THE PYRAMID BUILDERS.
ZOSER - SNEFRU - CHEOPS - Djedefre - CHEPHREN -MYCERINUS
At the close of the so-called Second Dynasty, early in the thirtieth century BC, the Thinites were finally dislodged from the position of power which they had maintained so well for over four centuries, according to Manetho, and a Memphite family, whose home was the '”White Wall” gained the ascendancy.
But there is evidence that the sharp dynastic division recorded by Manetho never took place, and this final supremacy of Memphis may have been nothing more than a gradual transition thither by the Thinites themselves. In any case the great queen, Nemathap, the wife of King Khasekhemui, who was probably the last king of the Second Dynasty, was evidently the mother of Zoser, with whose accession the predominance of Memphis becomes apparent.
During this Memphite supremacy, the development which the Thinites had pushed so vigourously, was skilfully and ably fostered. For over five hundred years the kingdom continued to flourish, but of these five centuries only the last two have left us even scanty literary remains, and we are obliged to draw our meagre knowledge of its first three centuries almost entirely from material documents, the monuments which it has left us.
In some degree such a task is like attempting to reconstruct a history of Athens in the age of Pericles, based entirely upon the temples, sculptures, vases, and other material remains surviving from his time. While the rich intellectual, literary, and political life which was then unfolding in Athens involved a mental endowment and a condition of state and society which Egypt, even at her best, never knew, yet it must not be forgotten that, tremendous as is the impression which we receive from the monuments of the Old Kingdom, they are but the skeleton, upon which we might put flesh, and endue the whole with life, if but the chief literary monuments of the time had survived. It is a difficult task to see behind these Titanic achievements, the busy world of commerce, industry, administration, society, art, and literature out of which they grew. Of half a millennium of political change, of overthrow and usurpation, of growth and decay of institutions, of local governors, helpless under the strong grasp of the Pharaoh, or shaking off the restraint of a weak monarch, and developing into independent barons, so powerful at last as to bring in the final dissolution of the state;—of all this we gain but fleeting and occasional glimpses, where more must be guessed than can be known.
ZOSER (DJOSER) 2635-2610 BC
The first prominent figure in the Old Kingdom is that of Zoser, with whom as we have said the Third Dynasty arose. It was evidently his forceful government which firmly established Memphite supremacy. He continued the exploitation of the copper mines in Sinai, while in the south he extended the frontier. If we may credit a late tradition of the priests, the turbulent tribes of northern Nubia, who for centuries after Zoser’s reign continued to make the region of the first cataract unsafe, were so controlled by him that he could grant to Khnum, the god of the cataract, at least nominal possession of both sides of the river from Elephantine at the lower end of the cataract up to Takompso, some seventy five or eighty miles above it. As this tradition was put forward by the priests of Isis in Ptolemaic times as legal support of certain of their claims, it is not improbable that it contains a germ of fact.
The success of Zoser’s efforts was perhaps in part due to the counsel of the great wise man, Imhotep (ca. 2650-2600 BC), who was one of his chief advisers. In priestly wisdom, in magic, in the formulation of wise proverbs, in medicine and architecture, this remarkable figure of Zoser’s reign left so notable a reputation that his name was never forgotten.
He was the patron spirit of the later scribes, to whom they regularly poured out a libation from the water jar of their writing-outfit before beginning their work. The people sang of his proverbs centuries later, and two thousand five hundred years after his death he had become a god of medicine, in whom the Greeks who called him Imouthes, recognized their own Asklepios. A temple was erected to him near the Serapeum at Memphis, and at the present day every museum possesses a bronze statuette or two of this apotheosized wise man, the proverb-maker, physician and architect of Zoser. The priests who conducted the rebuilding of the temple of Edfu under the Ptolemies, claimed to be reproducing the structure formerly erected there after plans of Imhotep; and it may therefore well be that Zoser was the builder of a temple there.
