The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor
Middle Kingdom Egypt
"Be hale of heart, my good leader! Look, we've made it here!
We've pounded the mooring peg home and the tether's secure;
We've praised and thanked the gods, everyone has embraced!
The whole crew has made it home clear, not a one lost,
Though we went down as down as far as Wawat's marshes, the isle of Es-n-Mewet.
Hey! Our home! Our home land! We've arrived!
Now, hear me out, captain; I am a man who never stretches the truth:
Go purify yourself, wash up,
Then thereafter you'll be able to answer what is put to you,
And you can address the King staunch-hearted, responding without hesitation.
A man's words can save him; speech can soften an angry face..."
"Ah, whatever. Go ahead, then, and say whatever in the world you're going to say. It wears me out, talking to you."
"But let me tell you a story. It's a bit like this,
It happened to me once upon a time.
I shipped out for the royal mines, Sinai,
And had entered into the basin of the great green sea.
The vessel grand: 60 meters long, 20 meters broad,
the crew 120 of the best of Egypt!
Show them sea! Show them land! Their hearts
were braver than lions; sailing-acumen to read the signs of wind
before a storm's coming, smell in the air foul weather's approach.
Yet all were certain, as certain as could be, the wind would
not be harsh, and likely there would be no wind at all.
Well, up came a storm! It roared up, we were
still far from any harbor in that dark. The wind made terrible moans and
the waves raged hungry against the hull, 5 meters high.
I was socked in the stomach by some big piece of wood
I was washed out into sea from the rolling vessel,
the vessel sank, not one man survived.
I was carried, by a great green swell, to
a desert island.
The first three days my heart
was my sole companion. I nested in the shadows of a covering tree.
Finally, that third day, I stretched my legs
in order to discover what there was to eat. What I found:
Figs, grapes, every sort of green:
Sycamore figs, knotched figs, and cucumbers that looked as good as on any farm.
Also there were fish, and birds. There was nothing this island did not have.
I filled myself past satisfaction, spilling and dropping what I'd
gathered in my arms--
I fashioned myself a firedrill, and built myself a fire,
and here I made an offering to the gods.
Then I heard a rumbling. Another storm approaching, the roar
I made out to be the roar of oncoming waves. Trees
were breaking. The ground was vibrating.
I looked through two of the fingers over my face and saw
a huge giant serpent coming my way.
Over 20 meters long, width huge,
It's beard hung down a meter.
It's leather was scales of gold, and lapis lazuli were it's eyes.
Before me it's great mouth opened, and in fear
I trembled down to my belly before him.
He breathed: "What brings you? brings you? little man? what brings you?
Hesitate to respond to me for an instant, and you will find yourself
ashes which will answer no questions again."
"Though you might ask, I am not all quite here to answer.
I am here before you, but I hardly know what's going on."
Then into his mouth he took me and
away he spirited me to the place of his residence,
and again set me down without malignance.
Still whole--no bites were out of me.
He bared his mouth before me again.
I got down on my belly again.
"What brings you? brings you? little man? what brings you? to
this island, in the great green sea, where shores are as shifty as the
This time I told him all about it. Raising my arms as the gesture addressing the gods,
I started to say, "I was sailing to the region of the royal mines on the kings ship, in a vessel grand, 60 meters long, 20 meters broad, manned my 120 of Egypts best men. Show them sea! Show them land! Braver than lions were they. Each was stronger and braver than the next. Not a slouch in the lot! They could tell a storm coming a mile away, and smell foul weather on the air before any sight.
Then a storm came up! We were still far out in open sea. No chance of reaching harbor.
The wind howled foully, moaning, biting sharp, and there were hungry waves 5 meters high!
Some piece of wood hit me, and then the ship she went down.
Of all those men, best of the men in Egypt, not a one survived.
Only myself here, before you. After that I was carried
by a great green swell to be cast up on this desert island."
Then the snake said to me: "Fear not! fear not! My little man! A pale trembling face you must not show! You have found your way to this island. Look, It is God has let you live that you may be brought to this desert isle. There is nothing this island does not have! It is a land which engenders vitality in all that grows, and it is full of every fine and lovely thing.
Now, you will stay here and you'll spend a month,
then another, then another, until
four months on this island you have passed.
And then a ship will come from Egypt. With sailors in it
whom you know.
And you will go on home with them to die in your own city.
What joy it is for one to tell of the things he has gone through and suffered
when his suffering is over!
But let me tell you a story. It's a bit like this.
It happened once upon on this very isle.
I was here, living with all my family and companions in one big group.
75 persons we totaled. My offspring, relatives, and friends.
There was also a young girl who was washed up here by chance.
A star fell, and they were all gone, burnt up in flame.
It happened while I happened to be away. All burned... and
not even with them.
I wanted to be dead instead of them. After finding them a heap of tangled cinders.
If you have courage, steel your heart
that you may fill your arms with children and kiss
your wife, and see your home.
Believe me, it is better than all else
when you are back again
and dwell within the bosom of your friends."
Here I was flat stretched out forehead to the dirt, bowing
in respect, and I answered, "Let me return to tell
report of your magnificence to my king, all tell about all your
greatness, and arrange to have brought to you
precious ointments, balsam, spices, perfumes, and the sacred oils
and finest incense for the temple, that the gods enjoy.
And tell them all that has happened to me, and
of what I have seen of your power,
and the gods will be praised for your existence in the
Capitol. In the courts and counsils of the land! I will
slaughter cattle and offer them to you on altars. I will wring the necks
of birds for you!
Let me have them bring a fleet to you
laden with the wealth of Egypt, as is done for a foreign god much loved
by men, hitherto unknown, who has shown favor to us in a distant land.
He laughed at this, at what I'd told him. My solemn declaration, the contents
of my heart.
"Your's is no great supply of myrrh. Though it happens
you have incence. While I myself am a king of Punt. The myrrh from there is mine.
And that poor sacred oil you talk of bringing here is the chief product on this island.
And anyway, after you leave here you will never again
see this island, which will shift away with the waves of the sea.
At last, after 4 months, the ship arrived.
I climbed to a height in order to see, and I recognized the crew.
I ran down to report it to the snake
but found he already knew.
Then he opened his huge mouth to me: "Fare well, fare well, my little man. Off to your home to see your little children.
Make a good report of me when you get there. That's one demand I ask of you.
I placed myself on the ground before him and raised my arms gratefully.
Then he gave me a load of cargo. Myrrh, sacred oils, perfumes, spices, kohl, giraffe tails,
incense, elephant tusks, hounds, monkeys and baboons, every good imaginable. I loaded it all
onto the ship.
I prostrated myself again before him, thanking and praising God for him.
Then he said to me: "In two months you shall see your home land. You will hold your children in your arms and grow young again until you die there.
Then I went down to the shore and hailed the crew. Beside the sea I offered thanks to the Lord
of the Isle, and the crew aboard did likewise.
From there we made our way northwards
to the city of the King
In two months we arrived there, just as he had said.
Then I was granted audience with my King
and presented him with my gifts there,
which I had brougt from that island.
He offered thanks to God for my return,
and before the courts and counsils of the Land
I was made a royal Follower and
given 200 servants. Imagine! Me there, returned home,
after seeing all that I had seen!
Now, let what I said to you sink in a little, Captain,
sometimes what people say can help you, you know."
Then he replied, "Don't try to play the expert, friend.
Does one give water to a sacrificial bird
the morning of it's execution day?"