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
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 dog 1 itself which is reverenced by them under the name of Hermes 2 ?
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, 3 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.
Now, the story of Isis and Osiris, its most insignificant and superfluous parts being omitted, runs thus:--
The goddess Rhea, 4 they say, having accompanied with Kronos 5 by stealth, was discovered by Helios 6 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, 7 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," 8 that is, the superadded, and they are observed by them as the birthdays of their gods. 9 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 All 10 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, 11 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, 12 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, 13 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, 14 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.
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 Tanaïtic 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.
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, 15 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.
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, Saôsis, though some call her Nemanoun, which answers to the Greek name Athenais.
1 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.
2 The Egyptian Tehuti, or Thoth.
4 I.e., NUT, the Sky-goddess.
5 I.e., KEB, the Earth-god.
6 I.e., RA.
7 I.e., AAH.
8 In Egyptian, "the five days over the year,"
9 In Egyptian thus:--
I. Birthday of Osiris,
II. Birthday of Horus,
III. Birthday of Set,
IV. Birthday of Isis,
V. Birthday of Nephthys
10 One of the chief titles of Osiris was Neb er tcher, i.e., "lord to the uttermost limit of everything."
11 I.e., Heru-ur, "Horus the Elder."
12 It was Horus, son of Isis, who was born in the marshes of Egypt.
13 This day is described as unlucky in the hieroglyphic texts.
14 Set and Nephthys are regarded as husband and wife in the texts; their offspring was Anubis, Anpu.
15 I In Egyptian, KHEBT, in the VIIIth nome of Lower Egypt.