This is the story of me, Ana the scribe, son of Meri, and of
certain of the days that I have spent upon the earth. These things
I have written down now that I am very old in the reign of Rameses,
the third of that name, when Egypt is once more strong and as she
was in the ancient time. I have written them before death takes me,
that they may be buried with me in death, for as my spirit shall
arise in the hour of resurrection, so also these my words may arise
in their hour and tell to those who shall come after me upon the
earth of what I knew upon the earth. Let it be as Those in heaven
shall decree. At least I write and what I write is true.
I tell of his divine Majesty whom I loved and love as my own
soul, Seti Meneptah the second, whose day of birth was my day of
birth, the Hawk who has flown to heaven before me; of Userti the
Proud, his queen, she who afterwards married his divine Majesty,
Saptah, whom I saw laid in her tomb at Thebes. I tell of Merapi,
who was named Moon of Israel, and of her people, the Hebrews, who
dwelt for long in Egypt and departed thence, having paid us back in
loss and shame for all the good and ill we gave them. I tell of the
war between the gods of Egypt and the god of Israel, and of much
that befell therein.
Also I, the King's Companion, the great scribe, the beloved of
the Pharaohs who have lived beneath the sun with me, tell of other
men and matters. Behold! is it not written in this roll? Read, ye
who shall find in the days unborn, if your gods have given you
skill. Read, O children of the future, and learn the secrets of
that past which to you is so far away and yet in truth so near.
As it chanced, although the Prince Seti and I were born upon the
same day and therefore, like the other mothers of gentle rank whose
children saw the light upon that day, my mother received Pharaoh's
gift and I received the title of Royal Twin in Ra, never did I set
eyes upon the divine Prince Seti until the thirtieth birthday of
both of us. All of which happened thus.
In those days the great Pharaoh, Rameses the second, and after
him his son Meneptah who succeeded when he was already old, since
the mighty Rameses was taken to Osiris after he had counted one
hundred risings of the Nile, dwelt for the most part at the city of
Tanis in the desert, whereas I dwelt with my parents at the
ancient, white-walled city of Memphis on the Nile. At times
Meneptah and his court visited Memphis, as also they visited
Thebes, where this king lies in his royal tomb to-day. But save on
one occasion, the young Prince Seti, the heir-apparent, the Hope of
Egypt, came not with them, because his mother, Asnefert, did not
favour Memphis, where some trouble had befallen her in youth—they
say it was a love matter that cost the lover his life and her a
sore heart—and Seti stayed with his mother who would not suffer him
out of sight of her eyes.
Once he came indeed when he was fifteen years of age, to be
proclaimed to the people as son of his father, as Son of the Sun,
as the future wearer of the Double Crown, and then we, his twins in
Ra—there were nineteen of us who were gently born—were called by
name to meet him and to kiss his royal feet. I made ready to go in
a fine new robe embroidered in purple with the name of Seti and my
own. But on that very morning by the gift of some evil god I was
smitten with spots all over my face and body, a common sickness
that affects the young. So it happened that I did not see the
Prince, for before I was well again he had left Memphis.
Now my father Meri was a scribe of the great temple of Ptah, and
I was brought up to his trade in the school of the temple, where I
copied many rolls and also wrote out Books of the Dead which I
adorned with paintings. Indeed, in this business I became so clever
that, after my father went blind some years before his death, I
earned enough to keep him, and my sisters also until they married.
Mother I had none, for she was gathered to Osiris while I was still
very little. So life went on from year to year, but in my heart I
hated my lot. While I was still a boy there rose up in me a
desire—not to copy what others had written, but to write what
others should copy. I became a dreamer of dreams. Walking at night
beneath the palm-trees upon the banks of the Nile I watched the
moon shining upon the waters, and in its rays I seemed to see many
beautiful things. Pictures appeared there which were different from
any that I saw in the world of men, although in them were men and
women and even gods.
