The Papyrus of Setna is a papyrus of very ancient date, dealing with the personality
of Prince Setna Kha-em-ust (Khâemouaset), son of Rameses II of Egypt, and said to have been
discovered by him under the head of a mummy in the Necropolis at Memphis.
necromancy, was one day exhibiting his acquirement to the learned men of the
court, when an old man gave him a magic book containing two spells written
by the hand of Thoth himself, the god of wisdom. He who repeated the first spell
bewitched thereby heaven and earth and the realm of night, the mountains and
the depth of the sea; he knew the fowls of the air and every creeping thing; he
saw the fishes, for a divine power brought them up out of the depth. He who read
the second spell should have power to resume his earthly shape, even though he
dwelt in the grave; to see the sun rising in the sky with all the gods and the moon
in the form wherein she displays herself. Setna inquired where this book was to be
found, and learned that it was lying in the tomb of Nefer-ka-Ptah, a son of King
Mer-neb-ptah (who is nowhere else named), and that any attempt to take away the
book would certainly meet with obstinate resistance. These difficulties did not
keep Setna from his adventure. He entered the tomb of Nefer-ka-Ptah, where he
found not only the dead man, but the Ka of his wife Ahuri and their son, though these
latter had been buried in Koptos. But as in many other tales among many other
people, success brought no blessing to the man who had disturbed the repose of the
dead. Setna fell in love with the daughter of a priest at Memphis, who turned out to be
a witch, and took advantage of his intimate connection with her to bring him to ignominy
At length, the prince recognized and repented of the sacrilege he had committed in carrying off the book, and brought it back to Nefer-ka-Ptah. In the hope of atoning to some extent for his sin he journeyed to Koptos, and finding the graves of the wife and child of Nefer-ka-Ptah, he solemnly, restored their mummies to the tomb of the father and husband, carefully closing the tomb he had so sacrilegiously disturbed.
The second text: Three magic tales, interwoven one with another, are brought into connection with Saosiri, the supernaturally born son of Setna. In the first, Saosiri, who was greatly Setna's superior in the arts of magic, led his father down into the underworld. They penetrated into the judgment-hall of Osiris, where the sights they saw convinced Setna that a glorious future awaited the poor man who should cleave to righteousness, while he who led an evil life on earth, though rich and powerful, must expect a terrible doom. Saosiri next succeeded in saving his father, and with him all Egypt, from great difficulty by reading without breaking the seal of a closed letter brought by an Ethiopian magician, whom he thus forced to recognise the superior power of Egypt. The last part of the text tells of a powerful magician once dwelling in Ethiopia who modeled in wax a litter with
four bearers to whom he gave his life. He sent them to Egypt, and at his command they
sought out Pharaoh in his palace, carried him off to Ethiopia, and, after giving him five
hundred blows with a cudgel, conveyed him during the same night back to Memphis.
Next morning the king displayed the weals on his back to his courtiers, one of whom,
Horus by name, was sufficiently , skilled in the use of amulets to ward off by their
means an immediate repetition of the outrage. Horus then set forth to bring from
Hermopolis, the all-powerful magic book of the god Thoth, and by its aid he
succeeded in treating the Ethiopian king as the Ethiopian sorcerer had treated Pharaoh.
The foreign magician then hastened to Egypt to engage in a contest with Horus in
magic tricks. His skill was shown to be inferior, and in the end he and his mother
received permission to return to Ethiopia under a solemn promise not to set foot on
Egyptian territory for a space of fifteen hundred years.