From The Bibliophile Library of Literature, Art, & Rare Manuscripts, Volume I, compiled and arranged by Nathan Haskell Dole, Forrest Morgan, and Caroline Ticknor; The International Bibliophile Society, New York-London; 1904; pp. 69-82.
THAT is, the oldest which has actually come down to us in writing. That the human imagination had been active and fruitful for centuries, even before the remote period to which this story belongs, there can be no question. Possibly some of 70 those strange traditions, which so often repeat themselves in different parts of the globe, with merely local variations of color and form, and which float to us we know not whence, may boast a higher antiquity. But if so, the earliest records of them have perished. They have passed from mouth to mouth, they have rooted themselves here and there, like winged seeds finding a resting place in different soils, and there shooting up, as if of native growth, and defying every attempt to ascertain their exact origin, the books in which they have at last taken definite shape being centuries later than the myth, the tale, the fable which they preserve.
But the story which is here presented to the reader comes with better credentials. There is no doubt as to its age or its authorship; it remains to this day as it was originally written. The old papyrus, brown and crumbling, covered with mysterious characters, traced two and thirty centuries ago by the hand of the Egyptian scribe, Annana, may be seen in the British Museum. It has been read, it has been deciphered, it has been printed, and its contents so long hidden in darkness, have been brought into “the light of common day.”
Wide and varied as was the field of Egyptian literature, one portion, it was supposed, had never been cultivated. Though every museum in Europe had its rolls of papyrus, amongst none of these was there any work of imagination in the shape of a tale or romance till, in the year 1852, this want was happily supplied. In that year, Mrs. D’Orbiney, an English lady, traveling in Italy, became the fortunate purchaser of this unique papyrus. On her return, she submitted it to the inspection of one of the first of living Egyptologists, the Vicomte de Rougé, Superintendent of the Egyptian collection at Paris. He at once recognized the value of the discovery, and described the general character of the roll. In a short account of it, which was printed in the Revue Archéologique, he drew the attention of French savants to this remarkable production.
The story was written “in usum Delphini,” for the Prince Seti Mernephtah, son of Pharaoh Ramses Miamun, and was regarded as one of the masterpieces of Egyptian literature. At the end of it is this critical notice: —
“Considered good enough to be associated with the names of Pharaoh’s scribe, Kagabu [the leading writer of the day], 71 and the scribe Horu, and the scribe Meremapu [two other stars of the first magnitude in the great literary constellation]. It was composed by the scribe Annana, the possessor of this roll. May the god Thoth preserve from destruction all the words which are contained in this roll.”
1. There were two brothers, sons of one mother and one father. Anepu was the name of the elder, Batau that of the younger. Now Anepu had a house and a wife;
2. But his younger brother was with him as a child, and he made garments for him. He followed his oxen to the field.
3. [Only when] the labor of plowing was done, then was he obliged to assist in all manner of work in the field. And lo! his younger brother
4. Was a good workman; there was none like him in all the land. . . . After many days were accomplished, afterwards the younger brother was
5. With his oxen, as was his daily custom, so he drove them also home to his house every evening. And, laden
6. With all manner of herbs of the field, he returned home from the field, that he might lay the herbs before his [cattle]. The elder brother then remained with
7. His wife, that he might drink and eat, whilst the younger brother was in his stall with his oxen.
8. Now, when the earth became bright, and a new day dawned, and the lamp [no longer burned], then he arose before his elder brother, and carried
9. The loaves of bread to the field, to give them to the laborers, that they might eat with him in the field. Then he went after his oxen;
10. And they always told him where the good herbage was, and he hearkened to all their words. And he drove them to the spot
1. Where the good herbage was, in which they delighted. And the oxen which were before him were very noble; and they multiplied
2. Exceedingly. Then was the time of plowing. And his elder brother spake unto him, saying: Let us take the team,
3. That we may plow: for the fields reappear [after the overflowing of the Nile], and the season is fair for plowing. Therefore, come thou72
4. To the field with the seed, for we will busy ourselves with the plow. . . . Thus he spake to him. And his
5. Younger brother did, in all respects, as his elder brother had said unto him. . . . And when the earth grew bright and
6. A new day arose, then they went to the field with their [team], and were very busy with their labor in the field, and
7. Were full of gladness, because of the accomplishment of their work. . . . Now, it came to pass,
8. After many days, that, when they were in the field, they wanted seed, and he sent his
9. Younger brother, saying: Haste thee, and fetch us seed from the village. And his younger brother found the wife
10. Of his elder brother sitting braiding her hair. Then he spake unto her, saying: “Arise, and give me seed:
1. For I must hast to the field, because my brother hath bidden me return without delay. Then she said unto him, Go
2. Open the granary, and take what thy soul desireth, for [if I went] my hair might become unbraided by the way. Then went the youth
3. Unto his stall, and he took a large basket, because he wished to carry much grain; and he laded himself with
4. Wheat and barley, and went out. Then she said unto him: How much carriest thou? And he answered her: Three measures of barley,
5. And two measures of wheat; in all, five measures, which are upon my arm. So he said unto her —
[The story then goes on to relate how this false and licentious woman, like Potiphar’s wife, foiled in her wickedness, like her, took her revenge by bringing a malicious charge against the young man; and to give greater color to the accusation, wounded herself, and pretended that the wounds had been inflicted by her husband’s brother.]
