The History of Isis and Osiris
With Explanations of the Same, Collected by Plutarch, and Supplemented by His Own Views.
From Legends of the Gods The Egyptian Texts, edited with translations by E. A. Wallis Budge
See the Preface to the Legends of the GodsI. Though it be the wise man's duty, O Clea,fn#259 to apply to the gods for every good thing which he hopes to enjoy, yet ought he more especially to pray to them for their assistance in his search after that knowledge which more immediately regards themselves, as far as such knowledge may be attained, inasmuch as there is nothing which they can bestow more truly beneficial to mankind, or more worthy themselves, than truth. For whatever other good things are indulged to the wants of men, they have all, properly speaking, no relation to, and are of a nature quite different from, that of their divine donors. For 'tis not the abundance of their gold and silver, nor the command of the thunder, but wisdom and knowledge which constitute the power and happiness of those heavenly beings. It is therefore well observed by Homer (Iliad, xiii. 354), and indeed with more propriety than be usually talks of the gods, when, speaking of Zeus and Poseidon, he tells us that both were descended from the same parents, and born in the same region, but that Zeus was the elder and knew most; plainly intimating thereby that the empire of the former was more august and honourable than that of his brother, as by means of his age he was his superior, and more advanced in wisdom and science. Nay, 'tis my opinion, I own, that even the blessedness of that eternity which is the portion of the Deity himself consists in that universal knowledge of all nature which accompanies it; for setting this aside, eternity might be more properly styled an endless duration than an enjoyment of existence.
- fn#259 She is said to have been a priestess of Isis and of Apollo Delphicus.
- fn#260 The Egyptian form of the name is As-T, ####, ####, or ####. Plutarch wishes to derive the name from some form of greek oida.
- fn#261 In Egyptian, Tebh.
- fn#262 According to the Egyptian Heliopolitan doctrine, Isis was the daughter of Keb, the Earth-god, and Nut, the Sky-goddess; she was the wife of Osiris, mother of Horus, and sister of Set and Nephthys.
- fn#263 The Egyptian. Tehuti, or Thoth, who invented letters, mathematics, &c. He was the "heart of Ra," the scribe of the gods, and he uttered the words which created the world; he composed the "words of power," or magical formulae which were beneficial for the dead, and the religious works which were used by souls in their journey from this world to the next.
- fn#264 The Hermopolis here referred to is the city of Khemenu in Upper Egypt, wherein was the great sanctuary of Thoth.
- fn#265 i.e., Righteousness, or Justice. The goddess referred to is probably Maat.
- fn#266 A rubric in the papyrus of Nes-Menu in the British Museum orders the priestesses of Isis and Nephthys to have "the hair of their bodies shaved off" (No. 10,188, col. 1), but they are also ordered to wear fillets of rams' wool on their heads.
- fn#267 Probably the ram of Amen. Animal sacrifices were invariably bulls and cows.
- fn#268 This saying is by Pythagoras -- greek Para dusian mh`onuxizou. The saying of Hesiod (Works and Days, 740) is rendered by Goodwin: -- "Not at a feast of Gods from five-branched tree, With sharp-edged steel to part the green from dry."
- fn#269 It is quite possible that Apis drank from a special well, but the water in it certainly came from the Nile by infiltration. In all the old wells at Memphis the water sinks as the Nile sinks, and rises as it rises.
- fn#270 On account of the large amount of animal matter contained in it.
- fn#271 Called Anu in the Egyptian texts; it was the centre of the great solar cult of Egypt. It is the "On" of the Bible.
- fn#272 The Sun-god was called Ra.
- fn#273 The Per-Matchet.
- fn#274 Probably the pike, or "fighting fish."
- fn#275 In Egyptian, Sunu, the Seweneh of the Bible, and the modern Aswan.
- fn#276 A kind of bream, the an of the Egyptian texts.
- fn#277 Compare Chap. CXXXVIIA of the Book of the Dead. "And behold, these things shall be performed by a man who is clean, and is ceremonially pure, one who hath eaten neither meat nor fish, and who hath not had intercourse with women" (ll. 52, 53).
- fn#278 Bunches of onions were offered to the dead at all periods of Egyptian history, and they were regarded as typical of the "white teeth" of Horus. The onion was largely used in medicine.
- fn#279 The pig was associated with Set, or Typhon, and the black variety was specially abominated because it was a black pig which struck Horus in the eye, and damaged it severely. See Book of the Dead, Chap. CXII.
