Episode 8 Show Notes
Source: Egyptian Mythology
This week on MYTH, we’re finally leaving behind the long-winded, zany antics of the Monkey King. We’ll be journeying to an entirely new mythos for this week’s story. This is the story of the Prince and the Sphinx from Egyptian mythology. The original story actually comes from the prince in question, and is one of the few stories with a definitive historical context. In this episode, you’ll learn that your sibling rivalry could have been a whole lot worse, that pretty much everyone is in awe of the great pyramids, and that listening to a statue is a great way to be king. Then, in Gods and Monsters, it’s the story of the fat, scaly mishmash god who might literally eat your heart out. This is the Myths Your Teacher Hated podcast, where I tell the stories of cultures around the world in all of their original, bloody, uncensored glory. Modern tellings of these stories have become dry and dusty, but I’ll be trying to breathe new life into them. This is Episode 8, “Buried Alive.” As always, this episode is not safe for work.
- This story takes place during the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep II, during the 18th dynast of Egypt, which puts the time period at about the 14th century BC. I’ll tell the story the way it was passed down first, and then we’ll get into a little of the historical context.
- Once, long ago, there was a prince in Egypt named Thutmose. His father was Pharaoh Amenhotep II, who fought in Syria to preserve his empire and brought peace between Egypt and Mitanni. His grandfather was Pharaoh Thutmose III, who had fought 17 campaigns to conquer all the territory from Niya in Northern Syria up to the Fourth Cataract of the Nile, in Nubia. Basically, the dude was a military badass. Historians gave him the nickname “the Napoleon of Ancient Egypt”, and the people loved him for ushering in a golden age. He had died before his grandson was born, and was buried in the Valley of the Kings.
- Amenhotep was never supposed to have been the pharaoh. His elder brother Amenemhat, son of Thutmose III and his favorite wife Satiah, was originally supposed to ascend to the throne. Amenemhat grew to manhood and was designated as the overseer of the cattle of Amun, a high position. Unfortunately, both he and his mother Satiah died (the how has not survived the years), leaving the Pharaoh to scramble. He didn’t have any other kids, so he was a little fucked. If he died without an heir, the war of secession would tear apart everything that he and his father had built.
- He quickly married the non-royal Merytre-Hatsphepsut, a previously minor noble. She ascended to queen, and gave birth to several children, including Amenhotep. He was raised in Memphis (no, not the Elvis one) instead of the capital city of Thebes. While there, he was appointed as the high priest of Lower Egypt (remember that the Pharaohs were the god-kings of Egypt, such that the monarchy and the church were deeply intertwined). He left several inscriptions behind, to brag of his awesomeness. He claimed to be able to shoot an arrow throw a copper target one palm thick (::sneeze:: bullshit) and to be able to row his ship faster and farther than 200 members of the royal navy could row theirs (::sneeze they let him win::). Most scholars don’t believe a fucking word of it.
- Amenhotep became Pharaoh when he was 18, after his father’s death. He married a woman named Tiaa and had a lot of fucking kids. The official count is 10 sons and a daughter, but there is a lot of evidence that there were up to nine more. Hey, it’s good to be king!
- So yeah, Thutmose grew up with a lot of siblings and since he was not the eldest, there was no reason to think he would ever be Pharaoh. He was, however, the Pharaoh’s favorite child, so his elder brothers and half brothers treated him like shit. The eldest, in particular, hated him for being better liked than the king’s actual heir. The brothers spent a lot of their time coming up with schemes to try and undermine Thutmose’s credibility with their father. They also spread rumors among the people that Thutmose was cruel and vain, and that he did not honor the gods, so he should be exiled. The Pharaoh quickly quelled an negative sentiment, and Thutmose spent time amongst the people, serving and proving his worth.
- The brothers’ plan had backfired, so they set out to fucking kill him. Fortunately, Thutmose was on his guard now, so he saw the attempts (which were numerous and inventive) coming and was able to protect himself. Nevertheless, he was troubled and unhappy. Honestly, who can blame him? Who the hell would be happy having your siblings constantly trying to murder you into oblivion?
- Being a fairly smart guy, he decided to spend less time near his siblings in the capital city of Thebes or at his father’s court in Memphis. It got him farther away from erstwhile assassins and also made his brothers less inclined to kill him since it’s harder to be the favorite if you’re not around. More and more of Thutmose’s time was spent on expeditions to Upper Egypt or across the desert to the seven great oases. Infrequently, Pharaoh would demand his presence at some meeting or festival, and he would go, but he would sneak away with a few close friends and trusted advisors whenever possible. Taking a page from fairy tale royalty everywhere, he would go out in disguise, either to be amongst the people or to hunt along the desert’s edge.
