Egyptian Myths and Legends

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

The Two Brothers

Reading time: 7 minutes. Word count: 1200 words.

But remember: Bata knew that this was going to happen, all of it. He prepared his brother Anpu to wait for a sign, and now that sign has come. The soul-tree of Bata may have been cut down, but the story is not over yet.

Meanwhile Anpu, the elder brother of Bata, went into his house, and he sat down and washed his hands. He was given beer to drink, and it bubbled, and the wine had a foul smell. He seized his staff, put on his shoes and his garment, and armed himself for his journey, and departed unto the valley of the flowering acacia.

When he reached the house of Bata he found the young man lying dead upon a mat. Bitterly he wept because of that. But he went out to search for the soul of his brother at the place where, below the flowering acacia, Bata was wont to lie down to rest at eventide. For three years he continued his search, and when the fourth year came his heart yearned greatly to return to the land of Egypt. At length he said: "I shall depart at dawn to-morrow."

A new day came, and the land grew bright. He looked over the ground again at the place of the acacia for his brother's soul. The time was spent thus. In the evening he continued his quest also, and he found a seed, which he carried to the house, and, lo! the soul of his brother was in it. He dropped the seed into a vessel filled with cold water, and sat down as was his custom at evening. Night came on, and then the soul absorbed the water. The limbs of Bata quivered and his eyes opened and gazed upon his elder brother, but his heart was without feeling. Then Anpu raised the vessel which contained the soul to the lips of Bata, and he drank the water. Thus did his soul return to its place, and Bata was as he had been before.

The brothers embraced and spoke one to the other. Bata said: "Now I must become a mighty bull with every sacred mark. None will know my secret. Ride thou upon my back, and when the day breaks I shall be at the place where my wife is. Unto her must I speak. Lead me before the king, and thou shalt find favour in his eyes. The people will wonder when they behold me, and shout welcome. But thou must return unto thine own home."

A new day dawned, and the land grew bright. Bata was a bull, and Anpu sat upon his back and they drew nigh to the royal dwelling. The king was made glad, and he said: "This is indeed a miracle." There was much rejoicing throughout the land. Silver and gold were given to the elder brother, and he went away to his own home and waited there.

In time the sacred bull stood in a holy place, and the beautiful girl wife was there. Bata spoke unto her, saying: "Look thou upon me where I stand, for, lo! I am still alive."

Then said the woman: "And who art thou?"

The bull made answer: "Verily, I am Bata. It was thou who didst cause the acacia to be cut down; it was thou who didst reveal unto Pharaoh that my soul had dwelling in the highest blossom, so that it might be destroyed and I might cease to be. But, lo! I live on, and I am become a sacred bull."

The woman trembled; fear possessed her heart when Bata spoke unto her in this manner. She at once went out of the holy place. It chanced that the king sat by her side at the feast, and made merry, for he loved her dearly. She spoke, saying: "Promise before the god that thou wilt do what I ask of thee." His Majesty took a vow to grant her the wish of her heart, and she said: "It is my desire to eat of the liver of the sacred bull, for he is naught to thee."

Sorrowful was the king then, and his heart was troubled, because of the words which she spake. A new day dawned, and the land grew bright. Then the king commanded that the bull should be offered in sacrifice. One of the king's chief servants went out, and when the bull was held high upon the shoulders of the people he smote its neck and it cast two drops of blood towards the gate of the palace, and one drop fell upon the right side and one upon the left. There grew up in the night two stately Persea trees from where the drops of blood fell down.

This great miracle was told unto the king, and the people rejoiced and made offerings of water and fruit to the sacred trees. A day came when his majesty rode forth in his golden chariot. He wore his collar of lapis lazuli, and round his neck was a garland of flowers. The girl wife was with him, and he caused her to stand below one of the trees, and it whispered unto her: "Thou false woman, I am still alive. Lo! I am even Bata, whom thou didst wrong. It was thou who didst cause the acacia to be cut down. It was thou who didst cause the sacred bull to be slain, so that I might cease to be."

Many days went past, and the woman sat with the king at the feast, and he loved her dearly. She spake, saying: "Promise now before the god that thou wilt do what I ask of thee."

His Majesty made a vow of promise, and she said: "It is my desire that the Persea trees be cut down so that two fair seats may be made of them." As she desired, so was it done. The king commanded that the trees should be cut down by skilled workmen, and the fair woman went out to watch them. As she stood there, a small chip of wood entered her mouth, and she swallowed it.

After many days a son was born to her, and he was brought before the king, and one said: "Unto thee a son is given." A nurse and servants were appointed to watch over the babe. There was great rejoicing throughout the land when the time came to name the girl wife's son. The king made merry, and from that hour he loved the child, and he appointed him Prince of Ethiopia.

Many days went past, and then the king chose him to be heir to the kingdom. In time His Majesty fulfilled his years, and he died, and his soul flew to the heavens. The new king (Bata) then said: "Summon before me the great men of my Court, so that I may now reveal unto them all that hath befallen me and the truth concerning the queen."

His wife was then brought before him. He revealed himself unto her, and she was judged before the great men, and they confirmed the sentence. Then Anpu was summoned before His Majesty, and he was chosen to be the royal heir.

When Bata had reigned for thirty years, he came to his death, and on the day of his burial his elder brother stood in his place.

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

  • how did Apnu learn about his brother's death? where did he find Bata's soul?
  • how did Bata's wife plot against Bata in his bull form? how did she plot against him in the form of the sacred trees?
  • how did Bata get his final revenge on his wife?

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