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Ancient Egyptian tales: Anpu and Bata
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The Tale of the two Brothers
Anpu and Bata

Once there were two brethren, of one mother and one father; Anpu was the name of the elder, and Bata was the name of the younger. Now, as for Anpu he had a house, and he had a wife. But his little brother was to him as if he were a son; he it was who made for him his clothes; he it was who followed behind his oxen to the fields; he it was who did the ploughing; he it was who harvested the corn; he it was who did for him all the matters that were in the field. Behold, his younger brother grew to be an excellent worker, there was not his equal in the whole land; behold, the spirit of a god was in him.
Now after this the younger brother followed his oxen in his daily manner; and every evening he turned again to the house, laden with all the herbs of the field, with milk and with wood, and with all things of the field. And he put them down before his elder brother, who was sitting with his wife; and he drank and ate, and he lay down in his stable with the cattle. And at the dawn of day he took bread which he had baked, and laid it before his elder brother; and he took with him his bread to the field, and he drove his cattle to pasture in the fields. And as he walked behind his cattle, they said to him, "Good is the herbage which is in that place;" and he listened to all that they said, and he took them to the good place which they desired. And the cattle which were before him became exceeding excellent, and they multiplied greatly.
  Anpu and Bata were the names of two gods. Anpu, Anubis, was the God of mummification etc in jackal shape. Bata was an Upper Eyptian bull deity.
-Anpu he had a house: Having a house of one's own was a prerequisite for getting married and raising a family.
-as if he were a son: The two brothers were seemingly orphaned of both parents. Older brothers often took in younger unmarried siblings, but also other relatives in need.
-made for him his clothes: The making of clothes was not exclusively a female occupation, cf. the production of linen.
-corn: grain, generally wheat or barley
-there was not his equal: a frequently used expression in autobiographic inscriptions, probably more justified in the case of Bata than would have been usual. The absence of any mention of servants in the affluent household of Anpu is surprising. It seems Bata had to do most of the work all by himself.
-milk: milk production of Egyptian cows was rather low above all when the cows were doing the ploughing as well as happened when a farmer was too poor to own more than a cow. Anpu was quite well off, possessing oxen to do the heavy work.
-wood: wood, be it firewood or timber used for construction was hard to come by.
-he lay down in his stable with the cattle: In order to prevent the theft of the animals, the herdsmen generally slept near-by.
-bread which he had baked: making bread was without a doubt the task of the mistress of the house and her servants. Bata is definitely being put upon by his sister-in-law.
Now at the time of ploughing his elder brother said unto him, "Let us make ready for ourselves a goodly yoke of oxen for ploughing, for the land has come out from the water, it is fit for ploughing. Moreover, do thou come to the field with corn, for we will begin the ploughing in the morrow morning."
Thus said he to him; and his younger brother did all things as his elder brother had spoken unto him to do them.
-the time of ploughing: Little time could be wasted after the Nile had receded. The grain seed had to be sown and covered with earth before the sun baked the soil surface stone-hard. Cf. Agriculture in ancient Egypt. Poor people often covered the seed with hoes.
And when the morn was come, they went to the fields with their things; and their hearts were pleased exceedingly with their task in the beginning of their work. And it came to pass after this that as they were in the field they stopped for corn, and he sent his younger brother, saying, "Haste thou, bring to us corn from the farm."
And the younger brother found the wife of his elder brother, as she was sitting tiring her hair. He said to her, "Get up, and give to me corn, that I may run to the field, for my elder brother hastened me; do not delay."
She said to him, "Go, open the bin, and thou shalt take to thyself according to thy will, that I may not drop my locks of hair while I dress them."
-she was sitting tiring her hair: Most farmers' wives would have had little spare time for such unessential behaviour, above all during planting and harvesting.
The youth went into the stable; he took a large measure, for he desired to take much corn; he loaded it with wheat and barley; and he went out carrying it. She said to him, "How much of the corn that is wanted, is that which is on thy shoulder?"
He said to her, "Three bushels of barley, and two of wheat, in all five; these are what are upon my shoulder:" thus said he to her.
And she conversed with him, saying, "There is great strength in thee, for I see thy might every day."
And her heart knew him with the knowledge of youth. And she arose and came to him, and conversed with him, saying, "Come, stay with me, and it shall be well for thee, and I will make for thee beautiful garments."
-measure: a khar (sack) during the New Kingdom measured about 80 litres. Cf Measures of capacity
Then the youth became like a panther of the south with fury at the evil speech which she had made to him; and she feared greatly. And he spake unto her, saying, "Behold thou art to me as a mother, thy husband is to me as a father, for he who is elder than I has brought me up. What is this wickedness that thou hast said to me? Say it not to me again. For I will not tell it to any man, for I will not let it be uttered by the mouth of any man."
