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~Napoleon Bonaparte

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Isis, Osiris, and Horus

But old age came on, and infirmities followed; the body of Râ grew bent, "his mouth trembled, his slaver trickled down to earth and his saliva dropped upon the ground." Isis, who had hitherto been a mere woman-servant in the household of the Pharaoh, conceived the project of stealing his secret from him, "that she might possess the world and make herself a goddess by the name of the august god." Force would have been unavailing; all enfeebled as he was by reason of his years, none was strong enough to contend successfully against him. But Isis "was a woman more knowing in her malice than millions of men, clever among millions of the gods, equal to millions of spirits, to whom as unto Râ nothing was unknown either in heaven or upon earth." She contrived a most ingenious stratagem. When man or god was struck down by illness, the only chance of curing him lay in knowing his real name, and thereby adjuring the evil being that tormented him. Isis determined to cast a terrible malady upon Râ, concealing its cause from him; then to offer her services as his nurse, and by means of his sufferings to extract from him the mysterious word indispensable to the uccess of the exorcism. She gathered up mud impregnated with the divine saliva, and moulded of it a sacred serpent which she hid in the dust of the road. Suddenly bitten as he was setting out upon his daily round, the god cried out aloud, "his voice ascended into heaven and his Nine called: 'What is it? what is it?' and his gods: 'What is the matter? what is the matter?' but he could make them no answer so much did his lips tremble, his limbs shake, and the venom take hold upon his flesh as the Nile seizeth upon the land which it invadeth." Presently he came to himself, and succeeded in describing his sensations. "Something painful hath stung me; my heart perceiveth it, yet my two eyes see it not; my hand hath not wrought it, nothing that I have made knoweth it what it is, yet have I never tasted suffering like unto it, and there is no pain that may overpass it.... Fire it is not, water it is not, yet is my heart in flames, my flesh trembleth, all my members are full of shiverings born of breaths of magic. Behold! let there be brought unto me children of the gods of beneficent words, who know the power of their mouths, and whose science reacheth unto heaven." They came, these children of the gods, all with their books of magic. There came Isis with her sorcery, her mouth full of life-giving breaths, her recipe for the destruction of pain, her words which pour life into breathless throats, and she said: "What is it? what is it, O father of the gods? May it not be that a serpent hath wrought this suffering in thee; that one of thy children hath lifted up his head against thee? Surely he shall be overthrown by beneficent incantations, and I will make him to retreat at the sight of thy rays." On learning the cause of his torment, the Sun-god is terrified, and begins to lament anew: "I, then, as I went along the ways, travelling through my double land of Egypt and over my mountains, that I might look upon that which I have made, I was bitten by a serpent that I saw not. Fire it is not, water it is not, yet am I colder than water, I burn more than fire, all my members stream with sweat, I tremble, mine eye is not steady, no longer can I discern the sky, drops roll from my face as in the season of summer." Isis proposes her remedy, and cautiously asks him his ineffable name. But he divines her trick, and tries to evade it by an enumeration of his titles. He takes the universe to witness that he is called "Khopri in the morning, Râ at noon, Tûmû in the evening." The poison did not recede, but steadily advanced, and the great god was not eased. Then Isis said to Râ: "Thy name was not spoken in that which thou hast said. Tell it to me and the poison will depart; for he liveth upon whom a charm is pronounced in his own name." The poison glowed like fire, it was strong as the burning of flame, and the Majesty of Râ said, "I grant thee leave that thou shouldest search within me, O mother Isis! and that my name pass from my bosom into thy bosom." In truth, the all-powerful name was hidden within the body of the god, and could only be extracted thence by means of a surgical operation similar to that practised upon a corpse which is about to be mummified. Isis undertook it, carried it through successfully, drove out the poison, and made herself a goddess by virtue of the name. The cunning of a mere woman had deprived Râ of his last talisman. 

