All nations have a prehistoric time-a dark period of mist and gloom, before the keen light of history dawns upon them. This period is the favorite playground of the myth-spirits where they may conduct themselves freely, or lounge heavily and listlessly, according to their different natures. The Egyptian spirits were of the heavier and duller kind-not light and frolicsome, like the Greek and the Indo-Iranian. It has been said that Egypt never produced more than one myth: the Osiris legend. There is no other case in which a story is told at any considerable length, or with any considerable number of exciting incidents. There are, however, many short legends in the Egypt that still remains, which have more or less of interesting events, and show that the Egyptian people was not altogether devoid of imagination even though their imagination was far from lively. One example of a myth without any considerable number of exciting incidents features Seb. Seb once upon a time took the form of a goose, laid a mundane egg, and hatched it.
Though there are many myths that run this vein, it is yet unwise to dub the Egyptians as lacking in imagination. For example, Thoth once wrote a wonderful book, full of wisdom and science, which told of everything from concerning the fowls of the air, to the fishes of the sea, to the four-footed beasts of the earth. It was widely told that he who knew a single page of the book could charm the heaven, the earth, the great abyss, the mountains, and the seas. Thoth took this magical work and enclosed it in a box of gold, and the box of gold he placed within a box of silver. This box of silver was then placed within a box of ivory and ebony, and then again within a box of bronze. Then the bronze box he enclosed within a box of brass, and the brass box within a box of iron; and the box, thus guarded by so many layers, Thoth threw into the Nile. Despite Thoth’s efforts to keep the box out of reach, a priest discovered the whereabouts of the book, and sold the knowledge to a young noble for a hundred pieces of silver. The young noble with great trouble then fished the book up. But the possession of the book brought him nothing but bad luck and evil. The young noble lost his wife; he lost his child; he became entangled in a disgraceful intrigue. He was glad to part with the book. But the next possessor was no more fortunate; the book brought him no luck as well.
It would require another Euhemerus to find any groundwork of history in these narratives. We must turn away from the “”shadow-land”” which the Egyptians called the time of the gods on earth, if we would find trace of the real doings of men in the Nile valley, and put before our readers actual human beings in the place of airy phantoms.
Adapted from Ebook of Ancient Egypt by George Rawlinson, 2005
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