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Legends Of The Gods The Egyptian Texts, edited with Translations

Page: 23

The legend contained in this remarkable text describes a terrible famine which took place in the reign of Tcheser, a king of the IIIrd Dynasty, and lasted for seven years. Insufficient Nile-floods were, of course, the physical cause of the famine, but the legend shows that the "low Niles" were brought about by the neglect of the Egyptians in respect of the worship of the god of the First Cataract, the great god Khnemu. When, according to the legend, king Tcheser had been made to believe that the famine took place because men had ceased to worship Khnemu in a manner appropriate to his greatness, and when he had taken steps to remove the ground of complaint, the Nile rose to its accustomed height, the crops became abundant once more, and all misery caused by scarcity of provisions ceased. In other words, when Tcheser restored the offerings of Khnemu, and re-endowed his sanctuary and his priesthood, the god allowed Hapi to pour forth his streams from the caverns in the Cataract, and to flood the land with abundance. The general character of the legend, as we have it here, makes it quite certain that it belongs to a late period, and the forms of the hieroglyphics and the spellings of the words indicate that the text was "stunned" on the rock in the reign of one of the Ptolemies, probably at a time when it was to the interest of some men to restore the worship of Khnemu, god of the First Cataract. These interested people could only have been the priests of Khnemu, and the probability that this was so becomes almost a certainty when we read in the latter part of the text the list of the tolls and taxes which they were empowered to levy on the merchants, farmers, miners, etc., whose goods passed down the Cataract into Egypt. Why, if this be the case, they should have chosen to connect the famine with the reign of Tcheser is not clear. They may have wished to prove the great antiquity of the worship of Khnemu, but it would have been quite easy to select the name of some king of the Ist Dynasty, and had they done this, they would have made the authority of Khnemu over the Nile coaeval with Dynastic civilization. It is impossible to assume that no great famine took place in Egypt between the reign of Tcheser and the period when the inscription was made, and when we consider this fact the choice by the editor of the legend of a famine which took place under the IIIrd Dynasty to illustrate the power of Khnemu seems inexplicable.

Of the famines which must have taken place in the Dynastic period the inscriptions tell us nothing, but the story of the seven years' famine mentioned in the Book of Genesis shows that there is nothing improbable in a famine lasting so long in Egypt. Arab historians also mention several famines which lasted for seven years. That which took place in the years 1066-1072 nearly ruined the whole country. A cake of bread was sold for 15 dinanir, (the dinar = 10s.), a horse was sold for 20, a dog for 5, a cat for 3, and an egg for 1 dinar. When all the animals were eaten men began to eat each other, and human flesh was sold in public. "Passengers were caught in the streets by hooks let down from the windows, drawn up, killed, and cooked."[FN#45] During the famine which began in 1201 people ate human flesh habitually. Parents killed and cooked their own children, and a wife was found eating her husband raw. Baby fricassee and haggis of children's heads were ordinary articles of diet. The graves even were ransacked for food. An ox sold for 70 dinanir. [FN#46]


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