Open main menu

The International Folk-Lore Congress of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, July, 1893/An Ancient Egyptian Creation Myth

AN ANCIENT EGYPTIAN CREATION MYTH.[1]

BY PROF. A. WIEDEMANN.

In ancient Egypt the closest connection existed between religious sentiment and the entire mode of thought and feeling of the people. The ancient Egyptian was distinguished—as was observed by the nations of classical antiquity—by great piety. In all his actions, even the most commonplace, some part was played by gods or demons. Awake and asleep, from birth to death, and far beyond that limit, he was surrounded by spirits; some good, who gave him existence, some evil, who studied to ruin his fortune. He must become and remain master of them, if he would attain any object, if his health and life were not to be endangered, or unless he was ready to abandon hope of a blessed life beyond the grave.

This intimate bond between faith and life was still more closely tied by the fact that religion did not form a distinct circle in the civilization of the inhabitants of the Nile valley and never lost its most intimate connection with the development of the same. Religion, there, never became a self-contained dogma, its fountains always continued to flow. There were no sacred scriptures, from which every doctrine must take its foundation and justification, and to the contents of which every Egyptian was obliged to hold fast or appear as an apostate from the faith of his fathers. There were no poets whose mythological elaborations could control and systematize religious thought. The latter path was found by the Greeks in order to arrive at a consistent faith without binding it in the fetters of a system. Homer and Hesiod created their mythological ideas, as is reported by Herodotus, II. 53, Xenophanes, and others. They did not freely invent their doctrines, but smoothed over inconsistencies in the existing myths, connected the various legends, and thus established histories and genealogies of the gods to which posterity continually referred. . . .

Egypt never had a system of religion that could have been formulated in the shape of a collection of dogmas or a catechism as THE religion of Egypt. But once in the history, covering thousands of years, of the realm of the Pharaohs, was the attempt made to force a uniform, consistent faith upon the people. It was when Amenophis II, in the 15th century B. C. sought to compel the worship of his henotheistic deity, Aten, the solar orb. All gods were to recede before him, even the one who for some centuries had begun in fact, though not in name, to permeate the entire pantheon, the solar deity Ra, who, in contradistinction from the purely material deity Aten, represented an intelligent, anthropomorphic power controlling the sun.

This attempt of the king who went so far as to lay aside his name, Amenophis, "the gift of Amon," because it contained the name of one of the old gods, and adopted the name Chu-en-aten, "radiance of the sun-orb," was bound to fail. After his death the cult of Aten was suppressed by the efforts of the priest, and the Ra faith resumed its career of conquest. One after another the gods were amalgamated with him, Amon was changed to Amon-Ra, Chnum to Chnum-Ra, etc., and those gods who did not take the name, assumed the properties of Ra. When the Greeks entered Egypt nearly all deities had become representatives of the sun and its properties, the sun itself, the morning, noon, and evening sun, the burning heat of the sun, the fructifying and nourishing warmth of the sun, and similar conceptions. This process was a free one that went on in the people as with the necessity of a law of nature. An Egyptian, even of the hellenistic period, would have been much surprised had he been told that his religion was a cult of the sun. While his gods had become identical in their utterances of life and power he did not go so far as to make them equal dogmatically. Each one continued a separate existence, .... there was no national, uniform religion, there were no recognized and unrecognized, or heretical, doctrines. In this lack of system the Egyptian went so far that he suffered the most glaring contradictions to stand side by side, that each circle of conceptions may be represented in different views and variations. Such contradictions and variants of doctrine and myth must naturally arise, for thousands of years passed over that which to-day is called Egyptian religion, and men in all classes of the population, from the king and scholar down to the artisan and husbandman contributed their share and left in the mirror of faith a reflection of their thought and sentiment. . . .

