PLATO AND THOTH: Dialogue, writing and community

09/24/2017 17:48

My parents told me that I did not speak until I was more than three years old. This sounds somewhat strange to me, though considering that their children's development is close to heart of most parents, they were probably right. After opening my mouth for the first time to express comprehensible words, there has been an incessant flow of them. I am seldom tongue-tied.  As long as I can remember, I have without hesitation spoken up in public, no matter how big or small an audience might have been. One of my many bosses, the worst I ever had, often told me: "Jan, you must learn to edit yourself." She was certainly right. To my disgrace, I tend to expose unnecessary platitudes, letting myself go and easily fall into other´s speech.

This despite of being a fairly taciturn person, who likes to be by myself - alone in big cities or out in the woods, enclosed by books, music and pictures, or as now – busying myself with pointless writing. Nevertheless, I also like to be with friends and my dear ones. For some time I have now been alone in my parents' home, filled as it is with memories from my deceased father and mother.  When I end up among others I thus become like a calf released on green pastures, talking about anything entering my mind, like an alcoholic who after a time of forced sobriety loses himself in unrestrained alcohol consumption.

I recently visited a good friend of mine, who occasionally expresses opinions that appear to be quite different from mine. While happily tumbling around in my own sea of ​​opinions I found out how fine I felt while responding to his criticism and opposing arguments. I assume that this is how an ideal dialogue ought to proceed; dynamic and exciting. Apparently different views are confronted with each other, knocked down and bleeding, or fine-tuned and transformed, while being fired by good food and fine beverages. We dive into depths of our subconscious, bringing up debated issues, spicing them with what we have read and heard, occasionally unearthing old beliefs, unexpectedly found among "the grime and mold of time". Our species is not only Homo Sapiens, but also Homo Ludens, The Playful Man and Homo Interlocutor, The Talking Man. The opposite to being listened to may be tedious or even worse – the torment of being ignored, unfairly attacked or confronted with paralyzing refusals to move an inch from preconceived opinions. Situations that might end up in unrestrained shouting and even violence.

A few days after the aforementioned dinner, I talked with the priest who was going to conduct my mother's funeral. We became engaged in an intensive dialogue about the meaning of life, the presence of God, about aesthetics and dogma. Soon both I and the priest became deeply moved. We found that, in spite of our different positions as priest and layman, we nevertheless easily could exchange our innermost thoughts and experiences in a thought provoking manner. A mutual and unobtrusive dialogue, which in me highlighted previously unknown feelings and knowledge, hitherto secluded in some forgotten quarters and meanderings off my brain.

This now makes me think of of Plato (428-348 BC), the undisputed master of dialogue. The Greek διάλογος consists of διά, dia, "through" and λόγος logos a word originating from λέγω, "I say." It is usually stated that logos correspond to what we may call "word", though Greek philosophers did of course elaborate on the notion much further than that. First out was Herakleitos, who believed that logos expressed our attempt to articulate what we assume is the inherent order of Universe, i.e. the rules and regulations that govern the entire Cosmos. By naming an animal with wings and feathers "bird" we would be able to specify it, by naming things and phenomena we bring order to an environment that otherwise would appear to be quite chaotic. We create a pattern within which the term "bird" has been provided with a fixed position, thus we create order, i.e. cosmos (from κoσμειν kosmein, “to dispose, to prepare”). We are living within a contexture of words that we share with other people - a language. Our language includes all our "knowledge" and thus constitutes what we commonly call a “logic”. That which does not fit within such a structure accordingly becomes "illogical" and thus incomprehensible. Through dialogue, in the meaning “talking in accordance to logic”, we are strengthening our understanding of the universe.

In Plato´s dialogue Phaedrus, Socrates runs into the young Phaedrus, who after a morning in the company of the famous orator Lysias decided to take a lonely walk "outside the walls" to to gather his thoughts. To the much older Socrates, Phaedrus praises the amazing eloquence of Lysias The speech was so brilliantly conceived that Phaedrus feels he had to be alone and concentrated to recall its beautiful details. Socrates asks Phaedrus to repeat some of the highlights, but Phaedrus explains that he is incapable to do so. Socrates then spots that the young man fumbles with a scroll among the folds of his cloak and thus understands that Phaedrus is carrying with him a written copy of the speech and succeeds in persuading him to read it to him.

