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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
London, 1912

See the Preface to the Legends of the Gods

I. 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.
II. To desire, therefore, and covet after truth, those truths more especially which concern the divine nature, is to aspire to be partakers of that nature itself, and to profess that all our studies and inquiries are devoted to the acquisition of holiness. This occupation is surely more truly religious than any external purifications or mere service of the temple can be. But more especially must such a disposition of mind be highly acceptable to that goddess to whose service you are dedicated, for her especial characteristics are wisdom and foresight, and her very name seems to express the peculiar relation which she bears to knowledge. For "Isis"fn#260 is a Greek word, and means "knowledge," and "Typhon,"fn#261 the name of her professed adversary, is also a Greek word, and means "pride and insolence." This latter name is well adapted to one who, full of ignorance and error, tears in pieces and conceals that holy doctrine which the goddess collects, compiles, and delivers to those who aspire after the most perfect participation in the divine nature. This doctrine inculcates a steady perseverance in one uniform and temperate course of life, and an abstinence from particular kinds of foods, as well as from all indulgence of the carnal appetite, and it restrains the intemperate and voluptuous part within due bounds, and at the same time habituates her votaries to undergo those austere and rigid ceremonies which their religion obliges them to observe. The end and aim of all these toils and labours is the attainment of the knowledge of the First and Chief Being, who alone is the object of the understanding of the mind; and this knowledge the goddess invites us to seek after, as being near and dwelling continually with her. And this also is what the very name of her temple promiseth to us, that is to say, the knowledge and understanding of the eternal and self-existent Being (tou ontas)-now, it is called "Iseion," which suggests that if we approach the temple of the goddess rightly, and with purity, we shall obtain the knowledge of that eternal and self-existent Being (to on).
  • 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.
III. The goddess Isis is said by some authors to be the daughterfn#262 of Hermes, fn#263 and by others of Prometheus, both of them famous for their philosophic turn of mind. The latter is supposed to have first taught mankind wisdom and foresight, as the former is reputed to have invented letters and music.
  • 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.
They likewise call the former of the two Muses at Hermopolisfn#264 Isis as well as Dikaiosune,fn#265 she being none other, it is said, than Wisdom pointing out the knowledge of divine truths to her votaries, the true Hierophori and Hierostoli. Now, by the former of these are meant such who carry about them looked up in their souls, as in a chest, the sacred doctrine concerning the gods, purified from all such superfluities as superstition may have added thereto. And the holy apparel with which the Hierostoli adorn the statues of these deities, which is partly of a dark and gloomy and partly of a more bright and shining colour, seems aptly enough to represent the notions which this doctrine teaches us to entertain of the divine nature itself, partly clear and partly obscure. And inasmuch as the devotees of Isis after their decease are wrapped up in these sacred vestments, is not this intended to signify that this holy doctrine still abides with them, and that this alone accompanies them in another life? For as 'tis not the length of the beard or the coarseness of the habit which makes a philosopher, so neither will these frequent shavings, or the mere wearing of a linen vestment, constitute a votary of Isis. He alone is a true servant or follower of this goddess who, after he has heard, and has been made acquainted in a proper manner with the history of the actions of these gods, searches into the hidden truths which lie concealed under them, and examines the whole by the dictates of reason and philosophy.
  • 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.
