Ancient Egypt: History and culture
Ancient Egyptian texts: The Bentresh Stela
Main menu Main Index and Search Page History List of Dynasties Cultural Chronolgy Mythology Aspects of Life in Ancient Egypt Glossary of ancient Egyptian terms Herodotus on the Pharaohs Ancient Egyptian Reader Apologia and Bibliography
Printout
  For best results save the whole webpage (pictures included) onto your hard disk, open the page with Word 97 or higher, edit if necessary and print.
  Printing using the browser's print function is not recommended.

-

The Bentresh Stela

    This tale was carved into a stone stela in archaizing language sometime after the Persian conquest. There are no accounts of the purported events from the times of Ramses II, nor are there any older versions. The story seems to have been part of the folk memory, handed down orally from generation to generation. At least parts of it are based on historic events. Ramses II marrying a Hittite princess is a historic fact, and so are, according to cuneiform correspondence, Egyptian physicians plying their trade in Hatti.[1]. Also, statues of gods were apparently sent on loan between the courts of the late Bronze Age Middle East [1] and there is even a record of a royal scribe called Tutemhab serving under Ramses II.[2]
 
Horus: mighty Bull, Likeness of Diadems, (Favorite of the Two Ladies:) Abiding in Kingship, like Atum; Golden Horus: Mighty of Strength, Expelling the Nine Bows; king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two Lands: Usermare-Setepnere; Son of Re, of his body: Ramses-Meriamon, beloved of Amon-Re, lord of Thebes, and all the gods of Thebes ............ - - Horus: ... Breasted: Thronnames of Thutmose  IV, used by mistake
- .......: Breasted: two lines of the usual epithets, omitted
Lichtheim: Good god, Amun's son, Offspring of Harakhti, Glorious seed of the All-Lord, Begotten by Kamutef, King of Egypt, ruler of Red Lands, Sovereign who seized the Nine Bows; Whom victory was foretold as he came from the womb, Whom valor was given while in the egg, Bull firm of heart as he treads the arena, Godly king going forth like Mont on victory day, Great of strength like the Son of Nut!
Lo, his majesty was in Naharin according to his yearly custom, while the chiefs of every country came bowing down in peace, because of the fame of his majesty. From the marshes was their tribute; silver, gold, lapis lazuli, malachite and every sweet wood of God's Land were upon their backs, each one leading his neighbor. -Naharin: The Egyptian name of the kingdom of Mitanni and regions close to it.
Map of Mitanni
Map of Mitanni
-yearly custom:Lichtheim: The land of Mitanni on the Upper Euphrates had been reached by Thutmosis I and III, but Ramses II had never been there.
-fame: translit. ba.w, might (Wb 1, 413.12-414.7)
-marshes: Breasted: The northern limits of the earth
-God's Land Term used for some foreign, generally wooded regions: Punt in the south, but also regions in Syria etc.
-leading his neighbor: Lichtheim: each was outdoing his fellow
Then the chief of Bekhten caused his tribute to be brought, and he placed his eldest daughter in front thereof, praising his majesty, and craving life from him. Now, she was exceedingly beautiful to the heart of his majesty, beyond everything. Then they affixed her titulary as: "Great King's-Wife, Nefrure". When his majesty arrived in Egypt, she fulfilled all the functions of king's-wife.
When the year 23, the tenth month, the twenty-second day, came while his majesty was in Thebes, the victorious, the mistress of the cities, performing the pleasing ceremonies of his father, Amon-Re, lord of Thebes, at his beautiful feast of Southern Opet, his favorite seat, of the beginning (of the world), came one day to say to his majesty: "A messenger of the chief of Bekhten has come, bearing many gifts for the King's-Wife."
Then he was brought before his majesty together with his gifts. He said, praising his majesty: "Praise to thee, Sun of the Nine Bows! Give us life from thee."
So said he, smelling the earth before his majesty. He spoke again before his majesty: "Praise to thee, Sun of the Nine Bows! Give us life from thee."
So spake he, smelling the earth before his majesty. So spake he, smelling the earth before his majesty. He spake again before his majesty: "I come to thee, O king, my lord, on account of Bentresh, the great sister of the King's-Wife, Nefrure. Sickness has penetrated into her limbs. May thy majesty send a wise man to see her."
-Bekhten: Hatti, if Nefrure is identified with Hattusili's daughter, Ramses II's Great King's Wife Maathorneferure, whom he married in his 34th year.
Lichtheim: It has been surmised that the name "Bakhtan" is a corrupted Egyptian version of the name of Bactria; see Lefebvre, Romans, p. 222.
-craving life from him: The pharaoh as son of the creator god Re was the font of life. Cf. Behold, the chiefs of this country came to ... crave breath for their nostrils (Account of the Battle of Megiddo )
-affixed: Breasted: To all seals and documents; that is she takes an official Egyptian name on becoming a queen.
