Showing posts with label Doomed Prince. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Doomed Prince. Show all posts

Friday, February 6, 2009

Becoming What You Are: the Egyptian Parable of the Doomed Prince

In the fairy tale The Doomed Prince, we meet a prince whose fate it is to die at a young age. As he grows, he longs to become independent but those closest to him are seized by a fearful sort of love, one that understandably desires to preserve his life as long as possible. But the prince is fascinated with the world and embraces life by acquiring a dog as faithful companion and then embarking on adventures. Finally he rebukes his father’s protectiveness and in complete acceptance of his doom he asserts “Because I am destined to have a sad fate, I should be allowed to act according to my own wishes. God will in the end do what He desires.” And so we watch him pass through the various stages of his life, his body grows older but he never really reaches full maturity. In the narrative he is usually referred to as a youth and his wife is always a girl.

It is perhaps not astonishing that such a doomed person would seek a rapid ascent in life and winning a flying competition is an apt metaphor for this yearning. The image of a throng of flying children being led by a boy who will never grow up is particularly poignant and a theme we find again in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. This story also shares the motif of the crocodile, representing an ever-present and looming fate that casts long shadows. Whether or not Barrie was inspired in any way by this fairy tale when he wrote Peter Pan is unknown (to me). Based on the dates the source text became known to the public (Papyrus Harris 500) it is entirely possible.

At the end of the tale we see the prince bravely meeting his destiny. From the sad circumstances of his existence, he has created a meaningful life. He has acquired certain virtues including courage and loyalty, he has forged loving relationships, he lives life without fear and has the freedom to make choices. He has followed the maxim of the Greek poet Pindar who wrote “Become what you are” (and love your fate). Embrace what is unique to you and live life to its fullest.

To read the fairy tale The Doomed Prince, click on the link:

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Reading the Doomed Prince: The Hathors

In the puzzling tale of the Doomed Prince  we encounter a prince who never really grows to adulthood. His fate is foretold by the Hathors, beautiful women of ancient Egyptian mythology whose primary function was to provide food and protection for the dead. But in his 1906 collection of fairy tales Altaegyptische Sagen und Maerchen, the Egyptologist Alfred Wiedemann describes another function of these goddesses. Like the Norns revered by ancient Germanic tribes, the Hathors appear at the birth of a child, bestowing gifts and foretelling the infant’s destiny. Seven Hathors are depicted in a wall relief in the Temple of Dendera, the primary location of their cult. They are probably later forms of the goddess Hathor, who was originally the Egyptian goddess of the heavens. Her name means the “House of Horus”. Hathor was revered in the most ancient traditions as the mother of the sun god Horus until Isis superseded her. Based on a notion that likened the sky to a giant cow , the goddess herself was often depicted in cow form. Hathor, the sky-cow, often appears alongside the sky-bull. Frequently bearing horns on her head, the goddess uses them to lift the sun-child to heaven or to carry the red disk of the sun. She is also associated with an older tree cult and referred to as “Mistress of Date Palm Trees” or “Mistress of Sycamore Trees”. In addition to foretelling a person’s fate, the Hathors were called upon for protection from evil spirits. They used red ribbons to bind these malignant forces, a color often associated with ancient goddesses, the sun, light and heaven itself.

To read the fairy tale The Doomed Prince, click on the link:

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Doomed Prince, an Egyptian Fairy Tale

A manuscript dating to approximately 1000 B.C. bears the designation Papyrus Harris 500, marking it as the property of Mr. Harris at the British Museum in London. It contains two fairy tales in addition to a number of love poems. The first tale is about the Doomed Prince; the second is a story about the capture of the city of Joppa. Unfortunately the papyrus has been damaged; numerous small holes interrupt the storyline and several pages are missing entirely. We therefore only have the beginning of the story and the ending here has been added based on guesswork. The imagined conclusion of the tale is inferred from patterns of story-telling traditional for this genre.

There was once a king to whom no son was born. His heart was exceedingly sad and so he prayed fervently to the gods who ruled his time. These gods decreed that a son would be born. And so, one night the king approached his wife and she became pregnant. When the months had passed, a child was born. Soon thereafter the Hathors arrived, those goddesses who pronounce the fate of every child at birth. Each, in her turn, foretold the future of the child:

“The child shall die by crocodile or by snake or by dog,” was their verdict. When the people heard this, they were very much afraid and hurried to tell the king, His Majesty, Who Grants Life, Well-being and Health. This news greatly troubled His Majesty, Who Confers Life, Well-Being and Health and so he had a house of stone built for his son in the mountains. It was furnished with all kinds of beautiful things from the household of the King Who Confers Life, Well-Being and Health. But the boy never left the house.

When the child grew, he climbed onto the flat roof of his house and saw a greyhound running behind a man on the path below. He said to his servant “What is that running behind the man?” The servant replied “That is a greyhound.” The boy exclaimed “Bring me such a creature.” The servant went out to report this to his Majesty, Who Confers Life, Well-Being and Health, who promptly ordered “Bring him a small, running dog, so that his heart does not become weighed down with sadness.” So they brought him a greyhound.

Days passed and the youth (and his entire body) became older. He sent a messenger to his father and said “All is well but why should I sit around lazily? Because I am destined to have a sad fate, I should be allowed to act according to my wishes. God will in the end do, what he desires.” His wish was granted and he was given all types of arms and weapons, he was given the greyhound who followed him and he was brought to a ship at the East Nile Valley . The people bade farewell and said to him: “Grace be with you! Go where your heart desires!”

