It is a common belief across many of the Ancient cultures, and indeed in religions today that we are not the first race of humans to walk the Earth. The lore of Greek, Roman, Near Eastern, Mayan, Aztec and even Christian legend refer to the destruction of a primordial race of humans. Regardless of the reasons why, these ancestors shared a common doom. The belief of the Egyptians was no different. In this short myth, humanity was punished for their disloyalty to their gods, and taught humility – by way of unrivalled slaughter.
Legend tells that Ra, the god of the Sun and the supreme deity, was born of a cosmic egg to the darkness that was known as Nun. The new god was imbued with ultimate power; if he spoke a name, that which he had named would take form and come into being. Ra first declared his mastery of the heavens:
“'I am Khepri at the dawn, and Ra at noon and Atum in the evening'. And the sun rose and passed across the sky for the first time.”
|The Egyptian Cosmos|
Photograph in the public domain
Ra possessed the gift to change his shape at will, and could take on the form of other gods according to his role. These forms were worshipped across the land of Egypt. The master god then turned his attention to Creation. He named Shu, and the first winds blew. He named Tefnut, whose spit was the first rain to fall. He named Geb, and the Earth was born. He named Nut, who arched over Geb and with her hands clasped one horizon and her feet the other to form the Sky. He named Hapy, who lay in the land and formed the Great River Nile, the life force and heart of the land of Egypt, which grew lush from its waters. From the tears of Ra, mankind was born to the land of Egypt. The legends say that Ra came down to the Earth in the shape of a man and ruled Egypt as the first Pharaoh. The people and land of Egypt grew strong and prosperous under his rule, and the regular floods of the Nile gave such bounty that the time of Ra would always be remembered as the Golden Age.
|Ra rules over mankind|
Painting from the 22nd Dynasty, in the Louvre
Yet, in the form of a man, Ra grew old in body. Men no longer feared their god and his laws. “His bones were of silver, his flesh of gold, and his hair of lapis lazuli (A precious stone revered for its intense blue)”, men would say. Ra burned with anger at man. His rage grew greater still as he saw the foul deeds men did in disobedience of his laws. Ra called to council the gods and asked of them their opinion. This council he held in secret, away from man, who continued to mock the gods and violate their laws. Nun, the primordial chaos, urged Ra to strike down humanity:
“The fear of thee is great when thy Eye is against them who scheme against thee!"
- NUN URGES RA TO DESTROY MAN