- fn#280 In Egyptian, Tafnekht, the first king of the XXIVth Dynasty.
- fn#281 An unlikely story, for Tafnekht had no authority at Thebes.
- fn#282 The Egyptian goddess Net, in Greek greek Nhid, the great goddess of Sais, in the Western Delta. She was self-existent, and produced her son, the Sun-god, without union with a god. In an address to her, quoted by Mallet (Culte de Neit, p. 140), are found the words, "thy garment hath not been unloosed," thus Plutarch's quotation is correct.
- fn#283 He compiled a History of Egypt for Ptolemy II., and flourished about B.C. 270; only the King-List from this work is preserved.
- fn#284 He was a native of the town of Sebennytus.
- fn#285 Amen means "hidden," and Amen is the "hidden god."
- fn#286 The oldest form of the name is As-Ar, ####; the first sign, ####, is a throne, and the second, ####, is an eye, but the exact meaning represented by the two signs is not known. In late times a sceptre, #### took the place of the throne, but only because of its phonetic value as or us. Thus we have the forms #### and ####.
- fn#287 This is a mistake.
- fn#288 In Egyptian, #### ash, "many."
- fn#289 In Egyptian, #### art, Coptic ####, "eye."
- fn#290 The animal here referred to must be the dog-headed ape, ####, which we see in pictures of the Judgment assisting Thoth to weigh the heart of the dead. This dog-headed ape is a wonderfully intelligent creature, and its weird cleverness is astonishing.
- fn#291 The Egyptian Tehuti, or Thoth.
- fn#292 ####.
- fn#293 i.e., Nut, the Sky-goddess.
- fn#294 i.e., Keb, the Earth-god.
- fn#295 i.e., Ra.
- fn#296 i.e., Aah.
- fn#297 In Egyptian, "the five days over the year,"
- fn#298 In Egyptian thus: -- I. Birthday of Osiris, II. Birthday of Horus, III. Birthday of Set, IV. Birthday of Isis, V. Birthday of Nephthys
- fn#299 One of the chief titles of Osiris was Neb er tcher, i.e., "lord to the uttermost limit of everything."
- fn#300 i.e., Heru-ur, "Horus the Elder."
- fn#301 It was Horus, son of Isis, who was born in the marshes of Egypt.
- fn#302 This day is described as unlucky in the hieroglyphic texts.
- fn#303 Set and Nephthys are regarded as husband and wife in the texts; their offspring was Anubis, Anpu.
XIV. The first who had knowledge of the accident which had befallen their king were the Pans and Satyrs, who inhabited the country round about Chemmis,fn#304 and they having informed the people about it, gave the first occasion to the name of Panic Terrors, which has ever since been made use of to signify any sudden fright or amazement of a multitude. As soon as the report reached Isis, she immediately cut off one of the locks of her hair, and put on mourning apparel in that very place where she happened to be; for this reason the place has ever since been called "Koptos," or the "city of mourning," though some are of opinion that this word rather signifies "deprivation." After this she wandered round about through the country, being full of disquietude and perplexity, searching for the chest, and she inquired of every person she met, including some children whom she saw, whether they knew what was become of it. Now, it so happened that these children had seen what Typhon's accomplices had done with the body, and they accordingly told her by what mouth of the Nile it had been conveyed to the sea. For this reason the Egyptians look upon children as endued with a kind of faculty of divining, and in consequence of this notion are very curious in observing the accidental prattle which they have with one another whilst they are at play, especially if it be in a sacred place, forming omens and presages from it. Isis meanwhile having been informed that Osiris, deceived by her sister Nephthys, who was in love with him, had unwittingly enjoyed her instead of herself, as she concluded from the melilot-garland which he had left with her, made it her business likewise to search out the child, the fruit of this unlawful commerce (for her sister, dreading the anger of her husband Typhon, had exposed it as soon as it was born). Accordingly, after much pains and difficulty, by means of some dogs that conducted her to the place where it was, she found it and bred it up; and in process of time it became her constant guard and attendant, and obtained the name of Anubis, and it is thought that it watches and guards the gods as dogs do men.
- fn#304 In Egyptian, Khebt, in the VIIIth nome of Lower Egypt.