This origin impressed a peculiar stamp upon the religious ideas of the people. Close to the loftiest ideas are found the crudest and most primitive forms of thought; in one and the same text we meet with the intellectual attainments of centuries lying far apart, regardless of whether they fit together or not. As a result, the religious traditions of Egypt present themselves to the student to-day in a chaotic condition, and it requires some courage to enter the maze of this labyrinth. But having once taken this step and having laid aside the à priori desire to find a united, consistent system of Egyptian religion such as never existed, one follows the different individual thoughts and thus the texts gain new interest every day.

From these religious writings there arises a picture of the thoughts and the inner life of the people on the banks of the Nile from the time of the pyramids, that is, not less than 4,000 years B. C. down to the time of the Greeks and Romans,—a picture of such variety and wealth of color as is shown by no other ancient people. Every newly disclosed text adds new lights to the picture, and fresh life blossoms from every fragment of Egyptian tradition.

The following pages are devoted to one of these fragments, a most peculiar creation myth of the highest antiquity which, up to the present time, has not found coherent treatment or proper appreciation.

The number of Egyptian creation myths, some of which are known only in fragments, is very large. A large number of deities are occasionally credited with the act of creation: Ra, Osiris, Chnum, Ptah, and others claim the honor. Sometimes a certain god completed the work alone, again he had the assistance of other powers, which either worked as his servants or continued on their own responsibility the work begun by the first god. The modes of bringing forth new beings, also, are of various character. Here we have merely material forces which are ordered by the gods, the universe is rent asunder by sheer force, separating heaven and earth; again, the world is fashioned on a potter's wheel; again, a world-egg is formed from which everything springs. Other authors have the world created, not by physical force, but by the word. The god pronounced the name of an object, and the object was. Others held this too laborious a process and unworthy of a deity. According to them the god merely uttered inarticulate sounds, lacking all connection with the object which came into existence at their utterance, which idea was subsequently elaborated in detail by the Greco-Egyptian gnostics. But even here we find variety. Sometimes the sounds uttered are certain letters, generally vowels, again their place is taken by certain natural sounds, as laughing, smacking the lips, etc. To this circle of ideas appears to belong the peculiar report that the Pelusians worshipped the act of breaking wind. If sounds emanating from the mouth could possess creative power, it could be ascribed finally to any natural sound. The weeping of gods is frequently mentioned in such connection, and to the tears flowing from the eye of Horus especially did humanity owe many objects, particularly incense and similar articles. That a myth has even men originate from tears will appear below.

The most common and simple mode in which the texts describe the origin of gods is the natural one of being begotten by a father and borne by a mother. To make this possible it was necessary to presuppose the existence of two deities, a male and a female, which actually occurs in many Egyptian myths. Occasionally, however, the number of pre-existent beings has been reduced still further, leaving but one primary god who performed the act of creation alone. The manner in which the Egyptian conceived the process in such a case is described most minutely in the comprehensive hieratic papyrus dated from the year 306-5 B. C. No. 10,188 of the British Museum. It was found in 1860 at Thebes, came into the Rhind collection and thence to the Museum. The contents are variegated, consisting of festival songs to the goddesses Iris and Nephthys, litanies of the god Sokaris, the book of the overthrow of the serpent Apepi. The myth which is the subject of this paper occurs twice in it (p. 26, l. 27 a. f., and p. 38, l. 20 a. f.).

A duplicate in such an Egyptian religious papyrus is not a remarkable thing. These texts do not contain continuous works, although it might be sometimes expected from their titles, but compilations of widely different religious writings from which the copyist or his employer selected this or that chapter. It was not a rare thing if the same text occurred twice in the originals, that the copyist thoughtlessly copied it twice regardless of the repetition. He was all the safer in doing so as his work, upon being finished, was at once consigned to the grave with a dead body, and there was little probability of mortal eye ever discovering his carelessness. For the same reason, i. e., the security from control, the copyists were generally careless in their work in all respects. The texts designed for the dead are usually full of gross errors, wrong letters, omissions of letters or whole words or sentences. Thus the Musée Gimnet at Paris has an hieratic papyrus from the Theban time, supposed to be a fragment of a book for a dead person, but which is really no more than a conglomerate of disconnected fragments of sentences with letters. The unreliability even of those texts, which at first glance appear to be written carefully and show artistic vignettes, is so great that it is often impossible to translate them or discover their meaning without comparing several copies.