IV. Nor, indeed, ought such an examination to be looked on as unnecessary whilst there are so many ignorant of the true reason even of the most ordinary rites observed by the Egyptian priests, such as their shavingsfn#266 and wearing linen garments. Some, indeed, there are who never trouble themselves to think at all about these matters, whilst others rest satisfied with the most superficial accounts of them: "They pay a peculiar veneration to the sheep,fn#267 therefore they think it their duty not only to abstain from eating its flesh, but likewise from wearing its wool. They are continually mourning for their gods, therefore they shave themselves. The light azure blossom of the flax resembles the clear and bloomy colour of the ethereal sky, therefore they wear linen"; whereas the true reason of the institution and observation of these rites is but one, and that common to all of them, namely, the extraordinary notions which they entertain of cleanliness, persuaded as they are, according to the saying of Plato, "none but the pure ought to approach the pure." Now, no superfluity of our food, and no excrementitious substance, is looked upon by them as pure and clean; such, however, are all kinds of wool and down, our hair and our nails. It would be the highest absurdity, therefore, for those who, whilst; they are in a course of purification, are at so much pains to take off the hair from every part of their own bodies, at the same time to clothe themselves with that of other animals. So when we are told by Hesiod "not to pare our nails whilst we are present at the festivals of the gods,"fn#268 we ought to understand that he intended hereby to inculcate that purity wherewith we ought to come prepared before we enter upon any religious duty, that we have not to make ourselves clean whilst we ought to be occupied in attending to the solemnity itself. Now, with regard to flax, this springs out of the immortal earth itself; and not only produces a fruit fit for food, but moreover furnishes a light and neat sort of clothing, extremely agreeable to the wearer, adapted to all the seasons of the year, and not in the least subject, as is said, to produce or nourish vermin; but more of this in another place.
  • 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."
V. Now, the priests are so scrupulous in endeavouring to avoid everything which may tend to the increase of the above-mentioned excrementitious substances, that, on this account, they abstain not only from most sorts of pulse, and from the flesh of sheep and swine, but likewise, in their more solemn purifications, they even exclude salt from their meals. This they do for many reasons, but chiefly because it whets their appetites, and incites them to eat more than they otherwise would. Now, as to salt being accounted impure because, as Aristagoras tells us, many little insects are caught in it whilst it is hardening, and are thereby killed therein-this view is wholly trifling and absurd. From these same motives also they give the Apis Bull his water from a well specially set apart for the purpose,fn#269 and they prevent him altogether from drinking of the Nile, not indeed that they regard the river as impure, and polluted because of the crocodiles which are in it, as some pretend, for there is nothing which the Egyptians hold in greater veneration than the Nile, but because its waters are observed to be particularly nourishingfn#270 and fattening. And they strive to prevent fatness in Apis as well as in themselves, for they are anxious that their bodies should sit as light and easy about their souls as possible, and that their mortal part should not oppress and weigh down the divine and immortal.
  • 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.
VI. The priests of the Sun at Heliopolisfn#271 never carry wine into their temples, for they regard it as indecent for those who are devoted to the service of any god to indulge in the drinking of wine whilst they are under the immediate inspection of their Lord and King.fn#272 The priests of the other deities are not so scrupulous in this respect, for they use it, though sparingly. During their more solemn purifications they abstain from wine wholly, and they give themselves up entirely to study and meditation, and to the hearing and teaching of those divine truths which treat of the divine nature. Even the kings, who are likewise priests, only partake of wine in the measure which is prescribed for them in the sacred books, as we are told by Hecataeus. This custom was only introduced during the reign of Psammetichus, and before that time they drank no wine at all. If they used it at any time in pouring out libations to the gods, it was not because they looked upon it as being acceptable to them for its own sake, but they poured it out over their altars as the blood of their enemies who had in times past fought against them. For they believe the vine to have first sprung out of the earth after it was fattened by the bodies of those who fell in the wars against the gods. And this, they say, is the reason why drinking its juice in great quantities makes men mad and beside themselves, filling them, as it were, with the blood of their own ancestors. These things are thus related by Eudoxus in the second book of his Travels, as he had them from the priests themselves.
  • 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.