Manetho records the tradition that stone building was first introduced by Zoser, whom he calls Tosorthros, and although, as we have seen, stone structures of earlier date are now known, yet the great reputation as a builder ascribed to Zoser’s counsellor Imhotep is no accident, and it is evident that Zoser’s reign marked the beginning of extensive building in stone.
Until his reign the royal tombs were built of sun-dried bricks, only containing in one instance a granite floor and in another a chamber of limestone. This brick tomb was greatly improved by Zoser, in whose time there was built at Bet Khallaf, near Abydos, a massive brick mastaba, through one end of which a stairway descended, and passing into the gravel beneath the superstructure, merged into a descending passage, which terminated in a series of mortuary chambers. The passage was closed in five places by heavy portcullis stones. This was the first of the two royal tombs now usually erected.
In all probability Zoser himself never used this tomb, built so near those of his ancestors; but assisted by Imhotep undertook the construction of a mausoleum on a more ambitious plan than any of his ancestors had ever attempted. In the desert behind Memphis he laid out a tomb, very much like that at Bet Khallaf, but the mastaba was now built of stone; it was nearly thirty eight feet high, some two hundred and twenty seven feet wide, and an uncertain amount longer from north to south. As his reign continued he enlarged it upon the ground, and increased its height also by building five rectangular additions superimposed upon its top, each smaller than its predecessor. The result was a terraced structure, one hundred and ninety five feet high, in six stages, the whole roughly resembling a pyramid. It is often called the “terraced pyramid”, and does indeed constitute the transitional form between the flat-topped rectangular superstructure or mastaba first built by Zoser at Bet Khallaf and the pyramid of his successors, which immediately followed.
Three royal women are attested during Djoser's reign: Inetkawes, Hetephernebti, and a third, whose name is destroyed. The relationship between Djoser and his successor, Sekhemkhet, is not known and the date of his death is uncertain. One of Djoser’s queens was a certain Hotephirnebty who is identified as such “on a series of boundary stela from the Step Pyramid enclosure (now in various museums) and a fragment of relief from a building at Hermopolis” currently in the Egyptian museum of Turin.
These vast and splendid monuments, the earliest pyramids, are a striking testimony to the prosperity and power of this Third Dynasty. Such colossal structures make a powerful appeal to the imagination, but we cannot picture to ourselves save in the vaguest terms the course of events that produced them. They leave a host of questions unanswered.
SNEFRU (SNEFERU) 2613-2589 BC
At the close of the dynasty, the nation was enjoying wide prosperity under the vigourous and far-seeing Snefru. He built vessels nearly one hundred and seventy feet long, for traffic and administration upon the river; he continued the development of the copper mines in Sinai, where he defeated the native tribes and left a record of his triumph.
He placed Egyptian interests in the peninsula upon such a permanent basis that he was later looked upon as the founder and establisher of Egyptian supremacy there; one of the mines was named after him; a thousand years later it is his achievements in this region, with which the later kings compared their own, boasting that nothing like it had been done there “since the days of Snefru”; and together with the local divinities, Hathor and Soped, his protection was invoked as a patron god of the region by the venturesome officials who risked their lives for the Pharaoh there.
He regulated the eastern frontier, and it is not unlikely that we should attribute to him the erection of the fortresses at the Bitter Lakes in the Isthmus of Suez, which existed already in the Fifth Dynasty. Roads and stations in the eastern Delta still bore his name fifteen hundred years after his death. In the west it is not improbable that he already controlled one of the northern oases.
More than all this, he opened up commerce with the north and sent a fleet of forty vessels to the Phoenician coast to procure cedar logs from the slopes of Lebanon. Following the example of Zoser, he was equally aggressive in the south, where he conducted a campaign against northern Nubia, bringing back seven thousand prisoners, and two hundred thousand large and small cattle.