He lifted up his burden, and he went to the field and came to his elder brother; and they took up their work, to labour at their task.
-became like a panther of the south: a proverbial expression for anger.
Now afterward, at eventime, his elder brother was returning to his house; and the younger brother was following after his oxen, and he loaded himself with all the things of the field; and he brought his oxen before him, to make them lie down in their stable which was in the farm. And behold the wife of the elder brother was afraid for the words which she had said. She took a parcel of fat, she became like one who is evilly beaten, desiring to say to her husband, "It is thy younger brother who has done this wrong."
Her husband returned in the even, as was his wont of every day; he came unto his house; he found his wife ill of violence; she did not give him water upon his hands as he used to have, she did not make a light before him, his house was in darkness, and she was lying very sick. Her husband said to her, "Who has spoken with thee?"
Behold she said, "No one has spoken with me except thy younger brother. When he came to take for thee corn he found me sitting alone; he said to me, 'Come, let us stay together, tie up thy hair;' thus spake he to me. I did not listen to him, but thus spake I to him: 'Behold, am I not thy mother, is not thy elder brother to thee as a father?' And he feared, and he beat me to stop me from making report to thee, and if thou lettest him live I shall die. Now behold he is coming in the evening; and I complain of these wicked words, for he would have done this even in daylight."
And the elder brother became as a panther of the south; he sharpened his knife; he took it in his hand; he stood behind the door of his stable to slay his younger brother as he came in the evening to bring his cattle into the stable.
Now the sun went down, and he loaded himself with herbs in his daily manner. He came, and his foremost cow entered the stable, and she said to her keeper, "Behold thou thy elder brother standing before thee with his knife to slay thee; flee from before him."
He heard what his first cow had said; and the next entering, she also said likewise. He looked beneath the door of the stable; he saw the feet of his elder brother; he was standing behind the door, and his knife was in his hand. He cast down his load to the ground, and betook himself to flee swiftly; and his elder brother pursued after him with his knife. Then the younger brother cried out unto Ra Harakhti, saying, "My good Lord! Thou art he who divides the evil from the good."
And Ra stood and heard all his cry; and Ra made a wide water between him and his elder brother, and it was full of crocodiles; and the one brother was on one bank, and the other on the other bank; and the elder brother smote twice on his hands at not slaying him. Thus did he. And the younger brother called to the elder on the bank, saying, "Stand still until the dawn of day; and when Ra ariseth, I shall judge with thee before Him, and He discerneth between the good and the evil. For I shall not be with thee any more for ever; I shall not be in the place in which thou art; I shall go to the valley of the acacia."
Now when the land was lightened, and the next day appeared, Ra Harakhti arose, and one looked unto the other. And the youth spake with his elder brother, saying, "Wherefore earnest thou after me to slay me in craftiness, when thou didst not hear the words of my mouth? For I am thy brother in truth, and thou art to me as a father, and thy wife even as a mother: is it not so? Verily, when I was sent to bring for us corn, thy wife said to me, 'Come, stay with me;' for behold this has been turned over unto thee into another wise."
-crocodiles: a familiar hazard in the waterways of those days, and only the foolhardy or the lovesick would venture to cross where crocodiles were gathered:
    My sister's love is on yonder side,
The river is between our bodies;
The waters are mighty at [flood]-time,
A crocodile waits in the shallows.
I enter the water and brave the waves,
My heart is strong on the deep;
The crocodile seems like a mouse to me,
The flood as land to my feet.
M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol.2, p.193

-smote twice on his hands: Concerning this gesture Petrie remarked:
    This gesture is very common in Egypt now, the two hands being rapidly slid one past the other, palm to palm, vertically, grating the fingers of one hand over the other; the right hand moving downwards, and the left a little up. This implies that there is nothing, that a thing is worthless, that a desired result has not been attained, or annoyance at want of success...
-valley of the acacia: Petrie was of the opinion that the writer probably envisioned a valley or wadi on the Syrian or Canaanite coast. M. Lichtheim translated the phrase as Valley of the Pine. The Lebanese mountains were famous for their coniferous trees.
And he caused him to understand of all that happened with him and his wife. And he swore an oath by Ra Har-akhti, saying, "Thy coming to slay me by deceit with thy knife was an abomination."
