My Heart Atop A Cedar: The Tale of Two Brothers

Imagine being in the care of your older brother. You take of care of his fields, planting and harvesting, sowing and reaping. You look up to him like a father, and he loves you back as if you were his son.

You are tied to the land during the day; you speak to the earth, to the plants, even the cattle you tend to, and they all speak back. When your labors are done, you retire with your brother to his house, where the three of you break bread and drink wine.

The three of you?

Your brother is married…

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This story is from the 19th dynasty of the Egyptian New Kingdom, written during the reign of Seti II, who ruled between 1200 and 1194 BCE. Called The Tale of Two Brothers, it is preserved in the Papyrus D’Orbiney, preserved in the British Museum.

The two brothers in question are Anpu (Anubis) and Bata, and the narrative has been interpreted by some scholars as reflecting the division between Upper and Lower Egypt. Parallels have also been noted between the next part of the narrative and the Old Testament account of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, which is also set in Egypt.

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One day, Anpu sent his younger brother back to the storehouse to gather corn. Bata went through the house, where he came across his sister-in-law, who was braiding her hair.

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In graduate school, I had a professor who, in a very Freudian manner, asserted that corn is a phallic symbol.

I tend to view things in a more Jungian, archetypal light.

Apparently, Anpu’s wife was a little more Freudian; she attempted to seduce the boy.

*

Bata rebuked his sister-in-law’s advances. He returned to his brother in the fields, but said nothing of what had transpired in the house.

Anpu’s wife, in the meantime, gathered a slab of oxen fat, and proceeded to beat herself black and blue.

*

When Anpu returned that night, she was crying in bed, apparently the victim of abuse.

She told her husband how Bata had tried to force himself on her, and how she had refused. Bata, in turn, had beaten her.

Anpu grabbed his dagger, and headed off to the shed where Bata was sleeping.

*

Bata was warned of his brother’s deadly intent by one of the cattle, for he knew their language. Praying to the sun god Ra, he begged for salvation, and Ra listened.

Ra willed a river between the two brothers, and filled it with crocodiles so that neither could cross the waters.

From across the river, Bata told his elder brother what had truly transpired, and that he was heading to the Valley of the Cedars, where he would cut out his heart (his soul) and place it atop a cedar tree. Anpu would know to come for him in his time of dying; he would know the time was right when he was served a beer that foamed violently.

For seven years he would have to search for Bata’s heart; Then, Anpu could magically restore Bata to life. Saying these words, Bata departed…

*

Bata lived many days in the Valley, made sacred by his heart atop a flower of the cedar tree. He built himself a tower, filled with all things good. This pleased the Nine Gods, especially Ra. And so the gods decided to reward Bata with the one thing he did not have, a wife.

She was the most the beautiful woman in all of creation; however, the Seven Hathors, the Seven Fates, called Lady of the Universe, Sky-Storm, She from the Land of Silence, She from Khemmis, Red-Hair, Bright Red, and She Whose Name Flourishes Through Skill, spoke with one Voice:

“She will die a sharp death”.

Bata loved his wife, who shined resplendent in the Valley of the Cedars, which was filled by all things good. He had only one concern, and one warning:

“Avoid the sea, my love. From the waters, I cannot save you.”

But the sea longed for her; his waters raged against the tower. She ran from the sea, but the sea conspired with the cedar tree, and captured a lock of her hair.

The waters took the lock of hair, and washed them ashore to palace of Pharaoh, and Pharaoh was enchanted…

*

Is this an archetypal precursor to the shoe in Cinderella? The lost object that points to the lost maiden?

Just a thought…

*

The lock of hair gave off a scent…

The scent of Cedars.

Pharaoh was determined to find this woman, this daughter of Ra. And so he sent out his soldiers to the Valley of Cedars.

Bata slew them all.

Except one, a woman.

And this woman stole away with his wife, and took her to Pharaoh.

*

She became Pharaoh’s Queen, and betrayed Bata’s secret.

Pharaoh sent his men to cut down the tree that bore Bata’s heart.

And so Bata died, for the first time.

*

Anpu’s beer was troubled. His wine smelled of evil. Anpu knew the time had come to find his brother’s heart.

*

For seven years he searched before finding the heart that had sat atop the Cedar tree.

On finding it, he restored his brother.

However, his brother came back not as a man, but as a Bull.

*

Anpu rode the bull to Pharaoh, and Pharaoh was pleased by the sight of Anpu and the mighty bull.

However, his Queen knew the bull was Bata, and asked Pharaoh for a gift:

The liver of the Bull.

Woefully, Pharaoh obliged his wife.

As the Bull was sacrificed, two drops of blood spilled on either side of the King’s gate; from these sprouted two mighty Cedars.

And so Bata died a second time.

*

The Queen knew these were Bata as well. She asked the king for a second gift:

She wanted both trees cut down.

Woefully, Pharaoh obliged his wife.

And so Bata died a third time…

However, as the mighty trees fell, a sliver of wood flew into the Queen’s mouth, impregnating her.

And so Bata was born again, to be raised as the son of Pharaoh.

In time, Bata assumed the title of Pharaoh; and when his reign ended, and his soul ascended to the heavens, it was his older brother, Anpu, who succeeded him as Pharaoh.

And so ends The Tale of The Two Brothers.

*

I’ll leave the analysis to the scholars.

As for me…

Leave my heart atop a cedar tree…

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