-"Great King's-Wife, Nefrure": Breasted: This is, of course, an error of the late priests for Matnefrure, the real name of the Hittite king's daughter. (Cf. Marriage as a tool of foreign politics during the New Kingdom)
-feast of Southern Opet: see The Opet festival
-smelling the earth before his majesty: prostrating himself.
-Nine Bows: the enemies of Egypt. (cf. The Nine Bows)
-Bentresh: Lichtheim: This may be a Canaanite name (see Lefebvre, Romans, p. 222, n. 7).
-great: Lichtheim: younger
-Sickness: considered to be caused by demons, cf. Ancient Egyptian Medicine.
Then said his majesty:"Bring to me the sacred scribes and the officials of the court."
They were led to him immediately. Said his majesty: "Let one read to you, till ye hear this thing. Then bring to me one experienced in his heart, who can write with his fingers, from your midst."
The king's-scribe, Tutemhab, came before his majesty, and his majesty commanded that he go to Bekhten together with his messenger.
-sacred scribes: Breasted: lit. "those in charge of the writings of the House of Life, a title especially common in Ptolemaic times..
-Let one read to you, till ye hear this thing: Lichtheim: You have been summoned in order to hear this matter
-experienced: Lichtheim: wise
-Tutemhab: Breasted: A man of this name and of the same office lived in the time of Ramses II, and his stela is in Leyden.
-his messenger: the messenger of the chief of Bekhten
The wise man arrived in Bekhten; he found Bentresh in the position of one possessed of a spirit. He found her [unable] to contend with him. The chief of Bekhten repeated in the presence of his majesty, saying: "O king, my lord, let his majesty command to have this god brought ///." ////////.
Then the wise man whom his majesty had sent, returned] to his majesty in the year 26, the ninth month, at the feast of Amon, while his majesty was in Thebes.
Then his majesty repeated (it) before Khonsu-in-Thebes-Beautiful-Rest, saying: "O my good lord, I repeat before thee concerning the daughter of the chief of Bekhten."
Then they led Khonsu-in-Thebes-Beautiful-Rest to Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker, the great god. smiting the evil spirits. Then said his majesty before Khonsu-in-Thebes-Beautiful-Rest: "O thou good lord, if thou inclinest thy face to Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker, the great god, smiting the evil spirits, he shall be conveyed to Bekhten."
There was a violent nodding. Then said his majesty: "Send thy protection with him, that I may cause his majesty to go to Bekhten, to save the daughter of the chief of Bekhten."
Khonsu-in-Thebes-Beautiful-Rest nodded the head violently. Then he wrought the protection of Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker-in-Thebes, four times.
-her [unable] to contend with him: Lichtheim: him to be an enemy whom one could fight. Footnote: The learned scribe Thothemheb diagnosed the malady as one that might be cured, but he himself could not effect the cure, i.e., expel the demon.
-The chief of Bekhten...: Breasted: This alone would indicate that the chief of Bekhten, finding the wise man unable to cast out the spirit, went himself to Egypt to ask that the god be sent to do so. The loss between the two parts of the stela, just below this point, makes it difficult of trace the connection, but it seems more probable that the words of the chief of Bekhten are a message, sent by the returning wise man to Ramses, for it is clear that he received some message while he was at Thebes and further, the chief of Bekhten is found in Bekhten by the god on his arrival there. The chief therefore certainly remained in Bekhten.
Lichtheim: Then the prince of Bakhtan sent again to his majesty
-///." ////////: Breasted: Lacuna of uncertain length, between the two fragments of the stela.
-returned] to his majesty...: Breasted: As the god later consumes one year and five months in going to Bekhten, the round trip between Egypt and Bekhten should take some thirty-four months. This exactly suits the above passage, according to which the returning wise man has been absent nearly three years, which allows for a short stay in Bekhten.
-Khonsu-in-Thebes-Beautiful-Rest: Lichtheim: Khons-the-Merciful
-Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker: Lichtheim: Khons-the-Provider-in-Thebes
-smiting the evil spirits: Lichtheim's footnote: The Theban god Khons was worshiped under several distinct manifestations, with Khons-in-Thebes-Neferhotep occupying the leading position, while the most outstanding trait of Khons-pA-ir-sxr was that of a healer. The epithet pA ir sxr has been translated in various ways, including "he who determines fate." Bearing in mind that we do not know the exact shade of meaning, I have preferred "the Provider."
-violent nodding: Lichtheim: Strong approval twice.
Khonsu was by nature a violent, powerful deity, the reason for being implored to fight demons. How communications with the god were effected is not quite clear. The statue or parts of it, was apparently moved in some way by priests, which was interpreted as agreement or rejection. cf Oracles.