Now with his greyhound, he roamed the land and went wherever his heart desired. Soon reachng the North, he lived off the best game of the country. The Prince harbored a desire to fly and so it happened that he soon arrived in Neharina (northeastern Syria) at the palace of a count.

Wonder of wonders! The Count of Neharina had only one child, a girl. A palace had been built for her and the windows of this dwelling were 70 cubits above the ground. All the children of all the counts in the land of Syria were called to the palace. The king said to them “Whoever can reach the window of my daughter by flying, he shall receive her hand in marriage!”

Many days passed and princes from all over the land passed the time in the usual fashion, flying and attempting to reach the window. Finally the young Egyptian prince arrived at that same place. They took him home, washed him; they fed his horses; they did everything possible for the youth; they cleaned him; they anointed his feet with fine salve; they fed his servants. In conversation they asked him “Where do you come from, you handsome young man?” He replied “I am the son of an officer of chariot warriors in the land of Egypt. My mother died and my father took another wife. When her new children were born she began to hate me. I left and fled from her.” They embraced the young prince and showered him with kisses.

After many days the prince approached a throng of men. “What are you doing here?” They replied “We pass our time here flying. The one who reaches the window of the daughter of the Count of Neharina, will receive her hand in marriage.” The prince said to them “If you don’t mind, I will beseech the gods to act in my favor and go flying with you.” So they all went out to fly, as was their daily habit. But the youth stood off in the distance to watch. (At that moment, the princess of Neharina appeared at her window and her) face turned toward him. After several days passed, the youth arrived once again with the children of all the counts to try his skill at flying. He flew and reached the window of the daughter of the Count of Neharina. She kissed him and she embraced him.

The servants ran to her father with the news to delight his heart. They said “A young man has reached the window of your daughter.” The count inquired “The son of which count has reached the window?” They replied “It is the son of an officer of a chariot warrior, who arrived here after fleeing from his mother in Egypt. He came because of her children.” The Count of Neharina became very angry and said “Should I give my daughter to a refugee from Egypt? He should return home!” They went to tell the youth “You should kindly return whence you came.” But the princess embraced him and said “By the life of the god Ra-Harmachis! If you take him from me, I will refuse all food. I shall no longer drink. I shall die in the very same hour.”

The messenger went forth and told her father everything she had said. The count sent out people to kill the youth while he resided in his house. But the girl said to them “By the life of the god Ra! If you kill him, I will also be dead by sundown. I will not live another hour without him!” The servants went to her father and reported what she had said. The count had the youth and girl brought to him. When the youth stood before the count, he shook in fear but the count embraced and kissed him and said “Tell me who you are for you have become a son to me!”

The youth replied “I am the son of an officer of chariot fighters in the land of Egypt. My mother died and my father took another wife. She began to hate me and so I fled from her." The count gave him his daughter and also cattle and many beautiful things.

After many days had passed, the youth said to his wife: “Three fates have been foretold me: the crocodile, the snake and the dog.” She replied “You should kill the greyhound, who runs behind you.” But he said to her “Oh no! I will not kill my dog, who I have raised since he was a pup.” The wife now stood watch over her husband and did not let him leave the house alone. But the youth wanted to undertake a trip to the land of Egypt and wander through it. When he arrived in Egypt, a crocodile came out of the Nile and reached the center of the village where the prince was staying. [The villagers caught it and locked it in a house] that was guarded by a giant. The giant wouldn’t let the crocodile out of the house. But when the crocodile [slept], the giant left the house and went out for a walk. But when the sun came up, the giant returned and he did this every day for two months.

After many days had passed, the youth decided to stay at home to enjoy the day. When night fell, the prince lay down to sleep and soon sleep overcame him. His wife filled a bowl with milk [into which she poured a sleep-inducing substance] and placed it beside him. A snake came out of its hole to bite the prince. But his wife sat next to him and did not sleep. The servants came, (whom she called for help when she saw the snake) and they gave the snake the milk. The snake drank the milk and became sedated and remained lying on its back unconscious. The wife chopped the snake into pieces with an axe. Then she awoke her husband and he was amazed. But she said to him: “Look! Your god has given you another one of your fates. He will also give you the others.” The prince made a sacrifice to the god and praised him and every day he acknowledged the power of the god.

Many days after this event, the prince left his dwelling to take a walk nearby. He did not leave alone but rather took his dog who ran after him. His dog ran away to hunt and the youth ran after him. When he came to the Nile River, he climbed down the river bank to the flowing water. A crocodile emerged from the swirling flood and dragged him back to the the place where the giant was. [The giant hurried out and saved the youth], but the crocodile said to the youth: I am your fate that pursues you! You will cross my path again, you and the giant. And then we shall see! I will let you escape now [but you are not safe, remember this: I will come again to spread terror and I will kill the giant. And when you see that the giant is dead then you, too, shall experience death!”
When dawn broke and the earth was illuminated again, there came ....
[The original text ends here…]

Now the prince had escaped two of the fates threatening him: The snake had not killed him and the crocodile, who had seized him, had to release him again. But according to patterns of Egyptian mythology, what the gods have decreed will in fact happen. The prince will be killed by the third encounter with fate, the dog. Probably the crocodile who foretold another encounter was imminent, was correct. The crocodile returned, attacked the giant and killed him. The prince and his dog tried to help the giant and they were able to kill the crocodile but in the heat of battle the dog bit his master, who died of his wounds. He succumbed to the creature who was his faithful companion throughout life, the one he had least cause to mistrust.

To read more about the Doomed Prince, click on the link:

To read another Ancient Egyptian Fairy Tale about a possessed princess:

To read more fairy tales:

Translated from the original German text by Alfred Wiedemann, 1906
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