Behind the MythosEditIn reality the Book of Thoth is a name given to many ancient Egyptian texts supposed to have been written by Thoth, the Egyptian god of writing and knowledge. They include many texts that were claimed to exist by ancient authors, and a magical book that appears in an Egyptian work of fiction.
The fictional Book of Thoth appears in an ancient Egyptian story from the Ptolemaic period. The book, written by Thoth, is said to contain two spells, one of which allows the reader to understand the speech of animals, and one of which allows the reader to perceive the gods themselves.
According to the story, the book was originally hidden at the bottom of the Nile near Coptos, where it was locked inside a series of boxes guarded by serpents. The Egyptian prince Neferkaptah fought the serpents and retrieved the book, but in punishment for his theft from Thoth, the gods killed his wife Ahwere and son Merib. Neferkaptah committed suicide and was entombed along with the book. Generations later, the story's protagonist, Setne Khamwas (a character based on the historical prince Khaemwaset), steals the book from Neferkaptah's tomb despite opposition from Neferkaptah's ghost. Setne then meets a beautiful woman who seduces him into killing his children and humiliating himself in front of the pharaoh. He discovers that this episode was an illusion created by Neferkaptah, and in fear of further retribution, Setne returns the book to Neferkaptah's tomb. At Neferkaptah's request, Setne also finds the bodies of Neferkaptah's wife and son and buries them in Neferkaptah's tomb, which is then sealed.
The story reflects the Egyptian belief that the gods' knowledge is not meant for humans to possess.