VII. As to sea-fish, the Egyptians in general do not abstain from all kinds of them, but some from one sort and some from another. Thus, for example, the inhabitants of Oxyrhynchusfn#273 will not touch any that have been taken with an angle; for as they pay especial reverence to the Oxyrhynchus Fish,fn#274 from whence they derive their name, they are afraid lest perhaps the hook may be defiled by having been at some time or other employed in catching their favourite fish. The people of Syenefn#275 in like manner abstain from the Phagrus Fishfn#276; for as this fish is observed by them to make his first appearance upon their coasts just as the Nile begins to overflow, they pay special regard to these voluntary messengers as it were of that most joyful news. The priests, indeed, entirely abstain from all sorts in general.fn#277 Therefore, upon the ninth day of the first month, when all the rest of the Egyptians are obliged by their religion to eat a fried fish before the door of their houses, they only burn them, not tasting them at all. For this custom they give two reasons: the first and most curious, as falling in with the sacred philosophy of Osiris and Typhon, will be more properly explained in another place. The second, that which is most obvious and manifest, is that fish is neither a dainty nor even a necessary kind of food, a fact which seems to be abundantly confirmed by the writings of Homer, who never makes either the delicate Pheacians or the Ithacans (though both peoples were islanders) to feed upon fish, nor even the companions of Ulysses during their long and most tedious voyage, till they were reduced thereto by extreme necessity. In short, they consider the sea to have been forced out of the earth by the power of fire, and therefore to lie out of nature's confines; and they regard it not as a part of the world, or one of the elements, but as a preternatural and corrupt and morbid excrement.
  • 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).
VIII. This much may be depended upon: the, religious rites and ceremonies of the Egyptians were never instituted upon irrational grounds, never built upon mere fable and superstition, but founded with a view to promote the morality and happiness of those who were to observe them, or at least to preserve the memory of some valuable piece of history, or to represent to us some of the phenomena of nature. As concerning the abhorrence which is expressed for onions, it is wholly improbable that this detestation is owing to the loss of Diktys, who, whilst he was under the guardianship of Isis, is supposed to have fallen into the river and to have been drowned as he was reaching after a bunch of them. No, the true reason of their abstinence from onions is because they are observed to flourish most and to be in the greatest vigour at the wane of the moon, and also because they are entirely useless to them either in their feastsfn#278 or in their times of abstinence and purification, for in the former case they make tears come from those who use them, and in the latter they create thirst. For much the same reason they likewise look upon the pig as an impure animal, and to be avoided, observing it to be most apt to engender upon the decrease of the moon, and they think that those who drink its milk are more subject to leprosy and such-like cutaneous diseases than others. The custom of abstaining from the flesh of the pigfn#279 is not always observed, for those who sacrifice a sow to Typhon once a year, at the full moon, afterwards eat its flesh. The reason they give for this practice is this: Typhon being in pursuit of this animal at that season of the moon, accidentally found the wooden chest wherein was deposited the body of Osiris, which he immediately pulled to pieces. This story, however, is not generally admitted, there being some who look upon it, as they do many other relations of the same kind, as founded upon some mistake or misrepresentation. All agree, however, in saying that so great was the abhorrence which the ancient Egyptians expressed for whatever tended to promote luxury, expense, and voluptuousness, that in order to expose it as much as possible they erected a column in one of the temples of Thebes, full of curses against their king Meinis, who first drew them off from their former frugal and parsimonious course of life. The immediate cause for the erection of the pillar is thus given: Technatis,fn#280 the father of Bocchoris, leading an army against the Arabians, and his baggage and provisions not coming up to him as soon as he expected, was therefore obliged to eat some of the very poor food which was obtainable, and having eaten, he lay down on the bare ground and slept very soundly. This gave him a great affection for a mean and frugal diet, and induced him to curse the memory of Meinis, and with the permission of the priests he made these curses public by cutting them upon a pillar.fn#281
  • 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.