Then the youth took a knife, and cut off of his flesh, and cast it into the water, and the fish swallowed it. He failed; he became faint; and his elder brother cursed his own heart greatly; he stood weeping for him afar off; he knew not how to pass over to where his younger brother was, because of the crocodiles. And the younger brother called unto him, saying, "Whereas thou hast devised an evil thing, wilt thou not also devise a good thing, even like that which I would do unto thee? When thou goest to thy house thou must look to thy cattle, for I shall not stay in the place where thou art; I am going to the valley of the acacia. And now as to what thou shalt do for me; it is even that thou shalt come to seek after me, if thou perceivest a matter, namely, that there are things happening unto me. And this is what shall come to pass, that I shall draw out my soul, and I shall put it upon the top of the flowers of the acacia, and when the acacia is cut down, and it falls to the ground, and thou comest to seek for it, if thou searchest for it seven years do not let thy heart be wearied. For thou wilt find it, and thou must put it in a cup of cold water, and expect that I shall live again, that I may make answer to what has been done wrong. And thou shalt know of this, that is to say, that things are happening to me, when one shall give to thee a cup of beer in thy hand, and it shall be troubled; stay not then, for verily it shall come to pass with thee." -Then the youth took a knife, and cut off of his flesh ... : An unfortunate, bowdlerized translation. Lichtheim rendered it as follows: Then he took a reed knife, cut off his phallus, and threw it into the water; and the catfish swallowed it.
M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol. 2, p.206
-soul: M. Lichtheim: heart
-acacia: In Lichtheim's translation pine which isn't known for its flowers. Acacias were sacred trees.
-it shall be troubled: Omens were occasionally used as literary devices. For instance, the Nubian magician Hor in the second story of Khamwas said to his mother: 'Should I be overcome (?) then should you be drinking [or eating flesh (?)], the water before you will turn the colour of blood, the food that are before you will turn the colour of flesh, the sky shall turn the colour of blood before your eyes.'
And the youth went to the valley of the acacia; and his elder brother went unto his house; his hand was laid on his head, and he cast dust on his head; he came to his house, and he slew his wife, he cast her to the dogs, and he sat in mourning for his younger brother.
Now many days after these things, the younger brother was in the valley of the acacia; there was none with him; he spent his time in hunting the beasts of the desert, and he came back in the even to lie down under the acacia, which bore his soul upon the topmost flower. And after this he built himself a tower with his own hands, in the valley of the acacia; it was full of all good things, that he might provide for himself a home.
-his hand was laid on his head, and he cast dust on his head: Gestures of mourning.
-tower: mansion (M. Lichtheim)
And he went out from his tower, and he met the Nine Gods, who were walking forth to look upon the whole land. The Nine Gods talked one with another, and they said unto him, "Ho! Bata, bull of the Nine Gods, art thou remaining alone? Thou hast left thy village for the wife of Anpu, thy elder brother. Behold his wife is slain. Thou hast given him an answer to all that was transgressed against thee."
And their hearts were vexed for him exceedingly. And Ra Harakhti said to Khnumu, "Behold, frame thou a woman for Bata, that he may not remain alive alone."
And Khnumu made for him a mate to dwell with him.
She was more beautiful in her limbs than any woman who is in the whole land. The essence of every god was in her. The seven Hathors came to see her: they said with one mouth, "She will die a sharp death."
-Nine Gods: the Ennead (psD.t), collective name for all the gods of a locality, not necessarily counting nine, e.g. the Ennead of Thebes comprised 15 gods.
-bull: the god Bata was a bovine deity. "Bull" was frequent epithet of gods and pharaohs, Bull of the Ennead was used to refer to Re, Bull of Nekhen to Horus etc.
-Khnumu: Khnum created man (and his double, the ka) from clay.
-seven Hathors: prognosticate about a person's destiny at his birth, cf The Tale of the Doomed Prince:
In time came the day of the child's birth. The seven Hathors greeted the prince and pronounced his destiny; they said he would meet with a sudden death, either by a crocodile, or a serpent, or a dog.
-"She will die a sharp death.": M. Lichtheim: "She will die by the knife."
And Bata loved her very exceedingly, and she dwelt in his house; he passed his time in hunting the beasts of the desert, and brought and laid them before her. He said, "Go not outside, lest the sea seize thee; for I cannot rescue thee from it, for I am a woman like thee; my soul is placed on the head of the flower of the acacia; and if another find it, I must fight with him."
And he opened unto her his heart in all its nature.
Now after these things Bata went to hunt in his daily manner. And the young girl went to walk under the acacia which was by the side of her house. Then the sea saw her, and cast its waves up after her. She betook herself to flee from before it. She entered her house. And the sea called unto the acacia, saying, "Oh, would that I could seize her!"
-I am a woman like thee: castration of a grown man doesn't affect his physical strength to any large extent and it certainly doesn't turn a man into a woman.