1. . . . . Now her husband returned home at even,
2. According to his daily custom, and he entered into his house and found his wife lying there, as though she had suffered violence at the hands of an evil doer.
3. And she gave him no water for his hands as was her custom, neither did she light the lamp before him, and his house was dark. And she lay
4. There uncovered. And her husband said unto her, 73 “Who hath spoken unto thee? arise.” Then she answered him: “No man hath spoken unto me except thy younger brother.”. . . Then did his elder brother become
5. Like a panther, and he made his ax sharp, and took it in his hand. And his elder brother placed himself behind the door
6. Of his stall, to slay his younger brother on his return at evening, when he drove back his oxen into the
7. Stall. Now when the sun set, and he had laden himself with all manner of herbs of the field according to his daily custom, then
8. Came he, and the first heifer entered into the stall. Then she spake to her keeper (saying), “Beware of thine elder brother who standeth there
9. Before thee with his ax, to slay thee. Remain thou far from him.” And he heard the words of his first heifer.
1. Then went the second in and spake likewise. And he looked under the door of his stall,
2. And he caught sight of the legs of his elder brother, who stood behind the door with his ax in his hand.
3. And he cast down his load to the ground and fled instantly thence, and his
4. Elder brother followed him with his ax. And his younger brother prayed to the sun god, Harmachis
5. (saying): “Gracious Lord, Thou art He who dost sever between the lie and the truth.” And the sun god stood
6. To hear all his complaints, and the sun god caused a mighty stream to arise between him and his elder brother, and it was
7. Full of crocodiles. And the one of them was upon the one bank, and the other upon the other.
8. His elder brother dealt two blows with his hand, but he could not slay him. So did he. And his
9. Younger brother cried to him from the bank, saying: “Remain, and wait till the earth be bright, and when the orb of the sun appeareth above the horizon then will I
1. Discover myself to thee before it, that I may give thee to know the truth; for never have I done any wrong unto thee.74
2. But in the place where thou art will I not tarry, but I will go to the mountain of cedars.” When the earth grew bright, and the next day arose, then
3. The sun god Harmachis appeared, and they looked one upon another. And the youth spake to his elder brother, saying:
4. “Wherefore pursuest thou me, to slay me unrighteously? Hearest thou not, what my mouth uttereth, namely, I am of a truth thy younger brother, and
5. Thou wert unto me as a father, and thy wife as a mother.”
[He then clears himself of the charge that has been laid against him, and satisfies his brother of his innocence. The story continues —]
1. But the soul of his brother was sore troubled. And he stood there, weeping and lamenting, yet could he not pass over to his younger brother because of the crocodiles.
2. And his younger brother cried to him, saying: “Behold thou didst devise evil, and hadst not good in thy mind instead thereof. But I will tell thee one thing which thou must do. Go to thine house
3. Tend thy cattle, for I shall no longer tarry there where thou dwellest, but I shall go to the mountain of cedars. This now shalt thou do for me, when thou comest, in order to seek for me.
4. Know then that I must separate myself from my soul that I may lat it in the topmost blossom of the cedar. And as soon as ever the cedar tree shall be cut down, then will it fall to the earth.