-his majesty: Breasted: Meaning the god
-four times: Magical spells were often repeated, cf. Magic.
His majesty commanded to cause Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker-in-Thebes to proceed to a great ship, five transports, numerous chariots and horses of the west and the east.
This god arrived in Bekhten in a full year and five months. Then the chief of Bekhten came, with his soldiers and his nobles, before Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker. He threw himself on his belly, saying: "Thou comest to us, thou art welcome with us, by command of the king Usermare-Setepnere (Ramses II)."
-numerous chariots and horses: Lichtheim: a chariot, and many horses, footnote: The chariot and horses were needed for the overland part of the journey.
-thou art welcome with us: Lichtheim: to be gracious to us
Then this god went to the place where Bentresh was. Then he wrought the protection of the daughter of the chief of Bekhten. She became well immediately.
Then said this spirit which was in her before Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker-in-Thebes: "Thou comest in peace, thou great god, smiting the barbarians. Thy city is Bekhten, thy servants are its people, I am thy servant. I will go to the place whence I came, to satisfy thy heart concerning that, on account of which thou comest. (But) let thy majesty command to celebrate a feast-day with me and with the chief of Bekhten."
Then this god nodded to his priest, saying: "Let the chief of Bekhten make a great offering before this spirit."
-smiting the barbarians: Lichtheim: who expels disease demons
While these things were happening, which Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker-in-Thebes wrought with the spirit, the chief of Bekhten stood with his soldiers before Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker-in-Thebes and the spirit; and the chief of Bekhten celebrated a feast-day [with] them. Then the spirit departed in peace to the place he desired, by command of Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker-in-Thebes, and the chief of Bekhten rejoiced very greatly, together with every man who was in Bekhten. -the chief of Bekhten stood with his soldiers before Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker-in-Thebes and the spirit: Lichtheim: the prince of Bakhtan stood by with his soldiers and was very frightened.
Then he took counsel with his heart, saying: "I will cause this god to remain with me in Bekhten; I will not permit that he return to Egypt."
Then this god tarried three years and nine months in Bekhten.
Then the chief of Bekhten slept upon his bed, and he saw this god coming to him, to forsake his shrine; he was a hawk of gold, and he flew upward toward Egypt. He (the chief) awoke in fright.
-took counsel: Lichtheim: schemed.
-hawk: Khonsu was often depicted as a falcon-headed man.
Then he said to the priest of Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker-in-Thebes: "This god, he is still with us; let him depart to Egypt; let his chariot depart to Egypt."
Then the chief of Bekhten caused this god to proceed to Egypt, and gave to him very many gifts of every good thing, very many soldiers and horses.
They arrived in peace at Thebes. Then came the city of Thebes, and the Plan-Maker-in-Thebes went to the house of Khonsu-in-Thebes-Beautiful-Rest. He set the gifts which the chief of Bekhten had given to him, of good things, before Khonsu-in-Thebes-Beautiful-Rest, (but) he gave not every thing thereof into his house. Khonsu-the-Plan-Maker-in-Thebes arrived [at] his [plac]e in peace in the year 38, the second month, the ninth day, of King Usermare-Setepnere; that he might be given his life like Re, forever.
-Plan-Maker-in-Thebes: Breasted: Khonsu has probably been omitted by mistake.
-(but) he gave not every thing thereof into his house: Lichtheim: without giving anything to his (own) house.
-in the year 38, the second month, the ninth day, of King Usermare-Setepnere: Breasted: The round trip consumed 34 months (1 year 5 months each way) and he had remained in Bekhten 45 months, a total absence of 79 months, or 6 years and 7 months. As he left Egypt in the ninth month of the year 26 (the date of the wise man's return to summon him), if that date be late in the year 26, an absence of 6 years and 7 months would put his return in the year 33, as the priestly author of the inscription has done.

James Henry Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Chicago 1905, Part Three, §§ 429-447

Literature:
James Henry Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Chicago 1905, Part Three
Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 1980, Vol.3, pp.90ff.
 
Footnotes:
[1] Kenneth A. Kitchen, Ramesside inscriptions: translated & annotated, Volume 2, Wiley-Blackwell, 1999, p.167
[2] Breasted, op.cit., footnote to § 437

 


- -Index of Texts
 
-Index of Topics
-Main Index and Search Page
 

Feedback: Please report broken links, mistakes - factual or otherwise, etc. to me.Thanks.

© August 2009

 

xhtml validated
-