Egyptian Myths and Legends

Week 2: Ancient Near East - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

The Two Brothers

Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 800 words.

Remember: Bata is good friends with those oxen - he understands their language... and Bata has some other extraordinary qualities too: pay careful attention to the things that he tells his brother here. Bata had a lowly role in the house of Anpu but he has some kind of divine power, a gift of prophecy.

The sun had gone down when the lad drove the oxen into the byre, carrying on his back fodder and herbs, and in one hand a vessel of milk, as was his custom each evening.

The first ox entered the byre, and then it spoke to Bata, saying: "Beware for thine elder brother is standing behind the door. In his hand is a dagger, and he desires to slay thee. Draw not nigh unto him."

The lad heard with understanding what the animal had said. Then the second ox entered and went to its stall, and spake likewise words of warning, saying: "Take speedy flight."

Bata peered below the byre door, and he saw the legs of his brother, who stood there with a dagger in his hand. He at once threw down his burden and made hurried escape. Anpu rushed after him furiously with the sharp dagger.

In his sore distress the younger brother cried unto the sun god Ra-Harmachis, saying: "O blessed lord! thou art he who distinguisheth between falsehood and truth."

The god heard his cry with compassion, and turned round. He caused a wide stream to flow between the two brothers, and, behold! it was full of crocodiles. Then it came that Anpu and Bata stood confronting one another, one upon the right bank and the other upon the left. The elder brother twice smote his hands with anguish because he could not slay the youth.

Bata called out to Anpu, saying: "Tarry where thou art until the earth is made bright once again. Lo! when Ra, the sun god, riseth up, I shall reveal in his presence all that I know, and he shall judge between us, discerning what is false and what is true. . . . Know thou that I may not dwell with thee any longer, for I must depart unto the fair region of the flowering acacia."

When day dawned, and the sun god Ra appeared in his glory, the two brothers stood gazing one upon the other across the stream of crocodiles. Then the lad spake to his elder brother, saying: "Why didst thou come against me, desiring to slay me with treachery ere yet I had spoken for myself? Am I not thy younger brother, and hast thou not been as a father and thy wife as a mother unto me? Hear and know now that when I hastened to procure seed thy wife spoke, saying: 'Tarry thou with me.' But this happening hath been related unto thee in another manner."

So spake Bata, and he told his brother what was true regarding the woman. Then he called to witness the sun god, and said: "Great was thy wickedness in desiring to murder me by treachery." As he spoke he cut off a piece of his flesh and flung it into the stream, where it was devoured by a fish. He sank fainting upon the bank.

Anpu was stricken with anguish; tears ran from his eyes. He desired greatly to be beside his brother on the opposite bank of the stream of crocodiles.

Bata spake again, saying: "Verily, thou didst desire an evil thing, but if thy desire now is to do good, I shall instruct thee what thou shouldst do. Return unto thy home and tend thine oxen, for know now that I may not dwell with thee any longer, but must depart unto the fair region of the flowering acacia. What thou shalt do is to come to seek for me when I need thine aid, for my soul shall leave my body and have its dwelling in the highest blossom of the acacia. When the tree is cut down, my soul will fall upon the ground. There thou mayest seek it, even if thy quest be for seven years, for, verily, thou shalt find it if such is thy desire. Thou must then place it in a vessel of water, and I shall come to life again and reveal all that hath befallen and what shall happen thereafter. When the hour cometh to set forth on the quest, behold! the beer given to thee will bubble, and the wine will have a foul smell. These shall be as signs unto thee."

Then Bata took his departure, and he went into the valley of the flowering acacia, which was across the ocean. His elder brother returned home. He lamented, throwing dust upon his head. He slew his wife and cast her to the dogs, and abandoned himself to mourning for his younger brother.

Many days went past, and Bata reached at length the valley of the flowering acacia. He dwelt there alone and hunted wild beasts. At eventide he lay down to rest below the acacia, in whose highest blossom his soul was concealed. In time he built a dwelling place and he filled it with everything that he desired.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • how did the god rescue Bata?
  • what did Bata tell his brother about what would happen in the future?
  • what did Apnu do to his wife when he got home?

Source: Egyptian Myth and Legend by Donald Mackenzie (1907). Weblink.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM