Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt
Page: 82All at once a terrible uproar like to the rumbling of thunder surprised him out of his equanimity. At first he took it to be the noise of a tempest at sea, but shortly he perceived that the trees shook and that the earth had become violently agitated. Just before him lay a great serpent thirty cubits long, with a beard two cubits in length; its back was covered with scales of gold, and its body was the colour of lapis-lazuli. Terrified, the sailor threw himself on his face before this monster, which regarded him for a moment with its terrible eyes, and then, opening its ponderous jaws, addressed him as follows: "What has brought thee to this island, little one? Speak quickly, and if thou dost not acquaint me with something I have not heard, or knew not before, thou shalt vanish like flame." Without giving the unfortunate mariner time to answer, it raised him[Pg 193] in its jaws and carried him to its lair, where it laid him down gently enough, safe and sound. Once more it demanded of him what power had brought him to that island, and the sailor, trembling in every limb, replied that on his way to the mines of Pharaoh he had been wrecked. On hearing his tale the serpent told him to be of good cheer and not to be afraid; that God had brought him to a blessed island where nothing was lacking, and which was filled with all good things; that in four months' time a ship should come for him; that he should return into Egypt; and that he should die in his own town. To cheer him up the benevolent monster described the island to him. Its population consisted of seventy-five serpents, young and old, and there these beings dwelt in harmony and plenty. The sailor on his part was none the less friendly, and in the goodness of his heart offered to recount to Pharaoh the presence and condition of the serpent island, promising to bring to the monster personally sacred oils and perfumes and the incense with which the gods were honoured. He would also slay asses for him in sacrifice, pluck birds for him, and bring him ships full of the treasures of Egypt.
In reply the serpent merely smiled at him indulgently and a little disdainfully. "Tell me not," he said, "that you are rich in perfumes, for I know that all you have is but ordinary incense. I am Prince of the Land of Punt and possess as much perfume as I require, and let me tell you that when you depart from this place you shall never behold it again, for it shall be changed into waves."
In due time the ship approached, as the serpent had prophesied, and in order to observe by what sort of company it was manned the sailor climbed into a high tree. As it neared the shore the serpent bade him farewell,[Pg 194] and provided him with gifts of precious perfumes, sweet woods, cassia, kohl, incense, ivory tusks, apes, baboons, and all kinds of precious merchandise. Embarking with these, he was finally told by the genius of the island that in two months he should behold his wife and children. The rescued mariner then sailed through Nubia down the Nile to the residence of the Pharaoh, and the tale ends with the request on the part of its narrator that his captain should provide him with an escort so that he might present himself before the Pharaoh and recount his story. The island upon which he had been wrecked was the island of the Ka—that is, the Soul. Such a story would not by any means seem astounding to the ancient Egyptians, among whom many such romances were current. Indeed, so abundant were these, and so many absurd notions did they propagate, that we find the spirit of satire aroused against them in a London papyrus dating about 1250 B.C., which relates an imaginary journey through Palestine and Phœnicia, the aim of which is not to describe the journey itself, but to laugh to scorn the artificialities and absurdities of the popular romances of the day.