Of these pictures I made stories in my heart and at last,
although that was not for some years, I began to write these
stories down in my spare hours. My sisters found me doing so and
told my father, who scolded me for such foolishness which he said
would never furnish me with bread and beer. But still I wrote on in
secret by the light of the lamp in my chamber at night. Then my
sisters married, and one day my father died suddenly while he was
reciting prayers in the temple. I caused him to be embalmed in the
best fashion and buried with honour in the tomb he had made ready
for himself, although to pay the costs I was obliged to copy Books
of the Dead for nearly two years, working so hard that I found no
time for the writing of stories.
When at length I was free from debt I met a maiden from Thebes
with a beautiful face that always seemed to smile, and she took my
heart from my breast into her own. In the end, after I returned
from fighting in the war against the Nine Bow Barbarians, to which
I was summoned like other men, I married her. As for her name, let
it be, I will not think of it even to myself. We had one child, a
little girl which died within two years of her birth, and then I
learned what sorrow can mean to man. At first my wife was sad, but
her grief departed with time and she smiled again as she used to
do. Only she said that she would bear no more children for the gods
to take. Having little to do she began to go about the city and
make friends whom I did not know, for of these, being a beautiful
woman, she found many. The end of it was that she departed back to
Thebes with a soldier whom I had never seen, for I was always
working at home thinking of the babe who was dead and how happiness
is a bird that no man can snare, though sometimes, of its own will,
it flies in at his window-place.
It was after this that my hair went white before I had counted
Now, as I had none to work for and my wants were few and simple,
I found more time for the writing of stories which, for the most
part, were somewhat sad. One of these stories a fellow scribe
borrowed from me and read aloud to a company, whom it pleased so
much that there were many who asked leave to copy it and publish it
abroad. So by degrees I became known as a teller of tales, which
tales I caused to be copied and sold, though out of them I made but
little. Still my fame grew till on a day I received a message from
the Prince Seti, my twin in Ra, saying that he had read certain of
my writings which pleased him much and that it was his wish to look
upon my face. I thanked him humbly by the messenger and answered
that I would travel to Tanis and wait upon his Highness. First,
however, I finished the longest story which I had yet written. It
was called the Tale of Two Brothers, and told how the faithless
wife of one of them brought trouble on the other, so that he was
killed. Of how, also, the just gods brought him to life again, and
many other matters. This story I dedicated to his Highness, the
Prince Seti, and with it in the bosom of my robe I travelled to
Tanis, having hidden about me a sum of gold that I had saved.
So I came to Tanis at the beginning of winter and, walking to
the palace of the Prince, boldly demanded an audience. But now my
troubles began, for the guards and watchmen thrust me from the
doors. In the end I bribed them and was admitted to the
antechambers, where were merchants, jugglers, dancing-women,
officers, and many others, all of them, it seemed, waiting to see
the Prince; folk who, having nothing to do, pleased themselves by
making mock of me, a stranger. When I had mixed with them for
several days, I gained their friendship by telling to them one of
my stories, after which I was always welcome among them. Still I
could come no nearer to the Prince, and as my store of money was
beginning to run low, I bethought me that I would return to
One day, however, a long-bearded old man, with a gold-tipped
wand of office, who had a bull's head embroidered on his robe,
stopped in front of me and, calling me a white-headed crow, asked
me what I was doing hopping day by day about the chambers of the
palace. I told him my name and business and he told me his, which
it seemed was Pambasa, one of the Prince's chamberlains. When I
asked him to take me to the Prince, he laughed in my face and said
darkly that the road to his Highness's presence was paved with
gold. I understood what he meant and gave him a gift which he took
as readily as a cock picks corn, saying that he would speak of me
to his master and that I must come back again.
I came thrice and each time that old cock picked more corn. At
last I grew enraged and, forgetting where I was, began to shout at
him and call him a thief, so that folks gathered round to listen.