Through Plato's spirited and effortless retelling of the episode we are relocated to a past, exotic world in which well-off men spent much of their time devoting themselves to wine drenched parties and lighthearted conversations, while women and slaves were relegated the periphery, being denied most of their human and civil rights. Nevertheless, Plato make these pleasure seeking men share thoughts and opinions that, after more than two thousand years, make us believe that they, after all, were not so different from us. Several of them appear to be unusually clever and sharp, not the least Plato´s hero, the smart and tolerant Socrates.

For his convincingly described and perfectly-controlled dialogue Phaedrus Plato depicts an archaic landscape, which frames Phaedrus's and Socrates's stimulating talk about love, changing perceptions and the limitations of the written word:

Phaedrus: It seems it´s just as well I happen to be barefoot; you always are. So we can easily go along the stream with our feet in the water; and it won´t be unpleasant, particularly at this time of year and of the day.

Socrates: Lead on, then, and keep a lookout for a place to sit down.

Phaedrus: Well, you see that very tall plane-tree?

Socrates: Of course.

Pahedrus: There´s shade and a moderate breeze there, and grass to sit on, or lie on, if we like. […] The rivulets look attractively pure and clear – just right for young girls to play beside.



They settle down in the lush grass by a rippling source. Phaedrus reads aloud Lysias's speech. Socrates is commending its composition and excellent choice of words, though soon the reader finds that even if Socrates states that it is a skillfully conceived speech, an excellent example of eloquence, he nevertheless considers it to be a superficial creation. A piece of craftsmanship without depth or meaning, filled with varied, but shamelessly repeated phrases it does not say anything of value. Socrates´s criticism makes Phaedrus upset and he asks Socrates to deliver a better speech. Socrates pretends to be reluctant, but he is really not difficult to convince and soon deliver not only one, but two speeches, each of them smothering Lysias's arguments.

In his first speech, Socrates describes, contrary to the opinion expressed by Lysias, love as a feeling that cannot be mastered and understood through reason. In spite of the fact that Socrates argues that rhetoric is an essentially useless skill, a public undertaking comparable to the crafts of cooks and cosmetologists, he nevertheless masterly constructs his speech based on strict rhetorical rules. However, Socrates cuts his speech short, becoming increasingly uncomfortable with his own performance. Disgusted by his cynical arguments he suddenly wants to return to town. However, Phaedrus persuades him to stay and Socrates decides to "purge" himself by expressing his innermost feelings in a more honest way. He throws himself into a myth of his own making, describing love as the soul´s attempt to free itself from its fixation on the fulfilment of physical urges. On the contrary true love is an attempt to transform violent lust and desire. A lover is by his love of another human being carried far beyond the limitations of his daily toil.

Mῦθος, mythos, might to some extent be said to equal the word "fairytale", but by Plato it means much more than that. For him myth telling becomes a way to simplify and clarify philosophical reasoning. Like religious teachers, such as Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad, he uses narratives and legends to make his message understandable. Like them, Socrates creates his own myths. Love is described through a myth, which places it beyond good and evil, beyond true and false. Myths become pictures, interpretations of our existence, of Cosmos, and it is only through myths that love may be represented.

In his second speech, Socrates describes love as the soul's pursuit of liberation from the shackles created by what we call the reality. Through love, the soul is trying to retrieve its lost wings. It strives to return to a blessed existence beyond good and evil, merging with Cosmos and forgetting it is a stranger on earth.

Through narrow-minded cynics like Lysias, love is diminished to a bodily urge. Like hunger it becomes an impulse that might be saturated for a while, before it is awaken anew. For a true philosopher, a friend of wisdom, love is something completely different. The memory of a cosmic timelessness, which we all once was part of. A liberated state within which we forget our everyday endeavors and concerns. Love allows us to embrace feelings of happiness and harmony, offering them both to ourselves and to the one we love. Every soul seeks a friend reminiscent of the god who was once his companion during the cosmic life that preceded the existence we ​​now endure.

