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Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt

Page: 106

When the king discovered that thieves were at work he had man-traps placed near the site of the[Pg 238] treasure-house. One night the two brothers came as usual, and one of them was caught in a trap. Seeing his danger, he called his brother and said to him, "We shall both perish and the treasure be lost unless you cut off my head and take it away, so that no one will recognize us as the thieves." The brother did as he advised: he moved the stone back into position, cut off his brother's head and carried it home.

When the king found the headless body he was much disturbed, for there were no traces of entrance to or exit from the treasure-house, and he bethought himself of this expedient: he had the dead body exposed on the city wall and placed a guard round it with instructions to watch and report whoever manifested any sign of grief on seeing the body. This act was contrary to the practice of the Egyptians, who had usually too much respect for the dead to indulge in it. Even in the case of an executed criminal the remains were returned to the relatives to be embalmed. Nevertheless Rhampsinites considered himself justified in adopting this measure. The body was exposed, and the mother, although she did not betray any sign of grief, insisted on her other son bringing it to her; otherwise she threatened to divulge his secret to the king. Seeing that he dared not disobey, the son devised a stratagem. He saddled some asses and loaded them with goatskins full of wine—skins were used in Egypt for water only at most times, wine being held in short narrow vases—he drove the asses past the guard and, when passing, stealthily untied one or two of the skins, and as the wine ran down and flowed on the ground began to beat his head and make a great outcry. The guards ran for vessels to save the precious liquid, and over the catastrophe they became quite friendly with the thief and gave him[Pg 239] meat, for which he offered in exchange one of his skins of wine. They all sat down to drink together, and as they became merry over the wine he offered them the remainder of his wine, which they took and drank until they were quite tipsy. The thief, needless to say, had taken care to remain tolerably sober. After the guards were in a drunken sleep, he waited till nightfall and then cut down his brother's body and took it home on the asses to his mother. Before quitting the guards he shaved off all the hair on one side of their faces.

When the king heard of the trick he was furious, and, determined by fair means or foul to discover its author, he hit upon the following plan. He ordered the princess, his daughter, to receive any man in the land, no matter whom, and to grant him whatever favour he might ask of her, but first she must make him tell her what was the cleverest and wickedest thing he had ever done. When the thief told her his trick she was to have him bound before he could escape. The princess was ready to do her father's bidding, but the thief, knowing well what the king had in his mind, resolved to circumvent him a third time. He cut off the arm of a newly dead man and, hiding it under his robe, obtained admission to the princess. On being asked the question that she put to all comers, he told her first about cutting off his brother's head in the trap, and then went on to tell how, having made the guards tipsy, he had cut down his brother's body. She at once called out and tried to seize him, but he placed in her hand that of the dead man, which she grasped firmly, believing it to be the thief's, and he escaped in the darkness of the room.

The king now owned himself beaten, and offered a free pardon and rich rewards to the man who had so[Pg 240] boldly outwitted him. Trusting to his word, the thief presented himself before the king, and received not only what Rhampsinites had promised, but also the hand of the princess in marriage, for he held the thief to be the cleverest of men in that he had duped the Egyptians, who prided themselves on their astuteness.

Civil War in Egypt: The Theft of the Cuirass

In the reign of the Pharaoh Petoubastis the Delta and great part of Lower Egypt were divided into two rival factions, one part being headed by the chieftain Kamenophis, Prince of Mendes, and the other ruled by the king-priest of Heliopolis, Ierharerou, and his ally Pakrourou, the great chieftain of the east. Only four nomes in the middle of the Delta were subject to Kamenophis, whilst Ierharerou had succeeded in establishing either his children or relations in most of the other nomes. Ierharerou possessed a cuirass to which he attached great value and which was generally regarded as a talisman. At his death Kamenophis, taking advantage of the mourning and confusion in Heliopolis, seized the cuirass and placed it in one of his own strongholds. Prince Pimonî 'the little'—"Pimonî of the strong fist," as he is sometimes called in the narrative—the successor of Ierharerou, demanded its restoration. Kamenophis refused, and hence arose a quarrel in which all the provinces of Egypt were implicated.

Pimonî and Pakrourou both presented themselves before King Petoubastis, asking his permission to be revenged on Kamenophis; but Pharaoh, who knew that this would entail civil war, endeavoured to dissuade Pimonî from taking steps against Kamenophis and, indeed, forbade him to proceed with his intentions, promising as compensation a splendid funeral for[Pg 241] Ierharerou. Unwillingly Pimonî submitted, but after the funeral ceremonies were over resentment still burned within him, and he and Pakrourou, "the great chieftain of the east," returned again to Petoubastis at his court in Tanis. He received them rather impatiently, asking them why they troubled him again and declaring that he would not allow civil war during his reign. They, however, would not be satisfied and said they could not go on with the celebration of the feast that was to follow the religious rites of Ierharerou's funeral until the shield or cuirass was restored to its rightful owner.


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