“Egypt, is probably the civilization of the ancient world that has more popularity and greater fascination has generated within the territories surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.”
Land of pharaohs and mummies, the Egyptian people enjoy a great variety of myths and legends of great antiquity and that they try to give an explanation to the vision of the world of the once powerful empire on the banks of the Nile. That is why throughout this
In this article, we will explore the idiosyncrasies of said people through a brief selection of Egyptian legends.
A dozen Egyptian legends
Here we offer you a series of ten beautiful stories from the Egyptian civilization, which allow us to briefly visualize the symbolisms, values and ways of approaching the reality of said people and culture.
1. The myth of creation
Like the other cultures, the Egyptian also has its own version of the creation of the universe and the world in which we live. In fact, there are three known versions depending on the city that generated it and the deities it venerated. One of them is the Iunu, later known as Heliopolis, which is known to be the city where the cult of the god Ra as a primordial deity emerged and prevailed.
Legend has it that at first there was only one immense and infinite ocean named Nun, which remained motionless and totally asleep. Neither heaven nor earth, neither plants nor animals nor man existed. Only Nun, which contained all the possible elements. But one day, the world became aware of itself and its situation, giving itself the name of Ra.
This would be the first god, who at first was alone in the middle of the ocean. But little by little he began to create: his breath would turn the god Shu, the air, and his saliva to the god of moisture Tefnut.
Then he created an island or land on which to rest, which he named Egypt, and when he was born of water he decided to create the Nile to feed it. With the elements of the great ocean, Ra created the different living beings.
Shu and Tefnut, at another point of the Nun, had sons, the deity Geb of the Earth, and Nut, of Heaven. Both sons had relations and their father Shu, jealous, decided to separate them holding the first one under his feet and the second one on his head. From the union of both gods stars and other deities would be born.
Finished his creation the god Ra sent one of his eyes to look for his offspring, but that eye would be to return that the god had grown another new. Desperate, the eye began to cry, creating its tears to the first human beings. The god Ra, seeing his pain, placed it on his forehead: the Sun had been created.
2. The legend of Sinuhé
Another of the legends of the Egyptian people is found in the legend of Sinuhé, in which we are told about the fear of trial and suspicion and the desire to return home.
Legend has it that Pharaoh Amenemhet was killed by a plot of his servants, his firstborn and most likely successor being absent when he was in the army when his death occurred. Before the death of Pharaoh, messengers were sent in their search.
One of the pharaoh’s trusted men was Sinuhe, who did not know the plot that ended his lord’s life until he heard one of the messengers tell the cause of death to one of the children of the Amenemhat. Scared and believing that despite having nothing to do with it, he was going to be accused of accomplice, he made the decision to flee and leave the country.
Sinuhé left the country and went into the desert, where he spent days losing his energy to the point of fainting. When he woke up he found himself surrounded by Bedouins, who took care of him. The king of these, Amunenshi, offered to stay with them after explaining their situation. The king offered him the hand of his daughter, with whom Sinuhé married and had children, as well as land. He reached great wealth and fame, also reaching the rank of general and even starring in a conflict with one of the best warriors in the area which challenged him, managing to beat him thanks to his great cunning.
However, as he grew older Sinuhe longed for more and more Egypt, praying often to be able to return and die there. In his country of origin reigned now Sesostris I, eldest son of the murdered pharaoh, after several years of hard struggles with his brothers to obtain and maintain power. The new pharaoh was informed of the situation of his father’s former trusted man, and sent for his presence, indicating that he could return and that he knew of his innocence.
Happy and after distributing their goods among his offspring, Sinuhé returned to Egypt to be received by the pharaoh, who made him his counselor and gave him a house worthy of a prince, as well as a grave among the members of the royal family. Sinuhé spent the rest of his life in his service, being able to fulfill his desire to pass away in his native country and with great honor.
3. The legend of Isis and the seven scorpions
Gratitude, hospitality, compassion and respect are elements that were also present in Egyptian culture and mythology, as we can see in the legend of Isis and the seven scorpions.
Legend has it that the god Seth deeply envied his brother Osiris, who was married to the goddess Isis and would have a son along with her, Horus. Seth, prey to hatred and outrage, tried to separate him, and captured and imprisoned Isis and Horus in order to harm his brother.
Seeing the situation, the god of wisdom Thot decided to help them, sending to his aid seven scorpions named Tefen, Befen, Mestat, Matet, Petet, Mestefef and Tetet in order to protect them. Isis and Horus escaped, followed by their protectors, and undertook a long flight to reach the city of Per-sui. There they found Usert, a woman of good position and great wealth to whom she requested her help and refuge. However, Usert, seeing the presence of the seven scorpions and fearing his attack, closed the door to the goddess and her son.