IX. Now, the kings of Egypt were always chosen either out of the soldiery or priesthood, the former order being honoured and respected for its valour, and the latter for its wisdom. If the choice fell upon a soldier, he was immediately initiated into the order of priests, and by them instructed in their abstruse and hidden philosophy, a philosophy for the most part involved in fable and allegory, and exhibiting only dark hints and obscure resemblances of the truth. This the priesthood hints to us in many instances, particularly by the sphinxes, which they seem to have placed designedly before their temples as types of the enigmatical nature of their theology. To this purpose, likewise, is that inscription which they have engraved upon the base of the statue of Athenefn#282 at Sais, whom they identify with Isis: "I am everything that has been, that is, and that shall be: and my veil no man hath raised." In like manner the word "Amoun," or as it is expressed in the Greek language, "Ammon," which is generally looked upon as the proper name of the Egyptian Zeus, is interpreted by Manethofn#283 the Sebennitefn#284 to signify "concealment" or "something which is hidden."fn#285 Hecataeus of Abdera indeed tells us that the Egyptians make use of this term when they call out to one another. If this be so, then their invoking Amoun is the same thing as calling upon the supreme being, whom they believe to be "hidden" and "concealed" in the universal nature, to appear and manifest itself to them. So cautious and reserved was the Egyptian wisdom in those things which appertained to religion.
  • 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."
X. And this is still farther evinced from those voyages which have been made into Egypt by the wisest men among the Greeks, namely, by Solo, Thales Plato, Eudoxus, Pythagoras, and, as some say, even by Lycurgus himself, on purpose to converse with the priests. And we are also told that Eudoxus was a disciple of Chnouphis the Memphite, Solo of Sonchis the Saite, and Pythagoras of Oinuphis the Heliopolite. But none of these philosophers seems either to have been more admired and in greater favour with the priests, or to have paid a more especial regard to their method of philosophising, than this last named, who has particularly imitated their mysterious and symbolical manner in his own writings, and like them conveyed his doctrines to the world in a kind of riddle. For many of the precepts of Pythagoras come nothing short of the hieroglyphical representations themselves, such as, "eat not in a chariot," "sit not on a measure (choenix)," "plant not a palm-tree," and "stir not the fire with a sword in the house." And I myself am of the opinion that, when the Pythagoreans appropriated the names of several of the gods to particular numbers, as that of Apollo to the unit, of Artemis to the duad, of Athene to the seven, and of Poseidon to the first cube, in this they allude to something which the founder of their sect saw in the Egyptian temples, or to some ceremonies performed in them, or to some symbols there exhibited. Thus, their great king and lord Osiris is represented by the hieroglyphics for an eye and a sceptre,fn#286 the name itself signifying "many-eyed," as we are told by somefn#287 who would derive it from the words os,fn#288 "many," and iri,fn#289 an "eye," which have this meaning in the Egyptian language. Similarly, because the heavens are eternal and are never consumed or wax old, they represent them by a heart with a censer placed under it. Much in the same way are those statues of the Judges at Thebes without hands, and their chief, or president, is represented with his eyes turned downwards, which signifies that justice ought not to be obtainable by bribes, nor guided by favour or affection. Of a like nature is the Beetle which we see engraven upon the seals of the soldiers, for there is no such thing as a female beetle of this species; for they are all males, and they propagate their kind by casting their seed into round balls of dirt, which afford not only a proper place wherein the young may be hatched, but also nourishment for them as soon as they are born.
  • 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."
XI. When you hear, therefore, the mythological tales which the Egyptians tell of their gods, their wanderings, their mutilations, and many other disasters which befell them, remember what has just been said, and be assured that nothing of what is thus told you is really true, or ever happened in fact. For can it be imagined that it is the dogfn#290 itself which is reverenced by them under the name of Hermesfn#291? It is the qualities of this animal, his constant vigilance, and his acumen in distinguishing his friends from his foes, which have rendered him, as Plato says, a meet emblem of that god who is the chief patron of intelligence. Nor can we imagine that they think that the sun, like a newly born babe, springs up every day out of a lily. It is quite true that they represent the rising sun in this manner,fn#292 but the reason is because they wish to indicate thereby that it is moisture to which we owe the first kindling of this luminary. In like manner, the cruel and bloody king of Persia, Ochus, who not only put to death great numbers of the people, but even slew the Apis Bull himself, and afterwards served him up in a banquet to his friends, is represented by them by a sword, and by this name he is still to be found in the catalogue of their kings. This name, therefore, does not represent his person, but indicates his base and cruel qualities, which were best suggested by the picture of an instrument of destruction. If, therefore, O Clea, you will hear and entertain the story of these gods from those who know how to explain it consistently with religion and philosophy, if you will steadily persist in the observance of all these holy rites which the laws require of you, and are moreover fully persuaded that to form true notions of the divine nature is more acceptable to them than any sacrifice or mere external act of worship can be, you will by this means be entirely exempt from any danger of falling into superstition, an evil no less to be avoided than atheism itself.