XVI. Isis nursed the child by giving it her finger to suck instead of the breast. She likewise put him each night into the fire in order to consume his mortal part, whilst, having transformed herself into a swallow, she circled round the pillar and bemoaned her sad fate. This she continued to do for some time, till the queen, who stood watching her, observing the child to be all of a flame, cried out, and thereby deprived him of some of that immortality which would otherwise have been conferred upon him. The goddess then made herself known, and asked that the pillar which supported the roof might be given to her. Having taken the pillar down, she cut it open easily, and having taken out what she wanted, she wrapped up the remainder of the trunk in fine linen, and having poured perfumed oil over it, she delivered it again into the hands of the king and queen. Now, this piece of wood is to this day preserved in the temple, and worshipped by the people of Byblos. When this was done, Isis threw herself upon the chest, and made at the same time such loud and terrible cries of lamentation over it, that the younger of the king's sons who heard her was frightened out of his life. But the elder of them she took with her, and set sail with the chest for Egypt. Now, it being morning the river Phaedrus sent forth a keen and chill air, and becoming angry she dried up its current.
XVII. At the first place where she stopped, and when she believed that she was alone, she opened the chest, and laying her face upon that of her dead husband, she embraced him and wept bitterly. Then, seeing that the little boy had silently stolen up behind her, and had found out the reason of her grief, she turned upon him suddenly, and, in her anger, gave him so fierce and terrible a look that he died of fright immediately. Others say that his death did not happen in this manner, but, as already hinted, that he fell into the sea. Afterwards he received the greatest honour on account of the goddess, for this Maneros, whom the Egyptians so frequently call upon at their banquets, is none other than he. This story is contradicted by those who tell us that the true name of this child was Palaestinus, or Pelusius, and that the city of this name was built by the goddess in memory of him. And they further add that this Maneros is thus honoured by the Egyptians at their feasts because he was the first who invented music. Others again state that Maneros is not the name of any particular person, but a were customary form of complimentary greeting which the Egyptians use towards each other at their more solemn feasts and banquets, meaning no more by it than to wish "that what they were then about might prove fortunate and happy to them." This is the true import of the word. In like manner they say that the human skeleton which is carried about in a box on festal occasions, and shown to the guests, is not designed, as some imagine, to represent the particular misfortunes of Osiris, but rather to remind them of their mortality, and thereby to excite them freely to make use of and to enjoy the good things which are set before them, seeing that they must quickly become such as they there saw. This is the true reason for introducing the skeleton at their banquets. But to proceed with the narrative.
XVIII. When Isis had come to her son Horus, who was being reared at Buto,fn#305 she deposited the chest in a remote and unfrequented place. One night, however, when Typhon was hunting by the light of the moon, he came upon it by chance, and recognizing the body which was enclosed in it, he tore it into several pieces, fourteenfn#306 in all, and scattered them in different places up and down the country. When Isis knew what had been done, she set out in search of the scattered portions of her husband's body; and in order to pass more easily through the lower, marshy parts of the country, she made use of a boat made of the papyrus plant. For this reason, they say, either fearing the anger of the goddess, or else venerating the papyrus, the crocodile never injures anyone who travels in this sort of vessel.fn#307 And this, they say, hath given rise to the report that there are very many different sepulchres of Osiris in Egypt, for wherever Isis found one of the scattered portions of her husband's body, there she buried it. Others, however, contradict this story, and tell us that the variety of sepulchres of Osiris was due rather to the policy of the queen, who, instead of the real body, as she pretended, presented to these cities only an image of her husband. This she did in order to increase the honours which would by these means be paid to his memory, and also to defeat Typhon, who, if he were victorious in his fight against Horus in which he was about to engage, would search for the body of Osiris, and being distracted by the number of sepulchres would despair of ever being able to find the true one. We are told, moreover, that notwithstanding all her efforts, Isis was never able to discover the phallus of Osiris, which, having been thrown into the Nile immediately upon its separation from the rest of the body,fn#308 had been devoured by the Lepidotus, the Phagrus, and the Oxyrhynchus, fish which above all others, for this reason, the Egyptians have in more especial avoidance. In order, however, to make some amends for the loss, Isis consecrated the phallus made in imitation of it, and instituted a solemn festival to its memory, which is even to this day observed by the Egyptians.
- fn#305 In Egyptian, the double city Pe-Tep. See the texts from the Metternich Stele printed in this volume.
- fn#306 The fourteen members are: head, feet, bones, arms, heart, interior, tongue, eyes, fists, fingers, back, ears, loins, and body. Some of the lists in Egyptian add the face of a ram and the hair. The cities in which Isis buried the portions of his body are: Koptos, Philae in Elephantine, Herakleopolis Magna, Kusae, Heliopolis, Diospolis of Lower Egypt, Letopolis, Sais, Hermopolis of Lower Egypt, Athribis, Aq (Schedia), Ab in the Libyan nome, Netert, Apis.