Osiris Ounnefer and winged Isis in naos, Isis Temple, Philae Island, Egypt

 Wall relief of Isis, Kom Ombo Temple, Egypt

The goddess whom we are accustomed to regard as inseparable from Osiris, Isis the cow, or woman with cow's horns, had not always belonged to him. Originally she was an independent deity, dwelling at Bûto in the midst of the ponds of Adhû. She had neither husband nor lover, but had spontaneously conceived and given birth to a son, whom she suckled among the reeds—a lesser Horus who was called Harsiîsît, Horus the son of Isis, to distinguish him from Haroêris. At an early period she was married to her neighbour Osiris, and no marriage could have been better suited to her nature. For she personified the earth—not the earth in general, like Sibu, with its unequal distribution of seas and mountains, deserts and cultivated land; but the black and luxuriant plain of the Delta, where races of men, plants, and animals increase and multiply in ever-succeeding generations. To whom did she owe this inexhaustible productive energy if not to her neighbour Osiris, to the Nile? The Nile rises, overflows, lingers upon the soil; every year it is wedded to the earth, and the earth comes forth green and fruitful from its embraces.

The marriage of the two elements suggested that of the two divinities; Osiris wedded Isis and adopted the young Horus. 

 Osiris, Isis, and Horus

The gradual invasion of the domain of Sît by Osiris marks the beginning of the strife. Sit rebels against the wrong of which he is the victim, involuntary though it was; he surprises and treacherously slays his brother, drives Isis into temporary banishment among her marshes, and reigns over the kingdom of Osiris as well as over his own. But his triumph is short-lived. Horus, having grown up, takes arms against him, defeats him in many encounters, and banishes him in his turn. The creation of the world had brought the destroying and the life-sustaining gods face to face: the history of the world is but the story of their rivalries and warfare.

Osiris first represented the wild and fickle Nile of primitive times; afterwards, as those who dwelt upon his banks learned to regulate his course, they emphasized the kindlier side of his character and soon transformed him into a benefactor of humanity, the supremely good being, Ûnnofriû, Onnophris. His most famous idol-form was the Didû, whether naked or clothed, the fetish, formed of four superimposed columns, which had given its name to the principality.

They ascribed life to this Didû, and represented it with a somewhat grotesque face, big cheeks, thick lips, a necklace round its throat, a long flowing dress which hid the base of the columns beneath its folds, and two arms bent across the breast, the hands grasping one a whip and the other a crook, symbols of sovereign authority. This, perhaps, was the most ancient form of Osiris; but they also represented him as a man, and supposed him to assume the shapes of rams and bulls,[*] or even those of water-birds, such as lapwings, herons, and cranes, which disported themselves about the lakes of that district.[**] 

* The ram of Mendes is sometimes Osiris, and sometimes the soul of Osiris. The ancients took it for a he-goat, and to them we are indebted for the record of its exploits. According to Manetho, the worship of the sacred ram is not older than the time of King Kaiekhos of the second dynasty. A Ptolemaic necropolis of sacred rams was discovered by Mariette at Tmai el-Amdid, in the ruins of Thmûis, and some of their sarcophagi are now in the Gîzeh Museum.

 ** The Bonû, the chief among these birds, is not the phoenix, as has so often been asserted. It is a kind of heron, either the Ardea cinerea, which is common in Egypt, or else some similar species.

A very ancient legend narrates that the birth of Osiris and his brothers took place during the five additional days at the end of the year; a subsequent legend explained how Nûît and Sibû had contracted marriage against the express wish of Râ, and without his knowledge. When he became aware of it he fell into a violent rage, and cast a spell over the goddess to prevent her giving birth to her children in any month of any year whatever. But Thoth took pity upon her, and playing at draughts with the moon won from it in several games one seventy-second part of its fires, out of which he made five whole days; and as these were not included in the ordinary calendar, Nûît could then bring forth her five children, one after another: Osiris, Haroêris, Sit, Isis, and Nephthys. Osiris was beautiful of face, but with a dull and black complexion; his height exceeded five and a half yards.

*  As a matter of fact, Osiris is often represented with black or green hands and face, as is customary for gods of the dead; it was probably this peculiarity which suggested the popular idea of his black complexion. A magic papyrus of Ramesside times fixes the stature of the god at seven cubits, and a phrase in a Ptolemaic inscription places it at eight cubits, six palms, three fingers.

