Egyptian Myths and Legends

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

The Robbers

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 550 words.

The next story you will read, the story of "the brothers who were robbers," was so popular in the ancient world that it was familiar to the Greek historian Herodotus - and you can read all kinds of other information about Egypt (some of it pretty fantastic) that Herodotus included in his famous History.

The monarch was called Rhampsinitus. He built the western portion of the temple of Ptah. He also erected two statues--one to Summer, which faced the north, and was worshipped; and the other to Winter, which faced the south, but was never honoured. The king possessed great wealth, and he caused to be constructed beside the palace a strong stone chamber in which he kept his riches.

One of the builders, however, contrived to place a stone in such a manner that it could be removed from the outside.

It chanced that, after the king had deposited his treasure in the chamber, this builder was stricken with illness and knew his end was nigh. He had two sons, and he told them his secret regarding the stone, and gave them the measurements, so that they might locate it.

After the man died the sons went forth in the darkness of night, and when they found the stone they removed it. Then they entered the chamber, and carried away much treasure, and ere they departed they closed up the wall again.

The king marvelled greatly when he discovered that his riches had been plundered, for the seals of the door were unbroken, and he knew not whom to suspect. Again and again the robbers returned, and the treasure diminished greatly.

At length the king caused traps to be laid in the chamber, for his guards, who kept watch at the entrances, were unable to prevent the mysterious robberies. Soon after the brothers returned. They removed the stone, and one of them entered stealthily. He went towards the treasure, as was his custom, but was suddenly caught in a trap. In a moment he realized that escape was impossible, and he reflected that he would be put to death on the morrow, while his brother would be seized and similarly punished. So he said to himself: "I alone will die."

When he had thus resolved to save his brother, he called to him softly in the darkness, bidding him to enter cautiously. He made known his great misfortune, and said: "I cannot escape, nor dare you tarry long lest you be discovered, When they find me here I will be recognized, and they will seize you and put you to death. Cut off my head at once, so that they may not know who I am, and thus save your own life."

With a sad heart the brother did as he was desired, and carried away the head. Ere he escaped in the darkness he replaced the stone, and no man saw him.

When morning came the king was more astounded than ever to find a headless body entrapped in the treasure chamber, for the door had not been opened, and yet two men had entered and one had escaped. He commanded that the corpse should be hung on the palace wall, and stationed guards at the place, bidding them to keep strict watch, so that they might discover if anyone came to sorrow for the dead man. But no one came nigh.

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

  • what secret did the builder reveal to his sons?
  • how did the brothers become rich? how were they finally caught?
  • why did the one brother chop off his other brother's head?

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