Egypt: Ra and Hathor

This story is part of the Ancient Egypt unit. Story source: Egyptian Myth and Legend by Donald Mackenzie (1907).




Ra and Hathor

As Ra grew old ruling over men, there were those among his subjects who spake disdainfully regarding him, saying: "Aged, indeed, is King Ra, for now his bones are silvern and his flesh is turned to gold, although his hair is still true lapis lazuli (dark)."

Unto Ra came knowledge of the evil words which were spoken against him, and there was anger in his heart because there were rebellious sayings on the lips of men and because they sought also to slay him. He spake unto his divine followers and said: "Bring before me the god Shu and the goddess Tefnut, the god Seb and his consort Nut, and the fathers and mothers who were with me at the beginning when I was in Nu. Bring Nu before me also. Let them all come hither in secret so that men may not behold them, and, fearing, take sudden flight. Let all the gods assemble in my great temple at Heliopolis."

The gods assembled as Ra desired, and they made obeisance before him. They then said: "Speak what thou desirest to say and we will hear."

He addressed the gods, saying: "O Nu, thou the eldest god, from whom I had my being, and ye ancestral gods, hear and know now, that rebellious words are spoken against me by mankind, whom I did create. Lo! they seek even to slay me. It is my desire that ye should instruct me what ye would do in this matter. Consider well among yourselves and guide me with wisdom. I have hesitated to punish mankind until I have heard from your lips what should now be done regarding them.

"For lo! I desire in my heart to destroy utterly that which I did create. All the world will become a waste of water through a great flood as it was at the beginning, and I alone shall be left remaining, with no one else beside me save Osiris and his son Horus. I shall become a small serpent invisible to the gods. To Osiris will be given power to reign over the dead, and Horus will be exalted on the throne which is set upon the island of fiery flames."

Then spake forth Nu, god of primeval waters, and he said: "Hear me now, O my son, thou who art mightier far than me, although I gave thee life. Steadfast is thy throne; great is the fear of thee among men. Let thine eye go forth against those who are rebels in the kingdom."

Ra said: "Now do men seek escape among the hills; they tremble because of the words they have uttered."

The gods spake together, saying: "Let thine eye go forth against those who are rebels in the kingdom, and it shall destroy them utterly. When it cometh down from heaven as Hathor, no human eye can be raised against it."

Ra heard, and, as was his will, his eye went forth as Hathor against mankind among the mountains, and they were speedily slain. The goddess rejoiced in her work and drave over the land, so that for many nights she waded in blood.

Then Ra repented. His fierce anger passed away, and he sought to save the remnant of mankind. He sent messengers who ran swifter than the storm wind unto Elephantine so that they might obtain speedily many plants of virtue. These they brought back, and they were well ground and steeped with barley in vessels filled with the blood of mankind. So was beer made and seven thousand jars were filled with it.

Day dawned and Hathor went upstream slaughtering mankind. Ra surveyed the jars and said: "Now shall I give men protection. It is my will that Hathor may slay them no longer."

Then the god gave command that the jars should be carried to the place where the vengeful goddess rested for the night after that day of slaughter. The jars were emptied out as was his desire, and the land was covered with the flood.

When Hathor awoke her heart was made glad. She stooped down and she saw her beauteous face mirrored in the flood. Then began she to drink eagerly, and she was made drunken so that she went to and fro over the land, nor took any heed of mankind.

Ra spake unto her, saying: "Beautiful goddess, return to me in peace."

Hathor returned, and the divine father said: "Henceforward shall comely handmaidens, thy priestesses, prepare for thee in jars, according to their number, draughts of sweetness, and these shall be given as offerings unto thee at the first festival of every New Year.

So it came that from that day, when the Nile rose in red flood, covering the land of Egypt, offerings of beer were made unto Hathor. Men and women partook of the draughts of sweetness at the festival and were made drunken like the goddess.

Now when Hathor had returned to Ra, he spake unto her with weariness, saying: "A fiery pain torments me, nor can I tell whence it comes. I am still alive, but I am weary of heart and desire no longer to dwell among men. Lo! I have not destroyed them as I have power to do."

The gods who followed Ra said: "Be no longer weary. Power is thine according to thy desire."

Ra answered them, saying: "Weary indeed are my limbs and they fail me. I shall go forth no longer alone, nor shall I wait until I am stricken again with pain. Help shall be given unto me according to my desire."

Then the ruler of the gods called unto Nu, from whom he had being, and Nu bade Shu, the atmosphere god, and Nut, goddess of the heavens, to give aid unto Ra in his distress.

Nut took the form of the Celestial Cow, and Shu lifted Ra upon her back. Then darkness came on. Men issued forth from their hiding places in great fear, and when they beheld Ra departing from them, they sorrowed because of the rebellious words which had been spoken against his majesty. Indeed they cried unto Ra, beseeching him to slay those of his enemies who remained. But Ra was borne through the darkness, and men followed him until he appeared again and shed light upon the earth. Then did his faithful subjects arm themselves with weapons, and they sallied forth against the enemies of the sun god and slaughtered them in battle.




(1100 words)










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