Isis and Horus continued on their way, exhausted, until finally they found a poor woman who, despite the presence of the scorpions, received the deities and sought their help and hospitality. While her protege was safe, the scorpions decided to take revenge on Usert for denying her help to Isis. During the night, the seven united their poisons in Tefen’s tail. He entered the woman’s house and stung her son, causing him to become seriously ill because of the poison. In addition to this caused a fire
Usert sought for help, in despair at the state of his child. Their pleas came to Isis, who seeing that the child was not at fault and feeling sorry for Usert’s situation, was in his aid. With the help of its powerful magic, the sky opened and a rain fell that extinguished the flames, and later ordered the poison to leave the child’s body. The son of Usert healed and recovered. The woman, ashamed and deeply grateful, gave her fortune to the goddess and the poor woman who had helped her.
4. The lost army of Cambyses II
Some of the Egyptian legends refer to the disappearance of enemy armies that dared to attack the lands of the empire. One of them tells us concretely about the lost army of Cambyses II, which really existed and that also in real life ended up vanishing (disappearance that remains a mystery, although there are speculations about different causes).
Legend has it that the Persian king Cambyses II intended to conquer Egypt. However, the oracle of the Siwa region predicted that if the king tried to conquer that territory he would be condemned, something that made the Persian take the decision to march for it through the White Desert to conquer and destroy the oracle and invade the oasis of Siwa. King Cambyses sent a total of fifty thousand men for this task.
However, the army never reached its destination, vanishing along its way through the desert. A version of this legend tells us that desert djinns turned them into the strange rock formations that can be seen in the White Desert, while other sources indicate that a large sandstorm caused their disappearance.
5. Pharaoh Dyoser and the flood of the Nile
The Nile was always the main source of water and life of the territory of the Egyptian Empire, providing the majority of fresh water in the region. That is why any alteration that caused a lack of water would be a great danger, and on the other hand the river floods were received as a blessing. That is why the following legend exists.
Legend has it that the people of Egypt had fallen into great misfortune and suffered severe hardship because the Nile did not have enough water to irrigate the fields, something that had as a consequence the progressive appearance of hunger and despair. Pharaoh Dyoser, deeply concerned, consulted with his advisor the great Imhotep regarding a possible solution to solve the water problem and asked him to help him find a solution.
The counselor and magician then went to the temple of the god of wisdom, Thoth, investigating the sacred books, and then went back to the pharaoh. He indicated that the source of the river was between two caverns on Elephantine Island, where the light that gave rise to the living beings of the world also appeared. Both caverns were guarded by the god Jnum, who retained with his feet the water outlet of the nile, created all beings and made wheat and minerals grow.
Pharaoh went to the island and prayed and implored the god, without getting an answer, until finally he fell asleep. During his sleep, the god appeared to him and asked him about the reason for his affliction. Pharaoh indicated his fear for his people and the lack of water and food, which the god indicated to be angry because of the lack of construction and repair of temples despite the many gifts and materials that he provided. After saying this the god Jnum decided to open the door to the waters of the river, which slept in the form of a snake under his sandals. Pharaoh promised to build a temple on the same island. Finally the god released the serpent, and with it there was a great flood of the river.
Upon awakening, the pharaoh could see that the waters of the river had greatly increased its cause, in addition to his feet resting a table with a prayer to the god Jnum that would later be recorded in the temple that, as promised, would build later.
6. The secret name of Ra
One of the relevant characteristics of the Egyptian culture was the great importance that was given to the name, which according to the beliefs of this people gave great power over the person and allows to understand the interior of that being. In fact, when a person was born, up to three names were added, only one being shared at a public level.
One of the legends is aimed precisely to talk about the secret name of one of the main Egyptian gods: Ra.
The legend says that in an occasion in which an old God Ra began to lose power and faculties the rest of Gods began to ambition its power. The god had multiple names, but there was one that was not known to anyone and from which he drew most of his power. The goddess Isis wanted to know this name, because she wanted the throne and the gifts of Ra for her future son Horus.
In her wisdom the goddess hatched a plan to get to know that name, the secret and true name of the deity. He began to collect the saliva effluvia of Ra and when mixed with earth the goddess gave rise to the first of the cobras, to later throw it in the path of his father.
The cobra bit and poisoned Ra, before which Isis offered to heal him in exchange for telling him what his real and secret name was (hidden even for the gods themselves). The god accepted on the condition that Isis swore not to reveal it to anyone other than Horus, something to which he agreed and after which he made the poison come out of the god and recover it. Ra shared his real name with her and with her son, thus giving them great power and the future throne of Egypt.
7. The seven Hathores
It receives the name of Hathor one of the most known deities of the Egyptian pantheon, which is considered the deity of love and joy as well as music and dance. And one of the Egyptian legends that we are going to comment has to do with its seven daughters, who guess and warn about the destiny of newborns and who star in a story in which we can observe the belief of the Egyptians in the strength of a destiny pre-established that can not be changed despite the acts themselves.
