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The Egyptian legend of the destruction of humanity

The legend of the destruction of Humanity, belonging to the mythology of the Ancient Egyptians, takes us to the mysterious world of Egypt governed by the Gods, in which cruelty and benevolence of the sovereigns followed one another suddenly and without clear justifications. At the same time, we will discover how the Egyptian cosmogony had a close correlation with the very ancient form of government of that country.

The text containing the Legend of the Destruction of Humanity is written in hieroglyphics and is located on the four walls of a small room which can be accessed from the “hall of the columns” in the tomb of Seti I, which is located on the western bank of the Nile, in Thebes. On the wall facing the bedroom entrance the figure of a large “Cow of Heaven” is painted in red. The lower part of his abdomen is decorated with a series of thirteen stars and immediately below it are the two Boats of Ra, called Semketet and Mantchet, or Sektet and Matet. Each of the four legs is held in place by two deities and the god Shu, with arms stretched out and raised, supports his body. La Vacca was published by Champollion1, without text. This very important mythological text was published and translated for the first time by Professor E. Naville in 18742. It was republished by Bergmann3 and Brugsch4, who gave a transcription of the text with a German translation. Other German versions of Lauth5, Brugsch6, and Wiedemann7 are available and part of the text was translated into French by Lefebure8. A more recent version of the text was published by Lefebure9 and the text of a second, very mutilated copy was published by Professor Naville, with a French translation in 188510. The text here present is that of Lefebure.

The legend takes us back to the time when the gods of Egypt circulated the country, mixing with men, and were aware of their desires and needs. The king who reigned over Egypt was Ra, the Sun-god, who however was not the first of the Dynasty of Gods who ruled that land. His predecessor on the throne was Hephaistos who, according to Manetho, reigned 9000 years, while Ra reigned only 992 years; Panodorus made his reign last even less than 100 years. Be that as it may, it seems that the “self-created and only-begotten” god Ra has reigned over humanity for a long time, because his subjects began to murmur against him, complaining that he was old, that his bones were like silver, his body like gold and her hair like lapis lazuli. When Ra heard these whispers, he ordered his bodyguard to track down all the gods who had been with him in the primordial Ocean World and to invite them privately to gather in the Great House which could not be other than the famous temple of Heliopolis. This statement is interesting because it proves that the legend is of Heliopolitan origin, as the cult of Ra itself and that it does not belong, at least as far as Ra is concerned, to the Predynastic Period.

When Ra entered the Great Temple, the gods paid him homage and, seated at his side, informed him that they were waiting to hear his words. Turning to Nu, the personification of the Ocean World, Ra asked to take note of the fact that the men and women that his Eye had created were murmuring against him. He then asked them to evaluate the matter and suggest an action plan, because he did not wish to kill the rebels without listening to what the other gods had to say. In response the gods advised Ra to send his Eye to destroy the blasphemers, as no other eye on earth could resist him, especially when taking the form of the goddess Hathor. Ra accepted the advice and sent his Eye in the form of Hathor to destroy them, and although the rebels had fled to the fearful mountains, the Eye pursued them, joined them and destroyed them. Hathor rejoiced in her work of destruction and on her return she was praised by Ra for what she had done. The massacre of men began in Suten-henen (Herakleopolis) and during the night the goddess walked in their blood. Ra stated his intention to be lord of the rebels and this is probably reported in the Book of the Dead, Chapter XVII, in which Ra is said to have risen as king for the first time in Suten-henen. Osiris was also crowned in Suten-henen and the great bird Bennu, or Phoenix, and the “Bone Destroyer” mentioned in the Negative Confessions lived in that city.

The legend now continues by describing an act of Ra, the meaning of which is difficult to explain. The god ordered messengers to be brought to him and when they arrived, he commanded them to run like the wind to Abu, another name for the city of Elephantine, and to bring back large quantities of the fruit called tataat. What kind of fruit it is is unclear, but Brugsch thinks they were mandrakes, the so-called “love apples” and this translation of tataat can be used provisionally. The mandrakes were given to Sekti, a goddess of Heliopolis, to be crushed and squeezed, and when this was done they were mixed with human blood and placed in the fermenting beer that the slaves had obtained from the wheat. In all, they made 7,000 containers of beer. When Ra saw the beer, he approved it and ordered to take it to the river where the goddess Hathor was still busy massacring men. During the night, he made sure that the beer was scattered in the fields of the Four Heavens and when Hathor saw the beer with human blood and mandrake, he drank it and got drunk, paying no attention to men and women. Upon receiving the goddess, Ra called her “Amit”, “the beautiful”, and from that time on “beautiful women were found in the city of Amit” which was located in the western Delta, near the Mareotis11 lake. Ra also ordered that “beer of sleep” be produced at all his feasts and that the containers should be in the exact number of his serving virgins. Those who took part in those parties of Hathor and Ra drank beer in large quantities and under the influence of the “beautiful women”, the priestesses, who were supposed to resemble Hathor in physical beauty, the celebrations degenerated into licentious orgies.