So, in the case of our creation myth, there is cause for especial congratulation that a fortunate accident caused the writer of the papyrus to be careless enough to copy the report twice, and thus make it possible, or at least easier, to understand the thoughts. The form in which he clothed his report the first time is as follows, the translation being as faithful as possible.

The book of the Knowing the creations of Ra, the overthrow of Apepi.

The word ζεπερ, which has been translated by create, creation, etc., means: to enter into existence, to be, to exist, to call into being, etc. It is, therefore, to be understood both in the transitive and the intransitive sense. Prom it is derived, among others, the name of the god Chepera, strictly the nascent one, afterwards the rising sun.

In contradistinction to Chepera, sometimes Tum is considered as the god of the setting sun, but generally means the sun-god in general, who was especially worshipped at Heliopolis by the name of Tum.

Apepi is a great serpent looked upon as the principal enemy of the sun and as the power of darkness and evil. It must be overthrown each day unless the sun is to perish. The texts are full of spells for conjuring and overthrowing the Apepi. It was not possible to destroy it. Scarcely vanquished it reared its head anew. As the alternation of light and darkness never ends, so the struggle between Ra and Apepi continues through eternity, the more so as Egyptian mythology does not seem to have known an end of the world.

Words of the Lord of the Universe

"Lord of the Universe" is a frequent attribute of various deities. It is generally employed in texts referring to the hereafter, in designating Osiris, the lord of the nether world. But, as in the present text, it is also a designation of Ra, who being the creator of the world must also have the first claim to dominion over it.

which he spoke after he entered being: I am the nascent one as Chepera. When I took being, then was creation, all creations were after I took being. Numerous were the formations that proceeded from my mouth. There was not heaven, nor was the earth, nor had been created the good and the evil serpents in this place (i. e., on earth).

A similar description of the condition of creation is found in the burial pyramid of King Pepi I. of the 6th dynasty, about 3000 B. C., on l. 663-4: "Pepi was borne by his father Tum. There was not yet the heavens, nor was the earth, nor were the men, nor were born the gods, nor was death."

The sentence which is rendered by "the good and the evil serpents," reads in Egyptian, sa-ta-u t'etfet-u. Sa-ta is provided with the determinative, so that strictly it should be translated by "things of the ground of the earth." The connection with t-etfet-reptiles, however, shows that there is an error and that the determinative must be the serpent. The word sa-ta also signifies the serpent, more especially the good serpent, the agathodemon of the temples. The serpents are here mentioned above all other creatures because that animal plays an extremely prominent part in Egyptian thought; it occurs persistently in the texts; spells to conjure the reptiles make up the greater part of Egyptian magic formulæ; in the descriptions of the hereafter, it occurs constantly. Manifestly, in ancient times the animals were even more common than to-day, and therefore so dangerous that popular fancy was continually engaged by them.

I raised them (i. e., heaven, earth, reptiles) from the primodial waters Nu, from the state of rest. I found no place on which I could stand. I issued radiance from my heart, I planned Shu, I made noble figures. I was alone. Nor had I caused to emanate (ashesh) Shu, nor had I caused to trickle out (tef) Tefnut.

The god Shu and his sister Tefnut play a considerable part in the Egyptian texts. In the dynasty of the gods at Memphis, they stand after Ptah and Ra; in that of Thebes, after Amon-Ea and Turn. They are pictured sometimes in the form of two lions, or a double lion, and in later times represent the sign of Gemini. They are spoken of especially at Heliopolis. Together with Turn, they form his great lords ("Book of the Dead," 18, 4); with Ra, his spirits (Ib. 115, 7). They carried fresh breath to the dead, particularly the breath of the north wind. Mythologically they are generally looked upon as solar deities. In the myth of the destruction of the human race, for instance, Ra when abdicating government makes Shu the new sun for mankind (Wiedemann, "Rel. d. Alt. Aeg.," p. 36). The god is therefore often shown with the sun-disk on his head. His form of incorporation, the lion, also shows his connection with the great light of day. The "Book of the Dead" mentions his creative activity: he raised the sun (17, 50), the pillars of heaven (109, 3), etc. In worship, Shu and Tefnut possess but little importance; they always appear in second or third place after the local deities, who are superior in influence.

