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Ancient Egyptian texts: The Tale of the Garden of Flowers
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The Tale of the Garden of Flowers

1 She led me, hand in hand, and we went into her garden to converse together.
2 There she made me taste (of) excellent honey.
3 The rushes (of the garden) were verdant and (all) its bushes flourishing.
4 There were currant (trees) and cherries redder than the ruby.
5 The ripe peaches (of the garden) resembled bronze,
6 and the groves had the lustre of the stone nashem,
7 The menni unshelled like cocoa nuts they brought to us,
8 its shade was fresh and airy, and soft for the repose of love.
9 When she met me, the daughter of the Chief (high) Superintendent of the orchards
10 had sent her as the messenger of love,
11 "Come to me," she called unto me,
12 "and enjoy thyself a day in the room of a young girl who belongs to me,
13 the garden is today in its glory
14 there is a terrace and a parlour
 
(Here there is a lacuna of about one line.)
 
(The messenger now addresses herself to the seductive Phryne who has sent her.)
 
- 19th dynasty
 
-garden: The more affluent Egyptians often had formal gardens with trees, ponds and flowers.
Many plants, fruit, minerals etc. have still not been identified today. Chabas took at times some liberties in his translation:
-currant (trees) and cherries redder than the ruby: Chabas: Fruits termed kaiou and tipau, which probably had nothing in common with cherries and currants except their colour.
-peaches: Chabas: The Persea fruit, a species of sacred almond.
-nashem: Chabas: Green feldspar or Amazon stone
-menni: Chabas: An unknown fruit.
-today in its glory: Lit. in its day glory
15 "When noble men behold thee, they are joyful, and thy sight ravishes them,
16 let them come to thy habitation,
17 and bring their precious jewels with them,
18 that they may be intoxicated by thy embraces, without having been drunk.
19 Hear me, they come with their riches,
20 and they bring the liquor
hak
21 for all thy young maidens, (they bring)
22 all kinds of bread for repast,
23 cakes of yesterday, and fresh of to-day,
24 and all the delicious fruits for parties of pleasure.
25 Come, and make this a happy day."
26 From the first to the third day she was seated in the shade
27 her Khenmes was at her right hand, and her servant
28 carried out all her orders.
29 A cask of beer was placed upside down
30 that she might drink thereof at her pleasure, and her brother also.
31 Her servant was a sister in her rendezvous,
32 ///////////
 
(Here ends the second page.)
 
(The commencement of the third is wanting as are also the first words of all the remaining lines; from them we gather that the young lover, who is described as a prince, entered into the enjoyment of the voluptuous pleasures prepared for him by the lady, the messenger then comes to him to profit by his liberality while his good humour remains, and urges him to -)
 
-hak: Chabas: A kind of beer imported from Syria.
-khenmes: Chabas: The khenmes or Master was the so called Leno; possibly the same as the keeper in Canticles.
-servant: Chabas: A favourite maiden
Royal couple in garden
Royal couple in garden
33 "Bestow on her (i.e. the lady) a necklace of lapis lazuli, or of lilies and tulips,
34 give enough for all her maidens,
35 and let this be the day of joyfulness."

 
(The Prince now speaks)
 
36 "I came forth from the shady bower, from the secret place,
37 and the maidens perceived me and said,
38 'Behold him, he is really going away,
39 come let us caress him, and make him fulfill his day;
40 let us use all our arts to retain him.'
41 She had in her mouth a sycomore fruit.
42 Her gardener came and said unto her,
43 'Attention (listen), it is the brother of the Queen
44 thou art then comparable to this august lady.'
45 If there is no servant, I myself will be the waiter,
46 who will serve thee when those whom thy love captivates. (Upon this)
47 she suffered him to place her in her pavilion in the grove,
48 She offered me no coarse (common) beverage to drink.
49 I did not fill my stomach with river water.
50 We amused ourselves by jesting and saying: 'All drinking is forbidden here!'
51 By my life, my well beloved one, bring me close to thee.
52 The sycomore fig //////.

 
(Here ends the lower part of page three. From the fragments that remain the following sentences may he restored.)
 
-sycomore
-did not fill my stomach with river water: a wise decision, river water was not safe to drink.
-All drinking is forbidden here: Chabas: Ironically as if it were a sacred place, wine being forbidden to be drunk in the temples, see Herodotus 'Euterpe', 63, Plutarch, 'De Isid', 6: As for wine, those who serve the god in Heliopolis bring none at all into the shrine, since they feel that it is not seemly to drink in the day-time while their Lord and King is looking upon them. The others use wine, but in great moderation. They have many periods of holy living when wine is prohibited...
53 Give me the sycomore fig that thy lips have tasted
54 and let me eat of it.
55 I do not kiss with my lips only." /////
56 ////////
57 such were my pleasures in the Pavilion. of the grove.
58 There I rested all the while;
59 she was with me as a sister with her brother.
60 Then came there other lovers [to her bower],
61 they were intoxicated with mustum;
62 they made themselves drunk with palm wine,
63 and the perfumed drink of Kemi.
64 All desire to depart forsook me,
65 and I stayed in that garden twelve months.
66 [Then I perceived at last that they deceived me.]
67 Then I threw away the tulip,
68 the one that I had placed the evening before in my chamber.
69 [I reproached myself.]
70 I who am a great military Chief! //////
71 They look upon me as an inferior Captain.
72 If they recommence this [rude] behaviour
73 I will not be silent to them about it //////.
74 [At the next interview]
75 The crime is discovered (and)
76 I undergo the punishment of thy love
77 That Tum //////"

 
(These are the last words of the text which are now visible. The prince seems to charge (some deity) to avenge him. The tale implies a longer termination which may be however considered as irretrievably lost.)
-/////: Chabas:The original is too anomalous for translation even in a Latin dress.
19th and early 20th century translators had a problem rendering passages mentioning genitalia or describing sexual activities. Sometimes they translated them into Latin, cf. the 4th case of the Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus.
-sister with her brother: New Kingdom love poetry refers to lovers as brothers and sisters. At times they may have been real siblings even at this early time. Unions between brothers and sisters certainly were no rarity during early Roman times.
-mustum: Chabas: In French 'moût', i.e. cider, not made of apples, though.
-drink of Kemi: Chabas: A composite liquor like Metheglin.
-tulip: Chabas: The tulip was probably more particularly mentioned in that portion of the story which is missing, it may have been a token of love.
-Tum: Chabas: Tum or Atum. the god of the setting sun, perhaps the deity who should avenge the Prince on the courtesans.

Trans. M.François Chabas
S. Birch, ed. Records of the Past, Series I, Vol. 6, 1876

 


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