This seemed to frighten him. At first he looked towards the door as
though to summon the guard to thrust me out; then changed his mind,
and in a grumbling voice bade me follow him. We went down long
passages, past soldiers who stood at watch in them still as mummies
in their coffins, till at length we came to some broidered
curtains. Here Pambasa whispered to me to wait, and passed through
the curtains which he left not quite closed, so that I could see
the room beyond and hear all that took place there.
It was a small room like to that of any scribe, for on the
tables were palettes, pens of reed, ink in alabaster vases, and
sheets of papyrus pinned upon boards. The walls were painted, not
as I was wont to paint the Books of the Dead, but after the fashion
of an earlier time, such as I have seen in certain ancient tombs,
with pictures of wild fowl rising from the swamps and of trees and
plants as they grow. Against the walls hung racks in which were
papyrus rolls, and on the hearth burned a fire of cedar-wood.
By this fire stood the Prince, whom I knew from his statues. His
years appeared fewer than mine although we were born upon the same
day, and he was tall and thin, very fair also for one of our
people, perhaps because of the Syrian blood that ran in his veins.
His hair was straight and brown like to that of northern folk who
come to trade in the markets of Egypt, and his eyes were grey
rather than black, set beneath somewhat prominent brows such as
those of his father, Meneptah. His face was sweet as a woman's, but
made curious by certain wrinkles which ran from the corners of the
eyes towards the ears. I think that these came from the bending of
the brow in thought, but others say that they were inherited from
an ancestress on the female side. Bakenkhonsu my friend, the old
prophet who served under the first Seti and died but the other day,
having lived a hundred and twenty years, told me that he knew her
before she was married, and that she and her descendant, Seti,
might have been twins.
In his hand the Prince held an open roll, a very ancient writing
as I, who am skilled in such matters that have to do with my trade,
knew from its appearance. Lifting his eyes suddenly from the study
of this roll, he saw the chamberlain standing before him.
"You came at a good time, Pambasa," he said in a voice that was
very soft and pleasant, and yet most manlike. "You are old and
doubtless wise. Say, are you wise, Pambasa?"
"Yes, your Highness. I am wise like your Highness's uncle,
Khaemuas the mighty magician, whose sandals I used to clean when I
"Is it so? Then why are you so careful to hide your wisdom which
should be open like a flower for us poor bees to suck at? Well, I
am glad to learn that you are wise, for in this book of magic that
I have been reading I find problems worthy of Khaemuas the
departed, whom I only remember as a brooding, black-browed man much
like my cousin, Amenmeses his son—save that no one can call
"Why is your Highness glad?"
"Because you, being by your own account his equal, can now
interpret the matter as Khaemuas would have done. You know,
Pambasa, that had he lived he would have been Pharaoh in place of
my father. He died too soon, however, which proves to me that there
was something in this tale of his wisdom, since no really wise man
would ever wish to be Pharaoh of Egypt."
Pambasa stared with his mouth open.
"Not wish to be Pharaoh!" he began—
"Now, Pambasa the Wise," went on the Prince as though he had not
heard him. "Listen. This old book gives a charm 'to empty the heart
of its weariness,' that it says is the oldest and most common
sickness in the world from which only kittens, some children, and
mad people are free. It appears that the cure for this sickness, so
says the book, is to stand on the top of the pyramid of Khufu at
midnight at that moment when the moon is largest in the whole year,
and drink from the cup of dreams, reciting meanwhile a spell
written here at length in language which I cannot read."
"There is no virtue in spells, Prince, if anyone can read
"And no use, it would seem, if they can be read by none."
"Moreover, how can any one climb the pyramid of Khufu, which is
covered with polished marble, even in the day let alone at
midnight, your Highness, and there drink of the cup of dreams?"
"I do not know, Pambasa. All I know is that I weary of this
foolishness, and of the world. Tell me of something that will
lighten my heart, for it is heavy."