And the acacia brought a lock from her hair, and the sea carried it to Egypt, and dropped it in the place of the fullers of Pharaoh's linen. The smell of the lock of hair entered into the clothes of Pharaoh; and they were wroth with the fullers of Pharaoh, saying, "The smell of ointment is in the clothes of Pharaoh."
And the people were rebuked every day, they knew not what they should do. And the chief fuller of Pharaoh walked by the bank, and his heart was very evil within him after the daily quarrel with him. He stood still, he stood upon the sand opposite to the lock of hair, which was in the water, and he made one enter into the water and bring it to him; and there was found in it a smell, exceeding sweet. He took it to Pharaoh; and they brought the scribes and the wise men, and they said unto Pharaoh, "This lock of hair belongs to a daughter of Ra Harakhti: the essence of every god is in her, and it is a tribute to thee from another land. Let messengers go to every strange land to seek her: and as for the messenger who shall go to the valley of the acacia, let many men go with him to bring her."
-fullers: according to Lichtheim's translation: washermen. Washing clothes was hard work, professionally done by men.
Then said his majesty, "Excellent exceedingly is what has been said to us;" and they sent them.
And many days after these things the people who were sent to strange lands came to give report unto the king: but there came not those who went to the valley of the acacia, for Bata had slain them, but let one of them return to give a report to the king. His majesty sent many men and soldiers, as well as horsemen, to bring her back. And there was a woman amongst them, and to her had been given in her hand beautiful ornaments of a woman. And the girl came back with her, and they rejoiced over her in the whole land.
And his majesty loved her exceedingly, and raised her to high estate; and he spake unto her that she should tell him concerning her husband. And she said, "Let the acacia be cut down, and let one chop it up."
And they sent men and soldiers with their weapons to cut down the acacia; and they came to the acacia, and they cut the flower upon which was the soul of Bata, and he fell dead suddenly.
-horsemen: charioteers in Lichtheim's rendering, horseback riding, while not unknown and possibly even practised by charioteers in order to be able to escape from the enemy if their chariot was wrecked, was rare during the second millennium BCE.
And when the next day came, and the earth was lightened, the acacia was cut down. And Anpu, the elder brother of Bata, entered his house, and washed his hands; and one gave him a cup of beer, and it became troubled; and one gave him another of wine, and the smell of it was evil. Then he took his staff, and his sandals, and likewise his clothes, with his weapons of war; and he betook himself forth to the valley of the acacia. He entered the tower of his younger brother, and he found him lying upon his mat; he was dead. And he wept when he saw his younger brother verily lying dead. And he went out to seek the soul of his younger brother under the acacia tree, under which his younger brother lay in the evening. -one gave him a cup of beer: Beer was drunk daily by virtually everybody. Wine was the drink of the better-off.
-it became troubled: it fermented (M. Lichtheim)
He spent three years in seeking for it, but found it not. And when he began the fourth year, he desired in his heart to return into Egypt; he said "I will go to-morrow morn;" thus spake he in his heart.
Now when the land lightened, and the next day appeared, he was walking under the acacia; he was spending his time in seeking it. And he returned in the evening, and laboured at seeking it again. He found a seed. He returned with it. Behold this was the soul of his younger brother. He brought a cup of cold water, and he cast the seed into it; and he sat down, as he was wont. Now when the night came his soul sucked up the water; Bata shuddered in all his limbs, and he looked on his elder brother; his soul was in the cup. Then Anpu took the cup of cold water, in which the soul of his younger brother was; Bata drank it, his soul stood again in its place, and he became as he had been. They embraced each other, and they conversed together.
-his soul sucked up the water: Similarly, the buried dead, his ka, ba, heart etc. had to be offered food and drink to ensure their continued existence.
And Bata said to his elder brother, "Behold I am to become as a great bull, which bears every good mark; no one knoweth its history, and thou must sit upon my back. When the sun arises I shall be in the place where my wife is, that I may return answer to her; and thou must take me to the place where the king is. For all good things shall be done for thee; for one shall lade thee with silver and gold, because thou bringest me to Pharaoh, for I become a great marvel, and they shall rejoice for me in all the land. And thou shalt go to thy village."
And when the land was lightened, and the next day appeared, Bata became in the form which he had told to his elder brother. And Anpu sat upon his back until the dawn. He came to the place where the king was, and they made his majesty to know of him; he saw him, and he was exceeding joyful with him. He made for him great offerings, saying, "This is a great wonder which has come to pass."