The god Osiris receiving offerings.

 Book of the Dead papyrus of Pinedjem II, 21st dynasty, circa 990-969 BC. Originally from the Deir el-Bahri royal cache. This scene depicts Pinedjem II in his role of High Priest making an offering to the god Osiris. 

 A triumphant Hunefer, having passed the weighing of the heart, is presented by falcon-headed Horus to the shrine of the green-skinned Osiris, god of the underworld and the dead, accompanied by Isis and Nephthys.

The Egyptians were as yet but half civilized; they were cannibals, and though occasionally they lived upon the fruits of the earth, they did not know how to cultivate them. Osiris taught them the art of making agricultural implements—the plough and the hoe,—field labour, the rotation of crops, the harvesting of wheat and barley, and vine culture. 

 Isis weaned them from cannibalism, healed their diseases by means of medicine or of magic, united women to men in legitimate marriage, and showed them how to grind grain between two flat stones and to prepare bread for the household. She invented the loom with the help of her sister Nephthys, and was the first to weave and bleach linen. There was no worship of the gods before Osiris established it, appointed the offerings, regulated the order of ceremonies, and composed the texts and melodies of the liturgies. He built cities, among them Thebes itself, according to some; though others declared that he was born there. As he had been the model of a just and pacific king, so did he desire to be that of a victorious conqueror of nations; and, placing the regency in the hands of Isis, he went forth to war against Asia, accompanied by Thot the ibis and the jackal Anubis. He made little or no use of force and arms, but he attacked men by gentleness and persuasion, softened them with songs in which voices were accompanied by instruments, and taught them also the arts which he had made known to the Egyptians. No country escaped his beneficent action, and he did not return to the banks of the Nile until he had traversed and civilized the world from one horizon to the other.

 Pompeii - Temple of Isis - Io and Isis

Sit invited Osiris to a banquet along with seventy-two officers whose support he had ensured, made a wooden chest of cunning workmanship and ordered that it should be brought in to him, in the midst of the feast. As all admired its beauty, he sportively promised to present it to any one among the guests whom it should exactly fit. All of them tried it, one after another, and all unsuccessfully; but when Osiris lay down within it, immediately the conspirators shut to the lid, nailed it firmly down, soldered it together with melted lead, and then threw it into the Tanitic branch of the Nile, which carried it to the sea. The news of the crime spread terror on all sides. The gods friendly to Osiris feared the fate of their master, and hid themselves within the bodies of animals to escape the malignity of the new king. Isis cut off her hair, rent her garments, and set out in search of the chest. She found it aground near the mouth of the river under the shadow of a gigantic acacia, deposited it in a secluded place where no one ever came, and then took refuge in Bûto, her own domain and her native city, whose marshes protected her from the designs of Typhon even as in historic times they protected more than one Pharaoh from the attacks of his enemies. There she gave birth to the young Horus, nursed and reared him in secret among the reeds, far from the machinations of the wicked one.

 But it happened that Sît, when hunting by moonlight, caught sight of the chest, opened it, and recognizing the corpse, cut it up into fourteen pieces, which he scattered abroad at random. Once more Isis set forth on her woeful pilgrimage. She recovered all the parts of the body excepting one only, which the oxyrhynchus had greedily devoured;[*] and with the help of her sister Nephthys, her son Horus, Anubis, and Thot, she joined together and embalmed them, and made of this collection of his remains an imperishable mummy, capable of sustaining for ever the soul of a god. On his coming of age, Horus called together all that were left of the loyal Egyptians and formed them into an army. **

* This part of the legend was so thoroughly well known, that by the time of the XIXth dynasty it suggested incidents in popular literature. When Bitiû, the hero of The Tale of the Two Brothers, mutilated himself to avoid the suspicion of adultery, he cast his bleeding member into the water, and the Oxyrhynchus devoured it.

