Come! Listen! I shall tell you a tale from days gone by, of the brothers Anubis and Bata and of the woman who came between them.
And in those days the brothers lived well upon the bounty of the Nile. Anubis the elder was prosperous, with herds of fine cattle and wide lands to grow his grain. He had a beautiful wife, and a large house in which to live. Bata the younger was gifted by the gods: he was strong, he was handsome, he was a delight to the eye. He was blessed with understanding of the speech of cattle, and led them to good pasture so that they grew fat and multiplied. He tended his brother’s fields and brought Anubis the fruit of his labours as would a dutiful son. All was good, all was peaceful, all was in accordance with ma’at.
One day whilst sowing the grain upon the black earth the brothers realised they had insufficient seed for the fields, and so Bata returned to the house to fetch more. There he found that despite the lateness of the hour his brother’s wife had not yet finished getting ready for the day, and thus when he asked for more grain she instructed him to fetch it himself as she was occupied with her hair. Bata the strong, stronger than other men, carried out enough grain for the rest of the fields in a single load. His brother’s wife, hair only half tamed, cast her eyes upon him and marvelled at his strength. And at his fine physical form, as if she had never seen him before. And she forgot the duties of a wife to her husband, and loosened her hair to fall about her body as if she were still an unmarried girl.
“Bata! Bata the handsome! Bata the strong! Bata the virile! Come dally here a while with me!”
But Bata, strong Bata, handsome Bata, followed the path of ma’at in all things and was not tempted by this woman, the wife of his brother. And he became like a leopard in the fullness of his rage.
“Take your hands from me vile woman! You offend against ma’at, you who have been as a mother to me should not thus seek to lie with me. You who are the wife of my brother, who is as a father to me, should not thus loosen your hair. This is an abomination in the eyes of the gods!”
She retreated before his rage and as he did not wish to cause pain to the heart of Anubis his brother he bade her return to her household work. They would speak nothing of this to anyone. It would be as if it never had been.
And so he returned and tended the fields with his brother, speaking not of his brother’s wife and her lapse from righteous behaviour. Yet the wife of his brother could not, would not, did not believe that he would keep silent forever. Surely she needed always to be wary in case he exposed her infamy. Her shame and guilt fed upon each other and grew strong within her, and she resolved to ensure that she could not be so exposed.
At the end of the day Anubis to his house and his wife returned, while Bata went to gather the cattle and bring them to the stables, each in accordance with his usual custom. But what was this that Anubis found? The house in darkness, no fire for heat or light! No wife at the door to greet him with pure water to wash his hands! What had befallen his house whilst he was in the fields?
On her bed he found her, weeping piteously.
On her bed he found her, sick to the very stomach.
On her bed he found her, deep in distress.
And she poured forth a sorry tale, weaving with her words a cloth of deceit. An image of her own purity, innocence, adherence to the very essence of ma’at. An image of brother Bata as debaucher and abuser. Weeping she poured out her words with forked tongue, weeping she lied to save herself from the shame of that which she had done. Anubis heard her words with heavy heart, heart full of love for her, his wife. And he believed those wicked words of deceit, and he grew fierce and strong in his anger.
Snatching up his spear he left like the leopard seeking prey, and went to wait for his brother Bata.
When Bata, Bata the pure, Bata the upholder of ma’at, brought the cattle to the stable door the first cow to enter turned and said to him “Flee young Bata, flee! For your brother hides here with his spear!”. And the second likewise turned “Flee young Bata, flee! For your brother wishes you harm!”. And so the third also turned “Flee young Bata, flee! For your brother means to kill you this night!”.
And he turned. And he fled. Swift as the river he ran, swift as the falcon in the sky, swift as a desert lion. And after him ran Anubis, fierce in in rage, given speed by his anger. Bata cried out as he fled “Have I not always done that which is right in the sight of the gods? Grant me justice, Great God, I beg you!”.
And the Great God Re-Horakhty listened, and his heart was moved with pity for Bata, Bata the blessed, Bata the one of ma’at. Between the brothers opened up a vast expanse of water, to the left it stretched, to the right it stretched, and all along its length it rippled with the motion of crocodiles. Across the waters the brothers faced each other, one innocent and maligned, one full of rage inspired by deceit.
Night fell, the sun rose, and it was a new day.
And still the brothers faced each other across the waters. Bata began to speak, in anguish he told his brother the truth of that day, with his righteous speech he swept away the cloth of her deceit. “Why did you believe her, my brother? Have I not always been as a son to you? Have I not always upheld ma’at in your presence and in your absence? I call upon the gods to witness my truthfulness and my innocence!”. So saying he pulled out his knife and slicing off his member he flung it out into the waters, where from among the crocodiles rose a catfish to swallow it whole.
The veil fell from his eyes, the rage retreated from his heart, and Anubis saw the truth of his brother’s words. Deceived he had been, and now his brother was suffering. He resolved that she would die at his hand for this deceit and be flung amongst the dogs so that she would never come to the Field of Reeds, and he told his brother so and begged him to return. But Bata could no longer live where he had been so mistrusted and so abused. He too resolved to begin anew, to the Valley of Cedars he would go and would hide his heart at the top of the tallest of the pines there to keep it from the harms of the world, and he told his brother so. He bound Anubis with oaths, for if the tree were to fall Bata would die, and Anubis vowed to come to his aid to make restitution for his mistrust. And then the brothers parted, and each went to do as he said that he would.
But that, my friends, is a story for another day.
“Egyptian Myths” George Hart
“Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt” Barbara Mertz
“Ancient Egyptian thought in the Old Testament” Lorna Oakes (Talk given to the Essex Egyptology Group on 4 August 2019, see my write up on my other blog.)
“Myths & Legends of Ancient Egypt” Joyce Tyldesley
This is the first part of a story called The Tale of the Two Brothers, which is known from a 19th Dynasty papyrus written by a scribe called Inena (or Ennana). I have taken the plot from the sources above, and retold it in my own words.