Snefru, powerful and prosperous, as “Lord of the Two Lands”, also erected two tombs. The earlier is situated at Meidum, between Memphis and the Fayum. It was begun, like that of Zoser, as a mastaba of limestone, with the tomb chamber beneath it. Following Zoser, the builder enlarged it seven times to a terraced structure, the steps in which were then filled out in one smooth slope from top to bottom at a different angle, thus producing the first pyramid. Snefru’s other pyramid, far larger and more imposing, now dominates the group at Dashur. It was the greatest building thus far attempted by the Pharaohs and is an impressive witness to the rapid progress made by the Third Dynasty in the arts. A newly found inscription shows that Snefru's mortuary endowments here were still respected three hundred years later.
With Snefru the rising tide of prosperity and power has reached the high level which made the subsequent splendour of the Old Kingdom possible. With him there had also grown up the rich and powerful noble and official class, whose life we have already sketched,—a class who are no longer content with the simple brick tombs of their ancestors at Abydos and vicinity. Their splendid mastabas of hewn limestone are still grouped as formerly about the tomb of the king whom they served. It is the surviving remains in these imposing cities of the dead, dominated by the towering mass of the pyramid which has enabled us to gain a picture of the life of the great kingdom, the threshold of which we have now crossed. Behind us lies the long slow development which contained the promise of all that is before us; but that development also we were obliged to trace in the tomb of the early Egyptians, as we have followed him from the sand-heap that covered his primitive ancestor to the colossal pyramid of the Pharaoh.
KHUFU (CHEOPS) 2589-2566 BC
The passing of the great family of which Snefru was the most prominent representative, did not, as far as we can now see, effect any serious change in the history of the nation. Indeed Khufu, the great founder of the so-called Fourth Dynasty, may possibly have been a scion of the Third. He had in his harem at least a lady who had also been a favourite of Snefru.
But it is evident that Khufu was not a Memphite. He came from a town of middle Egypt near modern Beni Hasan, which was afterward for this reason called “Menat-Khufu”, “Nurse of Khufu”; and his name in its full form, “Khnum-khufu”, which means “Khnum protects me”, is a further hint of his origin, containing as it does the name of Khnum, the ram-headed god of Menat-Khufu. Likewise, after his death, one of his mortuary priests was also priest of Khnum of Menat-Khufu.
We have no means of knowing how the noble of a provincial town succeeded in supplanting the powerful Snefru and becoming the founder of a new line. We only see him looming grandly from the obscure array of Pharaohs of his time, his greatness proclaimed by the noble tomb which he erected at Gizeh, opposite modern Cairo.
It has now become the chief project of the state to furnish a vast, impenetrable and indestructible resting place for the body of the king, who concentrated upon this enterprise the greatest resources of wealth, skill and labour at his command. How strong and effective must have been the organization of Khufu's government we appreciate in some measure when we learn that his pyramid contains some two million three hundred thousand blocks, each weighing on the average two and a half tons. The mere organization of labour involved in the quarrying, transportation and proper assembly of this vast mass of material is a task which in itself must have severely taxed the public offices.
Herodotus relates a tradition current in his time that the pyramid had demanded the labour of a hundred thousand men during twenty years, and Petrie has shown that these numbers are quite credible. The maintenance of this city of a hundred thousand labourers, who were non-producing and a constant burden on the state, the adjustment of the labour in the quarries so as to ensure an uninterrupted accession of material around the base of the pyramid, will have entailed the development of a small state in itself.
The blocks were taken out of the quarries on the east side of the river south of Cairo, and at high water, when the flats were flooded, they were floated across the valley to the base of the pyramid hill. Here an enormous stone ramp or causeway had been erected, a labour of ten years if we may believe Herodotus, and up this incline the stones were dragged to the plateau on which the pyramid stands. Not merely was this work quantitatively so formidable but in quality also it is the most remarkable material enterprise known to us in this early world, for the most ponderous masonry in the pyramid amazes the modern beholder by its fineness. It was but five centuries since the crude granite floor of the tomb of Usephais at Abydos was laid, and perhaps not more than a century since the earliest stone structure now known, the limestone chamber in the tomb of Khasekhemui at the same place was erected.
