Records of the Past, 2nd Series, Vol. III

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Records of the Past, 2nd Series, Vol. III

By A. H. Sayce

Introduction - The Daughter of the Prince of Bakhtan and the Spirit that Possessed Her

The monument which has preserved for us this curious narrative is a stele discovered by Champollion in the temple of Khonsu at Thebes, and removed from thence in 1886 by Prisse d’Avennes, by whom it was given to the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris. The text has been published by Prisse d’Avenues: Choix de Monuments égyptiens (Paris, 1847); and Champollion: Monuments de l’Égypte et de la Nubie (Paris, 1846–76, vol. ii. pp. 280-90); and translated by Birch: Notes upon an Egyptian Inscription in the Bibliothèque Impériale of Paris (in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature, iv. new series); and E. de Rougé: Étude sur une Stèle égyptienne appartenant à la Bibliothèque Impériale (in the Journal Asiatique, Aug. 185 6, Aug. 1857, June and Aug. 1858).

Champollion had already studied the text and has cited many phrases from it in his works. It was sumptuously reproduced on a single sheet at the Imperial Printing-Press for the Paris Exhibition of 1855 under the superintendence of E. de Rougé.

Little has been added by later works to de Rougé's results. Translations of it have been given by Brugsch in his History of Egypt (English translation, 2d edit., ii. pp. 191–4), and by Maspero in his Contes égyptiens, ii. pp. 209–224.

The narrative presents the appearance of an official document. The Ramses recorded in it was believed to be the twelfth of the name who belonged to the twentieth dynasty, and efforts were made to discover the country of Bakhtan in the map. The account begins with a royal protocol in the name of a sovereign who has the same names and prænomina as Ramses II or Sesostris. Next come dates which follow a definite order throughout the text; the details of the cult of the deity and of the Pharaonic ceremonial are described with scrupulous exactitude. The whole possesses such a character of probability that the inscription was considered historical until quite recently. Prof. Erman, however, has shown with much sagacity that we must recognise in it a pure fiction invented by the priests of Khonsu in order to heighten the glory of the god and the importance of his temple; see A. Erman: Die Bentreschstele in the Zeitschrift für aegyptische Sprache, 1883, pp. 53–60.

Prof. Erman has made it clear that the forgers intended to assign the narrative to the reign of Ramses II, and has thus relieved us from an imaginary Pharaoh. He has brought the redaction of the story down to the Ptolemaic period, but I believe that I can attribute it to the earlier days of the Ethiopian invasions, when the high-priest of Amon was about to fall, and the great priesthoods which still existed at Thebes were to endeavour by all the means in their power to inherit the influence which the fallen priesthood had exercised.

The narrative refers to a belief which is common in popular literature; a spirit has entered the body of a princess and struggles against the exorcists who have been commissioned to expel it, consenting to depart only on certain conditions. The story furnishes us with the simplest and most ancient form of the belief. A modern Egyptologist has adopted it as the subject of a novelette (H. Brugsch: Des Priesters Rache, eine historisch beglaubigte Erzählung aus der aegyptischen Geschichte des zwölften Jahrhunderts vor Christus, in the Deutsche Revue, v. pp. 15–41).

Prof. Erman has noted in the narrative an affectation of archaism and somewhat serious errors of language. We can understand that the priests of Khonsu have endeavoured to imitate the language of the period to which they attributed the monument. We can also understand that they could not be equally successful everywhere in maintaining an archaistic tone, and have thus at times committed errors. The sentences are badly constructed, the expression of ideas is poor, the phrase curt and flat.

Moreover, they have assigned to a king of the nineteenth dynasty methods of government which belonged only to sovereigns of the twentieth. Ramses II, devout as he was, would never have considered it necessary to submit to the approval of the gods all the affairs of state; it was the last successors of Ramses III who introduced the custom of consulting the statue of Amon upon every occasion. With these reservations it may be admitted that the text offers no further difficulties to the interpreter, and with a little attention can be easily translated; like the Story of the Two Brothers it can be advantageously placed in the hands of beginners in Egyptian.

The stele is surmounted by a tableau in which one of the scenes in the story is enacted before our eyes. On the left, the bark of Khonsu, the good counsellor, is carried on the shoulders of eight porters and is followed by two priests reading prayers; the king, standing before it, offers incense to it. On the right, the bark of Khonsu, which regulates the destinies of Thebes, is figured, carried by four men only, for it is smaller than the other; the priest who offers incense to it is the prophet of Khonsu who regulates the destinies of Thebes, Khonsu-hâ-nutir-nibit. It is probably the return of the second god to Thebes which is thus illustrated: the first Khonsu comes to receive the second, and the priest and king each render equal homage to his divinity.



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