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
FIRST EXPLANATION OF THE STORY
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 h 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? 1 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.
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.
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.
1 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.