Egyptian Myths and Legends

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

The Two Brothers

Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 750 words.

After the tragic incident with his brother and his brother's wife, Bata's troubles are about to begin again: he is going to get a wife here, a gift of the gods (just as Pandora was a gift of the gods to foolish Epimetheus). This woman is going to be nothing but trouble. As you already know, Bata has a secret: the secret of his soul. He makes a terrible mistake when he shares this secret with his wife (Samson makes a similar mistake...)

Now it chanced that on a day when he went forth he met the nine gods, who were surveying the whole land. They spoke one to another and then asked of Bata why he had forsaken his home because of his brother's wife, for she had since been slain. "Return again," they said, "for thou didst reveal unto thine elder brother the truth of what happened unto thee."

They took pity on the youth, and Ra spoke, saying: "Fashion now a bride for Bata, so that he may not be alone." Then the god Khnumu fashioned a wife whose body was more beautiful than any other woman's in the land, because that she was imbued with divinity.

Then came the seven Hathors and gazed upon her. In one voice they spoke, saying: "She shall surely die a speedy death."

Bata loved her dearly. Each day she remained in his house while he hunted wild beasts, and he carried them home and laid them at her feet. He warned her each day, saying: "Walk not outside, lest the sea may come up and carry thee away. I could not rescue thee from the sea spirit, against whom I am as weak as thou art, because my soul is concealed in the highest blossom of the flowering acacia. If another should find my soul I must needs fight for it."

Thus he opened unto her his whole heart and revealed its secrets. Many days went past. Then on a morning when Bata had gone forth to hunt, as was his custom, his girl wife went out to walk below the acacia which was nigh to the house. Lo! the sea spirit beheld her in all her beauty and caused his billows to pursue her. Hastily she fled away and returned to the house, whereat the sea spirit sang to the acacia: "Oh, would she were mine!"

The acacia heard and cast to the sea spirit a lock of the girl wife's hair. The sea bore it away towards the land of Egypt and unto the place where the washers of the king cleansed the royal garments.

Sweet was the fragrance of the lock of hair, and it perfumed the linen of the king. There were disputes among the washers because that the royal garments smelt of ointment, nor could anyone discover the secret thereof. The king rebuked them.

Then was the heart of the chief washer in sore distress, because of the words which were spoken daily to him regarding this matter. He went down to the seashore; he stood at the place which was opposite the floating lock of hair, and he beheld it at length and caused it to be carried unto him. Sweet was its fragrance, and he hastened with it to the king.

Then the king summoned before him his scribes, and they spake, saying: "Lo! this is a lock from the hair of the divine daughter of Ra, and it is gifted unto thee from a distant land. Command now that messengers be sent abroad to seek for her. Let many men go with the one who is sent to the valley of the flowering acacia so that they may bring the woman unto thee."

The king answered and said: "Wise are your words, and they are pleasant unto me."

So messengers were sent abroad unto all lands. But those who journeyed to the valley of the flowering acacia returned not, because that Bata slew them all; the king had no knowledge of what befel them.

Then the king sent forth more messengers and many soldiers also, so that the girl might be brought unto him. He sent also a woman, and she was laden with rare ornaments . . . and the wife of Bata came back with her.

Then was there great rejoicing in the land of Egypt. Dearly did the king love the divine girl, and he exalted her because of her beauty. He prevailed upon her to reveal the secrets of her husband, and the king then said: "Let the acacia be cut down and splintered in pieces."

Workmen and warriors were sent abroad, and they reached the acacia. They severed from it the highest blossom, in which the soul of Bata was concealed. The petals were scattered, and Bata dropped down dead.

A new day dawned, and the land grew bright. The acacia was then cut down.

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

  • how did Bata get a wife? what kind of woman was she?
  • how did Bata's wife become the consort of the king?
  • why did Bata's wife ask for the acacia tree to be cut down? what happened to Bata when the tree was cut down?

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