Apart from love, which unfortunately tends to be volatile, it is difficult to find happiness beyond our regrettable everyday existence. Perhaps poetry, music and art, which Socrates probably was familiar with, sine tradition makes him a sculptor, might provide us with a glimpse of the happiness and harmony concealed beyond our existence. But the insights and pleasures that art and literature might provide us with are incomplete and transitory. Plato seems to scorn the arts, regarding them as a chimera, an evanescent drug. In Phaedrus, he allows Socrates to claim that it is the pursuit of beauty and kindness that saves us from falling into despair.

Music and art cannot be an answer to our quest for bliss and happiness. Like music and mathematics, aesthetics are only able to describe and simplify. Plato's apparently assumes that written language is just as insufficient and treacherous as the arts, a simple drug. Yet he was an extremely productive author. In Phaedrus, Plato writes:

The gardens of letters he [a writer] will, it seems, plant for amusement, and will write, when he writes, to treasure up reminders for himself, when he comes to the forgetfulness of old age, and for others who follow the same path, and he will be pleased when he sees them putting forth tender leaves. 

Having company along the road - dialogue, meetings and togetherness - is probably the best way to gain spiritual calm. Like love when it is at its best – dialogue, passion and consensus gratify us far better than written texts. Written texts have a number of shortcomings that the spoken word lack. A written text cannot change. It states the same thing all the time. If it occasionally appears to be different from the last time we read it, this is not because of the text itself - it is our lives, experiences and meetings with others that have changed its meaning. According to Plato, a written text has a lot in common with a painting, which creatures remain silent, but nevertheless are open to different interpretations at different times.

Written texts do not respond if they are spoken to, nor can they search us out. They certainly constitute an asset in our search for harmony and happiness, but it is the close contact with other human beings that strengthen us. Our soul and spiritual growth require the warmth and dynamism of an honest dialogue.

To be sure of the impact and usefulness of her/his writing, an author must read them to friends, who understand understand them and are able to criticize, or pay tribute to, the thoughts behind the text. In Phaedrus, Socrates compares written texts with a peasant's Adonis Gardens. Adonis was a fertility god and an important part of his cult was constituted by his gardens. This meant that a farmer took seeds from his crops, sowed them in pots and then kept them indoors, cared for and watered them until they developed sprouts far earlier than the seed that sprouted on his fields. After a few weeks, when the potted gardens had become lush and green, they were carried away by young women. Singing and dancing they went down to the sea, or lakes and springs, where the pots were thrown into the water.

Socrates explained that in comparison with conversations and dialogues, Adonis gardens were like writings - greenhouse products which usefulness was quite insignificant in comparison with planted fields, which fruits benefited both peasants and consumers. Furthermore, there were other difficulties connected with the written word. A writer is usually alone and cannot receive neither help with, nor response to his writing. On the contrary, during a conversation new thoughts are constantly being born and their phrasing becomes considerably easier since others assist you with reactions and ideas, this while the lonely endeavour of writing words requires specific skills, knowledge of the language, various means of expression, as well as mindfulness about the targeted audience and possibilities for publication. Something that can make anyone despair and give up her/his writing.

The Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelöf, suffering from alcoholism and anxiety, often despaired about his writing and complained about the painful inadequacy of the written word:

We will begin over, i and he she it.

we will begin over.

i and she it. We will begin over.

crush the alphabet between your teeth yawn vowels the fire is burning in hell vomit and split now or ever i and dizziness now or never.



