Legends of the Gods
The Egyptian Texts, edited with Translations
by E. A. Wallis Budge
London: Kegan Paul, Trench and Trübner & Co. Ltd.
THE HISTORY OF ISIS AND OSIRIS
WITH EXPLANATIONS OF THE SAME, COLLECTED BY PLUTARCH, AND SUPPLEMENTED BY HIS OWN VIEWS
The priests of the Sun at Heliopolis 1 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. 2
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.
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 Oxyrhynchus 3 will not touch any that have been taken with an angle; for as they pay especial reverence to the Oxyrhynchus Fish, 4 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 Syene 5 in like manner abstain from the Phagrus Fish 6 ; 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. 7 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.
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 feasts 8 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 pig 9 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, 10 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. 11
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 Athene 12 at Saïs, 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, "Ammôn," which is generally looked upon as the proper name of the Egyptian Zeus, is interpreted by Manetho 13 the Sebennite 14 to signify "concealment" or "something which is hidden." 15
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.
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 Saïte, 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, 16 the name itself signifying "many-eyed," as we are told by some 17 who would derive it from the words os, 18 "many," and iri, 19 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.
1 Called ANU in the Egyptian texts; it was the centre of the great solar cult of Egypt. It is the "On" of the Bible.
2 The Sun-god was called Ra.
3 The Per-Matchet.
4 Probably the pike, or "fighting fish."
5 In Egyptian, SUNU, the Seweneh of the Bible, and the modern Aswan.
6 A kind of bream, the an of the Egyptian texts.
7 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).
8 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.
9 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.
10 In Egyptian, TAFNEKHT, the first king of the XXIVth Dynasty.
11 An unlikely story, for Tafnekht had no authority at Thebes.
12 The Egyptian goddess Net, in Greek Νηιθ, the great goddess of Saïs, 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.
13 He compiled a History of Egypt for Ptolemy II., and flourished about B.C. 270; only the King-List from this work is preserved.
14 He was a native of the town of Sebennytus.
15 Amen means "hidden," and AMEN is the "hidden god."
16 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 .
17 This is a mistake.
18 In Egyptian, ash, "many."
19 in Egyptian, art, Coptic , "eye."