5. When thou comest to seek it, then tarry thou seven years, to seek it, and if thy should endureth this, then wilt thou find it. Then place it in a vessel with cold water. So shall I again come to life, and shall give an answer
6. To all questions, to make known [to thee] what more must be done with me. . . . Take also a bottle of barley water in thine hand, cover it with pitch, and tarry not therewith, that thou mayest have it with thee [when thou comest].” And he went
7. To the mountain of cedars, and his elder brother betook himself to his house, laid his hand upon his head, and strewed earth thereon. As soon as he entered into his house, he slew75
8. His wife, cast her to the dogs, and set himself down to mourn over his younger brother. After many days his younger brother came to the mountain of cedars.
9. And no one was with him; and he passed the day in hunting the wild beasts of the land, and came in the evening to lay himself down to rest beneath the cedar tree in whose topmost blossom his soul lay. Many
1. Days later he built for himself a hut with his hands upon the mountain of cedars.
2. And filled it with all the good things that he would have in his house. When he went out from his hut, there met him the nine gods.
3. Who had gone forth to provide for the wants of the whole land. And the company of the gods spake one to another [and] said to him,
4. “O Batau, thou bullock of the gods, why art thou thus alone, why hast thou forsaken thy land because of the wife of Anepu, thine elder
5. Brother? Behold his wife is put to death. Return home to him; he will answer thee all questions.” And their heart was moved with compassion
6. Towards him very greatly. Then spake the sun god Harmachis to Chnum: Fashion thou a wife for Batau
7. That he may not abide alone. And Chnum fashioned for him a wife, and as she sat there she was more beautiful in person than all women
8. In the whole country; all divinity was in her. And the seven Hathors came and beheld her, and they said with one
9. Mouth, “She will die a violent death.” And he loved her very greatly, and she sat in his house, whilst he spent the day
1. In chasing the wild beasts of the country, and laid the spoil at her feet. And he said unto her, “Go not forth, lest thou meet the Sea
2. And he carry thee away: for I could not rescue thee from him . . . because my soul lieth
3. In the topmost of the cedar blossoms. If another findeth it, then must I fight for it.” And he opened unto her his whole heart.76
4. Many days later Batau went forth to hunt, as was his daily custom.
5. Now his young wife also went abroad to walk beneath the cedar which stood beside her house, when, lo! the Sea beheld her
6. And rose up behind her, but she ran hastily from him and leaped and gat her into her house.
7. But the Sea cried to the Cedar, saying: “Oh, how I love her!” Then the Cedar gave him a lock of her hair. And the
8. Sea carried it to Egypt; and laid it down on the spot where were the washers of the house of Pharaoh. And the fragrance
9. Of the lock of her hair imparted itself to the garments of Pharaoh, and there arose a strife among the washers
10. Of Pharaoh, because they said, “There is a fragrance as of anointing oil among the garments of Pharaoh,” and every day there was a strife among them concerning it.
1. And they knew not what they did. But the chief of Pharaoh’s washers went to the Sea and his soul was troubled
2. Very greatly because of the daily strife concerning this matter. And he posted himself upon the shore opposite the lock of hair
3. Which lay in the sea. The he stooped down, and seized the lock of hair; and there was found therein an extraordinary sweet odor.
4. Then he brought it unto Pharaoh. And the experienced scribes of Pharaoh were summoned. And they spake unto Pharaoh: “This is the lock
5. Of a daughter of the sun god, and all divinity is in her. The whole land doeth homage to thee. Therefore send now messengers
6. Into all lands, to seek for her, but the messenger who shall go to the cedar mountains, let him be accompanied by many people,
7. That they may fetch her hither.” And behold, the King said, “The thing is very good which ye have spoken.” And they were sent forth. Many days later
8. Came the people who had gone to the [different] lands to bring tidings to the King, but they came not77
9. Who had gone to the cedar mountains, for Batau had slain them, and had only left one of them alive to bring the King word again.