The pyramid is or was about four hundred and eighty one feet high, and its square base measured some seven hundred and fifty five feet on a side, but the average error is "less than a ten thousandth of the side in equality, in squareness and in level"; although a rise of ground on the site of the monument prevented direct measurements from corner to corner. Some of the masonry finish is so fine that blocks weighing tons are set together with seams of considerable length, showing a joint of one ten thousandth of an inch, and involving edges and surfaces “equal to optician’s work of the present day, but on a scale of acres instead of feet or yards of material”.
The entire monument is of limestone, except the main sepulchral chamber and the construction chambers above it, where the workmanship distinctly deteriorates. The latter part, that is, the upper portion, was evidently built with greater haste than the lower sections. The passages were skilfully closed at successive places by plug-blocks and portcullisses of granite; while the exterior, clothed with an exquisitely fitted casing of limestone, which has since been quarried away, nowhere betrayed the place of entrance, located in the eighteenth course of masonry above the base near the centre of the north face. It must have been a courageous monarch who from the beginning planned this the greatest mass of masonry ever put together by human hands, and there are evidences in the pyramid of at least two changes of plan. Like all the pyramidoid monuments which precede it, it was therefore probably projected on a smaller scale, but before the work had proceeded too far to prevent, by complication of the interior passages, the plan was enlarged to the present enormous base, covering an area of thirteen acres.
Three small pyramids, built for members of Khufu’s family, stand in a line close by on the east. The pyramid was surrounded by a wide pavement of limestone, and on the east front was the temple for the mortuary service of Khufu, of which all but portions of a splendid basalt pavement has disappeared. The remains of the causeway leading up from the plain to the temple still rise in sombre ruin, disclosing only the rough core masonry, across which the modern village of Kafr is now built. Further south is a section of the wall which surrounded the town on the plain below, probably the place of Khufu's residence, and perhaps the residence of the dynasty. In leaving the tomb of Khufu our admiration for the monument, whether stirred by its vast dimensions or by the fineness of its masonry should not obscure its real and final significance; for the great pyramid is the earliest and most impressive witness surviving from the ancient world to the final emergence of organized society from prehistoric chaos and local conflict, thus coming for the first time completely under the power of a far-reaching and comprehensive centralization effected by one controlling mind.
Khufu’s name has been found from Desuk in the northwestern and Bubastis in the eastern Delta, to Hieraconpolis in the south, but we know almost nothing of his other achievements. He continued operations in the peninsula of Sinai; perhaps opened for the first time, and in any case kept workmen in the alabaster quarry of Hatnub; and Ptolemaic tradition also made him the builder of a Hathor temple at Dendera. It will be evident that all the resources of the nation were completely at his disposal and under his control; his eldest son, as was customary in the Fourth Dynasty, was vizier and chief judge; while the two “treasurers of the God”, who were in charge of the work in the quarries, were undoubtedly also sons of the king, as we have seen. The most powerful offices were kept within the circle of the royal house, and thus a great state was swayed at the monarch's slightest wish, and for many years held to its chief task, the creation of his tomb.
Djedefre (Radjedef) 2566-2558 BC
An obscure king, Djedefre or Radedef, whose connection with the family is entirely uncertain, seems to have succeeded Khufu.
(He married his (half-sister Hetepheres II, which may have been necessary to legitimise his claims to the throne if his mother was one of Khufu's lesser wives. He also had another wife, Khentetka with whom he had -at least- three sons, Setka, Baka and Hernet, and one daughter, Neferhetepes).
His modest pyramid has been found at Aburoash, on the north of Gizeh, but Djedefre himself remains with us only a name, and it is possible that he belongs near the close of the dynasty.
It is uncertain whether his successor, Khafre, was his son or not. But the new king's name, which means “His Shining is Re”, like that of Djedefre, would indicate the political influence of the priests of Re at Heliopolis.