"There are jugglers without, Prince, one of whom says he can
throw a rope into the air and climb up it until he vanishes into
"When he has done it in your sight, Pambasa, bring him to me,
but not before. Death is the only rope by which we climb to
heaven—or be lowered into hell. For remember there is a god called
Set, after whom, like my great-grandfather, I am named by the
way—the priests alone know why—as well as one called Osiris."
"Then there are the dancers, Prince, and among them some very
finely made girls, for I saw them bathing in the palace lake, such
as would have delighted the heart of your grandfather, the great
"They do not delight my heart who want no naked women prancing
here. Try again, Pambasa."
"I can think of nothing else, Prince. Yet, stay. There is a
scribe without named Ana, a thin, sharp-nosed man who says he is
your Highness's twin in Ra."
"Ana!" said the Prince. "He of Memphis who writes stories? Why
did you not say so before, you old fool? Let him enter at once, at
Now hearing this I, Ana, walked through the curtains and
prostrated myself, saying,
"I am that scribe, O Royal Son of the Sun."
"How dare you enter the Prince's presence without being
bidden——" began Pambasa, but Seti broke in with a stern voice,
"And how dare you, Pambasa, keep this learned man waiting at my
door like a dog? Rise, Ana, and cease from giving me titles, for we
are not at Court. Tell me, how long have you been in Tanis?"
"Many days, O Prince," I answered, "seeking your presence and in
"And how did you win it at last?"
"By payment, O Prince," I answered innocently, "as it seems is
usual. The doorkeepers——"
"I understand," said Seti, "the doorkeepers! Pambasa, you will
ascertain what amount this learned scribe has disbursed to 'the
doorkeepers' and refund him double. Begone now and see to the
So Pambasa went, casting a piteous look at me out of the corner
of his eye.
"Tell me," said Seti when he was gone, "you who must be wise in
your fashion, why does a Court always breed thieves?"
"I suppose for the same reason, O Prince, that a dog's back
breeds fleas. Fleas must live, and there is the dog."
"True," he answered, "and these palace fleas are not paid
enough. If ever I have power I will see to it. They shall be fewer
but better fed. Now, Ana, be seated. I know you though you do not
know me, and already I have learned to love you through your
writings. Tell me of yourself."
So I told him all my simple tale, to which he listened without a
word, and then asked me why I had come to see him. I replied that
it was because he had sent for me, which he had forgotten; also
because I brought him a story that I had dared to dedicate to him.
Then I laid the roll before him on the table.
"I am honoured," he said in a pleased voice, "I am greatly
honoured. If I like it well, your story shall go to the tomb with
me for my Ka to read and re-read until the day of resurrection,
though first I will study it in the flesh. Do you know this city of
I answered that I knew little of it, who had spent my time here
haunting the doors of his Highness.
"Then with your leave I will be your guide through it this
night, and afterwards we will sup and talk."
I bowed and he clapped his hands, whereon a servant appeared,
not Pambasa, but another.
"Bring two cloaks," said the Prince, "I go abroad with the
scribe, Ana. Let a guard of four Nubians, no more, follow us, but
at a distance and disguised. Let them wait at the private
The man bowed and departed swiftly.
Almost immediately a black slave appeared with two long hooded
cloaks, such as camel-drivers wear, which he helped us to put on.
Then, taking a lamp, he led us from the room through a doorway
opposite to that by which I had entered, down passages and a narrow
stair that ended in a courtyard. Crossing this we came to a wall,
great and thick, in which were double doors sheathed with copper
that opened mysteriously at our approach. Outside of these doors
stood four tall men, also wrapped in cloaks, who seemed to take no
note of us. Still, looking back when we had gone a little way, I
observed that they were following us, as though by chance.
How fine a thing, thought I to myself, it is to be a Prince who
by lifting a finger can thus command service at any moment of the
day or night.
Just at that moment Seti said to me:
"See, Ana, how sad a thing it is to be a Prince, who cannot even
stir abroad without notice to his household and commanding the
service of a secret guard to spy upon his every action, and
doubtless to make report thereof to the police of Pharaoh."
There are two faces to everything, thought I to myself