- fn#307 Moses was laid in an ark of bulrushes, i.e., papyrus, and was found uninjured.
- fn#308 We meet with a similar statement in the Tale of the Two Brothers, where we are told that the younger brother, having declared his innocence to the elder brother, out off his phallus and threw it into the river, where it was devoured by the naru fish.
- fn#309 The texts give as a very common title of Horus, "Horus, the avenger of his father."
- fn#310 There is no evidence that the Egyptians employed the horse in war before the XVIIIth Dynasty, a fact which proves that the dialogue here given is an invention of a much later date than the original legend of Osiris.
- fn#311 In Egyptian, TA-URT, the hippopotamus goddess.
- fn#312 According to the legend given in the Fourth Sallier Papyrus, the fight between Horus and Set began on the 26th day of the month of Thoth, and lasted three days and three nights. It was fought in or near the hall of the lords of Kher-aha, i.e., near Heliopolis, and in the presence of Isis, who seems to have tried to spare both her brother Set and her son Horus. For some reason Horus became enraged with his mother, and attacking her like a "leopard of the south," he cut off the head of Isis. Thereupon Thoth came forward, and using words of power, created a substitute in the form of a cow's head, and placed it on her body (Sallier, iv., p. 2; see Select Papyri, pl. cxlv.).
- fn#313 Horus inherited the throne by his father's will, a fact which is so often emphasized in the texts that it seems there may be some ground for Plutarch's view.
- fn#314 This view is confirmed by the words in the hymn to Osiris, "she moved the inactivity of the Still-Heart (Osiris), she drew from him his essence, she made an heir."
- fn#315 In Egyptian, Heru-Pa-Khart, "Horus the Child."
- fn#316 Plutarch refers to the long colonnaded courts which extend in a straight line to the sanctuary, which often contains more than one shrine, and to the chambers wherein temple properties, vestments, &c., were kept.
- fn#317 In what city the cult of Osiris originated is not known, but it is quite certain that before the end of the VIth Dynasty Abydos became the centre of his worship, and that he dispossessed the local god An-Her in the affections of the people. Tradition affirmed that the head of Osiris was preserved at Abydos in a box, and a picture of it, #### became the symbol of the city. At Abydos a sort of miracle play, in which all the sufferings and resurrection of Osiris were commemorated, was performed annually, and the raising up of a model of his body, and the placing of his head upon it, were the culminating ceremonies. At Abydos was the famous shaft into which offerings were cast for transmission to the dead in the Other World, and through the Gap in the hills close by souls were believed to set out on their journey thither. One tradition places the Elysian Fields in the neighbourhood of Abydos. A fine stone bier, a restoration probably of the XXVIth Dynasty, which represented the original bier of Osiris, was discovered there by M. Amelineau. It is now in the Egyptian Museum at Cairo.
- fn#318 Apis is called the "life of Osiris," ####, and on the death of the Bull, its soul went to heaven and joined itself to that of Osiris, and it formed with him the dual-god Asar-Hep, i.e., Osiris- Apis, or Sarapis. The famous Serapeum at Memphis was called ####.
- fn#319 In Egyptian, Men-Nefer, i.e., "fair haven."
- fn#320 Osiris and Isis were worshipped at Philae until the reign of Justinian, when his general, Narses, closed the temple and carried off the statues of the gods to Constantinople, where they were probably melted down.
- fn#321 In Egyptian, Pa-Asar-neb-Tetu, "the house of Osiris, the lord of Tetu." In the temple of Neb-Sekert, the backbone of the god was preserved, according to one text, but another says it was his jaws(?) and interior.
- fn#322 This view represents a late tradition, or at all events one which sprang up after the decay of Abydos.
