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ANCIENT EGYPTIAN FOLK TALES I Ronald J. Williams In his Schweich Lectures before the British Academy in 1929, the late Professor Peet stated, "Egypt ... is the home of the short story, and one of her claims to literary recognition is that she produced the first short stories to be told for their own sake. Her stories are pure pastime, not propagandist or aetiological in origin.'" It is indeed a fact that the Egyptian was always fond of a good story, and succeeded in telling it well. Now the folk tale is a genre widely diffused throughout all lands and among all peoples. It plays the same rOle in the life of illiterate folk that the novel or short story does in educated society. As these tales pass orally from people to people and age to age they are modified and adapted to new situations; they receive accretions, and often incorporate or are assimilated to features in other tales. From time to time they may be written down, and then for a period they attain a relatively fixed form. The Egyptians, who were the creators of the short story as a literary form, from very early times employed many such folk tales as the themes of their compositions. We shall examine some of these tales which make their first recorded appearance in ancient Egyptian literature, and follow their careers, either in the oral traditions of unlettered folk, or in the more sophisticated written literatures of later ages. It is now more than a century since the first attempts were made to translate the Tale of the Two Brothers." The manuscript, in Late Egyptian hieratic, was written about 1225 B.C., during the Nineteenth Dynasty. The story concerns two brothers who bore the names Anubis and Bata. The fact that these are names of Egyptian deities suggests that the tale had a mythological background. In the form in which it has reached us, the work is a skilful combination of two originally distinct tales. 256 ANCIENT EGYPTIAN FOLK TALES 257 The story opens with Bata living in the home of his married elder brother, and earning his keep by working for him in the fields. One day, while they were in the field, they ran short of seed. He (i.e. Anubis) sent his younger brother, saying, "Go, fetch us seed from the village." His younger brother found bis elder brother's wife sitting dressing her hair. So he said to her, "Get up and give me some seed, that I may go back to the field, for my elderS brother is waiting for me. Do not delay!" She said to him. "Go, open the bin and take what you want for yourself. Do not make me leave in the midst of my hairdressing." So the youth entered his stable and fetched a large jar, intending to take a great deal of seed. He loaded himself with barley and emmer and came out carrying them. She said to him, "How much do you have on your shoulder?" [He saidl to her, "1 have on my' shoulder three sacks of emmer and two of barley, a total of five." Thus he said to her, and she [spoke with himl, saying, "You have great strength. 1 see your might daily," her intention being to make love to him. Then she got up and took hold of him, saying, "Come, let us spend an hour sleeping together. It will be to your advantage, for 1 will make you fine clothes." But the youth [becamellike a leopard with [greatl rage at the wicked proposal which she had made to him, so that she was very frightened. He spoke with her, saying, "Look! You are like a mother to me and your husband is like a father to me, for, being older than I, he has brought me up. What great crime is this that you have suggested to me? Do not suggest it to me again! I will tell it to no one, nor let it Qut of my mouth to any person." He then took up his load and went off to the field. The following lines tell how Anubis returned home in the evening...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 256-272
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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