- Because he’s the hero of this story, he was skilled in all of the super manly things a prince needed to be good at. He was excellent with a bow, like his father, and could plant arrow after arrow in the bullseye. There’s no word if he ever pulled a robin hood and split his own arrow with another arrow, but it would be in keeping with the flavor of the story. He was also a skilled charioteer, with horses faster than the wind (which, honestly, had more to do with being rich and powerful than being awesome). He would sometimes take his chariot and chase antelopes across the desert, or go seek out and hunt the mighty lions in the rocks along the banks of the Nile. Notice that nowhere on the list of necessary prince skills are diplomacy or statescraft. Not flashy enough, I guess.
- One day, a great festival was held at Heliopolis, northeast of modern Cairo and only a few miles downriver from the court at Memphis. It was in honor of Ra, the sun god. This was especially important because Ra was the ruler of the heavens and the earth, and the pharaohs were believed to be his earthly incarnations. Thutmose said “fuck that shit, let’s go hunting.” This was an especially important festival, so he only took two servants with him. His desire not to be either bored do death or straight up murdered shouldn’t keep them from having fun, right?
- He drove his chariot up the road past Saqqara, where you can find the great Step Pyramid of Djoser (an ancient Pharaoh). He kept riding past the stunted trees along the banks of the Nile and into the vast stretches of the Libyan desert. Because he really didn’t want to be around while everyone worshipped his dad, they had left at the first light of dawn, which gave them the most time to travel before the heat got unbearable near midday.
- As was his wont, he tracked the gazelle northwards for many miles, parallel to the track of the Nile, but many miles from it. I can’t imagine the gazelle much liked being chased for hours by some asshole in a chariot, but he was the child of a god king. He could fucking do what he wanted.
- The sun eventually rose high above, and the heat grew intense. They had traveled far, and decided to rest near the Great Pyramids of Giza. Those are the ones that I can pretty much guarantee you picture when I say ‘pyramid’. They had been built by the pharaohs of the 4th dynast some 1200 years before (his father was part of the 18th dynasty). Yeah, it’s easy to forget just how long ancient egypt was the fucking powerhouse. The empire began around 3150 BC and ruled until 20 BC when those upstarts the Romans invaded. To put it in context, Rome wouldn’t become a thing for another 900 years. So yeah, those fuckers knew how to build an empire without it all going to shit.
- The prince and his two servant rested under some palm trees, until Thutmose decided he needed some alone time. He got in his chariot, told them to stay there, and rode off. On the one hand, they weren’t really supposed to let royalty wander the desert alone. On the other, he HAD given them a direct order, and it was really hot out. They stayed put in the shade.
- Thutmose rode off to find a place to pray to Horus, who was a sky god. Unlike most sky gods, he didn’t live in the sky, he WAS the sky. It was said that the sun was his right eye and the moon was his left (sound at all like Nyame from the Anansi episode? A lot of these themes pop up in multiple cultures). Incidentally, Horus is often depicted as a sphinx with the head of a man, lion, or ram, depending on his mood.
- He rode for the three great pyramids of Khufu, Khafra, and Menkaura. The burning sun flashed from the pyramids, which used to be white, smooth surfaces with golden peaks, creating pillars of light up to the Boat of Ra traveling across the sky. He stood and gazed in wonder at the mighty pyramids, since he hadn’t seen them before. Princes were busy, and travel was tedious and dangerous. If he hadn’t left as early as he had and been as good with a chariot as he was, he never would have made it here today.
- He noticed something off beside the pyramids, buried in the sand. A gigantic head and neck rose out of the desert beside the road that led from the stone behemoths to the river Nile. It was clearly a carving of the god Horus. As he had set out to worship this very god, he took this for a sign. It turns out that, surprise, surprise, he was right.
- This carving was of the time Horus had taken the body of a lion to hunt the followers of Set, the god of storms, violence, chaos, and foreigners. The dude wasn’t all bad, though. I mean he was the god of everyone’s favorite villain “people who are slightly different from me in largely superficial ways’, but he was still important in the pantheon. It’s a pretty cool story that we’ll get into some other time, so I won’t go into it now.
- An ancient pharaoh, Khafra, had ordered the statue carved out of an outcrop of rock near the processional causeway that lead from the Nile to his great Pyramid. According to the story, he had ordered the sculptors to shape the face into his own likeness so that he could be reflected in this mighty image of Horus.