First explanation of the story.XXII. Now as to those who, from many things of this kind, some of which are proclaimed openly, and others are darkly hinted at in their religious institutions, would conclude that the whole story is no other than a mere commemoration of the various actions of their kings and other great men, who, by reason of their excellent virtue and the mightiness of their power, added to their other titles the honour of divinity, though they afterwards fell into many and grievous calamities, those, I say, who would in this manner account for the various scenes above-mentioned, must be owned indeed to make use of a very plausible method of eluding such difficulties as may arise about this subject, and ingeniously enough to transfer the most shocking parts of it from the divine to the human nature. Moreover, it must be admitted that such a solution is not entirely destitute of any appearance of historical evidence for its support. For when the Egyptians themselves tell us that Hermes had one hand shorter than another, that Typhon was of red complexion, Horus fair, and Osiris black, does not this show that they were of the human species, and subject to the same accidents as all other men?fn#323 Nay, they go farther, and even declare the particular work in which each was engaged whilst alive. Thus they say that Osiris was a general, that Canopus, from whom the star took its name, was a pilot, and that the ship which the Greeks call Argo, being made in imitation of the ship of Osiris, was, in honour of him, turned into a constellation and placed near Orion and the Dog-star, the former being sacred to Horus and the latter to Isis.
- fn#323 Red is the colour attributed to all fiends in the Egyptian texts. One of the forms of Horus is described as being "blue-eyed," and the colour of the face of Osiris is often green, and sometimes black.
In Sec. XXIV. Plutarch goes on to say that the Assyrians commemorate Semiramis, the Egyptians Sesostris, the Phrygians Manis or Masdis, the Persians Cyrus, and the Macedonians Alexander, yet these heroes are not regarded as gods by their peoples. The kings who have accepted the title of gods have afterwards had to suffer the reproach of vanity and presumption, and impiety and injustice.
Second explanation of the story.XXV. There is another and a better method which some employ in explaining this story. They assert that what is related of Typhon, Osiris, and Isis is not to be regarded as the afflictions of gods, or of mere mortals, but rather as the adventures of certain great Daemons. These beings, they say, are supposed by some of the wisest of the Greek philosophers, that is to say, Plato, Pythagoras, Xenocrates, and Chrysippus, in accordance with what they had learned from ancient theologians, to be stronger and more powerful than men, and of a nature superior to them. They are, at the same time, inferior to the pure and unmixed nature of the gods, as partaking of the sensations of the body, as well as of the perceptions of the soul, and consequently liable to pain as well as pleasure, and to such other appetites and affections, as flow from their various combinations. Such affections, however, have a greater power and influence over some of them than over others, just as there are different degrees of virtue and vice found in these Daemons as well as in mankind. In like manner, the wars of the Giants and the Titans which are so much spoken of by the Greeks, the detestable actions of Kronos, the combats between Apollo and the Python, the flights of Dionysos, and the wanderings of Demeter, are exactly of the same nature as the adventures of Osiris and Typhon. Therefore, they all are to be accounted for in the same manner, and every treatise of mythology will readily furnish us with an abundance of other similar instances. The same thing may also be affirmed of those other things which are so carefully concealed under the cover of mysteries and imitations.
In Sec. XXVI. Plutarch points out that Homer calls great and good men "god-like" and "God's compeers," but the word Daemon is applied to the good and bad indifferently (see Odyssey, vi. 12; Iliad, xiii. 810, v. 438, iv. 31, &c.). Plato assigns to the Olympian Gods good things and the odd numbers, and the opposite to the Daemons. Xenocrates believed in the existence of a series of strong and powerful beings which take pleasure in scourgings and fastings, &c. Hesiod speaks of "holy daemons" (Works and Days, 126) and "guardians of mankind," and "bestowers of wealth," and these are regarded by Plato as a "middle order of beings between the gods and men, interpreters of the wills of the gods to men, and ministering to their wants, carrying the prayers and supplications of mortals to heaven, and bringing down thence in return oracles and all other blessings of life." Empedocles thought that the Daemons underwent punishment, and that when chastened and purified they were restored to their original state.
Sec. XXVII. To this class belonged Typhon, who was punished by Isis. In memory of all she had done and suffered, she established certain rites and mysteries which were to be types and images of her deeds, and intended these to incite people to piety, and, to afford them consolation. Isis and Osiris were translated from good Daemons into gods, and the honours due to them are rightly of a mixed kind, being those due to gods and Daemons. Osiris is none other than Pluto, and Isis is not different from Proserpine.
Sec. XXX. Typhon is held by the Egyptians in the greatest contempt, and they do all they can to vilify him. The colour red being associated with him, they treat with contumely all those who have a ruddy complexion; the assfn#324 being usually of a reddish colour, the men of Koptos are in the habit of sacrificing asses by casting them down precipices. The inhabitants of Busiris and Lycopolis never use trumpets, because their sounds resemble the braying of an ass. The cakes which are offered at the festivals during Paoni and Paopi are stamped with the figure of a fettered ass. The Pythagoreans regarded Typhon as a daemon, and according to them he was produced in the even number fifty-six; and Eudoxus says that a figure of fifty-six angles typifies the nature of Typhon.
