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Tales

The most tantalizing of these fragments are perhaps the Tales, especially The Tale of the Herdsman. Twenty-five lines of this were accidentally preserved by the scribe who wrote the only extant copy of The Dialogue of a Man and his Soul. To strengthen the end of the roll he cut a section from a manuscript of the Herdsman, partially cleaned both edges of it and joined it to the end of the Dialogue. A short episode in the middle of the section was not erased; a herdsman is telling his colleagues how a terrifying goddess approached him from a pool. He proposes that they should escape across the river to another pasture, invoking a spell to ensure a safe crossing. However, as they prepare to leave, he returns to the pool and the goddess surprises him with her erotic overtures. The whole episode is as follows:

[………….],1 Traces of four erased lines are almost, but not quite, legible. A new stanza seems to start in the first erased line, and then the herdsman speaks. [‘Look, I ……………] [……. long ……….] [… when I come ……‥] 1 Look, I went down 〈to〉 the pool, which is close by this low-lying pasture, and I saw a woman in it: she was not of human form. My hair stood on end when I saw her tresses,2 Tresses of hair were often objects of erotic interest; from this and from what happens later, the goddess presumably had invited him to sleep with her. and the smoothness of her skin. I'll never do what she said, and dread of her still runs through my limbs! I say to you: So bulls, let's return! So let the calves cross over and the herd spend the night on the edge of the grazing land, 10 with the herders looking after them! Our skiff for the return! With the bulls and cows behind it, and the herders’ sages reciting a water-spell.3 The sages are rustic wise men and magicians. Their spell opens with a pun: spirits and ‘bulls’ are homophonous.

Speaking thus, “My spirits rejoice, O herders! O men! I will not be driven from the water-meadow, even in a year of a great Nileflood who issues the order to the earth's surface,4 During a year when the annual Nileflood was high, the meadow would be under water, and the earth's surface under the control of the flood. when the pool cannot be told from the river! Be well within Your house!5 You is the Nileflood, whom the sages conjure to stay in its course and not threaten the crossing. They urge the river to be a friendly force, whose fearsomeness will now be as non-existent as the fearsomeness of the Mighty goddess is imperishable. The Mighty Goddess and the Lady of the Two Lands are titles of the goddess of the royal uraeus; the mention of a goddess is appropriate, given the reason for the herdsmen's departure. The cattle stay in their proper place. Come! Fear of You has perished, 20 dread of You is driven away, even until the storminess of the Mighty Goddess, and the fearsomeness of the Lady of the Two Lands will perish!” ’

When it was dawn, very early, they did as he said. This goddess approached him6 Probably to wash or drink, before setting off. when he appeared before the pool. She came stripped naked of her clothes, 25 with her hair let loose. […‥]7 For the erotic implications of hair, see n. 2. After the end of l. 25, the text is erased, with traces of four more lines that are illegible apart from one or two signs. […………………‥

She advances alluringly, but nothing further is legible. Seduction by a spirit is suggestive of a folk tale, but the water-spell is also found in a late Eleventh Dynasty funerary text, and this suggests that the Tale belongs, like The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor, to the élite sphere.

Other Tales survive in even smaller fragments, mostly single scraps. Many of these are reminiscent of The Tale of King Cheops’ Court, with its lighter tone. There is, for example, an apparently humorous Tale of Horus and Seth found at the town of el-Lahun, in which Seth, the god of chaos, tries to seduce his rival Horus with the words ‘How lovely is your backside!’ Of another Tale from el-Lahun, The Tale of Hay, only the ending survives; in this a man called Hay is buried, and a feud is ended. In The Tale of King Neferkare and Sasenet, known from several fragmentary copies, a king is having an amorous liaison with a general, and a ‘pleader of Memphis’ tries to denounce him before the court, but the king's musicians drown out his speeches. Later the king is noticed by a courtier called Tjeti as he

goes out at night, all alone, having nobody with him

to visit the general secretly for four hours of pleasure:

Hent's son Tjeti waited, thinking, ‘So this is it! What they said is true— he does go out at night.’ Hent's son Tjeti then went behind this god— without letting his heart have misgivings—to see all that he did. He then arrived at the house of General Sasenet. Then he threw a brick, and stamped his foot, so that a [ladder] was let down for him. He then ascended, while Hent's son Tjeti waited until his Majesty should proceed. Now after his Majesty had done what he desired with him, he proceeded to his palace, and Tjeti went after him.

The conclusion of the intrigue is lost.

A Tale on Papyrus Lythgoe from el-Lisht involves a Vizier who goes

to the field of the Vizier Wehau, which was on the east of the Residence, and he loaded a sea-going boat of the palace (l.p.h.!) [with] every good thing.

There is also a Tale of the King and the Ghost, the most coherent fragment of which is almost as tantalizing as that of The Tale of the Herdsman:

He (the ghost) was not in the sky. He was not in the earth; his feet were far from the ground [………………‥] [………………‥] [……. the Fair of] Face!8 An epithet of the king or a god, most commonly Ptah, the creator-god of Memphis. The king is now speaking, and hoping to talk with the ghost. Never will you weep […‥] [Let] him [speak] to me!’ And this ghost said, ‘I am Khentyka's son Snefer, sovereign, my lord!’

Notes:

1. Traces of four erased lines are almost, but not quite, legible. A new stanza seems to start in the first erased line, and then the herdsman speaks.

2. Tresses of hair were often objects of erotic interest; from this and from what happens later, the goddess presumably had invited him to sleep with her.

3. The sages are rustic wise men and magicians. Their spell opens with a pun: spirits and ‘bulls’ are homophonous.

4. During a year when the annual Nileflood was high, the meadow would be under water, and the earth's surface under the control of the flood.

5. You is the Nileflood, whom the sages conjure to stay in its course and not threaten the crossing. They urge the river to be a friendly force, whose fearsomeness will now be as non-existent as the fearsomeness of the Mighty goddess is imperishable. The Mighty Goddess and the Lady of the Two Lands are titles of the goddess of the royal uraeus; the mention of a goddess is appropriate, given the reason for the herdsmen's departure.

6. Probably to wash or drink, before setting off.

7. For the erotic implications of hair, see n. 2. After the end of l. 25, the text is erased, with traces of four more lines that are illegible apart from one or two signs.

8. An epithet of the king or a god, most commonly Ptah, the creator-god of Memphis. The king is now speaking, and hoping to talk with the ghost.

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