- Centuries had passed since then, and the desert winds had blown the sands against the sphinx, burying it. Only its head and shoulders were above the sand now. A slight ridge in the landscape behind it might be a dune, or it might be the statue’s back.
- Thutmose spent a long time staring at the majestic face, crowned in the cobra-headed sekhmeti, or double crown of the kings of egypt. Egypt used to be divide into Upper and Lower Kingdoms, but were unified under the first dynasty pharaoh Mens, who invented a crown incorporating both kingdoms’ crowns. The real crown was made of gold and the finest linen (to keep the sun off the king’s face); here, only the cobra head was made of gold (though since it was a big ass statue, that’s still a metric fuck ton of gold). The noonday sun beat mercilessly on the prince’s head as he prayed to Horus for guidance and wisdom in his family troubles (if murderous siblings can really be described as simply “trouble”).
- Suddenly, he saw the head begin to stir. It looked around, then began to struggle, working to heave itself out of its sandy tomb, but the weight was too much for it to free its paws or body. The eyes, which had previously been carved lapis lazuli, flashed in living frustration as it struggled. Eventually, it ceased its fight, and its gaze came to rest on the tiny human. It’s mouth opened, and a great booming voice echoed over the desert, loud but kind. Think of that scene from the Lion King when Mufasa’s ghost speaks to Simba (spoiler alert, I guess, though if you haven’t seen it by now, fuck you go see it).
- “Look upon me, Thutmose, Prince of Egypt! Know that I am Horus, your father and the father of all the Pharaohs of the Upper and Lower lands. Remember who you are! It’s up to you to become Pharaoh and to wear the Double Crown of South and North; it rests with you whether to take up your throne and have the peoples of the world come and do you homage, or to die in obscurity. Seriously, dude, it’s your choice. If you become king, all that is produce by this land shall be yours, and all the countries of the world will send you tribute. If you become king, long years, health, and strength shall be your. This I, Horus, so swear. And since I’ma god and shit, you know I’m good for it.
- Thutmose, I turn my face towards you and I want to bring you good things. Your spirit shall be armored in mine, but I need your help. Free me. See how the sand has closed in around me? It smothers me, it hold me down, it hides me from the eyes of the world. And it itches. Seriously, that spot on my back has been driving me nuts for centuries. Promise me, prince. Promise me that you will do what every good son does for his father – dig him out of the sand. Prove to me that you aren’t a shit head, and I will be by your side and guide you. Scratch my back, and I’ll scratch your, huh?”
- As Thutmose stood, stunned, the Sphinx’s eyes shone brighter and brighter. He felt dazzled. The world spun around him, and he dropped senseless to the desert sand. He lay there, alone in the sun, for hours. When he finally came to, it was evening and the sun as sinking towards Khafra’s pyramid. He found himself lying in the Sphinx’s shadow.
- He looked up at the statue, cold stone once again, and thought about what he had seen. Slowly, he came to a decision. “Hear me, gods of Egypt! Hear me, Horus my father! I vow that if I become Pharaoh, my first act as king will be to dig the Sphinx out of the sand and build a shrine to you. I will have a stone tablet with this story carved and placed inside, so that everyone will know of your command and how I fulfilled it!”
- Thutmose rose, climbed into his chariot, and got ready to try and drive. Given that he had been laying in the sun without water all day, he probably wasn’t up to it and might have killed himself trying. Fortunately, his servants rode up at that moment. They had been desperately looking for him all day. It’s not clear how much was fear for their prince and how much was fear that they would be executed if they lost him.
- He was able to ride back to Memphis rather than drive, so he made it in once piece. From that day forward, he seemed to live a charmed life. Not long after, Amenhotep the Pharaoh publicly decreed him heir to the throne. Not long afterwards, Thutmose did indeed become the King of Egypt, and was heralded as one of her greatest kings.
- In 1936, archaeologist Emile Baraize finally succeeded in uncovering the sphinx, a task which had begun in 1925. Between its paws was found the remains of a shrine holding a red granite tablet 14 feet high, which came to be known as the Dream Stele or the Sphinx Stele. Inscribed on its face was the story of Thutmose IV and the Sphinx, as Thutmose had promised.
- It was common for Pharaohs to make claims of divine legitimization of Pharaohship, so the whole story has to be taken with a massive grain of salt. The modern theory is that Thutmose only became the heir when his older brother or brothers (the historical accounts are less than clear, given the antiquity of his reign) died unexpectedly. It’s possible he had them killed, and it’s equally possible that he died of any one of a thousand things that could befall someone in ancient egypt. There’s really no way to know.
