Ancient Egyptian texts: Tale of the Doomed Prince
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Tale of the Doomed Prince
Now hear the tale of the doomed prince. Once upon a time there was a king in Egypt whose heart was heavy because that he had no son. He called upon the gods, and the gods heard, and they decreed that an heir should be born to him. 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.
The nurses informed the king what the Hathors had said, and the heart of His Majesty was troubled. He commanded that a house should be erected in a lonely place, so that the child might be guarded well, and he provided servants, and all kinds of luxuries, and gave orders that the prince should not be taken outside his safe retreat. It came to pass that the boy grew strong and big. One day he climbed to the flat roof of the house. Looking down, he saw a dog which followed a man, and wondered greatly thereat.
Then he spoke to one of the servants, saying: "What is that which follows the man walking along the road?"
"That," answered the servant, "is a dog."
The boy said: "I should like to have one for myself. Bring a dog to me."
When he spoke thus, the servant informed the king. His Majesty said: "Let him have a young boar hunter, so that he may not fret."
So the prince was given a dog as he had desired.
The surviving copy, one of the tales in the Harris Papyrus No 500, dates to the New Kingdom. The papyrus is kept at the British Museum. Apparently discovered intact part of the papyrus was destroyed in an explosion.
The seven Hathors: Goddesses who assist at birth and proclaim the destiny of the newborn.
Two of the seven Hathors of Denderah
Source: http://www.hethert.org/seven_hathors.htm, December 2003
nurses: Wente : the people who were in the boy's company
lonely place: Wente: desert
dog: Wente: greyhound
and wondered greatly thereat: not in Wente's rendition
boar hunter: Wente: springer
as he had desired: not in Wente's rendition
The boy grew into young manhood, and his limbs were stout; he was indeed a prince of the land. He grew restless in the lonely house, and sent a message to his royal father, saying: "Hear me. Why am I kept a prisoner here? I am destined to die either by a crocodile, a serpent, or a dog; it is the will of the gods. Then let me go forth and follow my heart's desire while I live."
His Majesty considered the matter, and said he would grant the lad's wish. So he caused him to be provided with all kinds of weapons, and consented that the dog should follow him.
A servant of the king conducted the young prince to the eastern frontier, and said: "Now you may go wherever you desire."
The lad called his dog, and set his face toward the north. He hunted on his way and fared well. In time he reached the country of Naharina, and went to the house of a chief.
Now the chief was without a son, and he had but one daughter and she was very fair. He had caused to be erected for her a stately tower with seventy windows, on the summit of a cliff 700 feet from the ground. The fame of the girl went abroad, and her father sent for all the sons of chiefs in the land and said to them: "My daughter will be given in marriage to the youth who can climb up to her window."
Naharina: Country in what is Syria today
he was indeed ... in the lonely house: Not in Wente's rendition
I am destined to die either by a crocodile, a serpent, or a dog; it is the will of the gods: Wente: I am committed to Fate
while I live: Wente: until God does what is his will
His Majesty considered the matter, and said he would grant the lad's wish: not in Wente's rendition
to be provided with all kinds of weapons: Wente: Then a chariot was harnessed for him, equipped [with] all sorts of weapons
his dog: Wente: [a servant]
A servant of the king conducted the young prince to the eastern frontier: Wente: He was ferried over to the eastern bank
toward the north: Wente: northward over the desert
the country of Naharina: Wente: the Prince of Nahrin
and she was very fair: not in Wente's rendition
tower with seventy windows, on the summit of a cliff 700 feet from the ground: Wente: house whose window / was seventy cubits distant from the ground
The fame of the girl went abroad: not in Wente's rendition
the land: Wente: the land of Khor (i.e the land of the Hurrites, Naharina in today's Syria)
Day after day the lads endeavoured to scale the cliff, and one afternoon when they were so engaged the young prince arrived and saw them. He was given hearty welcome. They took him to their house, they cleansed him with water and gave him perfumes, and then they set food before him and gave fodder to his horse. They showed him great kindness, and brought sandals to him.
Then they said: "Whence come ye, young man?"
