Peeps at Ancient Egypt - Jamse Baikie

Fairy-Tales of Long Ago (Continued)

Our next story belongs to a time several hundred years later, and I dare say it seemed as wonderful to the little Egyptians as the story of Sindbad the Sailor does to you. It is called "The Story of the Shipwrecked Sailor," and the sailor himself tells it to a noble Egyptian.

"I was going," he says, "to the mines of Pharaoh, and we set sail in a ship of 150 cubits long and 40 cubits wide (225 feet by 60 feet—quite a big ship for the time). We had a crew of 150 of the best sailors of Egypt, men whose hearts were as bold as lions. They all foretold a happy voyage, but as we came near the shore a great storm blew, the sea rose in terrible waves, and our ship was fairly overwhelmed. Clinging to a piece of wood, I was washed about for three days, and at last tossed up on an island; but not one was left of all my shipmates—all perished in the waves.

"I lay down in the shade of some bushes, and when I had recovered a little, I looked about me for food. There was plenty on every hand—figs and grapes, berries and corn, with all manner of birds. When my hunger was satisfied, I lit a fire, and made an offering to the gods who had saved me. Suddenly I heard a noise like thunder; the trees shook, and the earth quaked. Looking round, I saw a great serpent approaching me. He was nearly 50 feet long, and had a beard 3 feet in length. His body shone in the sun like gold, and when he reared himself up from his coils before me I fell upon my face.

"Then the serpent began to speak: 'What has brought thee, little one, what has brought thee? If thou dost not tell me quickly what has brought thee to this isle, I shall make thee vanish like a flame.' So saying, he took me up in his mouth, carried me gently to his lair, and laid me down unhurt; and again he said, 'What has brought thee, little one, what has brought thee to this isle of the sea?' So I told him the story of our shipwreck, and how I alone had escaped from the fury of the waves. Then said he to me: 'Fear not, little one, and let not thy face be sad. If thou hast come to me, it is God who has brought thee to this isle, which is filled with all good things. And now, see: thou shalt dwell for four months in this isle, and then a ship of thine own land shall come, and thou shalt go home to thy country, and die in thine own town. As for me, I am here with my brethren and my children. There are seventy-five of us in all, besides a young girl, who came here by chance, and was burned by fire from heaven. But if thou art strong and patient, thou shalt yet embrace thy children and thy wife, and return to thy home.'

"Then I bowed low before him, and promised to tell of him to Pharaoh, and to bring him ships full of all the treasures of Egypt; but he smiled at my speech, and said, 'Thou hast nothing that I need, for I am Prince of the Land of Punt, and all its perfumes are mine. Moreover, when thou departest, thou shalt never again see this isle, for it shall be changed into waves.'

Egyptian house


"Now, behold! when the time was come, as he had foretold, the ship drew near. And the good serpent said to me, 'Farewell, farewell! go to thy home, little one, see again thy children, and let thy name be good in thy town; these are my wishes for thee.' So I bowed low before him, and he loaded me with precious gifts of perfume, cassia, sweet woods, ivory, baboons, and all kinds of precious things, and I embarked in the ship. And now, after a voyage of two months, we are coming to the house of Pharaoh, and I shall go in before Pharaoh, and offer the gifts which I have brought from this isle into Egypt, and Pharaoh shall thank me before the great ones of the land."

Our last story belongs to a later age than that of the Shipwrecked Sailor. About 1,500 years before Christ there arose in Egypt a race of mighty soldier-Kings, who founded a great empire, which stretched from the Soudan right through Syria and Mesopotamia as far as the great River Euphrates. Mesopotamia, or Naharaina, as the Egyptians called it, had been an unknown land to them before this time; but now it became to them what America was to the men of Queen Elizabeth's time, or the heart of Africa to your grandfathers—the wonderful land of romance, where all kinds of strange things might happen. And this story of the Doomed Prince, which I have to tell you, belongs partly to Naharaina, and, as you will see, some of our own fairy-stories have been made out of very much the same materials as are used in it.

Once upon a time there was a King in Egypt who had no child. His heart was grieved because he had no child, and he prayed to the gods for a son; so in course of time a son was born to him, and the Fates (like fairy godmothers) came to his cradle to foretell what should happen to him. And when they saw him, they said, "His doom is to die either by the crocodile, or by the serpent, or by the dog." When the King heard this, his heart was sore for his little son, and he resolved that he would put the boy where no harm could come to him; so he built for him a beautiful house away in the desert, and furnished it with all kinds of fine things, and sent the boy there, with faithful servants to guard him, and to see that he came to no hurt. So the boy grew up quietly and safely in his house in the desert.

But it fell on a day that the young Prince looked out from the roof of his house, and he saw a man walking across the desert, with a dog following him. So he said to the servant who was with him, "What is this that walks behind the man who is coming along the road?" "It is a dog," said the page. Then the boy said, "You must bring me one like him," and the page went and told His Majesty. Then the King said, "Get a little puppy, and take it to him, lest his heart be sad." So they brought him a little dog, and it grew up along with him.

