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Submarine of Alexander the Great

“The Arab historian Mas’ûdî has preserved (see Les Prairies d’Or, ed. B. de Meynard and Pavet de Courteille, Paris, 1861, tom. ii. p. 425 ff) a curious legend of the talismans which were employed by Alexander the Great to protect the city of Alexandria whilst it was being built, and as the legend is of Egyptian origin, and dates from a period not greatly removed from that in which the Metternich stele was made, it is worthy of mention.

When the foundations of the city had been laid, and the walls had begun to rise up, certain savage animals came up each night from the sea, and threw down everything which had been built during the day; watchmen were appointed to drive them away, but in spite of this each morning saw the work done during the previous day destroyed.

After much thought Alexander devised a plan whereby he might thwart the sea monsters, and he proceeded to carry it into effect.

He made a box ten cubits long and five cubits wide with sides made of sheets of glass fastened into frames by means of pitch, resin, etc.

Metternich Stele.

Metternich Stele.

In this box Alexander placed himself, together with two skilful draughtsmen, and having been closed it was towed out to sea by two vessels; and when weights of iron, lead, and stone had been attached to the under part of it, it began to sink, being guided to the place which Alexander wished it to reach by means of cords which were worked from the ships.

When the box touched the bottom of the sea, thanks to the clearness of the glass sides and the water of the sea, Alexander and his two companions were able to watch the various marine monsters which passed by, and he saw that although they had human bodies they had the heads of beasts; some had axes, some had saws, and some had hammers, and they all closely resembled workmen.

As they passed in front of the box Alexander and his two draughtsmen copied their forms upon paper with great exactness, and depicted their hideous countenances, and stature, and shape; this done, a signal was made, and the box was drawn up to the surface.

As soon as Alexander reached the land he ordered his stone and metal workers to make reproductions of the sea monsters according to the drawings which he and his friends had made, and when they were finished he caused them to be set up on pedestals along the sea-shore, and continued his work of building the city.

When the night came, the sea monsters appeared as usual, but as soon as they saw that figures of themselves had been put up on the shore they returned at once to the water and did not shew themselves again.

When, however, the city had been built and was inhabited, the sea monsters made their appearance again, and each morning a considerable number of people were found to be missing; to prevent this Alexander placed talismans upon the pillars which, according to Mas’ûdî, were there in his day.

Each pillar was in the shape of an arrow and was eighty cubits in height, and rested upon a plinth of brass; the talismans were placed at their bases, and were in the form of figures or statues of certain beings with suitable inscriptions, and as they were put in position after careful astronomical calculations had been made for the purpose we may assume that they produced the effect desired by the king.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 147-56

The Divine Book of Ptah

From a papyrus of the Ptolemaic period we obtain some interesting facts about the great skill in working magic and about the knowledge of magical formulæ which were possessed by a prince called Setnau Khâ-em-Uast.

He knew how to use the powers of amulets and talismans, and how to compose magical formulæ, and he was master both of religious literature and of that of the “double house of life,” or library of magical books.

One day as he was talking of such things one of the king’s wise men laughed at his remarks, and in answer Setnau said, “If thou wouldst read a book possessed of magical powers come with me. and I will show it to thee, the book was written by Thoth himself, and in it there are two formulæ. The recital of the first will enchant (or bewitch) heaven, earth, hell, sea, and mountains, and by it thou shalt see all the birds, reptiles, and fish, for its power will bring the fish to the top of the water. The recital of the second will enable a man if he be in the tomb to take the form which he had upon earth,” etc.

When questioned as to where the book was, Setnau said that it was in the tomb of Ptah-nefer-ka at Memphis. A little later Setnau went there with his brother and passed three days and three nights in seeking for the tomb of Ptah-nefer-ka, and on the third day they found it; Setnau recited some words over it, and the earth opened and they went down to the place where the book was.

When the two brothers came into the tomb they found it to be brilliantly lit up by the light which came forth from the book; and when they looked they saw not only Ptah-nefer-ka, but his wife Ahura, and Merhu their son.

Now Ahura and Merhu were buried at Coptos but their doubles had come to live with Ptah- nefer-ka by means of the magical power of Thoth.

Setnau told them that he had come to take away the book, but Ahura begged him not to do so, and related to him the misfortunes which had already followed the possession of it.

