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            Throughout Egyptian history, the Nile River has been both a blessing and a curse.  If the annual flood was too high, the overflowing river would create havoc.  If, after a period of time, it was too low, there would be famine.  Joseph's prediction to the Pharaoh of seven fat years and seven lean years was a true reflection of what had been occurring since Predynastic times.  One particularly harsh famine occurred during the reign of the Third Dynasty pharaoh Djoser (2639-2620 BC).  According to a popular legend, this seven-year famine was caused by the neglect of the Egyptians in worshiping Khnemu, god of the First Cataract.  After discovering the cause of the famine, King Djoser restored the offerings and worship of Khnemu so that the Nile flooded the land in abundance.

      The Legend of Seven Years Famine, which is carved in the hieroglyphic board linked below, is based upon the text of an unknown Egyptian scribe and inscribed later on a stele found in the Nile near the Aswan Dam.  Although it covers the famine during Djoser's reign, it was written during the Ptolemaic period twenty-five centuries after the actual event.  In spite of its general accuracy, the board is an artistic inscription rather than an exact copy of an existing artifact.  Note the numbered portions of the translated text, which correspond to the subsequent diagram (translation key) also linked to this document.  To follow the flow of hieroglyphic text (left to right), match the numbers of the translation to the linked hieroglyphic key and board.  

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                          Hieroglyphic Board (Refer to text below.)                                                         Translation (Refer to text below.)






            [1] In the eighteenth year of the Djoser, King of Upper and Lower Egypt and Lord the Shrines of Uatchit and Nekhebit, when Matar was Governor of Elephantine, there was brought unto him the following dispatch:

             This is to inform thee that misery hath laid hold upon me [2] as I sit upon the Great throne...My heart is grievously afflicted by reason of the great evil which hath happened because the Nile hath not come forth in my time for seven years.  Grain is scarce, vegetables are lacking, every kind of thing which men eat for their food hath ceased, and every man now plundereth [3] his neighbor.  Men wish to walk but are unable to move, the child waileth, the young man draggeth his limbs along, and the hearts of the aged folk are crushed with despair.  Their legs give way under them, they sink down to the ground, and their hands are laid upon their bodies in pain.  The nobles are destitute of counsel, and when the storehouses which should contain supplies are opened, there cometh forth nothing but wind.  Everything [4] is in state of ruin.  My mind remembered going back to former times, to the time of the gods...and I asked “Where is the birthplace of the Nile?  What god or what goddess presideth over it?...  What manner of form hath he?  It is he who establisheth [5] revenue for me and a full store of grain.  I would go to the Chief of Het-Sekhet, whose beneficence strengthens all men in their works.  I would enter into the House of Life, I would unfold the written rolls therein, and I would lay my hand upon them.  Then Matar set out on his journey, and he returned to me straightaway.  He gave me instruction concerning the increase of Hapi (the Nile) and told me [6] all things which men had written concerning it, and he revealed to me the secret doors whereto my ancestors had betaken themselves quickly, the life of which has never been to any king since the time of Re. . .

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Stele of Seven Years Famine found on Sehel Island, near the Aswan Dam