Ancient Egypt: History and culture
Ancient Egyptian tales: Truth and Falsehood
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Truth and Falsehood
P. Chester Beatty 11, P. Brit. Mus. 10682

    The papyrus dates from the Nineteenth Dynasty. The tale occupies the eleven pages of the recto, and four pages of the verso. The beginning is lost, and the first four pages have numerous lacunae.
The lost beginning may be summarized as follows: Truth and Falsehood are brothers. Falsehood, the younger brother, has denounced Truth to the Ennead. He claims that he had lent to Truth a wondrous dagger of extraordinary size, and Truth had failed to return it to him. He proceeds to describe the dagger:
    "All the copper of Mount Yal had gone into the making of its blade. The timber of the grove of Coptos was its haft. The god's tomb was its sheath. The cattle of Kal formed its belt."
    Then Falsehood said to the Ennead: "Let Truth be brought, let him be blinded in both eyes, and let him be given to me as door-keeper of my house."
    And the Ennead did all that he had asked.
-   copper: By the 19th dynasty knives were mostly made of bronze.
  Coptos: City close to Thebes
  Ennead: A group of nine deities, often seen as a convention of gods sitting in judgment. (cf. The contendings of Horus and Seth)
    Now many days after this, Falsehood raised his eyes to see, and he observed the virtue of Truth, his elder brother. Then Falsehood said to two servants of Truth: "Take your master and cast him to a savage lion with many lionesses .........."
    [So they] took him. Now as they went up with him, Truth [said to his servants]: "Do not take [me] .......... Find me a little bread .......... Go and tell Falsehood: 'When [we] had left [him] .......... [a lion] came out of
  "Do not take [me] ..........: Reminiscent of the Snow White story. G. Harris carries it a little further in that direction:
"Donít leave me here for the lions," begged Truth. "Take me to some distant village and then stain my shirt with the blood of some animal and show it to Lies."
Geraldine Harris, Gods and Pharaohs from Egyptian Mythology
    Now - many days after this, the Lady went out [of her] house, (accompanied by her servants. They saw him (Truth) lying beneath a thicket, and he was a handsome man; there was none like [him in the] whole land. They went [to where] the Lady was and [said]: "Come [with] us and see [the blind man] lying beneath the thicket. He should be brought back and made door-keeper of our house."
    The Lady said: "Hasten to him, I want to see him."
    They went and brought him back. [And when the Lady] saw him she desired him very much, for she saw that he was [handsome] in all his [body]. He slept with her that night and knew her with the knowledge of a man. And she conceived a son that night.
  there was none like [him...: A formula often used in tomb inscriptions.
    Now many days after this, she gave birth to a boy whose like did not exist in the [whole] land. [He was] tall ..........; he was like the child of a god. He was sent to school and learned to write very well. He practiced all the arts of war, and he surpassed his older companions who were at school with him. Then his companions said to him: "Whose son are you? You don't have a father!" And they reviled him and mocked him: "Hey, you don't have a father!"
    Then the youth said to his mother: "What is the name of my father? I want to tell it to my companions, for they quarrel with me. 'Where is your father?' So they say; and they mock me."
    His mother said to him: "You see the blind man who sits by the door; he is your father." So she said to him.
  He was sent to school: In ancient Egypt any child not belonging to the nobility or the scribal class rarely received formal school training.
    Then he said to her: "You deserve that your family be gathered and a crocodile be summoned."
    The youth brought his father inside; made him sit on an armchair; placed a footrest under his feet; and put food before him. He gave him to eat, he gave him to drink. Then the youth said to his father: "Who blinded you? l will avenge you!"
    He said to him: "My young brother blinded me." And he told him all that had happened to him.
    He went off to avenge his father. He took ten loaves of bread, a staff, a pair of sandals, a waterskin, and a sword. He fetched an ox of very beautiful color. And he went to where the herdsman of Falsehood was. He said to him: "Take for yourself these ten loaves, the staff, the waterskin, the sword and the sandals, and guard my ox for me until I return from town."
  armchair: Only the well-off had chairs of any kind.
    Now many days after this, when his ox had spent many months with Falsehood's herdsman, Falsehood came to the fields to view his cattle. Then he saw the ox of the youth which was exceedingly beautiful in color. He said to his herdsman: "Give me this ox, I want to eat it."
    The herdsman said to him: "It is not mine; I cannot give it to you."
    Then Falsehood said to him: "Look, all my cattle are in your charge; give one of them to its owner."
    Then the youth heard that Falsehood had taken his ox. He came to where the herdsman of Falsehood was and said to him: "Where is my ox? I do not see it among your cattle."
    The herdsman said to him: "All my cattle are yours; take one you like."
    The youth said to him: "Is there another ox as big as my ox? If it stood on Amun's Island, the tip of its tail would lie on the papyrus marshes, while one of its horns would be on the western mountain and the other on the eastern mountain. The Great River is its resting place, and sixty calves are born to it daily."
    The herdsman said to him: "Does there exist an ox as big as you say?"
  Amun's Island ........ eastern mountain: As extended as the whole of Egypt, from Asswan to the Mediterranean coast, including the eastern and western desert mountains.
  the papyrus marshes: in the Delta
  Great River: The Nile
    Then the youth seized him and took him to where Falsehood was. And he took Falsehood to court before the Ennead. Then (they) said to the youth: "[What you have said] is false. We have never seen an ox as big as you say."
    The youth [said to the Ennead]: "Is there a dagger as big as you said? One that has Mount Yal in it for copper, in whose haft is [the grove] of Coptus, whose sheath consists of the tomb of the god, and its belt of the herds of Kal?" And he said to the Ennead: "Judge between Truth and Falsehood! I am his son; I have come to avenge him!"
    Then Falsehood took an oath by the lord, saying: "As Amun lives, as the Ruler lives, if Truth is found alive, I shall be blinded in both eyes and shall be made door-keeper of the house of Truth!"
    Then the youth [led the Ennead to where his father was] and he was found to be alive. Then they [inflicted punishment upon Falsehood. He was smitten] with five open wounds, blinded in [both his eyes, and made door-keeper of] the house of Truth ........... [thus they settled the dispute] between Truth and Falsehood .........
  if Truth is found alive, I shall be blinded: The offender pronounces his own judgment, a device frequently used in folk tales
  with five open wounds: A standard punishment though it is unknown what exactly it entailed, cf. Law and Order.



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November 2003