She was, it seems, the sister of Ptah-nefer-ka whom she married, and after the birth of her son Merhu, her husband seemed to devote himself exclusively to the study of magical books, and one day a priest of Ptah promised to tell him where the magical book described above might be found if he would give him a hundred pieces of silver, and provide him with two handsome coffins.

When the money and the coffins had been given to him, the priest of Ptah told Ptah-nefer-ka that the book was in an iron box in the middle of the river at Coptos.

“The iron box is in a bronze box, the bronze box is in a box of palm-tree wood, the palm tree wood box is in a box of ebony and ivory, the ebony and ivory box is in a silver box, the silver box is in a gold box, and in the gold (sic) box lies the book.

The box wherein is the book is surrounded by swarms of serpents and scorpions and reptiles of all kinds, and round it is coiled a serpent which cannot die.”

Ptah-nefer-ka told his wife and the king what he had heard, and at length set out for Coptos with Ahura and Merhu in the royal barge; having arrived at Coptos he went to the temple of Isis and Harpocrates and offered up a sacrifice and poured out a libation to these gods.

Five days later the high priest of Coptos made for him the model of a floating stage and figures of workmen provided with tools; he then recited words of power over them and they became living, breathing men, and the search for the box began.

Having worked for three days and three nights they came to the place where the box was. Ptah-nefer-ka dispersed the serpents and scorpions which were round about the nest of boxes by his words of power, and twice succeeded in killing the serpent coiled round the box, but it came to life again; the third time he cut it into two pieces, and laid sand between them, and this time it did not take its old form again.

He then opened the boxes one after the other, and taking out the gold box with the book inside it carried it to the royal barge. He next read one of the two formula in it and so enchanted or bewitched the heavens and the earth that he learned all their secrets; he read the second and he saw the sun rising in the heavens with his company of the gods, etc.

His wife Ahura then read the book and saw all that her husband had seen. Ptah-nefer-ka then copied the writings on a piece of new papyrus, and having covered the papyrus with incense dissolved it in water and drank it; thus he acquired the knowledge which was in the magical book.

Meanwhile these acts had stirred the god Thoth to wrath, and he told Râ what Ptah-nefer-ka had done. As a result the decree went forth that Ptah-nefer-ka and his wife and child should never return to Memphis, and on the way back to Coptos Ahura and Merhu fell into the river and were drowned; and while returning to Memphis with the book Ptah-nefer-ka himself was drowned also.

Setnau, however, refused to be diverted from his purpose, and he insisted on having the book which he saw in the possession of Ptah-nefer-ka; the latter then proposed to play a game of draughts and to let the winner have the book.

The game was for fifty-two points, and although Ptah-nefer-ka tried to cheat Setnau, he lost the game. At this juncture Setnau sent his brother Anhaherurau up to the earth to bring him his talismans of Ptah and his other magical writings, and when he returned he laid them upon Setnau, who straightway flew up to heaven grasping the wonderful book in his hand.

As he went up from the tomb light went before him, and the darkness closed in behind him; but Ptah-nefer-ka said to his wife, “I will make him bring back this book soon, with a knife and a rod in his hand and a vessel of fire upon his head.”

Of the bewitchment of Setnau by a beautiful woman called Tabubu and of his troubles in consequence thereof we need make no mention here: it is sufficient to say that the king ordered him to take the book back to its place, and that the prophecy of Ptah-nefer-ka was fulfilled. (For translations see Brugsch, Le Roman de Setnau (in Revue Archéologique, 2nd series, Vol. xvi., 1867, p. 161 ff.); Maspero, Contes Égyptiens, Paris, 1882, pp. 45-82; Records of the Past, vol. iv., pp. 129-148; and for the original Demotic text see Mariette, Les Papyrus du Musée de Boulaq, tom. i., 1871, pll. 29-32; Revillout, Le Roman de Setna, Paris, 1877; Hess, Roman von Sfne Ha-m-us. Leipzig, 1888).

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 142-6.

Snake Bite Charm

“Now from a few words of text which follow the above narrative we learn that the object of writing it was not so much to instruct the reader as to make a magic formula, for we are told that it was to be recited over figures of Temu and Horus, and Isis and Horus, that is to say, over figures of Temu the evening sun, Horus the Elder, Horus the son of Isis, and Isis herself.

Temu apparently takes the place of Râ, for he represents the sun as an old man, i.e., Râ, at the close of his daily life when he has lost his strength and power.

The text is a charm or magical formula against snake bites, and it was thought that the written letters, which represented the words of Isis, would save the life of any one who was snake-bitten, just as they saved the life of Râ.

