The tale of the two brothers – ancient Egypt

Max McDowell is a Jungian analyst who has been in private practice in New York for the past 23 years.

Farmer. Tomb painting
Photo: source unknown

Nefertiti (a beautiful woman has come). Wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten. Standing statue: 1400 B.C.E.
Photo: source unknown

Complete story with footnotes

This story is contained in only one manuscript, which is now preserved in the British Museum and named the Papyrus D’Orbiney after its former owner. The papyrus dates from the end of the Nineteenth Dynasty (ca. 1200 B.C.E.) and contains nineteen pages of beautiful cursive writing. The story is a complex literary creation based loosely on an Upper Egyptian myth concerning the gods Anubis, god of mummification and guardian of the necropolis, and Bata, a little-known god primarily associated with pastoralism.

Now there were once, they say, two brothers, of the same father and mother; Anupu was the name of the elder, and Bata the name of the younger. Now Anupu had a house and a wife, and his younger brother lived with him like a son. It was he who made clothes for him, and drove his cattle to the fields. And it was he who did the plowing and harvested for him, and he who did all the work that there is in fields. Now the younger brother was a comely lad; there was not his like in all the land; and the might of a god was in him.

And Anupu’s younger brother tended his cattle according to his daily wont, and went home to his house each evening laden with all manner of herbs of the field, and with milk and wood, and all good things of the field, and set them down before his elder brother, who was sitting with his wife, and drank and ate, and went out to sleep in his cow-house among his cattle, alone.

Now when it had dawned and another day was come, the younger brother brought food which had been cooked and set it down before his elder brother, who gave him provisions for the fields; and he collected his cattle to pasture them in the fields, and he drove them out, and they said to him, ”The grass of such-and-such a place is good,” and he understood all that they said and took them off to the good place with the grass that they desired. And the cattle that he tended became very fine, and they increased their calving very much.

Now at the time of the plowing his elder brother said to him, “Make ready for us a good span of oxen for plowing, for the land has come forth1 and it is good for plowing. Also come to the field with seed, for we shall be busy plowing tomorrow” – so he said to him. And his younger brother did just as his elder brother had told him to do.

Now when it had dawned and another day was come, they went to the field with their seed, and busied themselves with plowing, and they were very happy in their work at the beginning of their labors.

Now some time after this they were in the field, and they were held up for seed, and Anupu sent his younger brother, saying, “Go and fetch us seed from the village.” And Bata found his elder brother’s wife sitting doing her hair; and he said to her, “Get up and give me some seed, that I may go back to the field, because my elder brother will be waiting for me; don’t make me wait.” And she said to him, “Go and open the granary and bring away what you want; don’t make me interrupt my hair-dressing.”

And the lad went into his cow-house, and brought a large vessel, wishing to take away much seed; and he loaded himself up with barley and spelt and came out with them.

And she said to him, ”What is the amount that’s on your shoulder?” And he told her, “It’s three bushels of spelt and two bushels of barley, five bushels in all, that are on my shoulder” – so he told her. And she talked with him, saying, ”There is great strength in you; for I see your feats daily.” And she desired to know him as a male is known, and she stood up and took hold of him, and said to him, “Come, let us spend an hour lying down. It will be well for you – then I will make you fine clothes.”

And the lad became like a panther of southern Egypt for great anger at the evil speech that she had uttered to him. And she was very much afraid. And he talked with her, saying, “But see, you are like a mother to me, and your husband is like a father to me, and he, who is older than I, it is he who has brought me up. What is this great crime that you have mentioned to me? Do not say it to me again, and I will tell it to no one. I will not let it come out of my mouth to anyone.” And he lifted up his burden and went off to the field. And he reached his elder brother, and they busied themselves in their labors.

Now afterwards, at evening-time, his elder brother went home to his house, while Bata tended his cattle and loaded himself with all manner of things of the field, and brought his cattle back before him to put them into their cow-house in the village for the night.

Now his elder brother’s wife was afraid because of the speech that she had uttered; and she brought fat and grease,2 and feigned to have been beaten, with the intent to say to her husband, “It is your younger brother who has beaten me.”

And her husband came back in the evening, according to his daily wont, and he reached his house, and found his wife lying down pretending to be in pain; she did not pour water over his hands according to his wont, nor had she lighted the lamp before he came in, and his house was in darkness, and she was lying vomiting. And her husband said to her, ”Who has been speaking with you?” Then she said to him, “No one has been speaking with me except your younger brother. When he came to fetch away seed for you and found me sitting alone he said to me, “Come, let us spend an hour lying down. Put on your wig,” he said to me, and I did not listen to him. “Am I not your mother, and is not your brother like a father to you?” I said to him. And he was afraid, and he beat me to prevent me from reporting it to you. Now if you let him live I will kill myself. See, when he comes back, do not speak to him, because if I were to make this ugly accusation [before him] he would turn it into an injury.”