The prince answered: "I am the son of one of the Pharaoh's charioteers. My mother died, and my father then took another wife, who hates me. I have run away from home."
He said no more. They kissed him as if he were a brother, and prevailed upon him to tarry with them a while.
"What can I do here?" asked the prince.
The young men said: "Each day we try to scale the cliff and reach the window of the chief's daughter. She is very fair, and will be given in marriage to the fortunate one who can climb up to her."
the young prince: Wente: the boy
They showed him great kindness, and brought sandals to him: Wente: (they) did every sort of thing for the boy, salving him and bandaging his feet, and gave food to his escort.
as if he were a brother: Wente: kissed him over [all his] body
prevailed upon him to tarry with them a while: not in Wente's rendition
What can I do here?: Wente: What's this you are engaged in, [boys]?
Each day we try to scale the cliff: Wente: [It's been three] whole [month]s now that that we have been spending time here [leaping up
She is very fair: not in Wente's rendition
The Egyptian prince's answer is omitted in this translation. Wente:[He] said to them, "If my feet were [not] hurting me so, I would proceed to leap up with you.
On the next day they resumed their wonted task, and the prince stood apart, watching them. Then day followed day, and they endeavoured in vain to reach the window, while he looked on.
It came to pass at length that the prince said to the others: "If you consent, I will make endeavour also; I should like to climb among you."
They gave him leave to join them in the daily task. Now it chanced that the beautiful daughter of the chief in Naharina looked down from her window in the high tower, gazing upon the youths. The prince saw her, and he began to climb with the sons of the chiefs, and he went up and up until he reached the window of the great chief's daughter, the fair one. She took him in her arms and she kissed him.
Then day followed day ... sons of the chiefs: Wente: Now after many days had elapsed, / the boy came in order to leap up along with the children of the princes.
She took him in her arms and she kissed him: Wente: She kissed him and embraced him over all his body
Then one who had looked on, sought to make glad the heart of the girl's father, and hastened to him and spoke, saying: "At last one of the youths has reached the window of your daughter."
The great chief asked: "Whose son is he?"
He was told: "The youth is the son of one of the Pharaoh's charioteers, who fled from Egypt because of his stepmother."
Then was the great chief very angry, and he said: "Am I to give my daughter in marriage to an Egyptian fugitive? Order him to return at once to his own land."
Messengers were sent to the youth in the tower, and they said to him: "Begone! You must return to the place whence you came."
who had looked on, sought to make glad the heart of the girl's father, and: not in Wente's rendition
But the fair maid clung to him. She called upon the god, and swore an oath, saying: "By the name of Ra Harmachis, if he is not to be mine, I will neither eat nor drink again."
When she had spoken thus she grew faint, as if she were about to die.
A messenger hastened to her father and told him what the girl had vowed and how she thereupon sank fainting. The great chief then sent men to put the stranger to death if he remained in the tower. When they came nigh the girl, she cried: "By the god, if you slay my chosen one, I will die also. I will not live a single hour if he is taken from me."
The girl's words were repeated to her father, and he, the great chief, said: "Let the young man, this stranger, be brought into my presence."
Harmachis: Horakhti, Horus of the Horizon, the morning sun
again. When she had spoken thus she grew faint, as if she were about to die: Wente: but shall die right away.
and how she thereupon sank fainting: not in Wente's rendition
|Then was the prince taken before the great chief. He was stricken with fear, but the girl's father embraced him and kissed him, saying: "You are indeed a noble youth. Tell me who you are. I love you as if you were mine own son."||
He was stricken with fear, but: Wente: his worth impressed the prince.
You are indeed a noble youth: not in Wente's rendition
The prince made answer: "My father is a charioteer in the army of the Pharaoh. My mother died, and my father then took another wife, who hates me. I have run away from home."
The great chief gave his daughter to the prince for wife, and provided a goodly dwelling, with servants, a portion of land, and many cattle.
It came to pass some time after this that the prince spoke to his wife, saying: "It is my destiny to die one of three deaths - either by a crocodile, or a serpent, or a dog."
|with servants, a portion of land, and many cattle: Wente: and fields as well as cattle and all sorts of good things.|
"Let the dog be slain at once," urged the woman.