There was no other who worked with me. I planned in my heart that there might be plenty of creations in creations of them that were born, in creations of them that were born to them. I begot with my fist, I practised lewdness with my shadow, I caused fluid to emanate (cher) from my orifice (re), I myself.

For shadow, which is a part of the soul of the Egyptian, see the data collected by Birch, Transact. Soc. Bibl. Arch. 8, p. 386 a. f . For the parts of the soul in general, see Wiedemann, in the Jahrb. d. Ver. v. Alterthumsfr. i. Rheinlande 86, p. 46 a. f.

Re usually refers to the mouth, but also at times to other orifices, for instance the mouth of the stomach and here, according to the context, of the phallus. Cher, carries the explanatory mark of the flowing wound, and hence must be rendered by "flowing," not "speaking."

I flowed out as Shu, I trickled out as Tefnut. My father Nu spoke: "They tremble."

We have here a thoroughly Egyptian inconsistency. Just now Ra was the god who created everything, but immediately afterwards his father is mentioned, i. e., the personified primordial waters, chaos conceived as a liquid, from which other legends make the world and the gods came forth. Our legend generally conceives Nu only as pre-existent matter, beside which the one deity pre-exists.

My eye was behind them for centuries. They separated from me after I became from one god three gods with reference to myself. I took being in this land. Glad w^ere at this Shu and Tefnut in the tranquil waters in which they were. They brought me my eye in their following.

The meaning of this somewhat obscure sentence is: When I had created Shu and Tefnut, they trembled—not with reverence, probably, but to show their vitality as Batan in "Pap. d'Orbiney" 14, 1, trembled when life returned to him. My eye, the sun, was behind them for centuries and gave them light. Then they became independent so that there were three individual gods. When this had happened I went into this land, on the newly created earth, and when Shu and Tefnut who had remained in the primordial waters saw this, they were glad and came to me and brought with them, in their following, my eye, the sun, which I had left with them at first.

I gathered my members, I wept over them, and man came from the tears which emanated from my eye.

The idea that men came from the eyes of the sun-god appears repeatedly in the texts. In the representation of the four races of men in the grave of Seti I., the god, who is here called Horns, says of the Egyptians: "You are a tear (remit) of my radiant person in your name as men (ret-u) ("Leps. Denkm." III. 136, 10-12). The sun-god also is called the weeping one (remi) (Navillej, "Litanie du Soleil," m. 27, p. 40). In the grave of Rameses II. (ib.), the weeping god (reminti), is implored to give life to the king; it is said that he formed himself by his tears, etc. Other things also come from the tears of the sun; thus the magical papyrus (Salt M. 825, London), from the time of the 21-26 dynasty, says, p. 2, 1. 5: "When the sun weeps for the second time and drops waters from its eyes this is changed into working bees; they work in flowers of all kinds, and produce honey and wax instead of water."

This creative power of tears is based upon the belief that in them, as in every part of the body and in every secretion, is contained some part of the ego secreting it. For that reason the ancient Egyptian magician, like the conjurers of other lands, employed something coming from the person or article, which was the object of his spells, in order to obtain or increase the necessary power. Thus, according to an Egyptian myth (Wiedemann, "Re., l. d. alt. Aeg," p. 29) Isis kneads from earth, and the saliva flowing from the mouth of the sungod, a serpent whose bite is so destructive that it threatens death even to Ra himself. Only by a counter spell, which he purchased dearly from Isis, could the sun-god save himself. If it was impossible to obtain any part of the person, a picture of him was drawn and the magic spells exercised over it, for to the Egyptian the picture embodies part of the being represented. He who injures the picture, injures the original; destruction of the picture may involve the destruction of the original. Instead of the picture, the name of the god or man may be used, which also is an integral part of that which it designates. Knowledge and, therefore, possession of it may also give power over the bearer of the name.

