Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt
Khonsu was a lunar deity, and as such was often identified with Thoth. Indeed, at Hermopolis and Edfû the two were occasionally joined under the name of Khonsu-Thoth. The name is derived from the root khens, to traverse, showing that he was the traveller who nightly crossed the heavens. He was depicted as a hawk-headed god crowned with the lunar crescent and the solar disk. Rameses III built him a great temple at Thebes between those of Amen and Mut. He had two distinct forms: Khonsu in Thebes Neferhetep, and Khonsu the carrier out of plans. The Greeks compared Khonsu to Heracles, for what reason it would be difficult to say. Occasionally the Egyptians fused him with Horus, Shu, and Ra, which shows that he could assume a solar character, as is indicated by his hawk-head. It would appear as if Khonsu, originally a moon-god, became also a sun-god when the lunar calendar was merged into or abandoned for the solar method of computation.
The following tale illustrates the healing power of Khonsu:
In the reign of King Rameses there were many fair women in Egypt, but lovelier than them all was the daughter of the prince of Bekhten, one of the king's vassals. Tall and slender and very shapely, of exquisite form and feature, there was nothing on earth with which to compare her beauty, so men compared it with the beauty of Amen-Ra, the great sun-god, the god of the light of day.
Now King Rameses was a great conqueror and a mighty man of valour, who numbered among his vassals princes of no mean degree. These latter came every year to Naharaina, at the mouth of the Euphrates, to do homage to their overlord and to render tribute to him. Rich indeed was the tribute that the king received, for every prince who bowed before him was accompanied by a retinue of slaves bearing treasures of gold and precious stones and sweet-smelling woods, the choicest things that their dominions could afford.
On one such occasion Rameses and his princes were gathered at Naharaina, and the vassals vied with each other in the splendour of their offerings. But the Prince of Bekhten had a treasure which far surpassed that of the others, for he had brought his beautiful daughter, she whose beauty was as that of Amen-Ra. When the king saw her he loved her beyond all else, and wished to make her his wife. For the rest of the tribute he cared nothing, and the homage of the remaining princes was a weariness to him. So he married the princess, and gave to her a name which signifies 'Beauty of Ra.' And when they returned home the queen fulfilled her royal duties as became the Great Royal Wife, and was beloved of her husband and her people.
Now it came about that on the festival of the god Amen, when the sacred barque is born aloft for all to see, the king and queen went up to the temple to do honour to the sun-god. And while they worshipped, attendants sought them with the news that a messenger from the Prince of Bekhten waited without and would have speech with them. The king bade that the messenger be admitted. Rich gifts he bore from the Prince of Bekhten to his daughter, the Great Royal Wife, while to the king he bowed very low, saying:
"Behold, O king, the little sister of the Great Royal[Pg 178] Wife lies ill. I pray thee, therefore, to send a physician to heal her of her malady."
Then the king called his wise men about him and deliberated whom he should send to the succour of his wife's sister. At length the wise men brought before the king one of their number, a scribe named Tehuti-em-heb, who was accordingly appointed to accompany the messenger to Bekhten, there to heal the queen's sister, Bent-reshy.
But, alas! when they reached the domains of the Prince of Bekhten Tehuti-em-heb found that the demon who was the cause of the princess's affliction was far too powerful to be expelled by his skill. When the maid's father heard that the Egyptian scribe was powerless to cast out the demon he fell into despair, thinking his last hope had gone. But Tehuti-em-heb comforted him as best he might, bidding him send once more to Egypt to beseech the intervention of Khonsu, Expeller of Demons, on his daughter's behalf. So the Lord of Bekhten sent yet another messenger to the court of Rameses.