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Legends Of The Gods by E. A. Wallis Budge

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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

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

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, fourteen[FN#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 father[FN#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 Memphis[FN#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

[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.


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

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.]


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 ass[FN#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.]


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 black[FN#330] colour, because water gives a black tinge to
everything with which it is mixed. The Mnevis Bull[FN#331] kept at
Heliopolis is, like Osiris, black in colour, "and even Egypt[FN#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

[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,"

[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-pitcher[FN#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 Anubis[FN#339] was the

[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.]


[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 Phamenoth[FN#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


[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; Bebo[FN#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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