Washington and Egypt's First King
by Ellis Parker Butler
At this time it is profitable to compare two great generals -- George Washington, the first President of the United States, and Menes, the first King of Egypt. In some respects the two men were alike. Both, for instance, were born; but Mr. Washington, of America, has considerable the advantage of Mr. Menes, of Egypt, in the birth business. George was born only a couple of times, but Menes was born every once in a while for over two thousand years. That he accomplished what he did while having to stop every few days to be born is one of the most remarkable things in history.
George Washington was born February 11th and February 22d, 1732. For a long while he was born February 11th only, but this becoming monotonous, it was decided to add February 22d to his birthday list. Poor old Menes, however, was born anywhere from 5702 B. C. to 2691 B. C., according to the Egyptologists. It will thus be seen what a handicap he had. When a man has to conquer a big stretch of land like Egypt and attend to being born every few years for 2,100 years, he has his hands full. If George Washington had had to go home from the battle of Yorktown, just as Cornwallis was passing over his snickersnee, and be born, the British tyrant might still rule our land. Cornwallis was a patient man, reasonably anxious to surrender, but not the man to stand around holding his sword by the point while a tall, lank general of a severe cast of countenance went home to be born.
General Washington also had an advantage in living in a time when the gladsome years passed by consecutively numbered. It is a great help to any man to know that next year is going to be next year and not year before last. Poor old Menes, with his common-school education, was always tangled up on his dates. He would go home and be born in 5700 B. C., and in 5699 B. C. he would be one year old. Or, if he went on one of his being-born expeditions and got himself comfortably born in 4000 B. C., along would come 3900 B. C., a hundred years later, and Menes would find he was one hundred years old, when by rights he should not have been born for one hundred years yet. As he wrote to his poor, long-suffering mother, "I am getting all balled up! What with being born every once in a while and the calendar running so that yesterday is day after tomorrow, and next Christmas is last Christmas, I'm getting sick of the whole job." We don't blame him. George Washington himself would have been sore if he had begun the Revolutionary War in 1775 and, after fighting hard for six years, found he was back in 1769. George had his troubles, but his path was simple when we think of Menes.
B. C. after a date is short for the Latin phrase Bac Cup, or Back Up, and means the calendar is backing up on you. A.D. is Ad Don, or Add On.
Washington was a calm and unspectacular fighter, but compared with George our old friend Menes was as unsensational as a lecture on fodder. Menes never in his life took the fleeing Eliza by the hand and crossed Delaware on the ice, pursued by three fat Great Dane dogs posing as bloodhounds. Menes never set up as a star truth-teller. When the time came to tell a clean, out-and-out whopper, he told it without posing around waiting for a moving-picture man to take a snapshot of him telling the truth. If he got caught in a lie and couldn't explain it, he merely retired from the world for a few days and got himself born again.
We wish to give George Washington due credit, but Menes was a remarkable character. He took hold of Egypt when it was split in two like a frost-cracked thumb and jammed it together and stuck the plaster of unity on it, while George Washington was a splitter and peeled the American plaster off the British wall after the peeling was well under way. George walloped away in a time of comparative enlightenment, while Menes had to struggle along in the mists of antiquity, with a sword in one hand and a foghorn in the other, while he looked at the calendar each day with dread, expecting to have to begin at the beginning and go through the teething stage again.