 ** Towards the Grecian period there was here interpolated an account of how Osiris had returned from the world of the dead to arm his son and train him to fight. According to this tale he had asked Horus which of all animals seemed to him most useful in time of war, and Horus chose the horse rather than the lion, because the lion avails for the weak or cowardly in need of help, whereas the horse is used for the pursuit and destruction of the enemy. Judging from this reply that Horus was ready to dare all, Osiris allowed him to enter upon the war. The mention of the horse affords sufficient proof that this episode is of comparatively late origin (cf. p. 41 for the date at which the horse was acclimatized in Egypt).

His "Followers"—Shosûû Horû—defeated the "Accomplices of Sît"—Samiu Sît—who were now driven in their turn to transform themselves into gazelles, crocodiles and serpents,—animals which were henceforth regarded as unclean and Typhonian. For three days the two chiefs had fought together under the forms of men and of hippopotami, when Isis, apprehensive as to the issue of the duel, determined to bring it to an end. "Lo! she caused chains to descend upon them, and made them to drop upon Horus. Thereupon Horus prayed aloud, saying: 'I am thy son Horus!' Then Isis spake unto the fetters, saying; 'Break, and unloose yourselves from my son Horus!' She made other fetters to descend, and let them fall upon her brother Sit. Forthwith he lifted up his voice and cried out in pain, and she spake unto the fetters and said unto them: 'Break!' Yea, when Sît prayed unto her many times, saying: 'Wilt thou not have pity upon the brother of thy son's mother?' then her heart was filled with compassion, and she cried to the fetters: 'Break, for he is my eldest brother!' and the fetters unloosed themselves from him, and the two foes again stood face to face like two men who will not come to terms." Horus, furious at seeing his mother deprive him of his prey, turned upon her like a panther of the South. She fled before him on that day when battle was waged with Sit the Violent, and he cut off her head. But Thot transformed her by his enchantments and made a cow's head for her, thereby identifying her with her companion, Hâthor. 

 The war went on, with all its fluctuating fortunes, till the gods at length decided to summon both rivals before their tribunal. According to a very ancient tradition, the combatants chose the ruler of a neighbouring city, Thot, lord of Hermopolis Parva, as the arbitrator of their quarrel. Sît was the first to plead, and he maintained that Horus was not the son of Osiris, but a bastard, whom Isis haô conceived after the death of her husband. Horua triumphantly vindicated the legitimacy of his birth; and Thot condemned Sît to restore, according to some, the whole of the inheritance which he had wrongly retained,—according to others, part of it only. The gods ratified the sentence, and awarded to the arbitrator the title of Ûapirahûhûi: he who judges between two parties. A legend of more recent origin, and circulated after the worship of Osiris had spread over all Egypt, affirmed that the case had remained within the jurisdiction of Sibû, who was father to the one, and grandfather to the other party. Sibû, however, had pronounced the same judgment as Thot, and divided the kingdom into halves—poshûi; Sît retained the valley from the neighbourhood of Memphis to the first cataract, while Horus entered into possession of the Delta. Egypt henceforth consisted of two distinct kingdoms, of which one, that of the North, recognized Horus, the son of Isis, as its patron deity; and the other, that of the South, placed itself under the protection of Sît Nûbîti, the god of Ombos.

The three gods who preceded Osiris upon the throne had ceased to reign, but not to live. Râ had taken refuge in heaven, disgusted with his own creatures; Shû had disappeared in the midst of a tempest; and Sibû had quietly retired within his palace when the time of his sojourning upon earth had been fulfilled. Not that there was no death, for death, too, together with all other things and beings, had come into existence in the beginning, but while cruelly persecuting both man and beast, had for a while respected the gods. Osiris was the first among them to be struck down, and hence to require funeral rites. He also was the first for whom family piety sought to provide a happy life beyond the tomb. Though he was king of the living and the dead at Mendes by virtue of the rights of all the feudal gods in their own principalities, his sovereignty after death exempted him no more than the meanest of his subjects from that painful torpor into which all mortals fell on breathing their last. But popular imagination could not resign itself to his remaining in that miserable state for ever. What would it have profited him to have Isis the great Sorceress for his wife, the wise Horus for his son, two master-magicians—Thot the Ibis and the jackal Anubis—for his servants, if their skill had not availed to ensure him a less gloomy and less lamentable after-life than that of men. Anubis had long before invented the art of mummifying, and his mysterious science had secured the everlasting existence of the flesh; but at what a price!