In ancient Egypt, scribes were privileged citizens and scriptures holy. The word hieoroglyph is Greek and means "holy sign", probably a transfer from the Egyptian denomination of scripture as Word of God. God is in singular and thus it is possible that the god in question is Thoth, mediator between the gods and between gods and humans. He is protector of everything; including law and order, the scriptures and the scribes. Thoth's task is to ensure that the rules of the Universe are followed, he is thus also god of math and time. It was Thoth who brought scripture and time to the humans, in the form of calendars and hieroglyphs. Thoth was married to Ma'at, goddess of truth, equilibrium, harmony, law, morality and justice. Thoth was generally depicted with an ibis's head, an allusion to the fact that the bird's beak´s resembles a crescent moon. Since the moon was considered to rule over time, menstrual cycles, tides and months, Thoth was also god of the moon.

We tend to regard ancient times as a period when people lived far apart from each other and that contact was insignificant between the Hittite, Syrian, Egyptian, Etruscan, and Greek cultural spheres. In fact, communication was not so meagre in the ancient Mediterranean - even during the Bronze Age, goods and ideas were exchanged between people living in widely different places.

A few years ago, I and my wife visited our friend Hasan in the Turkish town of Bodrum by the Aegean Sea. In the city museum we saw cargo which had been salvaged from a vessel that more than three thousand four hundred years ago had sank by Uluburun, Grand Cape, close to Kaş on Turkey´s southern coast. The type of vessel and its cargo, which was brought to the surface between1984 and 1994, suggested that it had sailed from a Syrian-Palestinian port. 

The goods had originally come as far away as from the Baltic Sea coast in the north and the African shores of the Arabian Sea in the south, from Sicily and Sardinia in the West and Mesopotamia in the East. Nevertheless, it was certainly a quite ordinary, commercial merchant ship. The load contained ten tonnes of copper and one ton of lead from Cyprus and the Hittite Empire. 149 pots from Syria, containing glass beads, olives, large amounts of turpentine (pistacia) and 175 small blocks of turquoise and lavender coloured glass from Egypt. Ebony timber, elephant and hippopotamus tusks, turtle shells and ostrich eggs from Africa. Oil lamps and painted pots, in the form of women's and sheep's heads from Palestine, a cosmetic box from Egypt, a trumpet, two dozen rings made of mother of pearl of unknown origin, amber beads from the Baltic Sea. Jewellery in gold and silver, arrows and spikes, clubs and daggers, swords from Mycenae and Italy, plows, weights, pebbles, axes and saws. A complete set of armour from Mesopotamia. Pots contained remains of almonds, figs, olives, pomegranates, grapes, cumin, thistle oil, sumac, coriander, pine nuts and wheat. Below is a display stand with some of the jewellery originating from Egypt.

Greece was thus far from being isolated from the outside world and it is not surprising that several Egyptian myths appear in Plato´s dialogues. For example, in the dialogues of Timaios and Critias, he tells about the lost island of Atlantis. Plato tells us that the Greek lawyer Solon was told about Atlantis by priests at Neith's temple in Sais. Neith was a powerful creation goddess, who ruled over war, hunting and weaving. In parenthesis, my youngest daughter is just now in Sais, located in the Nile delta, participating in excavations looking for Neith's lost temple.

Plato clearly indicates where his Egyptian myths came from. In connection with his criticism of written language, he does in Phaedrus retell a story about the Egyptian god Thoth:

At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters.

Naukratis had since the beginning of the 700's BC been a Greek trading city in the Nile delta and remained for several centuries the most significant Greek colony in Egypt, with an interesting Egyptian-Greek culture. In modern times, several papyrus fragments with Greek texts have been found in Naukratis and it was further south, in the town of Oxyrhynchus, that in 1897 the oldest fragmentary version of Phaedrus was found, on a sheet of papyrus from the year 109.

Plato and his contemporaries certainly knew about the big libraries in Egyptian temples, called Houses of Life. Egypt was by several Greek philosophers considered as a foreign and exotic country, though with an ancient and profound, written tradition. They assumed that long ago both mathematics and letters had been invented by the Egyptians.