Then it (my eye) became furious against me when it came and found that I had made another in its place giving it radiance. I put it in its place in my head. Afterward, it ruled this whole earth."

When he left his eye in the primordial waters Ra created a new one, a second sun. When the first sun was brought back to him and saw this, it became angry bat Ra pacified it by restoring it to its old place in his head.

Their (the eyes') fury fell on their plants, I ordered once more what it (fury) took away in it (earth). I issued forth from the plants, I created all reptiles, all the growing power in them (plants).

The double sun at first burned too hot upon the newly created plants, and Ra was forced to restore and revive the withiered plants which had been thereby removed from earth. Then he issued from these plants and created the serpents, which are here mentioned for the same reasons as in the early part of the legend.

Shu and Tefnut bore Seb and Nut. Seb and Nut bore Osiris, Horchent-neu-ma, Set, Isis, and Nephthys from their bodies one after the other among them. Their children multiplied upon this earth.

Hor-chent-neu-ma is a form of the older Horus or Hameris, who was thought to be blind and was worshipped especially at Setopolis. It symbolizes the eclipse of the sun. The shrew-mouse was sacred to it which, according to Plutarch, enjoyed divine worship in Egypt because it was believed to be blind, and darkness was held to be older than light.

The sequence of creation, according to this myth, was as follows: Pre-existence of the sun-god and of matter, Nu. The former creates Shu and Tefnut, then earth with its sun; the latter creates man. Shu and Tefnut emerge from the primordial waters, the nether and the upper suns are united; creation and protection of plants from the heat of the sun, creation of the reptiles, birth of the gods of the Osiris circle. Accordingly, the latter are younger than man, which is contrary to other legends that praise Orisis as the creator of the world. Thus a hymn to Osiris (on a stela from the 18th dynasty in the Paris library): "He (Osiris) made with his hand the earth, the water thereon, the air, the plants, all its domestic animals, all its birds, all its fowl, all its reptiles, all its quadrupeds (literally goats)."

The second version of the myth appears in the papyrus, at first glance, almost twice as long as the first. Upon closer examination, however, it is seen that this is only apparent. The copyist here worked very carelessly and took long pieces twice. These are found once at the proper place where they are contained in the first text, and the second time either before or after at some other place, where the copyist was induced by some word in the text to copy the sentence again regardless of the context. In that way great confusion was caused which, however, may be corrected in places by comparison with the first text. Moreover—which is of greater importance to us—the author endeavored to introduce into the composition a new fundamental mythological thought, viz., numerous references to the names of the gods and their magic power, in order to promote the practice of incantations and magic more than was done by the writer of the first sober text.

The beginning of the second version, of which a translation follows for the purpose of comparison, affords an example of this prominence of the mystical tendency prevalent in it:

"When I took being, then was creation; I took being in the creations (i. e., I assumed his formations) of Chepera, and took being for the first time. I took being in the creations of Chepera. When I took being then happened the creations of my being (?) to the circles of gods which I made. I took the form of the circles of gods in my name of Ausars, the nine-in-one of the divine nine-in-one."

Ausars is an otherwise unknown name of a god. Budge suggests a possible connection with Osiris, but this name is in later years written Usar, Usiri and in similar forms, but a final s is always absent. I would prefer to divide the word into a verb-form an s-ar-s "it (the circle of gods) is made," but this interpretation also is uncertain.

I make all that I wish in this land, I make it broad, I order with my hand. I was alone, nor had they been born, nor had I caused Shu to emanate, nor had I caused Tefnut to trickle out. I made myself, that is, my magic name.