KHAFRA (CHEPHREN) 2558-2532 BC
He built a pyramid beside that of Khufu, but it is somewhat smaller and distinctly inferior in workmanship. It was given a sumptuous appearance by making the lowermost section of casing of granite from the first cataract. Scanty remains of the pyramid-temple on the east side are still in place, from which the usual causeway leads down to the margin of the plateau and terminates in a splendid granite building, which served as the gateway to the causeway and the pyramid enclosure above. Its interior surfaces are all of polished red granite and translucent alabaster.
In a well in one hall of the building seven statues of Khafre were found by Mariette. We have had occasion to examine the best of these in the preceding chapter.
This splendid entrance stands beside the Great Sphinx, and is still usually termed the “temple of the sphinx”, with which it had, however, nothing to do. Whether the sphinx itself is the work of Khafre is not yet determined.
In Egypt the sphinx is an oft recurring portrait of the king, the lion's body symbolizing the Pharaoh's power. The Great Sphinx is therefore the portrait of a Pharaoh, and an obscure reference to Khafre in an inscription between its forepaws dated fourteen hundred years later in the reign of Thutmose IV, perhaps shows that in those times he was considered to have had something to do with it. Beyond these buildings we know nothing of Khafre's deeds, but these show clearly that the great state which Khufu had done so much to create was still firmly controlled by the Pharaoh.
MENKAURA (MYCERINUS) 2532-2504 BC
Under Khafre’s successor, Menkure, however, if the size of the royal pyramid is an adequate basis for judgment, the power of the royal house was no longer so absolute. Moreover, the vast pyramids which his two predecessors had erected may have so depleted the resources of the state that Menkure was not able to extort more from an exhausted nation. The third pyramid of Gizeh which we owe to him, is less than half as high as those of Khufu and Khafre; its ruined temple, excavated by Reisner, unfinished at his death, was faced with sun-dried brick, instead of sumptuous granite, by his successor.
Of his immediate successors, we possess contemporary monuments only from the reign of Shepse-skaf. Although we have a record that he selected the site for his pyramid in his first year, he was unable to erect a monument sufficiently large and durable to survive, and we do not even know where it was located; while of the achievements of this whole group of kings at the close of the Fourth Dynasty, including several interlopers, who may now have assumed the throne for a brief time, we know nothing whatever.
The century and a half during which the Fourth Dynasty maintained its power was a period of unprecedented splendour in the history of the Nile valley people, and as we have seen, the monuments of the time were on a scale of grandeur which was never later eclipsed. It reached its climacteric point in Khufu, and after probably a slight decline in the reign of Khafre, Menkure was no longer able to command the closely centralized power which the family had so successfully maintained up to that time. It passed away, leaving the group of nine pyramids at Gizeh as an imperishable witness of its greatness and power. They were counted in classic times among the seven wonders of the world, and they are today the only surviving wonder of the seven.
The cause of the fall of the Fourth Dynasty, while not clear in the details, is in the main outlines tolerably certain. The priests of Re at Heliopolis, whose influence is also evident in the names of the kings following Khufu, had succeeded in organizing their political influence, becoming a clique of sufficient power to overthrow the old line. The state theology had always represented the king as the successor of the sun-god and he had borne the title “Horus”, a sun-god, from the beginning; but the priests of Heliopolis now demanded that he be the bodily son of Re, who henceforth would appear on earth to become the father of the Pharaoh.
The Tales from the Westcar Papyrus
The stories in the Westcar Papyrus are thought to have been composed during the Middle Kingdom or the Second Intermediate Period. Khufu: c. 2585-2566;Khafre: c. 2558-2532
A folk-tale of which we have a copy some nine hundred years later than the fall of the Fourth Dynasty, relates how Khufu was enjoying an idle hour with his sons, while they narrated wonders wrought by the great wise men of old.