In Phaedrus, Socrates tells us that in a remote era, the mighty god Thoth had appeared in person to an Egyptian pharaoh called Thamus. Thoth had told the pharaoh about several inventions he with his help wanted to donate to the Egyptian people. After each gift, Thamus rejoiced and praised the great generosity of the god. Finally, Thot presented Thamus with the letters:

This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific gift both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

Through Thamus, Plato describes writing as a drug. The word he uses is pηαρμακον pharmakon a composite of several meanings; remedy, poison, spell and scapegoat. Plato seems to be well aware of the different implications of the word and thus uses it on purpose.

Well aware of its well-stocked libraries and ancient writing tradition, Plato appears to regard the Egyptian empire as a culture that did not promote boldness, change and personal initiative, but used its preserved writings to guarantee that ancient customs and stability were respected. In his dialogue The Laws, Plato described Egyptian art as static and governed by hard, unchanging laws:

[the patterns of] forms and strains of virtue [are] fixed and exhibited in their temples; and no painter or artist is allowed to innovate upon them, or to leave the traditional forms and invent new ones. To this day, no alteration is allowed either in these arts, or in music at all. And you will find that their works of art are painted or moulded in the same forms which they had ten thousand years ago; - this is literally true and no exaggeration, - their ancient paintings and sculptures are not a whit better or worse than the work of today, but are made with just the same skill.

It is hard to determine if Plato believed the Egyptian conservatism to be an asset or not. Either he assumed that strict rules prevented the confusing diversity that characterized the art of his Greek contemporaries, or that, like the written language, it hindered dynamics, individual thinking and initiatives. Instead of relying on his own intelligence and ability, the reader, like the Egyptian artist, adapt himself to pre-fabricated notions. Plato appears to regard his own writings as an old man´s vice and a limitation, pointing out that his idol Socrates did not write a single line, yet he managed to change the thinking of his followers, who in their turn have had an indelible impact on the following generations.

While reading Plato, I come to think of the directives of the Swedish Skolverket (The National Agency for Education), which point to the dangers of unreasonably absorbing the massive information flow of the the intranet:

Being able to critically review and evaluate information is an ability needed in all school work and by the citizens of an information society. We offer material that provide you, as a teacher and school librarian, with in-depth knowledge of how digital tools are supporting learning. It also includes advice on how to work with critical perspectives on internet usage. It is about how you can train students in information retrieval and source criticism. You will also work on building critical perspectives on algorithms, search and social networking services.

It appears as if the National Agency for Education, like Plato, believes that writing and reading have to be supplemented by dialogue.

Several hundred years before BC, Egyptian priests wrote about the vast amount of writings available to priests and scribes. Foremost among them was Mantho, who lived around 300 BC. According to him, there were 36,525 books that had been written by Thoth and which were preserved in the Houses of Life in temples all over Egypt. This makes me remember Borges´s story about the Library in Babel, which books contained all possible combinations of letters, punctuation marks and spaces. Most of the employees of that library had by their desperation been driven to paralyzing lethargy or insanity, while others who called themselves Purifiers destroyed all books they considered to be nonsense, while searching for a place they called the Crimson Hexagon, which they assumed contained illustrated, magical books that would provide clues to the library's core of wisdom and knowledge. Others were searching for what they assumed would be a book containing a perfect, topic-based register of the library´s collection. Some believed in the existence of a messianic figure they named The Man of the Book, who had read and understood the library index and thereby could convey the essence of the library's collected information. In search of this mythical figure, they travelled in groups through the vast universe of the library.

Several Egyptian priests and scribes also believed in the existence a book that could explain the Universe's structure, purpose and meaning. They called it the Book of Thoth and it was assumed that it contained, among other things, spells that would make it possible for those who pronounced them to understand all languages ​​of humans and animals. Other formulas made it possible to see the sun, the moon and the stars in their correct forms, perceive the gods in all their glory and understand all secrets of heavens, earth and the underworld.

The legend of the Book of Thoth book narrates how one of Ramses's hundred sons, Setne Chaemwase, in search of the desirable book, penetrated the tomb of the late Prince Neterkaptah.There he was confronted with Neterkaptah's mummy, on whose side he met the Ka, the vital essence of a human surviving death, of Prince Neterkaptah's wife, Ahwere.  