And his elder brother became like a panther of southern Egypt [for anger], and he sharpened his spear, and took it in his hand, and he stood behind the door of his cow-house to kill his younger brother when he should return in the evening to drive his cattle into the cow-house.

Now when the sun set Bata loaded himself with all manner of herbs of the field, according to his daily wont, and came back; and the foremost cow entered the cow-house, and said to her herdsman, “See, your elder brother is standing in front of you with his spear to kill you. Flee before him.” And he understood what his foremost cow had said; and the next one went in and said the same thing. And he looked under the door of his cow-house, and saw the feet of his elder brother as he stood behind the door with his spear in his hand. And he set his burden down on the ground and betook himself to speedy flight. And his elder brother went after him with his spear.

And his younger brother prayed to Re-Harakhte,3 saying, “My good lord, thou art he who judges between the evildoer and the just man.” Then Re heard all his appeal, and created a great water between him and his elder brother, full of crocodiles, and one of them found himself on one side, the other on the other. And the elder brother struck twice on his hands4 because of not having killed him. And the younger brother called to him from the other side, saying, “Stay here until dawn, and when the sun rises you and I will be judged before him, and he will deliver the evildoer to the righteous; for I will never live with you again, nor be in any place where you are. I will go to the Valley of the Cedar.”5

Now when it had dawned and another day was come, ReHarakhte arose, and they saw one another. And the lad spoke with his elder brother, saying, “Why did you pursue me to kill me wrongfully, before you had heard what I had to say? For I am indeed your younger brother, and you are like a father to me, and your wife is like a mother to me; is it not so? Now when you sent me to fetch seed for us, your wife said to me, ‘Come, let us spend an hour lying down’; but see, to you she has turned it into the opposite.”

And he informed him of everything that had happened between him and his wife; and he swore by Re-Harakhte, saying, “Your coming with your spear to kill me wrongfully was at the bidding of a whore.” And he took a reed-knife, and cut off his privy member, and threw it into the water, and a shad-fish swallowed it. And he grew faint and became weak. And his elder brother was very sorry for him, and stood weeping aloud for him; he was not able to cross the water to where his younger brother was, because of the crocodiles.

And his younger brother called to him, saying, “Though you remember one bad matter, do you not remember one good one, or one thing that I have done for you? Go home, and collect your cattle, for I will not stay in any place where you are. I will go to the Valley of the Cedar. Now what you shall do for me is to come to help me, if you know that anything is wrong with me, for I shall take out my heart, and place it on the top of the flower of the cedar. And if the cedar is cut down, and it [my heart] falls to the ground and you come to seek it, even if you spend seven years in seeking it do not be discouraged. And if you find it, and put it into a jar of cold water, then I shall come to life, and will take vengeance for being sinned against. And you will know if anything is wrong with me, when a mug of beer is given into your hand and it foams up. Then do not delay. Certainly it will happen to you.”

And he went off to the Valley of the Cedar; and his elder brother went off to his house with his hand laid on his head, which was smeared with dust.6 Then he arrived at his house, and he killed his wife, and threw her to the dogs. And he dwelt in mourning for his younger brother.

Now some time after this Bata was in the Valley of the Cedar, no one being with him; and he spent his days hunting the beasts of the desert, and in the evening he came back to lie down under the cedar, on the top of whose flower his heart was.

Now some time after this he built himself a castle with his own hands in the Valley of the Cedar, full of all good things, in order to set up a home for himself. Then he came out of his castle, and he encountered the Nine Gods7 walking and ordering the affairs of the whole world. And the Nine told one of themselves to say to him, “Hail Bata, Bull of the Nine, are you here alone, having left your town, fleeing from the wife of Anupu, your elder brother? See, he has killed his wife, and you are avenged on him for all the injuries done you.” And they were very sorry for him. And Re-Harakhte said to Khnum, “Do you fashion a spouse for Bata, that he may not dwell alone.”

And Khnum made him a spouse, who was more beautiful in body than any woman in all the world; the essence of every god was in her. And the Seven Hathors8 came to see her; and they said with one voice, “She will have a sharp death.”

And he loved her very much; and she dwelt in his house, and he spent his days hunting the beasts of the desert, bringing them and laying them before her. And he said to her, “Do not go outside lest the sea carry you off; for I shall not be able to save you from it, because I am a woman like you. Now my heart lies on the top of the flower of the cedar, and if anyone else finds it I shall fight with him.” And he described his heart to her in all its detail.

