Westcar Papyrus

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Westcar Papyrus

An Egyptian papyrus dating from the eighteenth century B.C.E. devoted chiefly to tales of magic and enchantment. The beginning and ending are missing, yet much of the subject matter has survived.

Alfred Wiedemann, in his book Popular Literature of Ancient Egypt (1902), describes these tales of magic and enchantment as follows:

"The papyrus tells how Kheopsthe king whom notices of Greek writers have made universally famous as the builder of the Great Pyramid of Gizehcommands stories of magic to be told to him. The first of these, of which the conclusion only remains, is supposed to have occurred in the reign of King T'eser of the Third Dynasty. The next, which is complete, belongs to the reign of Nebka, a somewhat earlier king.

"In those days it came to the ears of a great nobleman that his faithless wife was in the habit of meeting her lover by the side of a lake. Being skilled in magic he modelled a crocodile in wax and ordered one of his servants to cast it into the water. It was immediately transformed into a real crocodile and devoured the lover. Seven days later the king was walking by the lake with his friend the nobleman, when at the command of the latter the crocodile came to the shore and laid its victim at their feet. The king shuddered at the sight of the monster but at the touch of its maker it became once more a mere figure of wax. Then the whole astonishing story was told to the king, who thereupon granted the crocodile permission to take away that which was its own. The creature plunged into the depths of the lake and disappeared with the adulterer, while the guilty wife was burnt to death and her ashes were scattered in the stream.

"A tale of enchantment follows, the scene of which is laid during the reign of King Sneferu, the predecessor of Kheops. The king was one day taking his pleasure on a lake in a boat rowed by twenty beautiful maidens, when one of the girls dropped a malachite ornament into the water. The king promised to give her another in its stead, but this did not content her, for she wanted her own jewel and no other. A magician was summoned who repeated a spell by the might of which he piled one half of the lake on the top of the other, so that the water, which at first was twelve ells deep in the middle of the lake, now stood twenty-four ells high. The jewel, found lying in the mud in the dry portion of the lake, was restored to its owner; and the magician having once more mumbled his spell the water returned to its former place.

"When Kheops had listened for some time with much interest to the accounts of the strange events that had transpired in the days of his predecessors, then stepped forward Prince Horduduf, who is really known to us from the song in the tomb-temple of King Antef as renowned for his wisdom. He told the king that all marvels were not things of the past but that even then there was living a magician named Deda, who was one hundred and ten years old, and consumed every day five hundred loaves, a side of beef, and a hundred jars of beer.

"Kheops was so much interested that he sent the prince to escort the magician to his presence. Deda obeyed the royal summons and performed his chief feat before the king. This consisted in decapitating a goose, a duck, and an ox, and charming the heads back again on to the bodies so that the creatures lived and breathed as before. Kheops fell into talk with the magician, who told him that the wife of a priest in Sakhebu was awaiting the birth of three sons, children of the god Ra, who should one day sit on the throne of Egypt. Deda sought to allay the king's natural distress at this information by prophesying that only after the reigns of his son and grandson should the power fall into the hands of the descendants of the Sun-god. But Kheops was not to be consoled; he inquired into the details of the story and announced that he would himself travel to Sakhebu, no doubt with the ultimate intention of finding an opportunity to put out of the way the pretenders to his throne.

"The scene of the sequel is laid in Sakhebu. The birth and infancy of the three children are described in detail, and all sorts of marvelous incidents are represented as influencing their fate. The gods cared for the safety of the little ones. A maid to whom the secret was known being enraged by a severe punishment inflicted upon her, threatened to betray all to Kheops. Her own brother beat her, and when she went down to the water she was carried off by a crocodile. Here the papyrus ceases, but it is possible to a certain extent to restore the conclusion. The names of the three children of Ra show that they stand for the first three kings of the Fifth Dynasty, the family that followed the house of Kheops. The papyrus must therefore have told how the boys escaped all the snares laid for their lives and in due time ascended the throne for which they were destined."

(See also Egypt )


Budge, E. A. W. Egyptian Magic. London: Kegan, Paul, 1899.

Maspero, G. Les contes populaires de l'Egypte ancienne. Paris, 1881.

Wiedemann, A. Popular Literature of Ancient Egypt. London: David Nutt, 1902.

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Westcar Papyrus

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