By Heinrich Heine

As the great king Rhampsenit
To the golden hall went thither,
There he saw his daughter laughing,
And her maids were laughing with her.

And the blacks, the palace eunuchs,
Joined in with the merry-making,
All the mummies, all the sphinxes
Laughed until their sides were aching.

And the princess spake: "The thief, I
Thought for sure that I'd confined him,
But, here in my hand, he only
Left a lifeless arm behind him.

Now I see, just how the burglar
All thy precious treasure snatches,
How he penetrates the chambers,
Past the locks, the bolts, the latches.

For he has a magic key, that
Opens doors when he commands it,
Anywhere throughout the kingdom,
Not the strongest gate withstands it.

I am not the strongest gate, and
My resistance has its measure,
So tonight, while I was guarding,
I gave up a little treasure."

So confessed the smiling princess,
Prancing 'round the room thereafter;
Eunuchs and the maids-in-waiting
Once again broke out in laughter.

On that very day all Memphis
Laughed, the crocodiles were lifting
Up their laughing heads from out the
Yellow Nile where they were drifting,

As they heard the drumbeat sounding
From the banks above the mire,
And they heard this proclamation
Uttered by the council crier:

"Rhampsenit, by grace of God the
Sovereign of Egypt's kingdom,
We wish now to greet our subjects,
And our compliments we bring them.

In the night, between the third and
Fourth of June, wherein the year is
Thirteen hundred four and twenty
Prior to Christ, the story here is

That a thief, from royal storage,
Pilfered jewels in goodly number;
And it seems that he went on to
Rob us further while we slumbered.

To reveal the perpetrator
We contrived to have our daughter
Sleeping with the jewels - but also
As a prize he slyly sought her.

So, to give this larceny a
Slightly more benign direction,
And that we may show the thief our
Sympathy, respect, affection,

We shall give to him our daughter,
As her bridegroom may she praise him,
And we'll make him heir apparent,
To the princely rank we'll raise him.

Since the address of our new-found
Son-in-law's unknown, wherever
He may be, this proclamation
Serves as notice of our favor.

Writ the third of January
Thirteen hundred twenty-six
'Fore the birth of Christ. - And so we
Sign it: Rhampsenitus Rex."

Rhampsenit, he kept his word, the
Thief his daughter's hand did merit,
And upon his death, the thief did
Also Egypt's crown inherit.

And he governed like the others,
Arts and trade he did control, and
During his regime 'twas said that
Very little goods were stolen.

 Posted by permission of the translator ~ © 2005


The story of Rhampsenit (thought to be Ramses III) is found in The History of Herodotus II.

King Ramses had a treasure house built, and the architect constructed it with a loose stone, so that it might be entered and robbed. On his deathbed, the architect conveyed this information to his two sons, who began to regularly enter and rob it.

The king began to notice his losses, and built a trap. The next time the sons entered, one of them was caught in a snare. Because he could not free himself, he asked his brother to cut off his head, so as to spare their family the shame of being identified as thieves. This the other brother performed, and took the dead brother's head home. The mortified mother asked her living son to retrieve the body of the dead one. Through an elaborate ruse, the son retrieved the well-guarded body of his brother.

The king was enraged, but had one more trick up his sleeve. He announced that the sexual favors of his daughter were freely available to all comers, but that interested parties must first tell her a story of their most audacious deed. Sure enough, the thief-brother made an appearance, and revealed his part in the burglaries, but when the daughter tried to hold him fast, she found herself holding only the dead brother's arm, while the live one made his getaway.

Considering himself bested in the battle of wits, the king declared an amnesty and gave his daughter to the thief in marriage. The thief was hailed as the cleverest in the land.

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