Now some time after this Bata went to hunt, after his daily wont.

Then the girl went out to walk about under the cedar, which was beside her house. Then the sea saw her, its waves beating after her, and she betook herself to flight before it and went into her house. And the sea called to the cedar, saying, “Seize her for me.” And the cedar brought a lock of her hair. And the sea brought it to Egypt, and laid it at the place of the launderers of Pharaoh. And the smell of the lock of hair got into Pharaoh’s clothes; and Pharaoh’s servants quarreled with Pharaoh’s launderers, saying, “Pharaoh’s clothes smell of unguent.” And they fell to quarreling with them every day, and they did not know what to do.

And Pharaoh’s head launderer walked to the riverbank, and he was very wretched owing to the contention with him every day. And he stopped still and stood on the desert opposite the lock of hair, which was in the water; and he made a man go down, and he brought it to him. And he found its odor very sweet, and he took it to Pharaoh. And they fetched the scribes and learned men of Pharaoh; and they said to Pharaoh, ‘This lock of hair belongs to a daughter of Re-Harakhte in whom is the essence of every god. Now it is a present to you from another country. Send messengers to every foreign land to seek her; but the messenger who goes to the Valley ofthe Cedar, send many people with him to bring her back.”9

Then His Majesty said, ”What you have said is very good”; and people were sent forth.

Now some time after this the people who had gone abroad came back to make report to His Majesty; but those who had gone to the Valley of the Cedar did not return, for Bata had killed them-but he spared one of them to make report to His Majesty. And His Majesty sent many foot-soldiers, and also chariotry, to fetch her back. And there was a woman among them into whose hand had been given all beautiful adornments of women. And the woman came back to Egypt with her, and there was rejoicing over her in all the land. And His Majesty loved her very much, and he gave her the rank of Great Favorite.

And he spoke with her to get her to describe her husband; and she said to His Majesty, “Have the cedar cut down and broken up.” And he sent foot-soldiers with their weapons to cut down the cedar, and they reached the cedar and cut down the flower on which was Bata’s heart, and he fell down dead at that very moment.

Now when it had dawned and another day was come, the cedar having been cut down, Anupu, the elder brother of Bata, went into his house and sat down to wash his hands. And a mug of beer was given to him, and it foamed up; and another, of wine, was given to him, and it turned sour. And he took up his staff and his sandals, also his clothes and his weapons, and set forth to journey to the Valley of the Cedar.

And he entered the castle of his younger brother, and found him lying on his couch, dead. And he wept when he saw his younger brother lying in death, and went to search for his heart under the cedar under which his younger brother went to sleep in the evening. And he spent three years in seeking it, without finding it. And when he had entered upon the fourth year, he longed to return to Egypt, and said, “I will go away tomorrow” – so he said in his heart.

Now when it had dawned and another day was come, he fell to walking under the cedar, and spent the day seeking the heart. And he went back in the evening, and spent a short time in seeking it again. And he found a berry, and went back with it. Now it was his younger brother’s heart. And he fetched a jar of cold water and threw it into it, and he sat down according to his daily wont.

Now when night had come Bata’s heart absorbed the water, and Bata quivered all over, and suddenly looked at his elder brother, while his heart was in the jar. And Anupu, his elder brother, took up the jar of cold water in which was his younger brother’s heart, and it [the heart] had drunk it, and his heart stood in its place, and he became as he had been. And they embraced one another, and each of them spoke with his fellow. And Bata said to his elder brother, “See, I will become a great bull, with all beautiful markings, one the nature of which will not be known; and you shall sit on my back until the sun rises, and we are in the place where my wife is, that I may take vengeance. And you shall take me to the place where the King is, for all good things will be done for you, and you will be rewarded with silver and gold for having taken me to Pharaoh, for I shall become a great wonder, and they will rejoice over me in all the land, and you will go away to your village.”

Now when it had dawned and another day was come, then Bata took on the form which he had told his brother about, and Anupu, his elder brother, sat on his back until dawn, and he reached the place where the King was. And His Majesty was informed about him, and he saw him, and he was very glad about him. And he made a great feast because of him, saying, ‘This is a great marvel that has happened”; and they rejoiced over him in all the land. And the King loaded him with silver and gold for his elder brother, who dwelt in his village; and the King gave him many people and much property, and Pharaoh loved him very much, more than anybody else in all the land.