- As for the story of the Sphinx coming to life, there are several possible explanations. The first is that the whole thing was made up start to finish as a way to legitimize his reign in the eyes of the people. He likely wasn’t the original heir, so a tale of the god Horus decreeing him to be legitimate would go a long way. The second is that heat and the sun of his trip into the desert made him delirious, and he either passed out and dreamed the whole thing or hallucinated from dehydration.
- The third is that Thutmose suffered from familial temporal epilepsy. A surgeon at the Imperial College of London analyzed the early deaths of several of the 18th dynasty pharaohs, including Thutmose IV, Akhenaten, and Tutankhamen (AKA King Tut), and concluded that the family line likely suffered from it. TLE is the most common form of epilepsy with focal seizures. During the seizures, people have been known both to pass out and to remain conscious during the seizure. For the latter, people have reported unexplained intense emotions, loss of awareness, and dream-like states where they see, feel, hear, smell, and taste things that are not real. Such a diagnosis would explain why so many of the early Pharaohs would die young, and why so many reported religious visions and experiences.
- And with the Pharaoh properly diagnosed, it’s time for Gods and Monsters. This is a segment where I get into a little more detail about the personalities and history of one of the gods or monsters from this week’s pantheon that was not discussed in the main story. This week’s god is Ammit, the Devourer of the Dead. Unlike some of the other afterlife gods we’ve met in these stories so far, Ammit is one you definitely don’t want to run into in a dark underworld.
- She wasn’t so much worshipped as she was feared. Ammit was composed of some of the biggest, baddest, scariest animals that could eat an ancient Egyptian: the head of a crocodile, the chest and paws of a lion, and the ass and legs of a hippo. I know that most of you probably think it’s silly to be scared of hippos, but they’re incredibly aggressive, territorial, and very prone to attacking and killing humans. Seriously, they’re a lot more badass than people give them credit for.
- She lives near the scales of Justice in Duat, the Egyptian underworld. Achieving one’s reward in the afterlife was a fairly onerous task, requiring having a heart free from sin and the ability to recite the appropriate spells and passwords from the Book of the Dead.
- In the Hall of Two Truths, a soul would meet its first ordeal. He or she would stand before Anubis, Lord of the Dead, and have their heart weighed on the Scales of Justice against the Shu feather of truth and justice (usually shown as an ostrich feather) taken from the headdress of Ma’at, goddess of truth, balance, and law. If the heart were found to be lighter, then the soul could pass on to further trials. If not, Ammit would devour it, destroying their chance at going to Osiris and gaining immortality. Thus she is given the titles Devourer of the Dead, Eater of Hearts, and Great of Death.
- And those poor fuckers who had their hearts ripped out and eaten? Their souls would become restless for eternity, which was called dying a second time. This is the source of the myths of mummies and other egyptian undead: they are souls cursed to wander endlessly because Ammit ate their hearts.
- Understandably, Ammit was not worshiped. She was the embodiment of everything that they feared, a force of destruction to rip you apart if you did not follow the laws and the gods. So being an atheist in ancient egypt was a very dangerous proposition.
That’s it for this episode of Myth Your Teacher Hated. Keep up with new episodes on our Facebook page, on iTunes, on Stitcher or on TuneIn, or you can follow us on Twitter as @HardcoreMyth. You can also find news and episodes on our website at myths your teacher hated dot com. If you like what you’ve heard, I’d appreciate a review on iTunes. These reviews really help increase the show’s standing and let more people know it exists. If you have any questions, any gods or monsters you’d want to learn about, or any ideas for future stories that you’d like to hear, feel free to drop me a line. I’m trying to pull as much material from as many different cultures as possible, but there are all sorts of stories I’ve never heard, so suggestions are appreciated. I want to give a shout out to the fine folks at the You Meet in a Tavern podcast. It’s a show where a group of normal guys playing their first 5th Edition D&D game. It’s a fun, irreverent place to see some of the monsters I discuss here in action. The theme music is by Tiny Cheese Puff, whom you can find on fiverr.com.
Next time, we’ll be exploring one of the ancient myths of Judaism. You’ll learn that ancient Jews invented the idea of malevolent spirits having unfinished business, that being possessed can be both better and worse than you’d think, and that being a widow in the 16th century was much, much harder that you knew. Then, in Gods and Monsters, it’s the terrifying fallen angel responsible for dragging the souls of the wicked to Jewish Hell in perfect silence. That’s all for now. Thanks for listening.