Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt

Page: 89

Se-Osiris">The True History of Setne and his son Se-Osiris[7]

This story was discovered written on some papyrus belonging to the British Museum. An English translation was published in 1900 by Mr. F. Ll. Griffiths, and one in French by Sir G. Maspero in 1901. It is written on the back of some official documents in Greek and dates from the seventh year of the Emperor Claudian. The papyrus is much dilapidated and pasted end to end; it is incomplete, and the beginning of the history has disappeared. By the writing one would judge the copy to belong to the latter half of the second century of our era. The Setne alluded to is the same who figures in the story of Setne and the Mummies related in the chapter on Magic.

Once upon a time there was a king called Ousimares,[Pg 207] and he had a son called Setne. This son was a scribe; he was clever with his hands, indeed in all things, and he excelled all men of the world learned in the arts or those among the renowned scribes of Egypt. It happened that the chiefs of certain foreign lands sent a message to Pharaoh challenging him to find one who would do such and such a thing under certain conditions. If this were done, then these chiefs would acknowledge the inferiority of their country to Egypt; but if, on the other hand, neither scribe nor wise man could accomplish it, then they would proclaim the inferiority of Egypt. Now Ousimares called his son Setne and repeated these words to him, and immediately Setne gave the answer to that which the chiefs had propounded, so that the latter were forced to carry out the conditions and admit the superiority of Egypt. And thus were they robbed of their triumph, so great was the wisdom of Setne, and none other ever dared to send such messages to Pharaoh.

Now Setne and his wife Mahîtouaskhît were greatly grieved, for they had no son. One day when he was troubled more than usual over this his wife went to the temple of Imhetep, and she prayed before him, saying, "Turn thy face to me, O Imhetep, son of Ptah, thou who workest miracles, who art beneficent in all thy doings. It is thou who canst give a son to those who are sonless. Oh, hear my prayer, and grant that I shall bear a son!" And that night Mahîtouaskhît slept in the temple, and there she dreamed a dream wherein she was directed to prepare a magical remedy, and told that by this means her desire for a son should be fulfilled. On waking she did all according to her dream, and in time it was known that a child was to be born to her and Setne, who told it before Pharaoh with great joy, while to his wife, for her protection, he gave an amulet and put spells about her.

[Pg 208]

And one night Setne dreamed, and a voice said to him, "Mahîtouaskhît, thy wife, will bring forth a son, and through him many wonders shall be accomplished in the land of Egypt. And the name of thy son shall be Se-Osiris." When Setne awoke and remembered these words he rejoiced and was glad in heart.


In due time a son was born, and according to the dream he was called Se-Osiris. And the child developed rapidly beyond all other children, and Setne loved him so greatly that scarce an hour passed without his seeing him. In time he was put to school, but soon showed that he knew more than the tutor could teach him. He began to read the magical papyri with the priestly scribes in the 'Double House of Life' of the temple of Ptah, and all those about him were lost in astonishment. Then was Setne so pleased that he led his son before Pharaoh to the festival that all the magicians of the king might strive against him and have to acknowledge their defeat.

And one day, when Setne, together with the boy Se-Osiris, was preparing for the festival, loud voices of lamentation rose upon the air, and Setne, looking forth from the terrace of his apartments, saw the body of a rich man being carried to the mountains for burial with great honour and loud wailing. Again he looked forth, and this time he saw the body of a peasant borne along wrapped in a mat of straw and without a soul to mourn him. And seeing this Setne exclaimed, "By the life of Osiris, god of Amenti, may it be that I come into Amenti as this rich man comes, honoured and lamented, and not as the peasant, alone and already forgotten!" Upon hearing this Se-Osiris said, "Nay, my father, rather may the fate of the poor man be[Pg 209] thine, and not that of the rich one!" Setne was astonished and hurt at this and cried, "Are they the words of a son who loves his father?" Se-Osiris answered him: "My father, I will show to thee each in his place, the peasant unwept and the rich man so lamented."

A Vision of Amenti