The Wax Crocodile
Once upon a time a Pharaoh went towards the temple of the god Ptah. His counsellors and servants accompanied him. It chanced that he paid a visit to the villa of the chief scribe, behind which there was a garden with a stately summer house and a broad artificial lake. Among those who followed Pharaoh was a handsome youth, and the scribe's wife beheld him with love. Soon afterwards she sent gifts unto him, and they had secret meetings. They spent a day in the summer house, and feasted there, and in the evening the youth bathed in the lake. The chief butler then went to his master and informed him what had come to pass.
The scribe bade the servant to bring a certain magic box, and when he received it he made a small wax crocodile, over which he muttered a spell. He placed it in the hands of the butler, saying: “Cast this image into the lake behind the youth when next he bathes himself”.
On another day, when the scribe dwelt with Pharaoh, the lovers were together in the summer house, and at eventide the youth went into the lake. The butler stole through the garden, and stealthily he cast into the water the wax image, which was immediately given life. It became a great crocodile that seized the youth suddenly and took him away.
Seven days passed, and then the scribe spoke to the Pharaoh regarding the wonder which had been done, and made request that His Majesty should accompany him to his villa. The Pharaoh did so, and when they both stood beside the lake in the garden the scribe spoke magic words, bidding the crocodile to appear. As he commanded, so did it do. The great reptile came out of the water carrying the youth in its jaws.
The scribe said: “Lo! it shall do whatever I command to be done.”
Said the Pharaoh: “Bid the crocodile to return at once to the lake.”
Ere he did that, the scribe touched it, and immediately it became a small image of wax again. The Pharaoh was filled with wonder, and the scribe related unto him all that had happened, while the youth stood waiting.
Said His Majesty unto the crocodile: “Seize the wrongdoer.”
The wax image was again given life, and, clutching the youth, leaped into the lake and disappeared. Nor was it ever seen after that. Then Pharaoh gave command that the wife of the scribe should be seized. On the north side of the house she was bound to a stake and burned alive, and what remained of her was thrown into the Nile.
Such was the tale told by Khafra. Khufu was well pleased, and caused offerings of food and refreshment to be placed in the tombs of the Pharaoh and his wise servant.
Prince Khafra stood before His Majesty, and said: “I will relate a marvel which happened in the days of King Sneferu, thy father”. Then he told the story of the green jewel.
The Story of the Green Jewel
Sneferu was one day disconsolate and weary. He wandered about the palace with desire to be cheered, nor was there aught to take the gloom from his mind. He caused his chief scribe to be brought before him, and said: “I would fain have entertainment, but cannot find any in this place”.
The scribe said: “Thy Majesty should go boating on the lake, and let the rowers be the prettiest girls in your harem. It will delight your heart to see them splashing the water where the birds dive and to gaze upon the green shores and the flowers and trees. I myself will go with you”.
The king consented, and twenty virgins who were fair to behold went into the boat, and they rowed with oars of ebony which were decorated with gold. His Majesty took pleasure in the outing, and the gloom passed from his heart as the boat went hither and thither, and the girls sang together with sweet voices.
It chanced, as they were turning round, an oar handle brushed against the hair of the girl who was steering, and shook from it a green jewel, which fell into the water. She lifted up her oar and stopped singing, and the others grew silent and ceased rowing.
Said Sneferu: “Do not pause; let us go on still farther”
The girls said: “She who steers has lifted her oar”
Said Sneferu to her: “Why have you lifted your oar?”
“Alas, I have lost my green jewel she said it has fallen into the lake”.
Sneferu said: “I will give you another; let us go on”.
The girl pouted and made answer: “I would rather have my own green jewel again than any other”-
His Majesty said to the chief scribe: “I am given great enjoyment by this novelty; indeed my mind is much refreshed as the girls row me up and down the lake. Now one of them has lost her green jewel, which has dropped into the water, and she wants it back again and will not have another to replace it”.
The chief scribe at once muttered a spell. Then by reason of his magic words the waters of the lake were divided like a lane. He went down and found the green jewel which the girl had lost, and came back with it to her. When he did that, he again uttered words of power, and the waters came together as they were before.
