The Tale of Pharaoh Khufu and the Magician in Ancient Egyptian Literature

According to Ancient Egyptian literature, the Book of Thoth (see earlier post about this here ) was said to have the power such that anyone who found and read it would know how to enchant the earth and the sky, see the wind, how to hear the sun, know the secrets of the gods and the songs of the stars, and understand the language of the birds.

There is also a text in their literature (The Westcar Papyrus) that tells us that Pharaoh Khufu had for a long time been looking for the Sanctuary of Thoth, in order to make his own ‘horizon’, that is to say, for his own tomb, in the likeness of Thoth’s. Thoth, the God of Wisdom, was said to have a sanctuary (tomb) with a number of secret chambers, and the great Pharaoh wanted to know the number of secret chambers. Numbers were considered sacred or magical by the ancient Egyptians and therefore extremely powerful. Surely, the number of Chambers in the Sanctuary of Thoth would have been chosen wisely for their power.

Westcar
The Westcar Papyrus Egyptian, c. 1700 BC

 

The fourth story of the Westcar Papyrus is told by Hardedef, son of Khufu, and takes place during the reign of Khufu. Hardedef tells his father of a magician named Djedi who is a hundred and ten years old, who eats five hundred loaves of bread and a shoulder of beef for meat and drinks a hundred jars of beer a day. He knows how to mend a severed head; he can make a lion walk behind him with a leash on the ground; and he knows the number of chambers in the sanctuary of Thoth.

Khufu instructs Hardedef to bring Djedi to his court.

 

“It is told,” King Khufu said to the Magician, “that you can restore the head that is taken from a live creature.”
“I can indeed, Your Majesty,” answered Djedi.
The king said: “Then let a prisoner be brought forth and decapitated.”
“I would rather it were not a man,” said Djedi.

A duck was brought forth and its head was cut off, and the head was thrown to the right and the body to the left. Djedi spoke magic words. Then the head and the body came together, and the duck rose up and quacked loudly. The same was done with a goose.
King Khufu then caused a cow to be brought in, and its head was cut off. Djedi restored the animal to life again, and caused it to follow him.

His Majesty then spoke to the magician and said: “It is told that you possess the secrets of the dwelling of the god Thoth.”
Djedi answered that he did not possess them, but knows where they are concealed, and that is within a box in a temple chamber at Heliopolis.

And his majesty said “go and bring it to me” and Djedi said “it is not I who shall bring them to you.” and his majesty said “who will bring it to me?” and Djedi said “the eldest of the three kings who are in the womb of Reddjedet will bring it to you”.

 

When Khufu presses him further he states that the one to be granted access to the chamber is the first born of three future pharaohs (the first three kings of the fifth dynasty (Userkaf) who will be born to a Reddjedet, the wife of a priest of Ra. Thus this story forms part of the prophesy establishing the right to rule of Userkaf, Sahure and Neferirkara Kakai which is continued in the final part of the Westcar Papyrus with the story of the birth of the three pharaohs.

Djedi was honoured by His Majesty, and thereafterwards dwelt in the house of the Prince Hordadef. He was given daily for his portion an ox, a thousand loaves of bread, a hundred jugs of beer, and a hundred bunches of onions.

 The three future kings are confirmed as the offspring of Ra (Lichtheim 1975:215-22). The prophesy that they will be pious rulers contrasts with the rather bad reputation of the Pharaoh Khufu in later periods. In this papyrus Khufu is alleged to be seeking ancient knowledge to apply to the construction of his tomb (the Great Pyramid of Giza). Mackenzie translates the relevant phrase as the secrets of the dwelling of the god Thoth (1907:147) while Blackman translates the phrase as “the number of chambers in the sanctuary of Thoth” (Neederof 2008:37). Hornung confirms that there is considerable doubt as to the nature of the information he seeks but it seems clear that this act is considered impious and so the tale could be considered as an example of a morality tale documenting the fall of the royal house of Khufu as a result of his lack of peity (Kemp 2005:77).
djedo

 

 Sources:

The Tales from the Westcar Papyrus

Westcar Papyrus: Khufu and the Magician

 

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