The creation of Shu and Tefnut is twice reported alike:

"I begot with my fist. I brought my innermost (literally, my heart) forth from the phallus (literally, from the hand of the phallus), it fell from my orifice {re). I flowed out as Shu, I trickled out as Tefnut; I became, with reference to myself, from one god three gods, who took being in this land. Then were Shu and Tefnut glad in the tranquil primordial waters, in which they were."

The word for phallus here is āaā. It is derived from the root āa—to be big; the determination as the male member shows the implied meaning which otherwise appears but rarely. It is found, though, as the designation of an ithyphallic form of the sun-god. Moreover, āa with the same determinative serves to designate the donkey, which was considered lascivious above all animals. The donkey is in the first place an evil animal, an embodiment of the companions of Set, the adversary of Osiris; but some notes also point to a connection of the animal with the sun-god (for instance, "Book of the Dead," ch. 40, p. 135, l. 40). In the medical papyrus at Leipsic, the word āa signifies a disease, which has not yet been explained. .....

The point of this creation myth on which interest in it principally rests is the peculiar origin of Shu and Tefnut. The oldest reference to a creation of this nature by masturbation is found in the inscriptions of the pyramids of the 6th dynasty, i. e. about 3,000 B. C.:

"Tum became an onanist at Heliopolis. He enlarged his phallus with his hand, he gave himself pleasure with it. There were born the twins Shu and Tefnut." In the "Book of the Dead," there is a passage which is frequently quoted in the Theban texts, referring to Ra indulging in self-pollution. In the ritual books of Osiris, Amon-ra, Tum, Ptah, and lais from the time of Seti I. it is said of Tum: "thou flowest out as Shu, thou trickiest out as Tefnut." A pantheistic hymn of Hibis from the time of King Darius says: "The gods emanated from thee, Amon. Thou flowest out as Shu, thou trickiest out as Tefnut, to form for thyself the nine gods in the beginning of creation; thou art the twins of the two lions" i. e. Shu and Tefnut. Somewhat later is a text from Edfu, written down in the time of the Ptolemys, in which the god Amon-Ra of Choïs is addressed in this way: "Thou art the one god who became two gods, the creator of the egg, who begot his twins," i. e. again Shu and Tefnut.

Among all these references to our myth, the first one quoted is the most important, not only on account of its high antiquity, but because it speaks only of the birth of Shu and Tefnut, and does not yet connect the emanation of Shu with the verb ashesh, or that of Tefnut with tef, tefen, both signifying "to emanate, to flow out." It thus appears that the development of the myth was not ætiological for the pose of explaining the names of the gods by an etymological play, but that this play upon words was introduced at a later period into the myth, the fundamental thought of which was much older than this embellishment.

The conception, which appears strange to people who have grown up under the influence of modern thought, viz., that the male semen alone is sufficient for the creation of the gods, loses every remarkable feature in the light of the ancient and mediæval ideas concerning the physiological processes of propagation. As late as 1677, after Ludwig von Ham discovered the spermatozoa in the male semen, the basis of generation and development was sought in them alone, the female organs being looked upon as breeding-places only. That such opinions were held at that time was partly due to the influence of a semi-religious conception upon the explanation of a purely physiological process. According to the theory of evolution or preformation which prevailed in the 17th century, there occurred no new formation in the development of an organism, but only a growth or unfolding of parts which had been preformed and were complete from eternity but of minute size. To the adherents of this theory the only question could be whether these preformed beings were present in the egg and received the impulse for development by impregnation, as was asserted by the ovulists, or if, according to the animalculists, they were contained in the semen and found suitable soil for development in the female body. Such mystical thoughts were remote from the ideas of antiquity, but on the basis of the then prevailing knowledge, or rather ignorance, of nature, the notion was readily reached that the male semen could develop not only in the female, but also on some other nutritive soil, which conception is presumed in our myth.