If the full directions as to the use of the figures of Temu, Isis, and the two Horus gods, were known unto us we should probably find that they were to be made to act in dumb show the scenes which took place between Râ, and Isis when the goddess succeeded in taking from him his name.

Thus we have ample evidence that Isis possessed marvellous magical powers, and this being so, the issues of life and death, as far as the deceased was concerned, we know from the texts to have been in her hands.

Her words of power, too, were a priceless possession, for she obtained them from Thoth, who was the personification of the mind and intelligence of the Creator, and thus their origin was divine, and from this point of view were inspired.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 142.

The Sun Stood Still

“Isis then continues her narrative thus:—

“I Isis conceived a child, and was great with child of Horus. I, a goddess, gave birth to Horus, the son of Isis, upon an island (or nest) in Athu the region of swamps; and I rejoiced greatly because of this, for I regarded Horus as a gift which would repay me for the loss of his father.”

“I hid him most carefully and concealed him in my anxiety, and indeed he was well hidden, and then I went away to the city of Am. When I had saluted the inhabitants thereof I turned back to seek the child, so that I might give him suck and take him in my arms again.”

“But I found my sucking-child Horus the fair golden one, well nigh dead! He had bedewed the ground with the water from his eye and with the foam from his lips, his body was stiff, his heart was still, and no muscle in any of his limbs moved.”

(This is an exact description of the state of an animal which has been stung by the small black scorpion in Egypt and the Sûdân. I saw Colonel W. H. Drage’s dog “Shûbra” bitten at Merâwî in September, 1897, by a black scorpion, and in about an hour she was in the state of Horus as described above, and the whole camp was distressed, for both master and dog were great favourites. When it was no longer possible to administer spirit to her, Major G. R. Griffith and others immersed her body in pails of very hot water for several hours, and at sundown she was breathing comfortably, and she soon afterwards recovered).

“Then I uttered a bitter cry of grief, and the dwellers in the papyrus swamps ran to me straightway from out of their houses, and they bewailed the greatness of my calamity; but none of them opened his mouth to speak, for every one was in deep sorrow for me, and no man knew how to bring back life into Horus.”

“Then there came to me a certain woman who was well known in her city, for she belonged to a noble family, and she tried to rekindle the life in Horus, but although her heart was full of her knowledge my son remained motionless.”

Meanwhile the folk remarked that the son of the divine mother Isis had been protected against his brother Set, that the plants among which he had been hidden could not be penetrated by any hostile being, that the words of power of Temu, the father of the gods, “who is in heaven,” should have preserved the life of Horus, that Set his brother could not possibly have had access to where the child was, who, in any case, had been protected against his wickedness; and at length it was discovered that Horus had been stung by a scorpion, and that the reptile “which destroyeth the heart” had wounded him, and had probably killed him.

At this juncture Nephthys arrived, and went round about among the papyrus swamps weeping bitterly because of the affliction of her sister Isis; with her also was Serqet, the goddess of scorpions, who asked continually, “What hath happened to the child Horus?”

Then Nephthys said to Isis, “Cry out in prayer unto heaven, and let the mariners in the boat of Râ cease to row, and let not the boat of Râ move further on its course for the sake of the child Horus”; and forthwith Isis sent forth her cry up to heaven, and made her request come unto the “Boat of millions of years,” and the Sun stood still and his boat moved not from its place by reason of the goddess’s petition.

Out from the boat came the god Thoth provided with magical powers, and bearing with him the great power to command in such wise that the words of his mouth must be fulfilled straightway; and he spake to Isis, saying “O thou goddess Isis, whose mouth knoweth how to utter charms (or talismans), no suffering shall come upon thy child Horus, for his health and safety depend upon the boat of Râ.”

“I have come this day in the divine boat of the Disk (Aten) to the place where it was yesterday. When darkness (or night) ruleth, the light shall vanquish it for the health (or safety) of Horus for the sake of his mother Isis and similarly shall it happen unto every one who possesseth what is [here] written(?).”

What took place next is, of course, evident. The child Horus was restored to life, to the great joy of his mother Isis, who was more indebted than ever to the god Thoth for coming to deliver her out of her trouble on the death of her son, just as he had done on the death of her husband.

Now because Isis had revivified both her husband and her son by the words of power and talismans which she possessed, mortal man thought it was absolutely necessary for him to secure her favour and protection at any cost, for eternal life and death were in her hands.