10. Then the King sent forth people, many warriors on foot and on horseback, in order again to fetch her.
1. And there was also a woman amongst them. In her hand were placed all manner of women’s ornaments. Then came the woman [Batau’s wife] to
2. Egypt with her, and there was great rejoicing because of her in the whole country. And the King loved her very greatly,
3. And he reared her to wondrous beauty. And they spake to her that she should disclose the history
4. Of her husband. Then she said to the King, “Let the cedar tree be cut down, that he may perish.” Then
5. Were sent armed men, who carried their axes with them to cut down the cedar tree. And they came
6. To the cedar, and they cut the blossom off, in the midst whereof the soul of Batau was.
7. Then it fell away, and he died shortly. When the earth grew bright, and a new day arose, then was
8. Also the cedar tree cut down. And Anepu, Batau’s elder brother, went into his house, and
9. Sat himself down to wash his hands. And he took a vessel with barley water, which he closed with pitch,
10. And another with wine, which he closed with clay. And he took his staff
1. And his shoes, together with his garment, and provision for the journey, and set out on his way
2. To the mountain of cedars. And he came to the hut of his younger brother, and found his younger brother lying stretched out
3. Upon his mat. He was dead. And he began to weep when he beheld his younger brother lying stretched out like one dead. Then went he forth
4. To seek for the soul of his younger brother beneath the cedar, beneath which his younger brother laid himself down in the evening.78
5. And he sought for it three years without finding it. And when the fourth year came, then his soul longed to return to Egypt.
6. And he said; “I will go to-morrow morning early.” Such was his purpose. When the earth grew bright, and a new day arose, he took
7. His way under the cedar, and he busied himself all the day in seeking for the soul. And as he returned home at evening, and again looked round about him to seek for it,
8. Then he found a fruit, and when he returned home with it, lo! there was the soul of his younger brother. Then took he
9. The vessel with cold water, placed it therein, and sat himself down, as was his daily custom. Now as soon as it was night,
1. Then the soul sucked in the water, and Batau stirred himself in all his limbs, and looked at his elder brother,
2. But his heart was incapable of motion. And Anepu, his elder brother, took the vessel with the cold water, wherein the soul
3. Of his younger brother was, made him drink it up, and lo! the soul was restored to its old place.
4. Then was he the same as he had been before. They embraced one
5. Another, and they spake one to another. And Batau said to his
6. Elder brother: “See, I will change myself into a sacred bullock with all the sacred marks; the mystery thereof shall no man know, and do thou set thyself upon my back. And so soon as the sun is arisen, we will be at the place where my wife is. Answer me
7. Whether thou wilt lead me thither: for all favor will be shown unto thee, as it is fitting. Thou shalt be
8. Laden with silver and gold, if thou leadest me to Pharaoh, for I shall be in great good fortune;
9. And they will hail me with shouts of joy throughout all the land. But go thou to thy village.” When the earth grew bright,
1. And a new day dawned, then had Batau assumed the form which he had described to his brother. And Anepu,79
2. His elder brother, sat himself upon his back at the dawn of day. And when he drew nigh to the place, they
3. Informed the King; but he, when he beheld him, rejoiced greatly, and celebrated in his honor
4. A feast, greater than can be told, for it was a great good fortune. And there was joy because of him in all the land. And they
5. Brought thither silver and gold for his elder brother who abode in his village, and they gave him many servants
6. And many [other] things, and Pharaoh loved him greatly, more than any man in all the land.
7. After many days later the bullock went into the sanctuary and stood on
8. The same spot where the beautiful one [his wife] was. Then he spake unto her, saying, “Look hither, I am still alive, of a truth.” Then
9. Spake she, “Who art thou?” and he answered her: “I am Batau; thou didst then,
10. When thou causedst the cedar to be felled, teach Pharaoh where I was, that I might no longer live.
1. Look at me: I am still alive, of a truth, only I am in the form of a bullock.” Then was his beautiful wife in great fear when she heard this that
2. Her husband had spoken unto her. And then she went forth from the sanctuary, and the King sat down by her side.
3. And she found herself in favor with the King, and she obtained graces in his sight beyond all measure, Then spake she to the King:
4. “Swear to me, by God, that thou wilt fulfill all that I shall ask of thee.” Then he promised to fulfill for her all that she asked, and she said: “Let me eat of the liver of this bullock,
5. For thou hast no need of him.” Thus she spake unto him. Then was he exceeding sorry because of what she had spoken, and the soul
6. Of Pharaoh was troubled above measure. When the earth grew bright, and a new day arose, then they made ready a great feast
7. To offer sacrifices to the bullock. But then went forth one of the chief servants of the King to slay the bullock. And it80
8. Came to pass hereupon, that when they would slay him, the people stood by his side. And when he gave him a blow upon his neck
9. There leaped forth two drops of blood on the spot where the two doorposts of the King’s palace are; the one fell on the one side
10. Of Pharaoh’s door, and the other on the other side. And they grew up into two beautiful Persea trees.
1. And each of them stood apart by itself. Then they went to the King to tell him: “Two fine
2. Persea trees have, to the King’s great good fortune, sprung up in the night on the spot where the great gate of the King’s palace is, and there is joy
3. Because of it in all the land.” After many days later, the King was
4. Adorned with his collar of lapis lazuli, and beautiful garlands of flowers were about his neck. He was in a golden chariot.