Now, it happened that, when the boy had grown to be a strong young man, he grew weary of being always shut up in his fine house. Therefore he sent a message to his father, saying, "Why am I always to be shut up here? Since I am doomed to three evil Fates, let me have my desire, and let God do what is in His heart." So the King agreed, and they gave the young Prince arms, and sent him away to the eastern frontier, and his dog went with him, and they said to him, "Go wherever you will." So he went northward through the desert, he and his dog, until he came to the land of Naharaina.

Now, the chief of the land of Naharaina had no children, save one beautiful daughter, and for her he had built a wonderful house. It had seventy windows, and it stood on a great rock more than 100 feet high. And the chief summoned the sons of all the chiefs of the country round about, and said to them, "The Prince who can climb to my daughter's window shall have her for his wife." So all the young Princes of the land camped around the house, and tried every day to climb to the window of the beautiful Princess; but none of them succeeded, for the rock was very steep and high.

Then, one day when they were climbing as they were wont, the young Prince of Egypt rode by with his dog; and the Princes welcomed him, bathed him, and fed his horse, and said to him, "Whence comest thou, thou goodly youth?" He did not wish to tell them that he was the son of Pharaoh, so he answered, "I am the son of an Egyptian officer. My father married a second wife, and, when she had children, she hated me, and drove me away from my home." So they took him into their company, and he stayed with them many days.

Now, it fell on a day that he asked them, "Why do you stay here, trying always to climb this rock?" And they told him of the beautiful Princess who lived in the house on the top of the rock, and how the man who could climb to her window should marry her. Therefore the young Prince of Egypt climbed along with them, and it came to pass that at last he climbed to the window of the Princess; and when she saw him, she fell in love with him, and kissed him.

Then was word sent to the Chief of Naharaina that one of the young men had climbed to his daughter's window, and he asked which of the Princes it was, and the messenger said, "It is not a Prince, but the son of an Egyptian officer, who has been driven away from Egypt by his stepmother." Then the Chief of Naharaina was very angry, and said, "Shall I give my daughter to an Egyptian fugitive? Let him go back to Egypt." But, when the messengers came to tell the young man to go away, the Princess seized his hand, and said, "If you take him from me, I will not eat; I will not drink; I shall die in that same hour." Then the chief sent men to kill the youth where he was in the house. But the Princess said, "If you kill him, I shall be dead before the sun goes down. I will not live an hour if I am parted from him." So the chief was obliged to agree to the marriage; and the young Prince was married to the Princess, and her father gave them a house, and slaves, and fields, and all sorts of good things.

But after a time the young Prince said to his wife, "I am doomed to die, either by a crocodile, or by a serpent, or by a dog." And his wife answered, "Why, then, do you keep this dog always with you? Let him be killed." "Nay," said he, "I am not going to kill my faithful dog, which I have brought up since the time that he was a puppy." So the Princess feared greatly for her husband, and would never let him go out of her sight.

Now, it happened in course of time that the Prince went back to the land of Egypt; and his wife went with him, and his dog, and he dwelt in Egypt. And one day, when the evening came, he grew drowsy, and fell asleep; and his wife filled a bowl with milk, and placed it by his side, and sat to watch him as he slept. Then a great serpent came out of his hole to bite the youth. But his wife was watching, and she made the servants give the milk to the serpent, and he drank till he could not move. Then the Princess killed the serpent with blows of her dagger. So she woke her husband, and he was astonished to see the serpent lying dead, and his faithful wife said to him, "Behold, God has given one of thy dooms into thy hand; He will also give the others." And the Prince made sacrifice to God, and praised Him.

Now, it fell on a day that the Prince went out to walk in his estate, and his dog went with him. And as they walked, the dog ran after some game, and the Prince followed the dog. They came to the River Nile, and the dog went into the river, and the Prince followed him. Then a great crocodile rose in the river, and laid hold on the youth, and said, "I am thy doom, following after thee." ...

But just here the old papyrus roll on which the story is written is torn away, and we do not know what happened to the Doomed Prince. I fancy that, in some way or other, his dog would save him from the crocodile, and that later, by some accident, the poor faithful dog would be the cause of his master's death. At least, it looks as if the end of the story must have been something like that; for the Egyptians believed that no one could escape from the doom that was laid upon him, but had to suffer it sooner or later. Perhaps, some day, one of the explorers who are searching the land of Egypt for relics of the past may come on another papyrus roll with the end of the story, and then we shall find out whether the dog did kill the Prince, or whether God gave all his dooms into his hand, as his wife hoped.

These are some of the stories that little Tahuti and Sen-senb used to listen to in the long evenings when they were tired of play. Perhaps they seem very simple and clumsy to you; but I have no doubt that, when they were told in those old days, the black eyes of the little Egyptian boys and girls used to grow very big and round, and the wizard who could fasten on heads which had been cut off seemed a very wonderful person, and the talking serpents and crocodiles seemed very real and very dreadful.

Anyhow, you have heard the oldest stories in all the world—the fathers and mothers, so to speak, of all the great family of wonder-tales that have delighted and terrified children ever since.