tales were told in Ancient Egyptian literature about the son of Ramses the
Great, who was the wisest of all scribes, and who found and read the Book of
Thoth. And tales were told also of his son Se Osiris - 'the Gift of Osiris' -
the wonderful child who, at the age of twelve, was the greatest magician ever
His most famous Ancient exploit began on a day when Ramses sat in the great hall
of his palace at Thebes with his princes and nobles about him, and the Grand
Vizier came bustling in with a look of shocked surprise on his face and
prostrated himself before Ramses, crying: 'Life, health, strength be with you,
Oh Pharaoh! There has come to your court a rascally Ethiopian seven feet tall
who demands speech with you, saying that he is here to prove that the magic of
Egypt is nothing compared with the magic of Ethiopia.'
'Bid him enter, commanded Pharaoh, and presently a huge Ethiopian strode into
his presence, bowed to the ground, and said: 'King, I have brought here in my
hand a Sealed Letter to see if any of your priests or scribes or magicians can
read what is written in it without breaking the seal. And if none of them can
read it, I will go back to Ethiopia and tell my king and all his people how weak
is the magic of the Egyptians, and you will be a jest on the lips of all men.'
Pharaoh was both angry and troubled when he heard this, and he sent in haste for
his wise son Setna and told him what had chanced. Setna also was dismayed, but
he said, 'O Pharaoh, my father - life, health, strength be to you! - bid this
barbarian go and take his rest; let him eat, drink and sleep in the Royal
Guest-House until your court is assembled next, when I will bring a magician who
will show that we who practice the magic art in Egypt are a match for anyone
from the lands beyond Kush.'
'Be it so.' answered Pharaoh, and the Ethiopian was led away to the hospitable
entertainment of the Royal Guest-House.
But although he had spoken so confidently, Setna was troubled. Though he had
read the Book of Thoth and was the wisest man and the most skilled magician, he
could not read a Letter that was written on a papyrus scroll that was rolled up
and Sealed without breaking the seal and unrolling the Letter.
When he returned to his palace he lay. down on his couch to think; and he looked
so pale and troubled that his wife came to him fearing that he was ill. With her
came their son Se Osiris, and when Setna had told all his trouble the woman
burst into tears but the boy began to laugh gleefully.
'My son,' said Setna with a puzzled look, 'why do you laugh when I tell you of
that which has caused so much concern to Pharaoh and such sorrow to me your
'I laugh,' he answered, 'because your trouble is no trouble at all but a gift of
the gods to bring great glory to Egypt and humble the proud overbearing King of
Ethiopia and his wizards. Cease from sorrow. I will read the Letter.'
Setna sprang up and looked searchingly at the small boy who stood so confidently
'You have great powers of magic, I know, my son,' he said. 'But how can I be
certain that when we stand before Pharaoh you can indeed read that which is
written on a Sealed roll of papyrus?'
'Go to your room where your writings are kept,' answered Se Osiris. 'Choose any
papyrus that you like, seal it if it is not Sealed already, and I will read it
to you without even taking it out of your hand.'
Setna sprang up and fetched a papyrus from his study. And the boy read what was
written on it while his father held it still rolled and Sealed with wax.
Next day Pharaoh Ramses summoned his court once more. When all were assembled he
bade the Grand Vizier bring the Ethiopian before him with his Letter.
Proudly the huge wizard strode into the hall and with hardly a nod to the
greatest of all the Pharaohs, he held up the roll of papyrus and cried: 'King,
let your magicians read what is written in this Sealed Letter - or else admit
that the magic of Ethiopia is greater than the magic of Egypt!'
'Setna, my son,' said Pharaoh, 'You are the greatest magician: be pleased to
answer this insolent barbarian who, if he were not a messenger, I would have
beaten with rods.'
'O Pharaoh - life, health, strength be to you!' answered Setna. 'Such a dog as
this, who has no reverence for the good god Pharaoh Rameses Usimares, is not
worthy to be pitted against a magician full of years and wisdom. But my son who,
at the age of twelve, is already skilled enough in the secret lore to stand
against him, shall read his Letter.'
