THE OLDEST STORY IN THE WORLD.
[To THE EIETOZ OF TEA "SPECTATOE."1
SIE,—I think that your readers may be interested in the accompanying new translation of an Egyptian story, from a papyrus in the famous collections of the Hermitage at St. Petersburg. The date of this document is about 2000 B.C.- certainly not later. As one or two other stories of the same period (but inferior in literary value) are in existence, it should not perhaps be technically described as the oldest in the world ; but it is true that no earlier story is known. This tale has not, to my knowledge, been translated direct from the original text into English by any one else.—
[AaaumaNT.—A certain Prince has returned safely to Egypt from a perilous voyage to the parts beyond Nubia, but cannot share the joy of his crew because upon him rests the dread duty of making a report before the Majesty of Pharaoh. An old officer, who has accompanied the Prince as body-guard, essays in vain to hearten him by an account of a similar expedition which ended in a very different manner. The Prince, not comforted, replies in a dark saying.] "Said the wise body-guard Be glad, 0 Prince ! See, we have reached the Capital; they have taken the mallet and driven in the mooring-stake, and the ship's cable has been laid on Land. They praise and thank God, and every man embraces another. Our soldiers have returned in safety ; not one of our warriors is lost, for all that we reached the utter- most parts of Nubia, and have (now) passed the island of Senmet. See now, we have come home in peace; we have reached our own land!
Hearken to me, 0 Prince, I am not overbold. Wash thy- self, pouring water over thy fingers. Answer when thou art addressed ; speak to the King with thy heart, answer without faltering. It is a man's month that saves him ; it is Lis speech that covers his face. Act after the wish of thy heart; (but) thou talkest of doing naught.
I will recount to thee, therefore, a like thing which happened to myself when I journeyed to a mine of the King, and went down to the sea in a ship of one hundred and fifty cubits in length, and forty cubits in width. Therein were one hundred and fifty sailors, of the beat in Egypt. They looked on the sky, they looked on the land, and their hearts were stouter than those of lions.
They foretold a storm before it had come ; and foul weather when as yet it was not. The storm broke while we were upon the sea, before we could reach land. The wind arose, making a clamorous sound, and brought with it a wave of eight cubits. There was a piece of wood against which I struck ; but the ship perished. As to those that were therein, not one of them was remaining. I was cast upon an island by a wave of the sea. Three days I passed alone with my heart as my com- panion, and I lay in the midst of a thicket, and the shadow covered me. Then I stretched forth my legs to know what I should put into my mouth.
I found figs and grapes there and all goodly roots ; berries were there, together with grain and cucumbers of all kinds. Fishes were there, and fowl ; there is nothing that was not there. I satisfied my hunger, and placed upon the ground the abundance that I had over. I prepared firesticks and made fire ; I cut wood and made burnt-offering to the gods.
I heard a noise of thunder. I thought: "It is a wave of the sea." The trees cracked, the earth shook. Then I un- covered my face; I found that it was a serpent which was approaching. He was thirty cubits long, and his tail was more than two cubits. His body was covered with gold, and the rings round his eyes were as real lapis lazuli. And the side was more splendid than the front.
He opened his mouth to me while I was upon my stomach before him and said to me : "Who has brought thee, who has brought thee, little one, who has brought thee P If thou hasten not to say who has brought thee to this island, I give thee to know that thou shalt be in ashes, becoming somewhat that cannot be seen. Speakest thou to me P I hear it not. I am before thee, and thou knowest it not." Be took me in his mouth and bore me off to his resting-place, and laid me down without harming me. I remained whole, and nothing was taken from mo.
He opened his mouth to me while I was upon my stomach before him. He said to me: "Who has brought thee, who has brought thee, little one, who has brought thee to this island of the sea, of which half is in the waves?"
I answered him, my arms being bent before him, and said to him : "I am be that went down to a mine on a mission of the King, in a ship of one hundred and fifty cubits in length, and forty cubits in width. Therein were one hundred and fifty sailors, of the best ii Egypt. They looked on the sky, they looked on the land, and their hearts were stouter than those of lions.