Legend has it that there was once a pharaoh and his partner who had long been waiting to conceive a child, without any success. After many years of praying and trying, the deities decided to give them a child. When the seven hathores were born, they rushed to tell their parents about the future that awaited the baby. However, they predicted that the child would die during his youth at the hands of a terrible beast: a dog, a crocodile or a snake.
In order to try to avoid this end, the pharaoh built a remote palace in which to keep his son throughout his growth, something that according to the small was growing was seen as something like a prison. The prince asked his father to give him the desire to have a dog, which despite some reluctance this term to yield to thinking it could not pose a great danger.
But although dog and prince were fond and maintained a close emotional relationship, the young man needed to go out into the world and ended up fleeing from the palace next to the animal. They went to an unknown city, where the prince met Princess Naharin. This princess was also locked up by her own father, who would only let her out if someone managed to reach her in one jump. The prince succeeded, and eventually managed to marry this princess and tell her the prediction of the goddesses.
The princess was dedicated from then on to take care of and protect the prince of his destiny. One day he managed to kill a snake that intended to kill him, after which it was given to the dog as food. But shortly after the dog began to change and to become aggressive, attacking its owner. The young man threw himself into the waters of the river to save himself.
This was when a great crocodile appeared in the waters, but fortunately for the prince this was old and was exhausted, agreeing not to devour it if it helped him to overcome the waters. After that the young man surfaced, being again attacked by the dog and having to kill him to defend himself. The prince, seeing the dog dead and having inhabited the snake and the crocodile, thought he was safe. However, while he was celebrating the snake came out of the corpse of the dog and bit him, killing him with his poison as predicted.
8. The death of Osiris
Probably one of the best known myths of Ancient Egypt is the murder of Osiris, his resurrection and the birth of Horus, who tell us about family problems and fratricide as an instrument to achieve power, in addition to the conflict between order and chaos.
The myth tells us that Osiris was initially the governor of the territory of Egypt, being the eldest son of Nut and Geb. His brother Seth had great hatred and resentment, according to some versions for having had sex with his partner Nephthys, and decided to take his life. One day, at a party, Seth brought a coffin which would remain that person who fit in it, being only Osiris who fit inside. After entering the sarcophagus, Seth locked him up and threw him into the river, where he died.
Osiris’s wife, Isis, set out to retrieve the body, to which Seth responded by dividing it and separating its various parts. Seth, before the death of his brother, took power. Isis, with the help of other deities, managed to reunite all or almost all the parts of her husband’s body and after mummifying it, she restored him to life. After that she copulated with her husband, a union that would cause the birth of Horus. The return to life of Osiris would bring about a change: he would go from being a god of life to being a deity linked to eternal life and to the preservation and guidance of the dead in the hereafter.
Also, his son Horus and brother Seth would also face the throne for years, with multiple conflicts in which both are injured and resulting winner of these Horus, who would obtain the legacy of his father.
9. The legend of the origin of the Egyptian calendar
The Egyptian civilization already had a calendar that consisted of a total of 365 days, which is the protagonist of another of the great Egyptian myths and legends that we are dealing with in this article.
The legend says that at first the years only consisted of 360 days. In a stage of the creation in which Ra ruled, it was predicted that his granddaughter Nut would have relations with Geb, something that according to the prophecy would have as result a son that would snatch the power to him. The young woman was already pregnant, so to avoid it Ra launched a curse of Nut, so that he could not have children any of the days of the year. The deity was desperate, but the god Thot came to his aid, who devised a method for him to do it.
Thot went to the god of the moon Jonsu, with whom he proceeded to play betting time and the light of the Moon. Thot was winning multiple times, so throughout the game he managed to get enough time to create five days. These days, which were not part of the year, could be used by Nut to give birth to their children. And so the goddess could give birth to Osiris, Seth, Isis and Nephthys, of whom Osiris would reach the position of his father.
10. The story of the eloquent peasant
There are also some legends or stories that speak to us from the point of view not of the deities and the pharaohs but of the plain and peasant people. One of them is the story of the eloquent peasant, a story that emerged at the time of the beginning of the Middle Kingdom.
The legend says that there was once a poor peasant, honest and hardworking, who lived with his family in the oasis of salt. This farmer needed to travel often to sell different products, and in one of his trips to the market a lieutenant in the area warns him that he should not go through his property. While both men discuss the animals transporting the goods, they eat food from the land of the lieutenant, who uses it as an excuse to keep the animals and the goods they carry.
Given this, the peasant went to the city of Heliopolis, where the representative of Pharaoh Rensi was seated at that time. There the peasant explained what happened and protested energetically and with great eloquence against the corruption shown by the lieutenant. The way of expressing himself of this one attracted the attention of Rensi and the pharaoh, lengthening in excess the case with the purpose of obtaining the maximum possible information of the man, as well as before the interest caused by his oratory.
Finally he decided to do justice, making his possessions were returned and that the lieutenant also to be his slave and his belongings also became the property of the peasant.