Friday, August 24, 2001

Story of the Day: The Wax Crocodile

This is one of my favorite of the ancient Egyptian folktales; it is from Egyptian Myth and Legend by Donald Mackenzie (1907), and it is part of the Ancient Egypt unit. The hero of the story is the chief scribe who has supernatural magical powers... and an unfaithful wife.

It is a strange and marvelous story; just imagine what it would be like told from the crocodile's point of view, or what the wife might have to say about all this. 

The god Ptah referred to here is the creator god and also the god of craftsmen; you can read more at Wikipedia.



Once upon a time a Pharaoh went towards the temple of the god Ptah. His counselers and servants accompanied him. It chanced that he paid a visit to the villa of the chief scribe, behind which there was a garden with a stately summer house and a broad artificial lake.

Among those who followed Pharaoh was a handsome youth, and the scribe's wife beheld him with love. Soon afterwards she sent gifts unto him, and they had secret meetings. They spent a day in the summer house and feasted there, and in the evening the youth bathed in the lake.

The chief butler then went to his master the scribe and informed him what had come to pass. The scribe bade the servant to bring a certain magic box, and when he received it he made a small wax crocodile, over which he muttered a spell. He placed it in the hands of the butler, saying, "Cast this image into the lake behind the youth when next he bathes himself "

On another day when the scribe dwelt with Pharaoh, the lovers were together in the summer house, and at eventide the youth went into the lake. The butler stole through the garden, and stealthily he cast into the water the wax image, which was immediately given life. It became a great crocodile that seized the youth suddenly and took him away.

Seven days passed, and then the scribe spoke to the Pharaoh regarding the wonder which had been done, and made request that His Majesty should accompany him to his villa. The Pharaoh did so, and when they both stood beside the lake in the garden the scribe spoke magic words, bidding the crocodile to appear.

As he commanded, so did it do. The great reptile came out of the water carrying the youth in its jaws.

The scribe said, "Lo! It shall do whatever I command to be done."

Said the Pharaoh, "Bid the crocodile to return at once to the lake."

Ere he did that, the scribe touched it, and immediately it became a small image of wax again. The Pharaoh was filled with wonder, and the scribe related unto him all that had happened, while the youth stood waiting.

Said His Majesty unto the crocodile, "Seize the wrongdoer." The wax image was again given life and, clutching the youth, leaped into the lake and disappeared. Nor was it ever seen after that.

Then Pharaoh gave command that the wife of the scribe should be seized. On the north side of the house she was bound to a stake and burned alive, and what remained of her was thrown into the Nile.

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