5. And when he came forth from the King’s palace, then he spied the Persea trees. And his beautiful wife also had gone forth upon a chariot behind Pharaoh.
6. And the King placed himself under one of the Perseas. But it said to his wife: “Ah! thou false woman. I am
7. Batau; I am yet alive, I have transformed myself. Thou didst teach Pharaoh where I dwelt,
8. That I might be put to death; I was the bullock, and thou didst cause me to be put to death.” Many days later
9. The beautiful woman stood in the favor of the King, and she found grace in his sight. Then she said to the King: “Come
10. Swear to me, by God, that thou wilt do all that I shall say unto thee.” Then also he promised to fulfill
1. All she should ask, and she said, “Let the two Persea trees be hewn down, that beautiful boards may be made thereof.”
2. And they did all that she desired. After many days later, the King commanded81
3. Skillful workmen to come and cut down Pharaoh’s Perseas, and the beautiful Queen stood by and looked on.
4. And there flew a chip of the wood, and went into the mouth of the beautiful lady.
5. And it came to pass, after many days,
6. That she brought forth a son, and they went to carry tidings to the King, “To thee is
7. Born a son.” And he was brought forward, and they gave him a nurse, and women to take charge of him; and there was
8. Joy in all the land. They sat themselves down to keep a festival; they gave him
9. His name; and the King loved him greatly from that hour; and he appointed him
1. Prince of Ethiopia. After many days had passed hereafter, the King made him
2. Viceroy of the whole country. After many days had passed hereafter, when he had fulfilled
3. Many years as Viceroy, then the King died, and Pharaoh flew to heaven.
4. And the other said: “Now let me summon the mighty ones, and the great ones of the royal court; I will make them know the whole history
5. Of all that has happened, with regard to me and the Queen.” And his wife was brought to him, and he made himself known unto her before them, and they uttered their sentence.
6. And they brought to him his elder brother, and he made him Viceroy over all his territory. He reigned thirty years as King of Egypt.
7. When he had lived these thirty, then his brother stood in his place on the day of his burial.
So ends this tale of three thousand years ago. How many reflections it suggests! How many points of contact it presents with the tales and traditions of other times and countries! What a curious light it throws on the manners and customs and opinions of the ancient Egyptians! In particular, how clearly it implies a belief, not only in the doctrine of transmigration of souls, but also in the separate existence of the soul 82 from the body! Whether the tale was in the strictest sense original, or whether it was drawn from existing sources, is a matter of little importance: whether the merit of invention or only the matter of embellishment is due to the scribe Annana, the interest is the same. The simplicity, the freshness, the almost biblical style of the narrative, cannot fail to strike the mind, even in a translation. If, as Mr. Brugsch thinks, the author was the contemporary of Moses, such a circumstance adds another feature of interest to the discovery of the papyrus. The resemblance between some portions of the narrative in Genesis and the style of the Egyptian writer may be accounted for by the fact that Moses was trained by men like Annana and Kagabu in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. This story, this papyrus, may have been in his hands. Writings such as the these may have contributed to his education. They help us, at least, to realize more vividly the fact that the great Jewish lawgiver was prepared for his mission, not first in the solitudes of Horeb, but in the court of Pharaoh, and in the schools of Egypt.
[This story appears to now be the second oldest, not the oldest. In another vast collection by the same publishers, there is another story now considered the oldest. Read it on this site, “The Oldest Story in the World,” from “Egyptian Tales,” by W. M. Flinders Petrie in The International Library of Masterpieces, Literature, Art, and Rare Manuscripts, Volume XXX, Editor-in-Chief: Harry Thurston Peck; The International Bibliophile Society, New York; 1901; pp. 11303-11306.
This same series also has a prose translation of this story, in a unified narrative, as the selection after the above-mentioned “Oldest Story in the World.” See “The Two Brothers.” — Elf.Ed.]