Come! Listen! I shall tell you a tale from days gone by, of Bata the strong and his unfaithful wife, made for him by the gods but torn from him by her own wicked heart!
And in those days Bata lived alone in the Valley of the Cedars, having fled from the household of his brother, from the treachery of his brother’s wife. His heart he had placed for safe keeping in the top of the tallest tree of the forest, and he built his house at its roots. By day he was successful at his hunting in the desert, by night he slept deeply in the comfort of his bed. And in all things ma’at was upheld.
For all his good fortune Bata grew lonely, and the Great God, Re-Horakhty himself, took pity upon him. He called Khnum to him and commanded him to fashion a wife for Bata, a beautiful wife, a fragrant wife, a wife suitable for Bata the best amongst men! And this Khnum did, and Re-Horakhty brought her to Bata and they lived in Bata’s house as husband and wife in all ways but one. For the loss of his member to the catfish of the Nile meant that Bata the strong was no longer Bata the virile, he could not lie with her as a man does with a woman. And this left his wife, the beautiful one, the fragrant one, unsatisfied with the life for which she was made, and her heart grew heavy with the weight of isfet.
Of this Bata knew nothing, and his heart filled with love & joy at his life and fear & anxiety that it might chance to change. From love he told her of the secret place of his heart, that she might revive him should anything go amiss. From fear he forbade his wife to walk by the shores of the Great Green Sea, for if it were to carry her away he should not be able to rescue her. But his wife, his fragrant wife, his treacherous wife, went out to walk on the shore, for she could not bear to be shut up in the house under the cedar tree all her days.
And the sea saw her and her beauty and surged forth to claim her!
She turned and she fled and she returned to the house,
leaving only a lock of her hair caught in the trees for the sea to seize.
Far far away the sea carried this fragrant, beautiful lock of hair until at last the waters deposited it in the Nile where the clothes of the king were washed. The scent of her hair was so strong and so beautiful that anything that touched the waters was drenched with perfume! And Pharaoh was vexed for his clothes returned without the clean scent of freshly washed linen ready for his own perfume. He commanded the chief of the washermen to search for the source of the perfume and bring it to him so that he could destroy it. But when it was brought before him the lustrous and fragrant lock of hair was so enticing and seductive that Pharaoh instead resolved to make this woman his own!
He sent forth his troops to search for the girl whose hair shone forth the scent of her beauty! But Bata, Bata the strong, Bata her husband, slaughtered those who would take his wife from him. Saving only one to carry the tale back to Pharaoh of the woman’s protector. And so Pharaoh resorted to guile and to trickery, and sent forth a woman from his household laden with gifts fit for a princess or a queen. The heart of Bata’s wife grew covetous at the sight, and filled with desire for trinkets and baubles she stepped away from the path of ma’at.
Out of her house, away from her husband.
Out of the Valley of Cedars, away to the Two Lands of the Nile.
Out and away, and she was gone from Bata and the life she was made for!
Entranced by the girl, her beauty and her scent, Pharaoh made her his Great Royal Wife and first amongst all of the women of his household. And so completely did she forget her duty to the man she was made for that she told Pharaoh of the secret of Bata’s heart. For she feared that Bata, Bata the strong, Bata her husband, would come and take back that which was his. So Pharaoh sent forth his troops to the great cedar tree and they made haste to cut it down. And when the heart of Bata reached the floor, he fell like the tree and lay like Osiris in death.
And Pharaoh and his queen, the false wife of Bata, rejoiced for they believed she was safe from the man she was made for. They did not know that this was not to be, for they had not reckoned with the loyalty between brothers, the elder went to the younger’s aid and Bata would rise again like Osiris himself!
But that, my friends, is a story for another day!
“Egyptian Myths” George Hart
“Red Land, Black Land” Barbara Mertz
“Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt” Joyce Tyldesley
This is the second 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) – the first part is here: Weaving with Her Words a Cloth of Deceit, and the third part will be coming later! I have taken the plot from the sources above, and retold it in my own words.