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Ancient Egypt: The Potter's Oracle
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Apology of the Potter

... and lawless. The river will flow without enough water, with insufficient, so that the land ... will be inflamed, but against nature. For in the time of the Typhonians they will say: "Wretched Egypt, you are wronged by terrible iniquities wrought against you."
The sun will be darkened, not wishing to look upon the evil things in Egypt. The land will not welcome the sowing of the seed. These ... will be blasted by the wind. And the farmer did not sow on account of this, but tribute will be required of him. They are fighting in Egypt because of the lack of nourishment. What they till, another reaps and takes away.
- The Apology of the Potter (Rainer Papyrus) written ca 130 BCE during the reign of Ptolemy VIII, purported to be a prophecy made by a potter (perhaps the god Khnum) to a New Kingdom pharaoh named Amenophis, reminiscent of The admonitions of Ipuwer in its description of the catastrophes going to befall Egypt.
-The river will flow without enough water: if the inundation was too low, the harvest would be bad, causing a great deal of hardship.
-with insufficient: Griffiths [4]: but only a little
-Typhonians: followers of Typhon, i.e. Seth, who had become by this time the Dark Lord.
-but tribute will be required of him: the taxcollectors were on the whole rather unyielding, not prone to listening to a peasant's tale of woes and quick to use a stick.
In this generation there will be war and murder which will destroy brothers, and husbands and wives. For these things will come to pass when the great god Hephaistos wishes to return to the city, and the Girdle-wearers, being Typhonians, will destroy themselves ... evil will be wrought. He will go on foot to the sea in wrath, and will trample on many of them because of their impiety. And out of Syria will come he who will be hateful to all men, and being ... he will come from Ethiopia ... and from the realms of the impious into Egypt and he will be established in the city which will later be laid waste. -Hephaistos: the Greek equivalent of Ptah.
-Girdle-wearers: foreigners, possibly the Persians or the Greeks, who were equated with the followers of Seth (Typhon to the Greeks), the god of the desert and the foreign countries beyond.
-out of Syria will come...Ethiopia: Egypt had suffered a number of invasions during the first millennium BCE, among them the Ethiopians in the 8th century (Piye) and the Assyrians in the seventh. Later, during the reign of Ptolemy VI Philometor (reigned 180-145) the Seleucid Antiochus IV, based in Syria, conquered Egypt in 170 BCE.
And for two years our ... well ... The month of Amon and he said well. Their children will be defeated. And the land will be unsettled and not a few of those dwelling in Egypt will abandon their own land and go to a foreign place. Friends will murder friends. There will be weeping and their ills will be worse than those of the others. And men will perish at each others hands. Two of their number will pass on to the same place(?) because of the one help. Much death will fall upon pregnant women.
 
The Girdle-wearers being Typhonians are destroying ... And then Agathos Daimon will abandon the city being established and will enter Memphis, and the foreign city which will be built will be emptied. And these things will take place at the conclusion of the evils when the falling of the leaves occurs in the Egypt of the foreigners. The city of the Girdle-wearers will be laid waste as in my furnace, because of the unlawful deeds which they executed in Egypt.
The statues transferred there will return to Egypt. The city by the sea will become a drying place for fishermen because Agathos Daimon and Knephis will have gone to Memphis, so that some who pass through will say: "This city, in which every race of men dwelt, was all-nourishing."
- Agathos Daemon Agathos Daimon: a demon in snake form, the "Spirit of Alexandria".

Coin showing Agathos Daimon.
Picture source [1]


In late antiquity the Agathos Daimon became the all-inclusive Egyptian deity:
Thou, whose indefatigable eyes are sun and moon
whose head is the heaven,
whose body is the air,
whose feet are the earth,
the water surrounding thee is the ocean:
Agathos Daimon
who creates all good and nourishes and multiplies
the whole inhabited earth and the whole cosmos.

(Source: [3])
-the foreign city which will be built: probably Alexandria
-conclusion of the evils: At Abydos a Ritual for causing the downfall of Seth and his followers was performed.
-statues transferred there will return to Egypt: Ptolemy III returned statues of Egyptian gods removed by the Persians, after capturing them during a campaign in Syria
-city by the sea: probably Alexandria
-Knephis: from km-At.f, identified with Amen or Horus (Harpon-Knouphi)[[5], rather in the minds of some people. One Ptolemaios of Memphis recounted the following dream: On the 14th I dreamed that I was in Alexandria on top of a great tower. My face was beautiful and because of its beauty I did not want to show it to anyone. And an old woman sat beside me and there was a crowd to the north of where I was and to the east. They shouted out that a man had been burned to a cinder with much [a gap in the tact] and she said: 'Stay for a little and I will lead you to the daimon Knephis, so that you can bow down before him.' And I seemed to say to an old man: 'Father, don't you see the vision that I have seen?' I told him about it. He gave me two straws. When I looked I saw Knephis. (Source: [2])
And then Egypt will increase, when for fifty-five years he who is well disposed, the king the dispenser of good, born of the Sun, established by the great goddess Isis, is at hand, so that those surviving will pray for the resurrection of those who died before, in order that they might share in the good things. At the end of these things trees will bear leaves and the forsaken Nile will be filled with water, and the winter having been stripped of its natural dress, will run its own cycle. And then the summer will take its own course, and the winds shall be well-ordered and gently diminished.
 
For in the time of the Typhonians the sun was darkened, having shone forth on evil customs and having exhibited the poverty of the Girdle-wearers. And Egypt ...
 
 
-born of the Sun: one of the pharaoh's epithets was son of Re
-those surviving will pray for the resurrection of those who died before: The Egyptians had always put great weight on the observance of offering nourishment to the dead, and as the world ruled by Maat crumbled before their eyes, they gave evermore importance to the afterlife.
 
 
-the sun was darkened: the power of Re, the main god, was diminished.
The Egyptians who had welcomed the coming of Alexander who had received the blessings of Amen-Re, were less happy about his successors. This Apology is generally considered to be directed against the Hellenists ruling the country at the time.

Sources

  • The "Potter's Oracle" (Rainer Papyrus, c.220 B.C., and / or c.130 B.C.) accessed at http://www.anchist.mq.edu.au/222/222weekly.htm
  • [1] Picture of the Agathodaemon, accessed at http://www.mindspring.com/~marinus/hserpent.htm, January 2006
  • [2] William Vernon Harris 2009, Dreams and experience in classical antiquity, Harvard University Press, p.105
  • [3] Jan Assmann, Ägypten, Theologie und Frömmigkeit einer frühen Hochkultur, p.281
  • [4] "Apology of the Potter" in John Gwyn Griffiths, Apocalyptic in the Hellenistic Era, p. 280
  • [5] Hans Dieter Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, 1997, University of Chicago Press, p.334

 


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© January 2006
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