- fn#324 The ass is associated with Set, or Typhon, in the texts, but on account of his virility he also typifies a form of the Sun-god. In a hymn the deceased prays, "May I smite the Ass, may I crush the serpent-fiend Sebau," but the XLth Chapter of the Book of the Dead is entitled, "Chapter of driving back the Eater of the Ass." The vignette shows us the deceased in the act of spearing a monster serpent which has fastened its jaws in the back of an ass. In Chapter CXXV. there is a dialogue between the Cat and the Ass.
Sec. XXXI. The Egyptians only sacrifice red-coloured bulls, and a single black or white hair in the animal's head disqualifies it for sacrifice. They sacrifice creatures wherein the souls of the wicked have been confined, and through this view arose the custom of cursing the animal to be sacrificed, and cutting off its bead and throwing it into the Nile. No bullock is sacrificed which has not on it the seal of the priests who were called "Sealers." The impression from this seal represents a man upon his knees, with his hands tied behind him, and a sword pointed at his throat. The ass is identified with Typhon not only because of his colour, but also because of his stupidity and the sensuality of his disposition. The Persian king Ochus was nicknamed the "Ass," which made him to say, "This ass shall dine upon your ox," and accordingly he slew Apis. Typhon is said to have escaped from Horus by a flight of seven days on an ass.
Third explanation of the story.XXXII. Such then are the arguments of those who endeavour to account for the above-mentioned history of Isis and Osiris upon a supposition that they were of the order of Daemons; but there are others who pretend to explain it upon other principles, and in more philosophical manner. To begin, then, with those whose reasoning is the most simple and obvious. As the Greeks allegorize their Kronos into Time, and their Hera into Air, and tell us that the birth of Hephaistos is no other but the change of air into fire, so these philosophers say that by Osiris the Egyptians mean the Nile, by Isis that part of the country which Osiris, or the Nile, overflows, and by Typhon the sea, which, by receiving the Nile as it runs into it, does, as it were, tear it into many pieces, and indeed entirely destroys it, excepting only so much of it as is admitted into the bosom of the earth in its passage over it, which is thereby rendered fertile. The truth of this explanation is confirmed, they say, by that sacred dirge which they make over Osiris when they bewail "him who was born on the right side of the world and who perished on the left."fn#325 For it must be observed that the Egyptians look upon the east as the front or face of the world,fn#326 upon the north as its right side,fn#327 and upon the south as its left.fn#328 As, therefore, the Nile rises in the south, and running directly northwards is at last swallowed up by the sea, it may rightly enough be said to be born on the right and to perish on the left side. This conclusion, they say, is still farther strengthened from that abhorrence which the priests express towards the sea, as well as salt, which they call "Typhon's foam." And amongst their prohibitions is one which forbids salt being laid on their tables. And do they not also carefully avoid speaking to pilots, because this class of men have much to do with the sea and get their living by it? And this is not the least of their reasons for the great dislike which they have for fish, and they even make the fish a symbol of "hatred," as is proved by the pictures which are to be seen on the porch of the temple of Neith at Sais. The first of these is a child, the second is an old man, the third is a hawk, and then follow a fish and a hippopotamus. The meaning of all these is evidently, "O you who are coming into the world, and you who are going out of it (i.e., both young and old), God hateth impudence." For by the child is indicated "all those who are coming into life"; by the old man, "those who are going out of it"; by the hawk, "God"; by the fish, "hatred," on account of the sea, as has been before stated; and by the hippopotamus, "impudence," this creature being said first to slay his sire, and afterwards to force his dam.fn#329 The Pythagoreans likewise may be thought perhaps by some to have looked upon the sea as impure, and quite different from all the rest of nature, and that thus much is intended by them when they call it the "tears of Kronos."
- fn#325 Plutarch here refers to Osiris as the Moon, which rises in the West.
- fn#326 According to the texts the front of the world was the south, khent, #### and from this word is formed the verb #### #### "to sail to the south."
- fn#327 In the texts the west is the right side, unemi, #### in Coptic, ####.
- fn#328 In the texts the east is the left side, abti.
- fn#329 Each of these signs, ####, except the last, does mean what Plutarch says it means, but his method of reading them together is wrong, and it proves that he did not understand that hieroglyphics were used alphabetically as well as ideographically.