As time went on the Egyptians revered her more and more, and as she was the lady of the gods and of heaven, power equal to that possessed by Râ himself was ascribed to her.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 133-7.

A Tale of Isis from the Metternich Stele

“But apart from being the protector and friend of Osiris, Thoth was the refuge to which Isis fled in her trouble. The words of a hymn declare that she knew “how to turn aside evil hap,” and that she was “strong of tongue, and uttered the words of power which she knew with correct pronunciation, and halted not in her speech, and was perfect both in giving the command and in saying the word,” (Chabas, Revue Archéologique, 1857, p. 65 ff.; Ledrain, Monuments Égyptiens, pl. xxii. ff.; and for a recent translation see my First Steps in Egyptian, pp. 179-188) but this description only proves that she had been instructed by Thoth in the art of uttering words of power with effect, and to him, indeed, she owed more than this.

Metterniche Stele

Metternich Stele

When she found the dead body of her husband Osiris, she hovered about over it in the form of a bird, making air by the beating of her wings, and sending forth light from the sheen of her feathers, and at length she roused the dead to life by her words of power; as the result of the embrace which followed this meeting Horus was born, and his mother suckled him and tended him in her hiding-place in the papyrus swamps.

After a time she was persecuted by Set, her husband’s murderer, who, it seems, shut her and her son Horus up in a house as prisoners. Owing, however, to the help which Thoth gave her, she came forth by night and was accompanied on her journey by seven scorpions, (the story is told on the famous Metternichstele, ed. Golénischeff, Leipzig, 1877) called respectively Tefen, Befen, Mestet, Mestetef, Petet, Thetet, and Matet, the last three of which pointed out the way.

The guide of the way brought her to the swamps of Per-sui, (i.e., Crocodilopolis) and to the town of the two goddesses of the sandals where the swampy country of Athu begins.

Journeying on they came to Teb, (the city of the two sandals. The two sandals were made of leather from the skin of the god Nehes or Set, the opponent of Horus) where the chief of the district had a house for his ladies; now the mistress of the house would not admit Isis on account of the scorpions that were with her, for she had looked out of her door and watched Isis coming.

On this the scorpions took counsel together and wished to sting her by means of the scorpion Tefen, but at this moment a poor woman who lived in the marshes opened the door of her cottage to Isis, and the goddess took shelter therein.

Meanwhile the scorpion had crept under the door into the house of the governor, and stung the son of the lady of the house, and also set the place on fire; no water could quench the fire, and there was no rain to do it, for it was not then the rainy season.

Now these things happened to the woman who had done no active harm to Isis, and the poor creature wandered about the streets of the city uttering loud cries of grief and distress because she knew not whether her boy would live or die.

When Isis saw this she was sorry for the child who had been stung, and as he was blameless in the matter of the door of his mother’s house being shut in the face of the goddess, she determined to save him.

Thereupon she cried out to the distraught mother, saying, “Come to me, come to me! For my word is a talisman which beareth life. I am a daughter well known in thy city also, and I will do away the evil by means of the word of my mouth which my father hath taught me, for I am the daughter of his own body.”

Then Isis laid her hands upon the body of the boy, and in order to bring back the spirit into his body said—

“Come Tefen, appear upon the ground, depart hence, come not nigh!

“Come poison of Befen, appear upon the ground. I am Isis, the goddess, the lady of words of power, who doeth deeds of magic, the words of whose voice are charms.

“Obey me, O every reptile that stingeth, and fall down headlong!

“O poison of [Mestet and] Mestetef, mount not upwards!

“O poison of Petet and Thetet, draw not nigh! O Matet, fall down headlong!”

The goddess Isis then uttered certain words of the charm which had been given to her by the god Seb in order to keep poison away from her, and said, “Turn away, get away, retreat, O poison,” adding the words “Mer-Râ” in the morning and “The Egg of the Goose appeareth from out of the sycamore” in the evening, as she turned to the scorpions.

Both these sentences were talismans. After this Isis lamented that she was more lonely and wretched than all the people of Egypt, and that she had become like an old man who hath ceased to look upon and to visit fair women in their houses; and she ordered the scorpions to turn away their looks from her and to show her the way to the marshes and to the secret place which is in the city of Khebt.

Then the words of the cry, “The boy liveth, the poison dieth! As the sun liveth, so the poison dieth,” were uttered, and the fire in the house of the woman was extinguished, and heaven rejoiced at the words of Isis.