Shortly after these events, Ra complained that he was overwhelmed with pain and that he was fed up with the children of men. He considered them creatures worthless and wished that most of them were killed. The gods begged him to resist pain and reminded him that his power was proportional to his will. However Ra was not consoled and complained that his limbs were weak for the first time in his life. Then the god Nu told Shu to help Ra and he ordered Nut to load the god Ra on his back. Nut turned into a cow and, with Shut’s help, Ra mounted on his back. As soon as the men saw that Ra was on the back of the Cow of Heaven and was about to leave them, they were seized with fear and repentance, and begged Ra to stay with them, promising to kill all those who had uttered blasphemies against him. But the Cow continued on its way and transported Ra to Het-Ahet, a city in the district of Mareotis, where a leg of Osiris is said to have been preserved in later times. In the meantime, darkness had covered the earth. When the day came, the men who had repented of their blasphemy appeared with their bows and killed Ra’s enemies. Ra was pleased with this and forgave those who repented thanks to the just massacre of his enemies. Since then human sacrifices were offered at the feasts of Ra celebrated there, in Heliopolis and in other parts of Egypt.

After these things, Ra declared to Nut that he intended to leave this world and ascend to heaven and that everyone who admired his face should follow him. Then he went to heaven and prepared a place where everyone could come. Then he said “Hetep sekhet aa,” that is, “Let a great field be created” and immediately “Sekhet-hetep” or “Field of peace,” came to light. He later said “That there are reeds in it” and immediately “Sekhet Aaru” or “Field of the Reeds” came to light. Sekhet-hetep were the Elysian Fields of the Egyptians and the Campo delle Canne was a well-known portion of them. Another order of the god Ra was the creation of the stars which legend compares to flowers. Then the goddess Nut trembled all over her body and Ra, fearing that it might fall, created the Four Pillars that support the heavens. Turning to Shu, Ra asked him to protect those supports and to position himself under Nut and to support her with his hands. Therefore Shu became the new Sun-god in place of Ra and the heavens in which Ra went to live were supported and protected from the risk of falling, and mankind lived and rejoiced in the light of the new sun.

At this point in the legend a text called “Chapter of the Cow” is inserted. It describes how the Cow of Heaven and the two Boats of the Sun were painted and gives the positions of the gods who were standing around the Cow’s legs, adding a number of short magical names or formulas which are inexplicable. The general meaning of the representation of the cow is quite clear. The Cow represents the sky in which the Ra Boats sailed and its four legs are the four cardinal points that cannot be changed. The region above his back is the paradise where Ra reigns over the beings who came to you from earth when they die and there is the home of the heavenly gods and spirits who rule this world.

When Ra had made a paradise for himself and provided for the continuation of life on earth and the well-being of human beings, he remembered that once, when he reigned there, he had been bitten by a snake and had almost lost his life due to that bite. Fearing that the same calamity could happen to his successor, he decided to destroy the power of all the harmful reptiles that lived on earth. With this goal in mind, he told Thoth to summon Keb, the god-Earth, to his presence. Since this god finally arrived, Ra told him to wage war against the snakes that infested his domains. He also ordered him to go to the god Nu and tell him to set up a guard on all the reptiles present on earth and in the waters, and to write a writing for every place where he knew of the presence of snakes, containing the mandatory order that should not bite anyone. Although these snakes knew that Ra was retreating from the earth, they never forgot that his arrows could have fallen on them. In his place, their father Keb would keep watch and be their guardian forever.

As additional protection against them, Ra promised to reveal to magicians and snake charmers the power of a particular word, hekau, with which he had protected himself from snake attacks and to pass it on to his son Osiris as well. Therefore those who hear the formulas of snake charmers will always be immune to their bites, as well as their children. From this we can deduce that the profession of snake charmer is very ancient and that this class of magicians based their art on a decree of Ra himself.

Subsequently Ra sent for Thoth and when he arrived in his presence, he invited him to follow him to a place called “Tuat”, that is Hell or Other World, in whose lands he had decided to make his light shine. When they got there, he told Thoth, the Scribe of Truth, to write down on tablets the names of all who would come there and punish those who had sinned against him. And he gave Thoth the power to dispose absolutely of all the beings of the Tuat. Ra detested the wicked and therefore arranged to keep them away from himself. Thus Thoth became his vicar, acting in his stead, and “Vicar of Ra” was his name. It gave him the power to send messengers (hab), so that Ibis (habi) was created. Everything Thoth had done would have been good (khen), so Thoth’s bird Tekni came to light. It gave Thoth the power to embrace (anh) the heavens, so the moon god (Aah) was born. It also gave Thoth the power to repel (anan) the Northern Peoples, so Thoth’s dog-headed monkey was created. Finally, Ra told Thoth that he would take his place before those who had a habit of worshiping Ra and that they would pray to him as God. So Ra’s abdication was complete.

In the following fragmentary texts, we are told how a man can benefit from the recitation of this legend. He must proclaim that the soul that animated Ra was the soul of the Ancient and that it is so with Shu, Khnemu, Heh, and the others. Then he must proclaim that he himself is Ra and pronounce his word of power Hekau. If he recites the Chapter correctly, he will be able to live in the Other World and will be feared more there than on this earth. A column adds that he must wear new linen clothes and wash well in the Nile water; he must wear white sandals and his body must be anointed with sacred oil. He must burn incense in a censer and the image of Maat (Truth) must be painted on his tongue with green paint. These rules apply to both the layman and the cleric.

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