Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt

Page: 90

Then Setne demanded of him how he could accomplish this. The child Se-Osiris began to recite words from the magical books, words of power. Next he took his father by the hand and led him to an unknown place in the mountains of Memphis. Here there were seven great halls filled with people of all conditions. They traversed three of these without hindrance. Upon entering the fourth Setne saw a mass of men who rushed hither and thither, writhing as creatures attacked them from behind; others, famished, were springing and jumping in their efforts to reach the food suspended above them, whilst some, again, dug holes at their feet to prevent them attaining their object. In the fifth hall were venerable shades who had each found their proper and fitting place, but those who were accused of crimes lingered kneeling at the door, which pivoted upon the eye of a man who ceaselessly prayed and groaned. In the sixth hall were the gods of Amenti, who sat in council, each in his place, whilst the keepers of the portals called out the causes. In the seventh hall was seated the great god Osiris on a golden throne, crowned with the plumed diadem. On his left was Anubis, and on his right the god Thoth. In the midst were the scales wherein were weighed the faults and virtues of the souls of the dead, while Thoth wrote down the judgment that Anubis pronounced. Then those whose faults outweighed their virtues were delivered to[Pg 210] Amait, the attendant of the Lord of Amenti; their souls and bodies were destroyed for ever. But those whose virtues were greater than their failings took their place among the gods and shades, and there their souls found a heaven. Those, again, whose merits and faults were equal were put amongst the servitors of Sekerosiris.

Then Setne saw near the place of Osiris one of exalted rank and robed in the finest linen. And while Setne was marvelling at all he had seen in the land of Amenti, Se-Osiris, his little son, said unto him, "My father Setne, seest thou that great personage in fine robes and near to Osiris? That peasant whom thou didst see carried out of Memphis without a soul to accompany him, and his body wrapped in a mat, dost thou remember, my father? Well, that peasant is the one beside Osiris! When he had come to Amenti and they weighed his faults and virtues, lo! his virtues outweighed all. And by the judgment of the gods all the honours that had been the share of the rich man were given to the peasant, and by the law of Osiris he takes his place midst the honoured and exalted. But the rich man, when he had come to Hades and his merits were weighed, lo! his faults weighed heavier, and he is that man you have seen upon whose eye pivots the door of the fifth hall, the man who cries and prays aloud with great agony. By the life of Osiris, god of Amenti, if upon earth I said to thee, 'Rather may the fate of the peasant be thine than that of the rich man,' it was because I knew their fates, my father."

And Setne answered and said, "My son Se-Osiris, numberless marvels have I seen in Amenti; but tell me the meaning of those people we saw rushing before creatures who devoured them, and the others ever trying to reach the food beyond their reach."[8]

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Se-Osiris answered him:

"In truth, my father, they are under the curse of the gods; they are those who upon earth wasted their substance, and the creatures who devour them without ceasing are the women with whom they squandered both life and substance, and now they have naught, though they should work day and night. And so it is with all: as they have been on earth, so it is with them in Amenti, according to their good and bad deeds. That is the immutable law of the gods, the law that knows no change and under which all men must come when they enter Hades."

Then Setne and his son returned hand in hand from the mountains of Memphis. A fear was upon Setne because of Se-Osiris, who answered not, and then he pronounced words that exorcize the ghosts of the dead. Always afterward he remembered all he had seen and marvelled thereat, but spoke of it to no man. And when Se-Osiris was twelve years of age there was no scribe or magician in Memphis who was his equal in the reading of the magical books.

The Reading of the Sealed Letter

After this it happened one day that the Pharaoh Ousimares was seated in the Hall of Audience with the princes, the military chiefs, and the nobles of Egypt, each according to his rank, gathered about him. One said unto Pharaoh, "Here is a rascally Ethiopian who would fain have speech with you and who carries a sealed letter." And Pharaoh commanded that the man be brought before him. And when he was come he made obeisance and said, "Here is a sealed letter which I bear, and I would fain know if amongst your wise men there are any who can read its contents without breaking the seals. If, O king, you have not[Pg 212] such a one among your scribes and magicians, I shall take back to my country, the land of the Negro, the story of Egypt's failure and inferiority." Upon hearing these words all were amazed, and those about the king exclaimed loudly, while Pharaoh bade some bring to him his son Setne. When he had come, instantly obeying the royal command and bowing low before him, Pharaoh said, "My son Setne, hast thou heard the words of this insolent Ethiopian?" and then he repeated the challenge. Then was Setne astonished, but he answered immediately, "Great Lord, who can read a letter without its being opened and spread before him? But if you will give me ten days, I will think upon it and do what I can to avoid the report of Egypt's failure being carried to the Negroes, eaters of gum." And Pharaoh said, "Those days are granted, my son." Then were rooms appointed for the Ethiopian, and Pharaoh rose from his palace sad at heart and went fasting to his couch.