Westcar Papyrus: The birth of the three Pharaohs

The final section of the Westcar Papyrus takes up where the story of Khufu and the magician ends to tell of the birth of the first three pharaohs (Userkaf, Sahure and Neferirkara Kakai) of the fifth dynasty to Reddjedet.

We are told that Ra instructs Isis, Nephthys, Meskhenet, Heqet and Khnum to help Reddjedet as she is having a difficult labour. They disguise themselves as musicians and assist her delivery blessing the children as they are born. The gods then ask if they can leave a sack of corn (in which they have hidden three crowns) with the family while they are travelling and they depart. Some time later Redjedet decides to hold a feast and having no spare grain decides to use the grain left by the gods which she can then replace. She orders her maid to get the grain but when she enters the storage room she heras the sound or music and rejoicing and finds the crowns hidden in the grain.

Some time later she has a row with her mistress, who beats her. Upset by her treatment the maid decides to tell Khufu about the princes. She speaks to her uncle about her plans but hebeats her too! She runs down to the edge of the water where she is grabbed by a crocodile. Her uncle goes to tell Reddjedet what has happened as she is worrying that Khufu has been told about her sons. This is the point where the papyrus breaks off so we do not get to hear what happens next. It is probably an ancient example of propaganda, written to legitimise to the early kings of the Fifth Dynasty. So, it is tempting to assume that the story ends with the pharaoh giving his blessing to the children, and so preserving Ma'at, but given Khufu's bad reputation in later times it is also possible that he tries, and fails, to prevent their survival.


The full translation...

One of those days Ruddjedet was suffering while her labour was difficult. Then the majesty of Ra, Lord of Sakhbu said to Isis, Nephthys, Meskhenet, Heqet and Khnum. "Oh may you go and deliver Reddjedet of the three children that are in her womb who will perform this magisterial office thought this whole land for they will build your temples, provision your altars, make your libation vessels abundant and increase your divine offerings". Then these gods proceeded after they had changed their appearance into that of musicians. And Khnum was with them carrying luggage.

Then they arrived at the house of Reusre and found him standing with his kilt upside down [?] and they presented him with menats and sistra. He then said to them "My ladies, look, there is a woman who is suffering for her labour is difficult" and then they said "let us see her for we are knowledgeable about childbirth" and he said to them "come in".

Then they entered towards Reddjedet and they locked the room with her and them in it. Then Isis placed herself before her Nephthys was behind her and Heqet was hastening the birth. The Isis said "may you not be powerful in her womb in this name of yours Userref (Userkaf)" and this baby rushed into her arms, a child of one cubit. His bones were strong and his limbs destined to be of gold and his head cloth of real lapis lazuli. And they washed him after his umbilical cord had been cut and they placed him on a couch of brick. Then Meskhenet approached him and said "A king who will perform kinship in this entire land" and Khnum made his body healthy.

Then Isis placed herself before her Nephthys was behind her and Heqet was hastening the birth. The Isis said "may you not kick in her womb in this name of yours Sahure (Sahure)" and this baby rushed into her arms, a child of one cubit. His bones were strong and his limbs destined to be of gold and his head cloth of real lapis lazuli. And they washed him after his umbilical cord had been cut and they placed him on a couch of brick. Then Meskhenet approached him and said "A king who will perform kinship in this entire land" and Khnum made his body healthy.

Then Isis placed herself before her Nephthys was behind her and Heqet was hastening the birth. The Isis said "may you not stay dark in her womb in this name of yours Keku (Neferirkara Kakai)" and this baby rushed into her arms, a child of one cubit. His bones were strong and his limbs destined to be of gold and his head cloth of real lapis lazuli. And they washed him after his umbilical cord had been cut and they placed him on a couch of brick. Then Meskhenet approached him and said "A king who will perform kinship in this entire land" and Khnum made his body healthy.

These gods then went out having delivered Reddjedet of three children and they said "Rejoice Reusre, for three children have been born to you".

Then he said to them "My ladies what can I do for you? Please give this barley to your bearer and accept it as a gift". Then Khnum loaded himself with the barley and they proceeded to where they had come from

Then Isis said to these gods "What is it that we have come for if not to perform a wonder for these children that we may report to their father who let us come". Then they created three lordly crowns and they put them in the barley. Then they made the sky turn into storm and rain and they returned to the house. They said "Please put the barley here in a sealed room until we return from making music in the north" and they put the barley in a sealed room.

Then Reddjedet became pure in a purification of fourteen days. Then she said to her maid "Has the house been prepared? " and she said "the house has been prepared with every good thing except the jars which have not been brought". The Reddjedet said "Why have the jars not been brought?" and the maid said "there is nothing to fill them here except the barley of the musicians which is in a room under their seal". Then Reddjedet said "go down and fetch it from there and Reuser will give them compensation for it when he returns".

The maid went and opened the room and she heard the noise of singing, music, dancing, cheering and everything that is done for a king in the room. Then she went and told of everything that she had heard to Reddjedet and she went to the place but couldn't find the place where it was done. Then she put her ear to the sack and found it was being done in it. Then she put the sack in a box which was put in another chest bound with leather. She put it in a room with her belongings and locked it up

Then Reusre returned, coming from the land, and she recounted what had happened to him and he was very happy. Then they sat down for a day of celebration.

Now when some days had passed after this Reddjedet had a quarrel with the maid and had her punished with a beating. Then the maid said to the people in the household "is this done to me? I will go and tell this to his majesty King of Upper and Lower Egypt Khufu, justified, and she went and found her eldest uncle on her mothers side binding flax and yarn on the terrace. He said to her "Where are you making off to little girl" and she recounted the matter to him and her uncle said to her "and what is to be done? Is what you do to come to me so that I may join in the betrayal? " and he took a bundle of flax to her and delivered a nasty blow to her.

Then the maid went to get a cup of water for herself and was snatched by a crocodile. Her uncle went to tell this to Reddjedet and found her sitting in grief and her mood was very bad and he said to her "my lady why are you in this mood?" and she said "it is the girl who has grown up in this house. Look she has gone saying "I will go and betray"" and then he bent his head down and said "My lady, in fact she came to me [asking if ] she might go with me and I delivered a nasty blow to her. Then she went to draw some water for herself and a crocodile snatched her".


Adapted from translations by Marc Jan Nederhof and A.M. Blackman


copyright J Hill 2010
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