The king was well pleased, and when he had full enjoyment with the rowing upon the lake he returned to the palace. He gave gifts to the chief scribe, and everyone wondered at the marvel which he had accomplished.
Such was Khafra’s tale of the green jewel, and King Khufu commanded that offerings should be laid in the tombs of Sneferu and his chief scribe, who was a great magician.
Next Prince Hordadef stood before the king, and he said: “Your Majesty has heard tales regarding the wonders performed by magicians in other days, but I can bring forth a worker of marvels who now lives in the kingdom”.
King Khufu said: “And who is he, my son?”
Djedi the magician
“His name is Dedi”, answered Prince Hordadef. “He is a very old man, for his years are a hundred and ten. Each day he eats a joint of beef and five hundred loaves of bread, and drinks a hundred jugs of beer. He can smite off the head of a living creature and restore it again; he can make a lion follow him; and he knows the secrets of the habitation of the god Thoth, which Your Majesty has desired to know so that you may design the chambers of your pyramid”
King Khufu said: “Go now and find this man for me, Hordadef”
The prince went down to the Nile, boarded a boat, and sailed southward until he reached the town called Dedsnefru, where Dedi had his dwelling. He went ashore, and was carried in his chair of state towards the magician, who was found lying at his door. When Dedi was awakened, the king’s son saluted him and bade him not to rise up because of his years. The prince said: “My royal father desires to honour you, and will provide for you a tomb among your people”
Dedi blessed the prince and the king with thankfulness, and he said to Hordadef: “Greatness be thine; may your Ka have victory over the powers of evil, and may your Khu follow the path which leads to Paradise”
Hordadef assisted Dedi to rise up, and took his arm to help him towards the ship. He sailed away with the prince, and in another ship were his assistants and his magic books.
“Health and strength and plenty be thine”, said Hordadef, when he again stood before his royal father King Khufu. “I have come down stream with Dedi, the great magician”
His Majesty was well pleased, and said: “Let the man be brought into my presence”
Dedi came and saluted the king, who said: “Why have I not seen you before?”
“He that is called cometh”, answered the old man; “you have sent for me and I am here”
“It is told”, King Khufu said, “that you can restore the head that is taken from a live creature”
“I can indeed, Your Majesty”, answered Dedi.
The king said: “Then let a prisoner be brought forth and decapitated”
“I would rather it were not a man”, said Dedi; “I do not deal even with cattle in such a manner”
A duck was brought forth and its head was cut off, and the head was thrown to the right and the body to the left. Dedi spoke magic words. Then the head and the body came together, and the duck rose up and quacked loudly. The same was done with a goose.
King Khufu then caused a cow to be brought in, and its head was cut off. Dedi restored the animal to life again, and caused it to follow him. His Majesty then spoke to the magician and said: “It is told that you possess the secrets of the dwelling of the god Thoth”
Dedi answered: “I do not possess them, but I know where they are concealed, and that is within a temple chamber at Heliopolis. There the plans are kept in a box, but it is no insignificant person who shall bring them to Your Majesty”
“I would fain know who will deliver them unto me”, King Khufu said.
Dedi prophesied that three sons would be born to Rud-dedit, wife of the chief priest of Ra. The eldest would become chief priest at Heliopolis and would possess the plans. He and his brothers would one day sit upon the throne and rule over all the land.
King Khufu’s heart was filled with gloom and alarm when he heard the prophetic words of the great magician.
Dedi then said: “What are your thoughts, O King? Behold your son will reign after you, and then his son. But next one of these children will follow”
King Khufu was silent. Then he spoke and asked: “When shall these children be born?”
Dedi informed His Majesty, who said: “I will visit the temple of Ra at that time”.
Dedi was honoured by His Majesty, and thereafterwards dwelt in the house of the Prince Hordadef. He was given daily for his portion an ox, a thousand loaves of bread, a hundred jugs of beer, and a hundred bunches of onions.