Ahwere´s Ka told Setne about hers and her husband's sad fate. Neterkaptah had from an old priest learned that the Book of Thoth book laid buried under the water of the Nile, in a place called Coptos. There the large papyrus roll had been stored within an iron box, which concealed a bronze chest, which contained another five coffins of mulberry wood, ebony, silver and gold. The spaces between each coffin swarmed with scorpions and venomous snakes.

Together with Ahwere and their three-year-old son Merib, Neterkaptah sailed down the Nile to Coptos, where he managed to redirect the water of the Nile to lay bare the bottom of the river. In this way, Neterkaptah found the coffin containing the Book of Thoth. His feet sank deep into the wet sand, while he was mercilessly attacked by swarms of snakes and scorpions. Through the use of powerful magic, Neterkaptah succeeded to render the vermin harmless, but not a giant snake that ringed the iron chest and now rose its head above the it, baring its poisonous fangs. Neterkaptah hacked it to pieces with his sword, though hardly had he chopped up the monster until its wriggling parts reunited themselves and the snaked resumed its assault with an ever increasing rage. This was repeated over and over again, until Neterkaptah managed to throw sand between the separated snake parts and thus prevent them from reassembling themselves. The snake died in violent plagues. With great effort, Neterkaptah succeeded in breaking open the coffins and finally opened up the papyrus roll. He found the spell that made him understand all the languages ​​of the earth and also the one that revealed the hidden mysteries of the Universe.

The enraged Thoth asked the sun god Ra to destroy the bold thief - if a mortal gained power over the Universe by uttering his Book's powerful formulas, the entire order of God´s Creation would be destroyed. Ra therefore blinded Merib, the son of Neterkaptah, making him fall overboard into the Nile and drown. The desperate Ahwere also drowned, when she in vain tried to save her son. In his despair, Neterkaptah threw himself into the Nile as well and died. However, he had kept the Book of Thoth tightly pressed against his chest and thus succeeded to bring it with him into his tomb.

Thoth had realized that it would be significantly more effective if his book was protected by a mortal who from hard-won experience had realized its devastating powers and thus could detract other people from abusing the knowledge it contained. Furthermore, Neterkaptah had before his own death written a copy of the whole book on papyrus sheets, which he crumbled in beer, mixing it all with water before he drank it. By doing so, the text was turned into a drug, which as it spread through Neterkaptah's veins, turned him into a slave under the will of Thoth.

In Neterkaptah's tomb chamber, Setne Chaemwase listened to Ahwere's story, but the temptation to obtain the book overwhelmed him and he picked up the scroll that had been placed in front of Neterkaptah's mummy. However, before Setne managed to leave the tomb chamber, he witnessed how the mummy rose up from its coffin, tearing off the gold mask that had covered its shrunken face, while screaming: "You'll soon be back with the book holding a cloven stick in your hand and carrying a bowl of incense on your head!"

Setne studied the stolen book, but before he had learned the powerful spells, he met in Ptah's temple an unbelievably beautiful lady, the daughter of the renowned prophet Bastet of Ankhtawy, her name was Tabube. Setne became obsessed by her amazingly good looks and promised Tabube anything just to be close to her. Tabube asked Setne to give all his riches to her, something that meant that he had to kill his heirs, i.e. his wife and their daughters. The lust intoxicated Setne agreed to Tabube´s insane demands. Lying on couches, Tabube and Setne coolly observed how the corpses of his family members were torn to pieces by cats and dogs. Blinded by desire Setne made it happen without a second thought and approached the coveted lady´s divan, trying to embrace her, though his hands were filled with ashes, while everything around him disappeared.