  • 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 ####.
XII. Now, the story of Isis and Osiris, its most insignificant and superfluous parts being omitted, runs thus: -- The goddess Rhea,fn#293 they say, having accompanied with Kronosfn#294 by stealth, was discovered by Heliosfn#295 who straightway cursed her, and declared that she should not be delivered in any month or year. Hermes, however, 'being also in love with the same goddess, in return for the favours which he had received from her, went and played at dice with Selene,fn#296 and won from her the seventieth part of each day. These parts he joined together and made from them five complete days, and he added them to the three hundred and sixty days of which the year formerly consisted. These five days are to this day called the "Epagomenae,"fn#297 that is, the superadded, and they are observed by them as the birthdays of their gods.fn#298 On the first of these, they say, Osiris was born, and as he came into the world a voice was heard saying, "The Lord of Allfn#299 is born." Some relate the matter in a different way, and say that a certain person named Pamyles, as he was fetching water from the temple of Dios at Thebes, heard a voice commanding him to proclaim aloud that the good and great king Osiris was then born, and that for this reason Kronos committed the education of the child to him, and that in memory of this event the Pamylia were afterwards instituted, which closely resemble the Phallephoria or Priapeia of the Greeks. Upon the second of these days was born Aroueris,fn#300 whom some call Apollo, and others the Elder Horus. Upon the third day Typhon was born, who came into the world neither at the proper time nor by the right way, but he forced a passage through a wound which he made in his mother's side. Upon the fourth day Isis was born, in the marshes of Egypt,fn#301 and upon the fifth day Nephthys, whom some call Teleute, or Aphrodite, or Nike, was born. As regards the fathers of these children, the first two are said to have been begotten by Helios, Isis by Hermes, and Typhon and Nephthys by Kronos. Therefore, since the third of the superadded days was the birthday of Typhon, the kings considered it to be unlucky,fn#302 and in consequence they neither transacted any business in it, nor even suffered themselves to take any refreshment until the evening. They further add that Typhon married Nephthys,fn#303 and that Isis and Osiris, having a mutual affection, enjoyed each other in their mother's womb before they were born, and that from this commerce sprang Aroueris, whom the Egyptians likewise call Horus the Elder, and the Greeks Apollo.
  • 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.
XIII. Osiris having become king of Egypt, applied himself to civilizing his countrymen by turning them from their former indigent and barbarous course of life. He taught them how to cultivate and improve the fruits of the earth, and he gave them a body of laws whereby to regulate their conduct, and instructed them in the reverence and worship which they were to pay to the gods. With the same good disposition he afterwards travelled over the rest of the world, inducing the people everywhere to submit to his discipline, not indeed compelling them by force of arms, but persuading them to yield to the strength of his reasons, which were conveyed to them in the most agreeable manner, in hymns and songs, accompanied with instruments of music. From this last circumstance the Greeks identified him with their Dionysos, or Bacchus. During the absence of Osiris from his kingdom, Typhon had no opportunity of making any innovations in the state, Isis being extremely vigilant in the government, and always upon her guard. After his return, however, having first persuaded seventy- two other people to join with him in the conspiracy, together with a certain queen of Ethiopia called Aso, who chanced to be in Egypt at that time, he formed a crafty plot against him. For having privily taken the measure of the body of Osiris, he caused a chest to be made of exactly the same size, and it was very beautiful and highly decorated. This chest he brought into a certain banqueting room, where it was greatly admired by all who were present, and Typhon, as if in jest, promised to give it to that man whose body when tried would be found to fit it. Thereupon the whole company, one after the other, went into it, but it did not fit any of them; last of all Osiris himself lay down in it. Thereupon all the conspirators ran to the chest, and clapped the cover upon it, and then they fastened it down with nails on the outside, and poured melted lead over it. They next took the chest to the river, which carried it to the sea through the Tanaitic mouth of the Nile; and for this reason this mouth of the Nile is still held in the utmost abomination by the Egyptians, and is never mentioned by them except with marks of detestation. These things, some say, took place on the seventeenth day of the month of Hathor, when the sun was in Scorpio, in the twenty-eighth year of the reign of Osiris, though others tell us that this was the year of his life and not of his reign.