Secs. XXXIII., XXXIV. Some of the more philosophical priests assert that Osiris does not symbolize the Nile only, nor Typhon the sea only, but that Osiris represents the principle and power of moisture in general, and that Typhon represents everything which is scorching, burning, and fiery, and whatever destroys moisture. Osiris they believe to have been of a blackfn#330 colour, because water gives a black tinge to everything with which it is mixed. The Mnevis Bullfn#331 kept at Heliopolis is, like Osiris, black in colour, "and even Egyptfn#332 itself, by reason of the extreme blackness of the soil, is called by them 'Chemia,' the very name which is given to the black part or pupil of the eye.fn#333 It is, moreover, represented by them under the figure of a human heart." The Sun and Moon are not represented as being drawn about in chariots, but as sailing round the world in ships, which shows that they owe their motion, support, and nourishment to the power of humidity.fn#334 Homer and Thales both learned from Egypt that "water was the first principle of all things, and the cause of generation."fn#335
- fn#330 Experiments recently conducted by Lord Rayleigh indicate that the true colour of water is blue.
- fn#331 In Egyptian, Nem-ur, or Men-ur, and he was "called the life of Ra."
- fn#332 The commonest name of Egypt is Kemt, "black land," as opposed to the reddish-yellow sandy deserts on each side of the "valley of black mud." The word for "black" is kam.
- fn#333 Plutarch seems to have erred here. The early texts call the pupil of the eye "the child in the eye," as did the Semitic peoples (see my Liturgy of Funerary Offerings, p. 136). The Copts spoke of the "black of the eye," derived from the hieroglyphic "darkness," "blackness."
- fn#334 There is no support for this view in the texts.
- fn#335 It was a very common belief in Egypt that all things arose from the great celestial ocean called Nu, whence came the Nile.
Sec. XXXVI. The Nile and all kinds of moisture are called the "efflux of Osiris." Therefore a water-pitcherfn#336 is always carried first in his processions, and the leaf of a fir-tree represents both Osiris and Egypt.fn#337 Osiris is the great principle of fecundity, which is proved by the Pamylia festivals, in which a statue of the god with a triple phallus is carried about.fn#338 The three-fold phallus merely signifies any great and indefinite number.
- fn#336 Plutarch refers to the vessel of water, with which the priest sprinkles the ground to purify it.
- fn#337 He seems to refer here to the olive-tree: Beqet, "olive land," was one of the names of Egypt.
- fn#338 Plutarch seems to be confounding Osiris with Menu, the god of generation, who is generally represented in an ithyphallic form. The festival of the phallus survived in Egypt until quite recently.
Sec. XXXVIII. The Sun is consecrated to Osiris, and the lion is worshipped, and temples are ornamented with figures of this animal, because the Nile rises when the sun is in the constellation of the Lion. Horus, the offspring of Osiris, the Nile, and Isis, the Earth, was born in the marshes of Buto, because the vapour of damp land destroys drought. Nephthys, or Teleute, represents the extreme limits of the country and the sea-shore, that is, barren land. Osiris (i.e., the Nile) overflowed this barren land, and Anubisfn#339 was the result.fn#340
- fn#339 The Egyptian Anpu. The texts make one form of him to be the son of Set and Nephthys.
- fn#340 Plutarch's explanations in this chapter are unsupported by the texts.
Sec. XXXIX. In the first part of this chapter Plutarch continues his identification of Typhon with drought, and his ally Aso, Queen of Ethiopia, he considers to be the Etesian or north winds, which blow for a long period when the Nile is falling. He goes on to say: --As to what they relate of the shutting up of Osiris in a box, this appears to mean the withdrawal of the Nile to its own bed. This is the more probable as this misfortune is said to have happened to Osiris in the month of Hathor, precisely at that season of the year when, upon the cessation of the Etesian or north winds the Nile returns to its own bed, and leaves the country everywhere bare and naked. At this time also the length of the nights increases, darkness prevails, whilst light is diminished and overcome. At this time the priests celebrate doleful rites, and they exhibit as a suitable representation of the grief of Isis a gilded ox covered with a fine black linen cloth. Now, the ox is regarded as the living image of Osiris. This ceremony is performed on the seventeenth and three following days,fn#341 and they mourn: 1. The falling of the Nile; 2. The cessation of the north winds; 3. The decrease in the length of the days; 4. The desolate condition of the land. On the nineteenth of the month Pachons they march in procession to the sea, whither the priests and other officials carry the sacred chest, wherein is enclosed a small boat of gold; into this they first pour some water, and then all present cry out with a loud voice, "Osiris is found." This done, they throw some earth, scent, and spices into the water, and mix it well together, and work it up into the image of a crescent, which they afterwards dress in clothes. This shows that they regard the gods as the essence and power of water and earth.