There was a murmur throughout the court and a little ripple of laughter as the
small boy stepped forward on one side of Pharaoh's throne and came down to the
gigantic Ethiopian who stood scowling at the foot of the dais with the Sealed
Letter held up in his right hand.
'O Pharaoh my grandfather - life, health, strength be to you!' said Se Osiris in
a clear voice that all could hear. 'The Sealed roll in this wizard's hand tells
the tale of an insult wrought upon one who held the scourge and the crook, one
who wore the Double Crown - a Pharaoh who sat where you sit five hundred years
'It tells of a king who ruled as today's king rules over the Ethiopians. He sat
one day in his marble summer-house beside the river Nile far away to the south.
Between the pillars behind him was a trellis of ebony, and it was grown so
thickly with sweet smelling creepers that it seemed like a thick hedge. In the
shade behind it his greatest magicians sat talking together, and the King,
listening idly to their words, heard the first say, "In arms we may not be
able to stand against you, but in magic we are certainly the masters of Pharaoh
our overlord and all his people. Why, even I could bring a great darkness over
all the land that would last for three days."
'"True," said another magician. "I, for example, could bring a
blight upon Egypt that would destroy its crops for one season."
'So they went on, each telling of the plague that he could bring upon, until at
last the chief magicians of Ethiopia said, "As for this dog of a Pharaoh
who calls himself our overlord, I could bring him here by magic and cause him to
be beaten with five hundred strokes of the rod before all the people. Yes, I
could do this and carry him back to his palace all in the space of five
'When the King heard this, he summoned the magicians before him, and said to the
chief of them, "Son of Tnahsit, I have heard your words. If you do to the
Pharaoh even as you have said, I will give you a greater reward than any
magician has ever received."
'The Son of Tnahsit bowed before him and at once set about his spells. He
fashioned a litter and four bearers in wax; he chanted words of power over them
and he breathed the breath of life into them, and he bade them hasten to Egypt
and bring Pharaoh to Ethiopia during the dark hours of that night.'
When he had read so far, he turned 'to the Ethiopian and said, 'These words that
I have read, are they not written in the Sealed roll that you hold in your
hands? Answer truly, or may Amen Ra blast you where you stand!'
The Ethiopian bowed before him and gasped, 'These words are indeed written
there, my lord.'
So he continued reading: 'All happened as the Son of Tnahsit had promised.
Pharaoh was lifted from his royal bed at Thebes, carried to Ethiopia, beaten in
public by the King's servants with five hundred strokes, and taken back again
all in the space of five hours. The next morning he woke in great pain, and the
marks of the rods on his back told him that it had been no dream.
'So Pharaoh summoned his court and called his magicians before him and told them
of the shame that had been wrought.
'"I desire vengeance upon the King of, Ethiopia," he ended, "and
vengeance upon his magicians. Moreover I wish the land and the divine person of
her Pharaoh to be protected against these barbarians and their evil and
'Then the Chief Magician, the Kherheb, bowed low before him, crying, "O
Pharaoh - life, health, strength be to you! - it cannot be that this wickedness
of the sons of Set who dwell in Nubia and Ethiopia shall continue against your
divine majesty. Tonight I shall seek counsel of Thoth, the god of wisdom and
magic, in his great temple; and tomorrow be sure, I shall have a charm that will
bring both vengeance and protection."
'So the Kherheb slept in the temple that night, and Thoth with the ibis head
came and stood over his bed and instructed him in all that was to be done for
the protection of the good god the Pharaoh.
'No Ethiopian litter bearers had visited the royal palace that night; but the
night after they came again to carry Pharaoh into Ethiopia to be beaten before
all the barbarians. But the magic which Thoth the wise had taught to the Kherheb
was so strong that their magic was in vain. They could but stand and gibber in
the royal bed-chamber: they could not so much as raise their arms to lift
Pharaoh on to the magic litter. And presently they faded away and were no more
'But next morning, when the Kherheb heard of what had chanced in Pharaoh's
bed-chamber he rejoiced exceedingly. And straightway he set about preparing a
magic litter of his own, with four bearers who that night carried the King of
Ethiopia into the great square before the Temple of Amen Ra at Thebes and had
him beaten with five hundred strokes of the rod before all the people there
'In the morning the King of Ethiopia woke in his palace sore and troubled. At
once he sent for the Son of Tnahsit and bade him find a magic to protect him
against the magicians and bring vengeance upon Pharaoh.