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.
XV. At length Isis received more particular news that the chest had been carried by the waves of the sea to the coast of Byblos, and there gently lodged in the branches of a bush of tamarisk, which in a short time had grown up into a large and beautiful tree, and had grown round the chest and enclosed it on every side so completely that it was not to be seen. Moreover, the king of the country, amazed at its unusual size, had cut the tree down, and made that part of the trunk wherein the chest was concealed into a pillar to support the roof of his house. These things, they say, having been made known to Isis in an extraordinary manner by the report of demons, she immediately went to Byblos, where, setting herself down by the side of a fountain, she refused to speak to anybody except the queen's women who chanced to be there. These, however, she saluted and caressed in the kindest manner possible, plaiting their hair for them, and transmitting into them part of that wonderful odour which issued from her own body. This raised a great desire in the queen their mistress to see the stranger who had this admirable faculty of transfusing so fragrant a smell from herself into the hair and skin of other people. She therefore sent for her to court, and, after a further acquaintance with her, made her nurse to one of her sons. Now, the name of the king who reigned at this time at Byblos was Melkander (Melkarth?), and that of his wife was Astarte, or, according to others, Saosis, though some call her Nemanoun, which answers to the Greek name Athenais.

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.
XIX. After these things Osiris returned from the other world, and appeared to his son Horus, and encouraged him to fight, and at the same time instructed him in the exercise of arms. He then asked him what he thought was the most glorious action a man could perform, to which Horus replied, "To revenge the injuries offered to his fatherfn#309 and mother." Osiris then asked him what animal he thought most serviceable to a soldier, and Horus replied, "A horse." On this Osiris wondered, and he questioned him further, asking him why he preferred a horse to a lion, and Horus replied, "Though the lion is the more serviceable creature to one who stands in need of help, yet is the horse more useful in overtaking and cutting off a flying enemy."fn#310 These replies caused Osiris to rejoice greatly, for they showed him that his son was sufficiently prepared for his enemy. We are, moreover, told that amongst the great numbers who were continually deserting from Typhon's party was his concubine Thoueris,fn#311 and that a serpent which pursued her as she was coming over to Horus was slain by his soldiers. The memory of this action is, they say, still preserved in that cord which is thrown into the midst of their assemblies, and then chopped in pieces. Afterwards a battle took place between Horus and Typhon, which lasted many days, but Horus was at length victorious, and Typhon was taken prisoner. He was delivered over into the custody of Isis, who, instead of putting him to death, loosed his fetters and set him free. This action of his mother incensed Horus to such a degree that he seized her, and pulled the royal crown off her head; but Hermes came forward, and set upon her head the head of an ox instead of a helmet.fn#312 After this Typhon accused Horus of illegitimacy, but, by the assistance of Hermes, his legitimacy was fully established by a decree of the gods themselves.fn#313 After this two other battles were fought between Horus and Typhon, and in both Typhon was defeated. Moreover, Isis is said to have had union with Osiris after his death,fn#314 and she brought forth Harpokrates,fn#315 who came into the world before his time, and was lame in his lower limbs.
  • 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."