-great bull, which bears every good mark: great bull of beautiful color (M. Lichtheim)
There were rejoicings over him in the whole land. They presented unto him silver and gold for his elder brother, who went and stayed in his village. They gave to the bull many men and many things, and Pharaoh loved him exceedingly above all that is in this land.
And after many days after these things, the bull entered the purified place; he stood in the place where the princess was; he began to speak with her, saying, "Behold, I am alive indeed."
And she said to him, "And, pray, who art thou?"
He said to her, "I am Bata. I perceived when thou causedst that they should destroy the acacia of Pharaoh, which was my abode, that I might not be suffered to live. Behold, I am alive indeed, I am as an ox."
Then the princess feared exceedingly for the words that her husband had spoken to her. And he went out from the purified place.
And his majesty was sitting, making a good day with her: she was at the table of his majesty, and the king was exceeding pleased with her. And she said to his majesty, "Swear to me by God, saying, 'What thou shalt say, I will obey it for thy sake.'"
He hearkened unto all that she said, even this. "Let me eat of the liver of the ox, because he is fit for nought!" thus spake she to him. And the king was exceeding sad at her words, the heart of Pharaoh grieved him greatly. And after the land was lightened, and the next day appeared, they proclaimed a great feast with offerings to the ox. And the king sent one of the chief butchers of his majesty, to cause the ox to be sacrificed. And when he was sacrificed, as he was upon the shoulders of the people, he shook his neck, and he threw two drops of blood over against the two doors of his majesty. The one fell upon the one side, on the great door of Pharaoh, and the other upon the other door. They grew as two great Persea trees, and each of them was excellent.
And one went to tell unto his majesty, "Two great Persea trees have grown, as a great marvel of his majesty, in the night by the side of the great gate of his majesty."
And there was rejoicing for them in all the land, and there were offerings made to them.
-Persea: an evergreen tree often mentioned in the Egyptian mythology.
And when the days were multiplied after these things, his majesty was adorned with the blue crown, with garlands of flowers on his neck, and he was upon the chariot of pale gold, and he went out from the palace to behold the Persea trees: the princess also was going out with horses behind his majesty. And his majesty sat beneath one of the Persea trees, and it spake thus with his wife: "Oh thou deceitful one, I am Bata, I am alive, though I have been evilly entreated. I knew who caused the acacia to be cut down by Pharaoh at my dwelling. I then became an ox, and thou causedst that I should be killed."
And many days after these things the princess stood at the table of Pharaoh, and the king was pleased with her. And she said to his majesty, "Swear to me by God, saying, 'That which the princess shall say to me I will obey it for her.'"
And he hearkened unto all she said. And he commanded, "Let these two Persea trees be cut down, and let them be made into goodly planks."
And he hearkened unto all she said. And after this his majesty sent skilful craftsmen, and they cut down the Persea trees of Pharaoh; and the princess, the royal wife, was standing looking on, and they did all that was in her heart unto the trees. But a chip flew up, and it entered into the mouth of the princess; she swallowed it, and after many days she bore a son. And one went to tell his majesty, "There is born to thee a son."
-his majesty was adorned with the blue crown: M. Lichtheim's translation: his majesty appeared at the audience window of lapis lazuli
And they brought him, and gave to him a nurse and servants; and there were rejoicings in the whole land. And the king sat making a merry day, as they were about the naming of him, and his majesty loved him exceedingly at that moment, and the king raised him to be the royal son of Kush. -a merry day: a feast day (M. Lichtheim)
-they were about the naming of him: held him on his lap (M. Lichtheim)
-royal son of Kush: The viceroy ruling Kush
Now after the days had multiplied after these things, his majesty made him heir of all the land. And many days after that, when he had fulfilled many years as heir, his majesty flew up to heaven. And the heir said, "Let my great nobles of his majesty be brought before me, that I may make them to know all that has happened to me."
And they brought also before him his wife, and he judged with her before him, and they agreed with him. They brought to him his elder brother; he made him hereditary prince in all his land. He was thirty years king of Egypt, and he died, and his elder brother stood in his place on the day of burial.
Excellently finished in peace, for the
ka of the scribe of the treasury Kagabu, of the treasury of Pharaoh, and for the scribe Hora, and the scribe Meremapt. Written by the scribe Anena, the owner of this roll. He who speaks against this roll, may Tahuti smite him.
-flew up to heaven: Died. Becoming a star was the ultimate goal of the deceased: The akh belongs to the heaven, the corpse to the earth.
-his elder brother stood in his place: Brother succeeding brother was not the common mode of inheritance, but it certainly occurred not infrequently.

W.M. Flinders Petrie, ed. Egyptian Tales, Translated from the Papyri, Second Series, 18th to 19th dynasty


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July 2004