Ancient Egyptian Culture And Symbolism In The Tale Of The Shipwrecked Sailor

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Seemingly just a quaint short story, the “Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor” actually has a lot of deeper meaning and symbolism that can be easily overlooked. It is an ancient story, originating from around 2000-1700 BC, during the so-called Middle Kingdom period of Egyptian history. The ties to Ancient Egypt culture and beliefs become apparent throughout the narrative. The "Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor" displays subtle themes throughout the story, but the focus will be on divinity and the significance of the number three.

The Ancient Egyptian story, the "Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor," begins with the narrator, an attendant, attempting to reassure his “lord,” presumably the narrator’s master (212). The reader learns that the master and narrator
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He explains that, “a man’s mouth can save him” (212). At this point the where the narrator begins talking about his tale of a failed voyage. The narrator’s story begins with his crew setting out to go to the king’s mines. A massive wave strikes his ship and causes it to sink. The narrator was the only one of the crew to survive the disaster. A wave carries him to an island. When the narrator decides to search for food, he discovers “there was nothing that was not there” (212). After stuffing himself, he proceeds to make a fire and makes burnt offerings to the gods. The ground trembles as massive snake, with a body overlaid in gold and eyebrows of lapis lazuli, appears. The snake asks, “who brought you, who brought you, fellow, who brought you” (212-213)? The snake threatens the narrator for not answering and then carries the narrator back to where the snake lives. Again, the snake proceeds to ask who brought the narrator three times again. The narrator then explains his journey, repeating much of what was said earlier in the story. The snake tells the narrator to not be afraid and explains that a god let the narrator …show more content…
However, just because the story was written around 2000- 1700 B.C., it does not mean the story lacks deeper meanings. The way the snake speaks in the story is notable. The snake asks, “who brought you, who brought you, fellow, who brought you” (212-213)? Multiple times in the story, the snake repeats a question or statement exactly three times. In Ancient Egypt, the number three had multiple connotations, one of them being related to the gods. “The three major deities…Amun of Thebes, Re of Heliopolis, and Ptah of Memphis, formed one of the most important triads” (Wilkinson, 132). Thus, the recurring theme of the snake’s speaking manner suggests the snake has some type of connection to the gods. The snake is obviously supernatural, being described as being “thirty cubits [in length, while] his beard was two cubits long” (212). His body is “overlaid with gold [and] his eyebrows were of real lapis lazuli” (212). On top of the snake’s mystical appearance, the snake also is able to speak with the narrator, and states prophecies that always come true. The snake prophesizes that the narrator “shall embrace [his] children, [he] shall kiss [his] wife, [he] shall see [his] home” (213). The quote shows another example of the snake making a statement in a set of three, but also mentions family. “Divine triads were also often grouped in a father, mother, and son

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