The Birth of the Royal Children
The day came when the sons of the woman Rud-dedit were to be born. Then the high priest of Ra, her husband, prayed unto the goddess Isis and her sisterNepthys; to Meskhent, goddess of birth; and to the frog goddess Hekt; and to the creator god Khnumu, who gives the breath of life. These he entreated to have care of the three babes who were to become three kings of Egypt, one after the other.
The deities heard him. Then came the goddesses as dancing girls, who went about the land, and the god Khnumu followed them as their burden bearer. When they reached the door of the high priest’s dwelling they danced before him. He entreated them to enter, and they did according to his desire, and shut themselves in the room with the woman Rud-dedit
Isis called the first child who was born Userkaf, and said: “Let no evil be done by him”. The goddess Meskhent prophesied that he would become King of Egypt. Khnumu, the creator god, gave the child strength.
The second babe was named Sahura by the goddess Isis. Meskhent prophesied that he also would become a king. Khnumu gave him his strength.
The third was called Kaka. Meskhent said: “He shall also be a king”, and Khnumu gave him strength.
Ere the dancing girls took their departure the high priest gave a measure of barley to their burden bearer, and Khnumu carried it away upon his shoulders. They all went upon their way, and Isis said: “Now let us work a wonder on behalf of these children, so that their father may know who hath sent us unto his house”
Royal crowns were fashioned and concealed in the measure of barley which had been given them. Then the deities caused a great storm to arise, and in the midst of it they returned to the dwelling of the high priest, and they put the barley in a cellar, and sealed it, saying they would return again and take it away.
It came to pass that after fourteen days Rud-dedit bade her servant to bring barley from the cellar so that beer might be made. The girl said: “There is none left save the measure which was given unto the dancing girls”.
“Bring that then”, said Rud-dedit, “and when the dancing girls return I will give them its value”.
When the servant entered the cellar she heard the low sounds of sweet music and dancing and song. She went and told her mistress of this wonder, and Rud-dedit entered the cellar, and at first could not discover whence the mysterious sounds issued forth. At length she placed her ear against the sack which contained the barley given to the dancing girls, and found that the music was within it. She at once placed the sack in a chest and locked it, and then told her husband, and they rejoiced together.
Now it happened that one day Rud-dedit was angry with her servant, and smote her heavily. The girl vowed that she would be avenged and said: “Her three children will become kings. I will inform King Khufu of this matter”
So the servant went away and visited her uncle, who was her mother’s eldest brother. Unto him she told all that had happened and all she knew regarding the children of her mistress.
He was angry with her and spoke, saying: “Why come to me with this secret? I cannot consent to make it known as you desire”
Then he struck the girl, who went afterwards to draw water from the Nile. On the bank a crocodile seized her, and she was devoured. The man then went towards the dwelling of Rud-dedit and he found her mourning with her head upon her knees. He spoke, saying: “Why is your heart full of gloom?”
Rud-dedit answered him: “Because my servant girl went away to reveal my secret”
The man bowed and said:”Behold! she came unto me and told me all things. But I struck her, and she went towards the river and was seized by a crocodile”
So was the danger averted. Nor did King Khufu ever discover the babes regarding whom Dedi had prophesied. In time they sat upon the throne of Egypt.
The conclusion of the tale is lost, but it undoubtedly went on to tell how the three children finally became Pharaohs, for it narrates with many picturesque details and remarkable prodigies how the children were born wearing all the insignia of royalty. The names given these children by the disguised divinities who assisted at their birth were: Userkaf, Sahure and Kakai, the names of the first three kings of the Fifth Dynasty.
Although the popular tradition knew of only two kings of the Fourth Dynasty after Khufu, having never heard of Dedefre, Shepseskaf and others whose reigns had left no great pyramids, it nevertheless preserved the essential contention of the priests of Re and in kernel at least the real origin of the Fifth Dynasty. In this folk-tale we have the popular form of what is now the state fiction: every Pharaoh is the bodily son of the sun-god, a belief which was thereafter maintained throughout the history of Egypt.