Peeps at Ancient Egypt - Jamse Baikie

Some Fairy-Tales of Long Ago

The little brown boys and girls who lived in Egypt three thousand years ago were just as fond as you are of hearing wonderful stories that begin with "Once upon a time;" and I want in this chapter to tell you some of the tales that Tahuti and Sen-senb used to listen to in the evening when school was over and play was done—the oldest of all wonder-tales, stories that were old and had long been forgotten, ages before The Sleeping Beauty and Jack and the Beanstalk were first thought of.

One day, when King Khufu, the great King who built the biggest of the Pyramids, had nothing else to do, he called his sons and his wise men together, and said, "Is there anyone among you who can tell me the tales of the old magicians?" Then the King's son, Prince Baufra, stood up and said, "Your Majesty, I can tell you of a wonder that happened in the days of your father, King Seneferu. It fell on a day that the King grew weary of everything, and sought through all his palace for something to please him, but found nothing. Then he said to his officers, 'Bring to me the magician Zazamankh.' And when the magician came, the King said to him, 'O Zazamankh, I have sought through all my palace for some delight, and I have found none.' Then said Zazamankh, 'Let thy Majesty go in thy boat upon the lake of the palace, and let twenty beautiful girls be brought to row thee, and let their oars be of ebony, inlaid with gold and silver. And I myself will go with thee; and the sight of the water-birds, and the fair shores, and the green grass will cheer thy heart.' So the King and the wizard went down to the lake, and the twenty maidens rowed them about in the King's pleasure-galley. Nine rowed on this side, and nine on that, and the two fairest stood by the two rudders at the stern, and set the rowing song, each for her own side. And the King's heart grew glad and light, as the boat sped hither and thither, and the oars flashed in the sunshine to the song of the rowers.



"But as the boat turned, the top of the steering-oar struck the hair of one of the maidens who steered, and knocked her coronet of turquoise into the water; and she stopped her song, and all the rowers on her side stopped rowing. Then his Majesty said, 'Why have you stopped rowing, little one?' And the maiden answered, 'It is because my jewel of turquoise has fallen into the water.' 'Row on,' said the King, 'and I will give you another.' But the girl answered, 'I want my own one back, as I had it before.' So King Seneferu called Zazamankh to come to him, and said, 'Now, Zazamankh, I have done as you advised, and my heart is light; but, behold, the coronet of this little one has fallen into the water, and she has stopped singing, and spoiled the rowing of her side; and she will not have a new jewel, but wants the old one back again.'

"Then Zazamankh the wizard stood up in the King's boat, and spoke wonderful words. And, lo! the water of one half of the lake rose up, and heaped itself upon the top of the water of the other half, so that it was twice as deep as it was before. And the King's bark rode upon the top of the piled-up waters; but beyond it the bottom of the lake lay bare, with the shells and pebbles shining in the sunlight. And there, upon a broken shell, lay the little rower's coronet. Then Zazamankh leaped down and picked it up, and brought it to the King. And he spake wonderful words again, and the water sank down, and covered the whole bed of the lake, as it had done at first. So his Majesty spent a joyful day, and gave great rewards to the wizard Zazamankh."

When King Khufu heard that story, he praised the men of olden times. But another of his sons, Prince Hordadef, stood up, and said, "O King, that is only a story of bygone days, and no one knows whether it is true or a lie; but I will show thee a magician of to-day." "Who is he, Hordadef?" said King Khufu. And Hordadef answered, "His name is Dedi. He is a hundred and ten years old, and every day he eats five hundred loaves of bread, and a side of beef, and drinks a hundred jugs of beer. He knows how to fasten on a head that has been cut off. He knows how to make a lion of the desert follow him, and he knows the plan of the house of God that you have wanted to know for so long."

Then King Khufu sent Prince Hordadef to bring Dedi to him, and he brought Dedi back in the royal boat. The King came out, and sat in the colonnade of the palace, and Dedi was led before him. Then said his Majesty, "Why have I never seen you before, Dedi?" And Dedi answered, "Life, health, strength to your Majesty! A man can only come when he is called." "Is it true, Dedi, that you can fasten on a head which has been cut off?" "Certainly I can, your Majesty." Then said the King, "Let a prisoner be brought from the prison, and let his head be struck off." But Dedi said, "Long life to your Majesty; do not try it on a man. Let us try a bird or an animal."

So a goose was brought; its head was cut off; and the head was laid at the east side of the hall, and the body at the west. Then Dedi rose, and spoke wonderful words. And, behold! the body of the goose waddled to meet the head, and the head came to meet the body. They joined together before his Majesty's throne, and the goose stood up and cackled.

Sacred goose


Then, when Dedi had joined to its body again the head that had been struck off from an ox, and the ox followed him lowing, King Khufu said to him, "Is it true, O Dedi, that you know the plans of the house of God?" "It is true, your Majesty; but it is not I who shall give them to you." "Who, then?" said the King. "It is the eldest of three sons who shall be born to the lady Rud-didet, wife of the priest of Ra, the Sun-God. And Ra has promised that these three sons shall reign over this kingdom of thine." When King Khufu heard that word, his heart was troubled; but Dedi said, "Let not your Majesty's heart be troubled. Thy son shall reign first, then thy son's son, and then one of these." So the King commanded that Dedi should live in the house of Prince Hordadef; and that every day there should be given to him a thousand loaves, a hundred jugs of beer, an ox, and a hundred bunches of onions!

When the three sons of Rud-didet were born, Ra sent four goddesses to be their godmothers. They came attired like travelling dancing-girls; and one of the gods came with them, dressed like a porter. And when they had nursed the three children awhile, Rud-didet's husband said to them, "My ladies, what wages shall I give you?" So he gave them a bushel of barley, and they went away with their wages. But when they had gone a little way, Isis, the chief of them, said, "Why have we not done a wonder for these children?" So they stopped, and made crowns, the red crown and the white crown of Egypt, and hid them in the bushel of barley, and sealed the sack, and put it in Rud-didet's store-chamber, and went away again.

A fortnight later, when Rud-didet was going to brew the household beer, there was no barley. And her maidservant said, "There is a bushel, but it was given to the dancing-girls, and lies in the store-room, sealed with their seal." So the lady said to her maid, "Go down and fetch it, and we shall give them more when they need it." The maid went down, but when she came to the store-room, lo! from within there came a sound of singing and dancing, and all such music as should be heard in a King's Court. So in fear she crept back to her mistress and told her, and Rud-didet went down and heard the royal music, and she told her husband when he came home at night, and their hearts were glad because their sons were to be Kings.

But after a time the lady Rud-didet quarrelled with her maid, and gave her a beating, as ladies sometimes did in those days; and the weeping maid said to her fellow-servants, "Shall she do this to me? She has borne three Kings, and I will go and tell it to his Majesty, King Khufu." So she stole away first to her uncle, and told him of her plot; but he was angry because she wished to betray the children to King Khufu, and he beat her with a scourge of flax. And as she went away by the side of the river a great crocodile came out of the water, and carried her off.... But here, alas! our story breaks off; the rest of the book is lost, and we cannot tell whether King Khufu tried to kill the three royal babies or not. Only we do know that the first three Kings of the race which succeeded the race of Khufu bore the same names as Rud-didet's three babies, and were called, like all the Kings of Egypt after them, "Sons of the Sun."

These, then, are absolutely the oldest fairy-stories in the world, and if they do not seem very wonderful to you, you must remember that everything has to have a beginning, and that the people who made these tales hadn't had very much practice in the art of story-telling.