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An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 110

Book of the Dead[1] is of great indirect value to mythology. It treats of the manner in which the soul of the deceased Egyptian should comport itself in the Otherworld, and also relates the voyage of Ra-Osiris through the realms of night, mentioning numerous deities and spirits who accompany him in his progress. Of this book there were three recensions or versions, the Heliopolitan, the Theban, and the Saïte. The first-mentioned was edited by the priests of the college of On, or Heliopolis, and was based on manuscripts which were probably ancient even in that far-away time. The pyramids of Unas, Teta, and Pepi contain the original texts of this recension. Chapters were added from time to time between the VIth and XIth Dynasties. The favourite version of the Book of the Dead from the XVIIIth to the XXIInd Dynasty was the Theban recension, and the Saïte must be still later, by its arrangement. As has been said, the Book of the Dead has greatly assisted students of Egyptian myth. Not only does it describe many of the gods and supernatural beings who inhabit the Underworld, but it paints vivid pictures of the scenery of that gloomy region. It was necessary that the dead Egyptian should know the name of every door, door-keeper, watcher, and questioner in the abode of the dead, and those names greatly assist in discovering the exact character of the multitude of beings who inhabited the regions ruled over by Osiris.

Several papyri provide us with mythological items, notably the Westcar Papyrus, written about 1800 B.C., now in the Berlin Museum. The beginning and the end are wanting, yet sufficient remains to show the trend of the whole. Among the several tales it contains is the "Prophecy of Dedi," which recounts the[Pg 247] birth of the sons of Ra. In the history of Setne and his son Se-Osiris, too, we get several mythological glimpses, especially valuable being the vision of Amenti, the abode of the dead, vouchsafed to the child Se-Osiris. From a secret place in the mountains of Memphis he led his father to seven great halls (filled with people of all conditions), symbolic of Amenti. These various halls or circles remind us of the abode of the damned in Dante's 'Malebolge.' In the sixth hall the gods of Amenti held council, and in the seventh sat the god Osiris, with Thoth and Anubis. A judgment scene is described, corresponding to that in the Book of the Dead; and parallels such as these provide that 'test of recurrence' insisted upon by Tylor, and the first tenet in the creed of all good mythologists—not, of course, that this recurrence suitably illustrates Tylor's law—i.e., that if mythological phenomena on which a certain theory is based 'recur' in a far distant place the correctness of that theory is proved. Here similar facts only 'recur' concerning the same subject in the accounts of different contemporary writers; but these accounts are therefore almost certain to mirror the current belief on that subject, unless, of course, internal evidence reveals that one writer has slavishly copied from the other.

THE TWO BROTHERS

The "Story of the Two Brothers" contained in the D'Orbiney Papyrus, bought in Italy and acquired by the British Museum in 1857, provides us with a story of great significance to the students of myth and comparative religion. It will be found in the volume of this series which deals with Egyptian mythology, and it is only necessary to state in this place that there were two brothers, Anapou and Bitou, that Anapou's wife sought Bitou's life, and that Bitou had to flee. After meeting the nine gods and receiving the 'Daughter of the gods' for his wife, it was intimated to him by the Seven Hathors that he should die by the sword. He confided to his wife that he had placed his heart, or life,[2] on the summit of an acacia-tree, and that whoever discovered it there would have to[Pg 248] meet him in combat. It came to the ears of Pharaoh that Bitou had a beautiful wife, and he sent armed men to kill him, but Bitou slew them all. Pharaoh then enticed the girl away. She told him her husband's secret, and he cut down the acacia-tree, whereupon Bitou expired. His brother, opening the tree, discovered therein a berry, which he placed in cold water, and Bitou was restored to life. He then took the shape of a sacred Apis bull, which was led before Pharaoh. The animal entered the harem and addressed his former wife, telling her who he was. She put pressure upon the King to slaughter it, and when this was done, two big drops of blood fell from the animal's neck and became two great trees, one at either side of Pharaoh's portal. Sacrifices were offered to these, and Pharaoh with his wife, or rather Bitou's wife, was carried in his chair of state to sit under the wonderful trees. But the tree under which Bitou's wife was seated whispered its secret to her, and at her desire the trees were cut down. As this was being done a chip flew into her mouth. In due time she had a son, who was none other than Bitou himself; he succeeded the Pharaoh and put his faithless wife to death.


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