Now some time after this the bull went into the dining-room, and stood where the Favorite was; and he fell to talking with her, saying, “See, I am still alive.” And she said to him, ”Who, pray, are you?” And he said to her, “I am Bata. I know that when you had the cedar broken up for Pharaoh it was on my account, so that I should not live; but see, I am still alive, being a bull.” And the Favorite was very frightened at the announcement that her husband had made to her. And he went out of the dining-room.

And His Majesty sat making holiday with her, and she poured out wine for His Majesty; and the King was very happy with her. And she said to His Majesty, “Swear to me by God, saying, ‘What the Favorite may say I will obey for her sake;’ ” and he hearkened to all that she said. “Let me be allowed to eat some of the liver of this bull, for he will be of no use,” she said to him. And the King was very much vexed at what she had said, and Pharaoh was very sorry for him.

Now when it had dawned and another day was come, the King announced a great feast with sacrifice of the bull, and the King sent one of his chief butchers to have the bull dispatched. And afterwards he was dispatched; and while he was borne on the men’s shoulders he shook his neck, and cast two drops of blood beside the two door-jambs of His Majesty-one of them fell on one side of the Great Portal of Pharaoh, and the other on the other side-and they grew into two large persea trees, and each of them was very fine. And they went to tell His Majesty, “Two large persea trees have grown up, a great marvel for His Majesty, in the night, beside His Majesty’s Great Portal.” And they rejoiced over them in all the land, and the King made offering to them.

Now some time after this His Majesty appeared at the Lapis-lazuli Window, with a garland of all manner of flowers at his neck; and he was in a gilded chariot, and he came out of the palace to see the persea trees. And the Favorite came out with horses, following Pharaoh. And His Majesty sat down under one of the persea trees, and the Favorite under the other. And Bata spoke with his wife, saying, “O you traitress, I am Bata, and I am alive in spite of you! I know of your having caused the cedar to be cut down for Pharaoh on my account, and I became a bull and you had me killed.”

Now some time after this the Favorite stood pouring out wine for His Majesty, and the King was happy with her. And she said to His Majesty, “Swear to me by God, saying, ‘What the Favorite may tell me I will obey for her sake,’ so you shall say.” And he hearkened to all that she said. And she said, “Have these two persea trees cut down, and made into beautiful furniture.” And the King obeyed all that she said, and after a short time His Majesty sent cunning carpenters, and Pharaoh’s persea trees were cut down.

And the King’s wife, the Favorite, watched. And a splinter flew up and entered the Favorite’s mouth, and she swallowed it, and she conceived and became pregnant in the space of a moment. And the King did everything that she fancied with them [the trees].

Now some time after this she gave birth to a man-child, and they went to tell His Majesty, “A man-child has been born to you”; and he was fetched, and a nurse and female attendants were given him, and people rejoiced over him in all the land. And the King sat making holiday, and the people were jubilant. And His Majesty loved him at once, very much, and appointed him Viceroy of Nubia.

Now some time after this His Majesty made him Crown Prince of the whole land. Now some time after this, when he had spent many years as Crown Prince of the whole land, His Majesty flew up to heaven.10

And the [new] King said, “Let my great royal officials be brought to me, that I may inform them of everything that has happened to me.” And his wife was brought to him, and he and she were judged before them, and they agreed with him.11 And his elder brother was brought to him, and he made him Crown Prince of the whole land. And he spent thirty years as King of Egypt, and then passed away to Life.12 And his elder brother arose in his place on the day of “landing.”

It has come to an end happily and in peace. For the pleasure of the Scribe of Pharaoh’s Treasury, Kagabu, the Scribe Hori and the Scribe Meremope. Made by the Scribe Innana, the owner of this book. As for him who speaks against this book, may Thoth be his adversary!


1. Has emerged after the annual inundation.

2. Why? For use as a salve? As an emetic (see below)?

3. A composite solar deity: combining Re “the Sun” and Harakhte “the Horus of the Horizon.”

4. Expressing disappointment or frustration.

5. Now known to be a real place, in the Lebanon.

6. Tokens of mourning.

7. A group of four generations of gods, originating in Heliopolis and consisting of a solar god (here Re-Harakhte) at the head, with Show and Tefenet, Geb and Nut, Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephthys. The number and constitution of the so-called “ennead” are, however, variable, so that we need not be surprised to find among them Khnum, who fashions mankind as a potter fashions jars upon a wheel.

8. They were fabled to come to newborn children of importance, and predict the manner of their death.

9. It seems that, although the woman might be in any foreign country, it was thought most likely that she would be found in the Valley of the Cedar.

10. Died.

11. And so condemned her – to death, no doubt.

12. Died.