Setne found himself alone in the desert. Half mad by remorse after his terrible crime, he staggered around in the wilderness. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a palanquin made of gold and ebony appeared, carried by four Nubian slaves, who lowered it beside Setne. The owner of the palanquin parted its heavy curtains and invited Setne to sit down beside him. It was a handsome man of undistinguishable age, dressed in precious clothes who welcomed his guest with a winning smile. The slaves lifted up the palanquin and carried it through the desert sands while the mysterious stranger listened to Setne's horrifying story. The man then declared that Setne's wife and daughters actually were alive. Everything had been an illusion, intended to teach Setne a lesson, though all the terrifying events would become true if Setne did not sprinkle ash over his head and placed a pot with smoking incense on it. He had to return to Neterkaptah's tomb carrying a cloven stick and hand over the Book of Thoth to its rightful place.

As abruptly as it appeared the palanquin disappeared. Setne once again found himself alone in the desert, though he hurried back to Memphis, realizing that the man in the palanquin had been no other than Thoth himself. When Setne had returned to the tomb and handed over the book to Neterkaptah's mummy, it commanded the repentant thief to find the corpses after its wife and son, give them a stately burial and bring their mummies to the tomb chamber. With great effort Setne succeeded in doing what Neterkaptah´s mummy had demanded, the curse was lifted and Setne could return to his wife and daughters.

What seems to me to be the strangest part of this story is when Neterkaptah drank the dissolved Book of Thoth. It appears as if the written words are vessels carrying the essence of the book and when they were absorbed by the beer and spread throughout the body of Neterkatah they turned him into a sage.  

While in Mali, I once asked a marabout about the men we witnessed within a mosque, where they sat reading the Qur´an while they rhythmically moved their bodies back and forth. Did they really understand the Arabic text they hummed to themselves? The marabout explained to me that that most of them did not understand what they read, but that they knew, or rather felt, within themselves the essence of the text. When they read the word of God in the language he had chosen for revealing its message, they felt assured of His presence within themsleves. The words filled them in the same manner as love possesses a man. This was beyond understanding, but nevertheless true. The marabout´s words made me remember the introductory words in a poem by the Danish poet Inger Christensen:

Once again I discover

a glow in the language,

the locked words

made to be loved

and repeated towards simplicity



Bass, George F. (1987). "Oldest Known Shipwreck Reveals Splendors of the Bronze Age" National Geographic, Vol. 172 no. 6. Borges, Jorge Luis (2007) Labyrinths. New York: New Directions. Christensen, Inger (1962) Lys. Copenhagen: Gyldendals Forlag. Ekelöf, Gunnar (1967) Late Arrival on Earth: Selected Poems. Translated by Robert Bly and Christina Paulston. London: Rapp & Carroll. Fowden, Garth (1993). The Egyptian Hermes: A Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind. Princeton University Press. Plato (2005) Phaedrus. London: Penguin Classics. Plato (1970) The Laws. Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics.  Harris, Geraldine (1982) Gods and Pharaohs from Egyptian Mythology. London: Eurobook Ltd. Szlezák, Thomas A. (2002) Reading Plato. London: Routledge.


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During my youth’s frequent cinema visits I used to smile at a commercial occasionally presented before the film began – a crane striding in a bog while the speaker voice stated: “Some people like to watch birds pecking in swamps.” Suddenly the bird explodes and disappears into a cloud of smoke with...
Under min ungdoms flitiga biobesök brukade jag småle åt en annons som emellanåt visades innan filmen började. Man fick se en trana som stegar runt på en myr alltmedan speakerrösten konstaterar: “Somliga gillar att titta på fåglar som pickar i träsk.” Plötsligt sprängs fågeln och försvinner i...
And this is still life! What an eternal damnation! Arthur Rimbaud   Through a daily confrontation with Ukrainian misery and Putin’s madness, the mood oscillates between fuitile anger and helpless hopelessness. What is the fundamental fault of humanity? How can any sensible person imagine that...
Och detta är fortfarande liv! – Vilken evig fördömelse! Arthur Rimbaud   Genom daglig konfrontation med eländet i Ukraina och Putins vansinne pendlar humöret mellan meningslös ilska och hjälplös hopplöshet. Vad är det för ett fundamentalt fel med mänskligheten? Hur kan någon vettig människa...
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In Spite Of It All, Trots Allt