When Isis had said that the “son of the woman had been stung because his mother had shut the door of her house in her face, and had done nothing for her,” the words of the cry, “The boy liveth and the poison dieth,” were again uttered, and the son of the woman recovered.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 129-33.

Thoth and Words of Power at the Creation

“On the amulet of the Buckle we have inscribed the words, “May the blood of Isis, and the powers of Isis, and the words of power of Isis be mighty to protect this mighty one,” etc., and in the address which Thoth makes to Osiris he says, “I am Thoth, the favoured one of Râ, the lord of might, who bringeth to a prosperous end that which he doeth, the mighty one of words of power, who is in the boat of millions of years, the lord of laws, the subduer of the two lands,” etc. (See Chapters of Coming forth by Day, p. 340 f).

From the above passages we not only learn how great was the confidence which the deceased placed in his words of power, but also that the sources from which they sprang were the gods Thoth and Isis.

It will be remembered that Thoth is called the “scribe of the gods,” the “lord of writing,” the “master of papyrus,” the “maker of the palette and the ink-jar,” the “lord of divine words,” i.e., the holy writings or scriptures, and as he was the lord of books and master of the power of speech, he was considered to be the possessor of all knowledge both human and divine.

At the creation of the world it was he who reduced to words the will of the unseen and unknown creative Power, and who uttered them in such wise that the universe came into being, and it was he who proved himself by the exercise of his knowledge to be the protector and friend of Osiris, and of Isis, and of their son Horus.

From the evidence of the texts we know that it was not by physical might that Thoth helped these three gods, but by giving them words of power and instructing them how to use them.

We know that Osiris vanquished his foes, and that he reconstituted his body, and became the king of the underworld and god of the dead, but he was only able to do these things by means of the words of power which Thoth had given to him, and which he had taught him to pronounce properly and in a proper tone of voice.

It is this belief which makes the deceased cry out, “Hail, Thoth, who madest Osiris victorious over his enemies, make thou Ani to be victorious over his enemies in the presence of the great and sovereign princes who are in Tattu,” or in any other place.

Without the words of power given to him by Thoth, Osiris would have been powerless under the attacks of his foes, and similarly the dead man, who was always identified with Osiris, would have passed out of existence at his death but for the words of power provided by the writings that were buried with him.

In the Judgment Scene it is Thoth who reports to the gods the result of the weighing of the heart in the balance, and who has supplied its owner with the words which he has uttered in his supplications, and whatever can be said in favour of the deceased he says to the gods, and whatever can be done for him he does.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 127-9.

Shining from the Sektet Boat

“We may see this view which was held concerning words of power from the following passages:—

“May Thoth, who is filled and furnished with words of power, come and loose the bandages, even the bandages of Set which fetter my mouth. . . . Now as concerning the words of power and all the words which may be spoken against me, may the gods resist them, and may each and every one of the company of the gods withstand them.” (See Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, p. 81).

“Behold, I gather together the word of power from wherever it is, and from any person with whom it is, swifter than greyhounds and quicker than light.” (Ibid., p. 81).

To the crocodile which cometh to carry off from the deceased his words of power he says, “Get thee back, return, get thee back, thou crocodile fiend Sui! Thou shalt not advance to me, for I live by reason of the words of power which I have with me. . . . Heaven hath power over its seasons, and the words of power have dominion over that which they possess; my mouth therefore shall have power over the words of power which are therein.” (See Chapters of Coming forth by Day, p. 340 f).

“I am clothed (?) and am wholly provided with thy magical words, O Râ, the which are in the heaven above me, and in the earth beneath Me.” (Ibid., p. 81).

To the two Sister-Mert goddesses the deceased says, “My message to you is my words of power. I shine from the Sektet boat, I am Horus the son of Isis, and I have come to see my father Osiris.” (Ibid., p. 87).

“I have become a spirit in my forms, I have gained the mastery over my words of power, and it is decreed for me to be a spirit.” (Ibid., p. 129).

“Hail, thou that cuttest off heads, and slittest brows, thou who puttest away the memory of evil things from the mouth of the spirits by means of the words of power which they have within them, . . . let not my mouth be shut fast by reason of the words of power which thou hast within thee. . . . Get thee back, and depart before the words which the goddess Isis uttered when thou didst come to cast the recollection of evil things into the mouth of Osiris.” (Ibid., p. 150).

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 126-7.

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