the mountains, and the sea; he knew what the birds of the sky, the fish of the deep, and the beasts of the hills all said. He read another page of the spells, and saw the sun shining in the sky, with all the gods, the full moon, and the stars in their shapes; he saw the fishes of the deep, for a divine power was present that brought them up from the water. He then read the spell upon the workmen that he had made, and taken from the haven, and said to them, "Work for me, back to the place from which I came." And they toiled night and day, and so he came back to the place where I sat by the river of Koptos; I had not drunk nor eaten anything, and had done nothing on earth, but sat like one who is gone to the grave.

I then told Naneferkaptah that I wished to see this book, for which we had taken so much trouble. He gave the book into my hands; and when I read a page of the spells in it, I also enchanted heaven and earth, the abyss, the mountains, and the sea; I also knew what the birds of the sky, the fishes of the deep, and the beasts of the hills all said. I read another page of the spells, and I saw the sun shining in the sky with all the gods, the full moon, and the stars in their shapes; I saw the fishes of the deep, for a divine power was present that brought them up from the water. As I could not write, I asked Naneferkaptah, who was a good writer and a very learned one; he called for a new piece of papyrus, and wrote on it all that was in the book before him. He dipped it in beer, and washed it off in the liquid; for he knew that if it were washed off, and he drank it, he would know all that there was in the writing.

We went back to Koptos the same day, and made a feast before Isis of Koptos and Harpokrates. We then went to the haven and sailed, and went northward of Koptos. And as we went on, Thoth discovered all that Naneferkaptah had done with the book; and Thoth hastened to tell Ra, and said, "Now, know that my book and my revelation are with Naneferkaptah, son of the King Merneptah. He has forced himself into my place, and robbed it, and seized my box with the writings, and killed my guards who protected it." And Ra replied to him, "He is before you, take him and all his kin." He sent a power from heaven with the command, "Do not let Naneferkaptah return safe to Memphis with all his kin." And after this hour, the little boy Merab, going out from the awning of the royal boat, fell into the river: he called on Ra, and everybody who was on the bank raised a cry. Naneferkaptah went out of the cabin, and read the spell over him; he brought the body up because a divine power brought him to the surface. He read another spell over him, and made him tell of all that happened to him, and of what Thoth had said before Ra. We turned back with him to Koptos. We brought him to the Good House, we fetched the people to him, and made one embalm him; and we buried him in his coffin in the cemetery of Koptos like a great and noble person.

And Naneferkaptah, my brother, said, "Let us go down, let us not delay, for the king has not yet heard of what has happened to him, and his heart will be sad about it." So we went to the haven, we sailed, and did not stay to the north of Koptos. When we were come to the place where the little boy Merab had fallen into the water, I went out from the awning of the royal boat, and I fell into the river. They called Naneferkaptah, and he came out from the cabin of the royal boat. He read a spell over me, and brought my body up, because a divine power brought me to the surface. He drew me out, and read the spell over me, and made me tell him of all that had happened to me, and of what Thoth had said before Ra. Then he turned back with me to Koptos, he brought me to the Good House, he fetched the people to me, and made one embalm me, as great and noble people are buried, and laid me in the tomb where Merab my young child was.

He turned to the haven, and sailed down, and delayed not in the northof Koptos. When he was come to the place where we fell into the river, he said to his heart, "Shall I not better turn back again to Koptos, that I may lie by them? For if not, when I go down to Memphis, and the king asks after his children, what shall I say to him? Can I tell him, "I have taken your children to the Thebaid and killed them, while I remained alive, and I have come to Memphis still alive?=" Then he made them bring him a linen cloth of striped byssus; he made a band, and bound the book firmly, and tied it upon him. Naneferkaptah then went out of the awning of the royal boat and fell into the river. He cried on Ra; and all those who were on the bank made an outcry, saying, "Great woe! Sad woe! Is he lost, that good scribe and able man that has no equal?"

The royal boat went on without any one on earth knowing where Naneferkaptah was. It went on to Memphis, and they told all this to the king. Then the king went down to the royal boat in mourning, and all the soldiers and high priests and priests of Ptah were in mourning, and all the officials and courtiers. And when he saw Naneferkaptah, who was in the inner cabin of the royal boat---from his rank of high scribe---he lifted him up. And they saw the book by him; and the king said, "Let one hide this book that is with him." And the officers of the king, the priests of Ptah, and the high priest of Ptah, said to the king, "Our Lord, may the king live as long as the sun! Naneferkaptah was a good scribe and a very skillful man." And the king had him laid in his Good House to the sixteenth day, and then had him wrapped to the thirty-fifth day, and laid him out to the seventieth day, and then had him put in his grave in his resting-place.

I have now told you the sorrow which has come upon us because of this book.


Source:

From: Eva March Tappan, ed., The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), Vol. III: Egypt, Africa, and Arabia, trans. W. K. Flinders Petrie, pp. 47-55.

Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof. Arkenberg has modernized the text.


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© Paul Halsall, October 1998
halsall@murray.fordham.edu