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The Dream of Avaris

[I was terribly disappointed when I learned that the dreams of Avaris were not a third with the riches of Croesus and the touch of Midas.]

From Abbas Cucaniensis Historia Regum Orientium.

Avaris, King of Egypt, lord of uncountable riches, dreamt that the god came to him, and told him that he was to possess the whole wealth of the earth, in his palace to be rowed between islands of gems on seas of gold coins. The doors to his palace would be of yellow gold, its windows of white diamonds, its floors of black onyx. His feet would never touch aught but silk carpets. His water would never flow but into golden pots.

Awakening from his dream, Avaris called together his counselors to ask how the god’s decree could be hastened. One after another, his counselors told him that the only way to possess the whole wealth of the world was to conquer the world – all his counselors but one, the youngest and most learned. This counselor said that he could bring Avaris all he desired, if he was but given command over all the merchants of Egypt.

Once the King had given him command over the merchants he called them all together and held forth upon the excellence of the dung beetle. The beetle could be obtained only from Egypt; the beetle was sacred and good luck to possess. Thus as the kingdom grew in prosperity and numbers under the wise and just rule of Avaris, everyone would want to possess a dung beetle. But the more who wanted to possess a dung beetle, the costlier dung beetles would become. Thus the merchants should purchase as many dung beetles as possible while they were reasonably priced, for their worth was sure to increase.

The merchants heeded his advice, which was given in the presence of armed men. Soon all the beetles in Egypt had been bought up, and the cost of a single dung beetle rose to a king’s ransom.

The counselor, proud with his achievement, ordered the merchants to bring their beetles to the court of Avaris. Over the noise of thousands of beetles scratching in their cages the counselor explained to Avaris that since each beetle was now worth a fortune, all together the beetles were now worth more gold than there was gold to spend in the world. Here before Avaris were all the world’s riches, just as he had dreamt, just as the god had promised him. Was he not pleased? Would there not be a reward for his devoted counselor?

Avaris, it is said, regarded his counselor in silence for a space, then told him to order the merchants to open their cages and scatter their beetles upon the floor. This the counselor did proudly, for each merchant had adorned his stock of beetles with his mark. Was his King not delighted?

Whereupon Avaris descended from his throne, awful in resplendent silk and gold, his feet shod with sandals of gold. And with sandals of gold he began to stomp upon the beetles. Horror overcame the merchants, who fell to their knees weeping. Some sought with their prostrate bodies to cover their beetles, but the King’s guards struck them aside with staves bound in iron. The patient and tireless King stomped every beetle in the hall.

All the beetles having been stomped, and all the merchants put in chains, Avaris, his shining greaves still slick with the gore of the beetles, ordered the young counselor to be enslaved in the sewers of the palace, there to roll dung for the rest of his life.

Afterwards he called his counselors together to plan world conquest. But all the merchants’ gold had been spent buying dung beetles, and no levy could be made to hire soldiers. Thus ended the lives of the counselors of Avaris; and thus ended the dream of Avaris, cursing the god who destroyed him.