Setne Khamwas and Naneferkaptah (Setne 1 )
Egypt is a land of ancient storied history. Stories and fables in any culture often have intentions behind them other than simple entertainment. Setne Khamwas and Naneferkaptah is a story that has very clear cultural teachings when the historical perspective is brought into the fold. The story is broken up into four main sections due to fragmentation over the many years. These four sections are as follows: Setne Khamwas and Naneferkaptah, Setne takes the book, Setne and Taboubu, and Setne returns the book. The lessons that were taught to Egyptians through this story could stem from the social position of the main character, Setne Khamwas.
Expectations of Earthly Divinity
The main character of story is the son of the legendary Pharaoh of Egypt, Ramses II. The son of the Pharaoh is not a position that should be taken lightly. Pharaohs were, depending on the time period, considered divine beings. This stems from the position that the god of the dead, Osiris, held while he still was alive. Osiris was considered the first king of Egypt according to social customs. Over time Pharaohs began to adopt a combination of religious and bureaucratic leadership. As they stepped into the religious role, they imitated Osiris. They carried a crook to symbolize their role in guiding the nation just like Osiris. They also carried a threshing flail associated with the health of their crops.
Horus, the god of war and the sky, was later also incorporated into this social custom. Horus is the son of Osiris, so expectations would be placed on the Pharaoh’s children to also adhere to a very important social value called ma’at. This social value was represented by a deity of the same name.
Ma’at – Truth, Justice, Harmony, and Balance
Ma’at is a very important cultural concept based on four core values. Truth, Justice, Harmony, and Balance. The deity of the same name is a vital deity present in the most important aspects of Egyptian belief structures. Her feather of truth is the weight that a person’s soul is weighed against after they die. She follows Ra on his chariot in battle against Apophis every day the sun soars across the sky. She was spoken into existence by Ra at the beginning of the world. Ra’s goal for Ma’at was to keep the world functioning on a rational level. Such an important cultural figure or the values she represents would be taught in many different ways. Setne 1 as a text can be interpreted as a cautionary tale regarding once status and mindset in relation to Ma’at.
The Values of Ma’at in Setne 1
Setne 1 begins with a cautionary tale told to Setne by Ahwere regarding the Book of Thoth. She tells him how she lost her son, husband and her own life due to a lust for power. They sought the power of a god as a mortal and suffered the consequences. The powers described in Setne 1 also have to be interpreted with historical context as they are incredibly important to Egyptian society. The powers listed by the old priest were as follows: control over the sky, earth, netherworld, mountains and water, control over birds, reptiles and fish, the ability to observe Ra and the Ennead(other gods). This book’s spells would effectively make a mortal being as powerful as a deity. Consider the values of Ma’at. How would the balance of the mortal world be completely thrown off course if a mortal Pharaoh gained such a power?
Setne’s decision to pursue the Book of Thoth is the first strike against Setne’s adhereance to Ma’at because he is neglecting his duties as a prince. Moreover he does so in order to gain a power that is out of his league. Next we must consider the aspect of Ma’at, truth. Furthering his failure to adhere to Ma’at he commits a wrong by stealing the book through lying and trickery to acquire this power. This is directly in conflict with his social position. Especially when the son of a Pharaoh represents Horus, a being that is the antithesis to the chaos god Seth. Lastly, Setne’s treatment of Taboubu very much represents a complete loss of duty. Setne threatens Taboubu with rape and also ends up having his own children killed due to his lust for Taboubu. This very much clashes with the Ma’at value of justice and harmony. During the section Setne and Taboubu, Setne is completely out of his mind and deluded. His life is not harmonious in the slightest while he commits an attrocity for Taboubu. In a society where a Pharaoh is viewed as a connection to the divine, his son/inheritor should also hold such divine values. As citizens of Egypt in the ancient day, it would also be a cautionary tale that your social position does not dictate your adherence to deity’s wills.
Works Cited –
Mark, Joshua J. “Ma’at.” World History Encyclopedia, World History Encyclopedia, 28 Apr. 2022, https://www.worldhistory.org/Ma’at/.
Mark, Joshua J. “Setna I: A Detailed Summary & Commentary.” World History Encyclopedia, World History Encyclopedia, 30 Apr. 2022, https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1056/setna-i-a-detailed-summary–commentary/.