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Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt

Page: 84

Tales of Magic

As was only to be expected, a goodly number of Egyptian stories abounded in the magical element. Notably is this the case in the Westcar papyrus written about 1800 B.C. and now in the Berlin Museum. Unluckily both the beginning and end of this manuscript are wanting, yet sufficient of it remains to permit us to glean the purport of the whole. It recounts how Khufu, or Kheops, the famous builder of the great pyramid at Gizeh, gathered his sons and his councillors[Pg 198] around him and asked if any of them were aware of a man who could recount to him tales of the magicians. His son Khafra, in reply, stated that he was aware of one such tale, which had been handed down from the days of the king's forefather Nebka, and that it dealt with what occurred when he went into the temple of Ptah of Ankhtaui. Whilst proceeding to the temple Nebka turned aside to visit his chief reciter, Uba-aner. He was followed by his retinue, among whom was a certain page, with whom Uba-aner's wife fell in love, and sent her servant to him with a present of a chest full of beautiful raiment. They met clandestinely in a summer-house or pavilion in the garden of Uba-aner, where they quaffed wine and made merry. But the steward of the house considered it his duty to inform his master of these happenings, and Uba-aner, being a man versed in magic, resolved to avenge himself thereby. He called for his casket of ebony and electrum, and when they had brought it he fashioned a crocodile of wax of the length of seven fingers, and he laid a spell upon it; and toward evening the page went to the lake, which was in the garden, to bathe, whereupon, acting on his master's instructions, the steward threw in the waxen crocodile behind him. At once it became a great crocodile, seven cubits in length, and, opening its horrid jaws, seized on the page and dragged him under. During this time the king had been staying with Uba-aner, and at the end of seven days he went forth again. As he was about to leave the house Uba-aner requested him to come and see the marvel which had happened. They went to the lake-side, and the reciter called upon the crocodile, which at once arose from the water holding the page.

"O king," said Uba-aner, "whatever I desire this crocodile to do, he will do." The king requested[Pg 199] that the animal should be returned to the water; but Uba-aner lifted the crocodile in his hand, and straightway it turned to wax again. He then acquainted the king with what had passed between the page and his wife, and the monarch indignantly ordered the crocodile once more to seize the page, which it immediately did, plunging into the water with its prey and disappearing for ever. Nebka then commanded that the wife of Uba-aner be brought forth and that she be burned with fire and her ashes cast into the river.


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