 They did not dispense with the manipulations instituted by Anubis, but endued them with new power by means of magic. They inscribed the principal bandages with protective figures and formulas; they decorated the body with various amulets of specific efficacy for its different parts; they drew numerous scenes of earthly existence and of the life beyond the tomb upon the boards of the coffin and upon the walls of the sepulchral chamber. When the body had been made imperishable, they sought to restore one by one all the faculties of which their previous operations had deprived it. He might have returned to his place among men, and various legends prove that he did occasionally appear to his faithful adherents. But, as his ancestors before him, he preferred to leave their towns and withdraw into his own domain. The cemeteries of the inhabitants of Busiris and of Mendes were called Sokhît Ialû, the Meadow of Reeds, and Sokhît Hotpû, the Meadow of Best.  This was the first kingdom of the dead Osiris. 

 The son in a divine triad had of himself but limited authority. When Isis and Osiris were his parents, he was generally an infant Horus, naked, or simply adorned with necklaces and bracelets; a thick lock of hair depended from his temple, and his mother squatting on her heels, or else sitting, nursed him upon her knees, offering him her breast. Even in triads where the son was supposed to have attained to man's estate, he held the lowest place, and there was enjoined upon him the same respectful attitude towards his parents as is observed by children of human race in the presence of theirs. He took the lowest place at all solemn receptions, spoke only with his parents' permission, acted only by their command and as the agent of their will. Occasionally he was vouchsafed a character of his own, and filled a definite position, as at Memphis, where Imhotpû was the patron of science.

 Ptolemaic bronze Harpocrates as the child Horus.

To view Horus Harpocrates  ( April blog) click  here

But, generally, he was not considered as having either office or marked individuality; his being was but a feeble reflection of his father's, and possessed neither life nor power except as derived from him. Two such contiguous personalities must needs have been confused, and, as a matter of fact, were so confused as to become at length nothing more than two aspects of the same god, who united in his own person degrees of relationship mutually exclusive of each other in a human family. Father, inasmuch as he was the first member of the triad; son, by virtue of being its third member; identical with himself in both capacities, he was at once his own father, his own son, and the husband of his mother.

Drawn by Faucher-Gudin. The open lotus-flower, with a bud on either side, stands upon the usual sign for any water- basin. Here the sign represents the Nû, that dark watery abyss from which the lotus sprang on the morning of creation, and whereon it is still supposed to bloom.

 He was also said to have shut up his disk within a lotus-bud, whose folded petals had safely protected it. The flower had opened on the morning of the first day, and from it the god had sprung suddenly as a child wearing the solar disk upon his head. But all theories led the theologians to distinguish two periods, and as it were two beings in the existence of supreme deity: a pre-mundane sun lying inert within the bosom of the dark waters, and our living and life-giving sun

Horus, Relief in der Krypta des Tempels von Dendera, Ägypten

 Wall relief of Wadjet and Horus in Cradle chapel, temple of Edfu, Egypt

Râ, the solar disk,  was enthroned at Heliopolis, and sun-gods were numerous among the nome deities, but they were sun-gods closely connected with gods representing the sky, and resembled Horus quite as much as Râ. Whether  under the name of Horus or of Anhûri, the sky was early identified with its most brilliant luminary, its solar eye, and its divinity was as it were fused into that of the Sun. Horus the Sun, and Râ, the Sun-Cod of Heliopolis, had so permeated each other that none could say where the one began and the other ended. One by one all the functions of Râ had been usurped by Horus, and all the designations of Horus had been appropriated by Râ.

Osiris, Anubis, Horus, Osiris Pharaoh XVIII dynasties and Isis.

G. Maspero, History of Egypt, Chaldea, Babylonia, and Assyria Vol. I