They foretold a storm before it had come; and foul weather when as yet it was not. Every one of them was stouter of heart, and stronger of arm, than his fellow ; there was no foolish one among them. The storm broke while we were upon the sea, before we could reach land. The wind arose, making a clamorous sound, and brought with it a wave of eight cubits. There was a piece of wood, against which I struck ; but the ship perished ; as to those that were therein, not one of them was remaining but myself, and lo here am I beside thee. I was brought to this island by a wave of the sea."
He said to me: "Fear not, fear not, little one, grieve not that thou art come to me. See, God has caused thee to live, Be has brought thee to this Island of the Soul. There exists nothing that is not in it: it is filled with all good things. Behold now, thou wilt spend month upon month, until thou heat fulfilled four months within this island. Then shall come a ship from the Capital, and therein sailors that will be known to thee. Thou wilt depart with them to the Capital, and thou wilt die in thine own city.
How glad is he who relates what he has observed, having passed (safely) by perilous things. I will recount to thee a like matter which came to pass upon this island. Now I lived upon it with ray brethren; and children were among them. We were in all seventy and fire serpents, with my children and my brethren. I make no mention to thee of a young girl brought to me by good fortune.
A star fell, and these were consumed in the fire from it. It chanced that I was not near; they were burned, but I was not among them. I would have died for them, when I found them as a single heap of corpses. But thou, if thou be brave, and master thy heart, thou shalt embrace thy children, thou shalt kiss thy wife, thou shalt see thy house ; and these are the best of all things. Thou shalt reach the Capital, and dwell therein in the midst of thy brethren." I cast myself upon my stomach, and touched the ground before him. I said to him : "I shall tell the King of thy might, and make him to be aware of thy greatness. I shall cause to be brought unto thee fine oils, and choice perfumes, and the incense of the temples, whereby every God is gladdened. I shall recount what things have befallen me, and what I have seen through his might. God will be praised for thee in the city, before the officials of the whole land.
I shall slaughter oxen for a burnt-offering for thee, and pluck birds for thee. I shall cause to be brought to thee ships laden with all costly things of Egypt, as should be done for a God who loves men in a far country, and whom men know not."
Then he laughed at me, and at what I had said as a thing foolish in his heart. He said to me : "Of myrrh hast thou not much ; all that thou bast is but common incense. But know that I am the Prince of Arabia, and the myrrh therein is mine. And that oil which thou saidst should be brought is the chief thing of this island. And if thou depart from this place thou wilt never more see this island; it will change into waves."
That ship came as he had at first foretold. I walked away and climbed a high tree, and recognised those that were within it. I went then to announce it, but found him aware thereof. He said to me : "Farewell, farewell, little one, to thy house, and see thy children. Cause my name to be good in thy city; see, that is sill desire of thee!"
I cast myself on my stomach, with my arms bent before him. And he gave me a shipload of myrrh, fine oil, divers perfumes, eye-paint, the tails of giraffes, a great sack of incense, the tusks of elephants, greyhounds, monkeys, apes, and all manner of good and costly things.
I loaded that ship with them. When I cast myself upon my stomach to thank him, he said to me: "See, thou wilt reach the Capital in two months, thou wilt embrace thy children, thou wilt grow young again at the Capital, and thou wilt be buried." I went down to the shore, where that ship was, and called to the warriors who were in the ship. I gave praise upon the shore to the lord of this island, and those that were in the ship did likewise.
We voyaged, sailing northwards, toward the Capital of the King, and arrived at the Capital in two months, exactly as he had said. I entered the presence of the King and took to him those gifts which I had brought to the Capital from this island. He thanked me before the officials of the whole land.
I was made a body-guard, and some of his slaves were given into my possession. Look on me, who reached home after what I had seen and experienced. Hearken to me: behold, it is good for men to hearken!'
He said to me : 'Do not play the wise man, my friend. Giveth one water to a bird the day before, when one killeth it in the morning P'"