XX. Such then are the principal circumstances of this famous story, the more harsh and shocking parts of it, such as the cutting up of Horus and the beheading of Isis, being omitted. Now, if such could be supposed to be the real sentiments of the Egyptians concerning those divine Beings whose most distinguishing characteristics are happiness and immortality, or could it be imagined that they actually believed what they thus tell us ever to have actually taken place, I should not need to warn you, O Clea, you who are already sufficiently averse to such impious and absurd notions of the God, I should not, I say, have need to caution you, to testify your abhorrence of them, and, as Aeschylus expresses it, "to spit and wash your mouth" after the recital of them. In the present case, however, it is not so. And I doubt not that you yourself are conscious of the difference between this history and those light and idle fictions which the poets and other writers of fables, like spiders, weave and spin out of their own imaginations, without having any substantial ground or firm foundation to work upon. There must have been some real distress, some actual calamity, at the bottom as the ground-work of the narration; for, as mathematicians assure us, the rainbow is nothing else but a variegated image of the sun, thrown upon the sight by the reflection of his beams from the clouds; and thus ought we to look upon the present story as the representation, or rather reflection, of something real as its true cause. And this notion is still farther suggested to us as well by that solemn air of grief and sadness which appears in their sacrifices, as by the very form and arrangement of their temples, which extend into long avenues and open aisles in some portions,fn#316 and in others retreating into dark and gloomy chapels which resembled the underground vaults which are allotted to the dead. That the history has a substantial foundation is proved by the opinion which obtains generally concerning the sepulchres of Osiris. There are many places wherein his body is said to have been deposited, and among these are Abydos and Memphis, both of which are said to contain his body. It is for this reason, they say, that the richer and more prosperous citizens wish to be buried in the former of these cities, being ambitious of lying, as it were, in the grave with Osiris.fn#317 The title of Memphis to be regarded as the grave of Osiris seems to rest upon the fact that the Apis Bull, who is considered to be the image of the soul of Osiris, is kept in that city for the express purpose that it may be as near his body as possible.fn#318 Others again tell us that the interpretation of the name Memphisfn#319 is "the haven of good men," and that the true sepulchre of Osiris lies in that little island which the Nile makes at Philae.fn#320 This island is, they say, inaccessible, and neither bird can alight on it, nor fish swim near it, except at the times when the priests go over to it from the mainland to solemnize their customary rites to the dead, and to crown his tomb with flowers, which, they say, is overshadowed by the branches of a tamarisk-tree, the size of which exceeds that of an olive-tree.
  • 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.
XXI. Eudoxus indeed asserts that, although there are many pretended sepulchres of Osiris in Egypt, the, place where his body actually lies is Busiris,fn#321 where likewise he was born.fn#322 As to Taphosiris, there is no need to mention it particularly, for its very name indicates its claim to be the tomb of Osiris. There are likewise other circumstances in the Egyptian ritual which hint to us the reality upon which this history is grounded, such as their cleaving the trunk of a tree, their wrapping it up in linen which they tear in pieces for that purpose, and the libations of oil which they afterwards pour upon it; but these I do not insist on, because they are intermixed with such of their mysteries as may not be revealed.
  • 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.
XXIII. But I am much afraid that to give in to this explanation of the story will be to move things which ought not to be moved; and not only, as Simonides says, "to declare war against all antiquity," but likewise against whole families and nations who are fully possessed with the belief in the divinity of these beings. And it would be no less than dispossessing those great names of their heaven, and bringing them down to the earth. It would be to shake and loosen a worship and faith which have been firmly settled in nearly all mankind from their infancy. It would be to open a wide door for atheism to enter in at, and to encourage the attempts of those who would humanize the divine nature. More particularly it would give a clear sanction and authority to the impostures of Euhemerus the Messenian, who from mere imagination, and without the least appearance of truth to support it, has invented a new mythology of his own, asserting that "all those in general who are called and declared to be gods are none other than so many ancient generals and sea-captains and kings." Now, he says that he found this statement written in the Panchaean dialect in letters of gold, though in what part of the globe his Panchaeans dwell, any more than the Tryphillians, whom he mentions at the same time with them, he does not inform us. Nor can I learn that any other person, whether Greek or Barbarian, except himself, has ever yet been so fortunate as to meet with these imaginary countries.
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.

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