In its fundamental features, our creation myth has all the marks of a very ancient origin. It appears much older than those Egyptian legends on the same sabject which have been hitherto known. This appears mainly from the simple narrative form, which is free from the syncretism which the other creation myths usually contain when, starting from pantheistic conceptions, they make all the gods equal to the Creator, and make them emanations of him, instead of independent beings. We generally become acquainted with these myths by hymns to the creator, who is represented as henotheistic. For purposes of comparison, it may be interesting to subjoin the beginning of a characteristic text of that nature contained in a papyrus dated from the time of Rameses IX, about 12, B. C.:

"Waking one, resting one, thou wakest in rest, waking one that begetteth himself. Nothing is created on earth save by the plans of his heart. He gives being to his creations, he is the form which gives birth to all that is, the procreator who creates all beings. Glory be to thee, Ptah-Tatunen, great god that conceals his form, that opens his soul. Thou growest in peace, father of fathers of all the gods. The sun-disk (aten) of heaven (is the radiance) of his eye lighting the lands with his rays in peace. Glory be to Nut, the beginning of all that is on earth in peace. Chnum, mother, that gave birth to the gods, bearer of all men, that lets them live in peace. Great Nu (primordial waters) that gives gifts (to men), that makes green the fields in peace. Crocodiles, bitter seas, Red Sea, floods in the mountains ... in peace. Thou who makest green the lands, the mountains, the islands, the mountain lands, that givest bloom by the waters which come from heaven, in peace. He makes the sweet wind (which tempers) the heat by its breath, which comes (from the north). Waking one, resting one, thou wakest in resting. Waking one, that paces through eternity; lord of nourishment, that gives abundance by his love, in peace. He hears if one implores him; before him tremble all; him worship the spirits in all lands, in peace. He conies to thee, Pharaoh, to thee, Ptah, he comes to thee, creator of forms. Glory be to thee before the circle of thy gods, which thou didst make after thou didst take being, a god of members, that himself builds his members. There was not heaven, nor was the earth, nor was the flood. Thou didst order the earth, thou didst unite thy members, thou didst order thy members. What thou didst find alone, for it thou didst make a place, god, creator of the lands. Thou didst have no father that begot thee when thou didst take being; thou didst have no mother that bore thee when thou didst renew thyself. Order, that came forth as order. Thou art sublime above the earth in its beings which it united to itself after thou didst take being in thy form of Tatunen, in thy taking being for the union of the lands, in thy begetting thyself. That which thy hands created thou did separate from the primordial waters, etc."

From this myth, also, a creation myth can be extracted, in which the hero is Ptah-Tatunen, a form of the god Ptah worshipped, among other places, at Memphis, whom the Greeks, for reasons that are not quite intelligible, compared to Hephaistos. But it is far removed from the clearness of the legend first treated in this paper. Above all, the identification of Ptah with many other forms, the sun-disk, the androgynous Chnum, with Nu, with the seas, etc., show that this form of it comes from a time when the priests could no longer confine themselves to the worship of their local divinities, but were obliged to extend their worship to the gods of other cities and districts. True, the thoughts of this hymn are more poetical and lofty than in the first legend, but the very materiality of conception in the latter, which corresponds thoroughly to the mode of thought of the Egyptians that was unfavorable to all abstraction, testifies its great antiquity.

The time of its origin will probably never be determined with certainty, as the beginnings of Egyptian religion, like those of the entire civilization of the people, are lost in the mists of antiquity. At the time of the pyramids, at which Egypt enters history, at the moment at which the oldest preserved texts of greater religious works were written down, it already formed part of the religious conceptions of the inhabitants of the Nile valley. From that time on it remained with them down to the time of the Ptolemys, when ancient Egyptianism began to die out. For nearly three thousand years it had then been believed in, and a myth of such vitality, so closely interwoven with popular life that all the storms of life did not sufi&ce to efface it, deserves better than other features of civilization that appear only at intervals, to be consulted when an attempt is made to make a sketch of the mode of thought and feeling of the ancient Egyptians, of the ethnography of the ancient tribe on the banks of the Nile.

  1. A number of footnotes are omitted.