'But the Son of Tnahsit could do nothing. Three times was the King of Ethiopia
carried to Thebes and beaten before all the people. Then he humbled himself
before the glory of the good god Pharaoh and was beaten no more. But he caused
the Son of Tnahsit to be cast out of his palace with many curses, saying,
"In life and in death may you wander the earth until you bring vengeance
upon the Pharaoh and magicians - and until you prove that there is a magic
greater than the magic of the magicians of Khem."'
Then Se Osiris pointed to the Sealed Letter, saying, 'Ethiopian, these words
which I have read, are they not written in the roll of papyrus which you hold,
still Sealed, in your hands? Answer truly, or may Amen Ra blast you where you
The Ethiopian fell upon his knees and cried, 'These words are indeed written
there, mighty magician!'
Then the seal was broken and the Letter was read out loud before Pharaoh and all
his court. And the words of the Letter were the words Se Osiris had read: only
that, in reading, he had paid due honor to Pharaoh, and had spoken of the
barbarians of Ethiopia in such terms as were proper.
After this the Ethiopian said humbly, 'Mighty Pharaoh may I go hence in peace?'
But the boy spoke quickly, saying, 'Oh Pharaoh - life, health, strength be to
you! - this wizard who kneels before you has within him the Ba of the Son of
Tnahsit. Yes, he is the wizard who wrought such shame upon him who sat upon the
throne of the Two Lands and held the scourge and the crook five hundred years
ago. Is it not right that the battle between the magic of Ethiopia and the magic
of Egypt should be fought out to the finish here and now before your eyes?'
Ramses the Great nodded his head and touched his grandson, the wonderful child
with his scepter, saying, 'Kherheb of today, finish that which the Kherheb of
five centuries ago began.' Then to the giant Ethiopian he cried, 'Black dog of
the south, if you have magic to match against our magic, show it now!'
The Ethiopian laughed grimly. 'White dog of the north!' he cried. 'I defy you! I
have such magic at my command that presently Seth will take you as his own, and
Anep the Devourer of Souls will soon be feasting up the Ba of that which was
once a Pharaoh. Behold!'
The Ethiopian waved the Sealed roll as if it had been a wand, and pointed to the
floor in front of Pharaoh, muttering a great word of power.
At once there reared up a mighty serpent hissing loudly, its forked tongue
flickering evilly and its poisoned fangs bared to kill.
Ramses cowered back with a cry. But the boy laughed merrily, and as he raised
his hand the giant cobra dwindled into a little white worm which he picked up
between his thumb and first finger and cast out of the window.
The Ethiopian uttered a howl of rage and waved his arms, spitting curses mingled
with incantations as he did. At once a cloud of darkness descended upon the
great hall, as black as midnight in a tomb and as dense as the smoke of burning
But he laughed again. Then he took the darkness in his hands, crushed it
together until it was no bigger than a ball such as children make of the dark
clay beside the Nile, and tossed it out of the window.
A third time the Ethiopian waved his arms, and this time he yelled as if the
jaws of Anep had already closed upon him. At once a great sheet of fierce flame
leapt up from the floor and moved forward as if to consume Pharaoh and all who
stood beside him on the royal dais.
But he laughed for the third time. Then he blew upon the sheet of flame, and it
drew back and wrapped itself about the Ethiopian. There was one great cry, and
then the flame dwindled and went out like a candle when all the wax is burnt
On the floor in front of Pharaoh lay only a little pile of ash; and the boy said
quietly, 'Farewell to the Son of Tnahsit! May his Ba dwell elsewhere for ever,
and come not again to trouble us or insult Ramses - life, health, strength be to