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Sympathy: False Arms for Rhampsinitus

Herodotus tells the story of the smartest man in ancient Egypt; a theif. The smart man's father was a mason who lived a life of labor building temples and pyramids for the king, Rhampsinitus. Determined to end toil and trouble for his sons, the father built a removable stone as a secret entrance into the temple. One night, the two sons entered the temple according to the instructions of their father and found Rhampsinitus’ treasure there for the taking. After two or three instances of theft, Rhampsinitus soon noticed the receding amount of gold coins from the jars and set a trap to capture the intruders. The next time the brothers broke into the temple, one was caught in the king’s trap and pinned by a heavy stone. So that at least one of them can be saved, the doomed brother insisted that his head be cut off to help maintain their anonymity.


The next day Rhampsinitus noted that the temple doors were untouched and even more stunned to find a headless body in the temple. As punishment, he posted the dead body with guards outside the temple and instructed the guards to arrest anyone who grieved for the headless body. The thief’s mother could not bear the sight of insult and threatened her surviving son to reveal his identity lest he save his brother’s body from desecration. Later that night the thief loaded sacks of wine on a donkey and performed an accident where the help of guards became necessary. Thanking the guards for their assistance, the thief, as planned rewarded them with plenty of wine to drink. Sleep soon followed celebration allowing some time to cut down the headless body from display. Before leaving, the thief shaved half of the guards’ beards as a message to the king. Rhampsinitus, first insulted, now felt challenged. He sent his daughter, the princess, to the village to prostitute herself to any man who had information on the anonymous man. Hearing this, the thief went to purchase a pair of arms, which he draped over his shoulders and went to the princess to boast his story from beginning to end. Happy to have found the culprit, the princess bounded him and dragged him to the king. Later of course, found no man there, but a pair of arms to present to the king. Ceding to the intelligence of this last trick, Rhampsinitus announced the thief as the smartest man in Egypt and asked that he reveal his identity. The smart man presented himself and was awarded the princess’ hand in marriage.

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