Said the prince: "I will not permit that my dog be slain. Besides, he would never do me harm."
His wife was much concerned for his safety. He would not let the dog go out unless he went with it.
that my dog be slain. Besides, he would never do me harm: Wente: my dog, which I reared when it was a puppy, be killed.
It came to pass that the prince travelled with his wife to the land of Egypt, and visited the place in which he had formerly dwelt. A giant was with him there. The giant would not allow him to go out after dark, because a crocodile came up from the river each night. But the giant himself went forth, and the crocodile sought in vain to escape him. He bewitched it.
He continued to go out each night, and when dawn came the prince went abroad, and the giant lay down to sleep. This continued for the space of two months.
|It came to pass ... two months: Wente: Now from the day that the boy had come from the land of Egypt in order to travel about, the crocodile had been his fate [...]. It appeared [from the midst of] the lake opposite him in the town in which the youth was living with [his wife]. However, a water spirit was in it. The water spirit would not let the crocodile emerge, nor would the crocodile let the water spirit emerge to stroll about. As soon as the sun rose, [they would be] engaged there in fighting each other every single day over a period of two whole months.|
It came to pass on a certain day that the prince made merry in his house. There was a great feast. When darkness fell he lay down to rest, and he fell asleep. His wife busied herself cleansing and anointing her body. Suddenly she beheld a serpent which crept out of a hole to sting the prince. She was sitting beside him, and she called the servants to fill a bowl with milk and honeyed wine for the serpent, and it drank thereof and was intoxicated. Then it was rendered helpless, and rolled over. The woman seized her dagger and slew the serpent, which she flung into her bath.
When she had finished, she awoke the prince, who marvelled greatly that he had escaped, and his wife said: "Behold the god has given me the chance to remove one of your dooms. He will let me strike another blow."
The prince made offerings to the god, and prostrated himself, and he continued so to do every day.
His wife busied herself cleansing and anointing her body: Wente: Then his wife filled one [bowl with wine and] another bowl with beer.
sitting beside him and she called the servants to fill a bowl with milk and honeyed wine for the serpent: Wente: sitting beside him without falling asleep. The [bowls were thus standing] accessible to the snake
dagger: Wente: hatchet
which she flung into her bath: not in Wente's rendition
Behold the god has given me the chance to remove one of your dooms. He will let me strike another blow: Wente: See, your god has delivered one of your fates into your hand. He will watch over [you henceforth.]
It came to pass many days afterwards that the prince went out to walk some distance from his house. He did not go alone, for his dog followed him. It chanced that the dog seized an animal in flight, and the prince followed the chase, running. He reached a place near the bank of the river and went down after the dog. Now the dog was beside the crocodile, who led the prince to the place where the giant was. The crocodile said: "I am your doom and I follow you /////// (I cannot contend) with the giant, but, remember, I will watch you. /////// You may bewitch me (like) the giant, but if you see (me coming once again you will certainly perish)."
Now it came to pass, after the space of two months, that the prince went ///////////////////
From Donald Mackenzie Egyptian Myth and Legend, 1907
some distance from his house: Wente: for recreation on his property
It chanced that the dog seized an animal... where the giant was: Wente: Then his dog took on (the power of) speech, [saying, "I am your fate." Thereupon] he ran before it. Presently he reached the lake and descended into the [water in flight before the] dog. And so the crocodile [seized h]im and carried him off to where the water spirit was, [but he had left.
/////// ... (me coming once again you will certainly perish) Wente: but [it is two whole months] now that I have been fighting with the water spirit. Now see, I shall let you go. If my [opponent returns to engage me] to fight, [come] and lend me your support in order to kill the water spirit. Now if you see the [...] see the crocodile." Now after dawn and the next day had come about, the [water spirit] returned [...].
///////////////////: The rest of the text has been lost. According to Lichtheim  the conclusion of the tale was probably a happy one.
 Gaston Maspero, Popular Stories of Ancient Egypt, Kessinger Publishing 2003, p.185
 William Kelly Simpson (ed.), The Literature of Ancient Egypt, 3rd ed., New Haven and London, 2003, pp. 75-79
 M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol.2, p.200
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