- fn#341 The 17th day is very unlucky; the 18th is very lucky; the 19th and 20th are very unlucky. On the 17th day Isis and Nephthys made great lamentation for their brother Un-nefer at Sais; on the 19th no man should leave the house; and the man born on the 20th would die of the plague.
Sec. XL. Though Typhon was conquered by Horus, Isis would not allow him to be destroyed. Typhon was once master of all Egypt, i.e., Egypt was once covered by the sea, which is proved by the sea-shells which are dug out of the mines, and are found on the tops of the hills. The Nile year by year creates new land, and thus drives away the sea further and further, i.e., Osiris triumphs over Typhon.
Fourth explanation of the story.
Sec. XLI. Osiris is the Moon, and Typhon is the Sun; Typhon is therefore called Seth,fn#342 a word meaning "violence," "force," &c. Herakles accompanies the Sun, and Hermes the Moon. In Sec. XLII. Plutarch connects the death-day of Osiris, the seventeenth of Hathor, with the seventeenth day of the Moon's revolution, when she begins to wane. The age of Osiris, twenty-eight years, suggests the comparison with the twenty-eight days of the Moon's revolution. The tree-trunk which is made into the shape of a crescent at the funeral of Osiris refers to the crescent moon when she wanes. The fourteen pieces into which Osiris was broken refer to the fourteen days in which the moon wanes.
- fn#342 In Egyptian, ####, or #### which Plutarch seems to connect with set, ####.
Sec. XLIII. The height of the Nile in flood at Elephantine is twenty- eight cubits, at Mendes and Xois low Nile is seven cubits, and at Memphis middle Nile is fourteen cubits; these figures are to be compared with the twenty-eight days of the Moon's revolution, the seven-day phase of the Moon, and the fourteen days' Moon, or full moon. Apis was begotten by a ray of light from the Moon, and on the fourteenth day of the month Phamenothfn#343 Osiris entered the Moon. Osiris is the power of the Moon, Isis the productive faculty in it.
- fn#343 Marked in the papyrus Sallier IV. as a particularly unlucky day.
Fifth explanation of the story.
Sec. XLIV. The philosophers say that the story is nothing but an enigmatical description of the phenomena of Eclipses. In Sec. XLV. Plutarch discusses the five explanations which he has described, and begins to state his own views about them. It must be concluded, he says, that none of these explanations taken by itself contains the true explanation of the foregoing history, though all of them together do. Typhon means every phase of Nature which is hurtful and destructive, not only drought, darkness, the sea, &c. It is impossible that any one cause, be it bad or even good, should be the common principle of all things. There must be two opposite and quite different and distinct Principles. In Sec. XLVI., Plutarch compares this view with the Magian belief in Ormazd and Ahriman, the former springing from light (Sec. XLVII.), and the latter from darkness. Ormazd made six good gods, and Ahriman six of a quite contrary nature. Ormazd increased his own bulk three times, and adorned the heaven with stars, making the Sun to be the guard of the other stars. He then created twenty-four other gods, and placed them in an egg, and Ahriman also created twenty-four gods; the latter bored a hole in the shell of the egg and effected an entrance into it, and thus good and evil became mixed together. In Sec. XLVIII. Plutarch quotes Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Aristotle, and Plato in support of his hypothesis of the Two Principles, and refers to Plato's Third Principle. Sec. XLIX. Osiris represents the good qualities of the universal Soul, and Typhon the bad; Bebofn#344 is a malignant being like Typhon, with whom Manetho identifies him. Sec. L. The ass, crocodile, and hippopotamus are all associated with Typhon; in the form of a crocodile Typhon escaped from Horus.fn#345
- fn#344 In Egyptian, Bebi, or Baba, or Babai, he was the first-born Son of Osiris.
- fn#345 See the Legend of Heru-Behutet, pr. 67.
The cakes offered on the seventh day of the month Tybi have a hippopotamus stamped on them. Sec. LI. Osiris symbolizes wisdom and power, and Typhon all that is malignant and bad.The remaining sections contain a long series of fanciful statements by Plutarch concerning the religion and manners and customs of the Egyptians, of which the Egyptian texts now available give no proofs.