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Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection
By E.A. Wallis Budge
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1973 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The History of Osiris as told by Classical Writers.
The religious literature of all the great periods of Egyptian history is filled with allusions to incidents connected with the life, death, and resurrection of Osiris, the god and judge of the Egyptian dead; and from first to last the authors of religious texts took it for granted that their readers were well acquainted with such incidents in all their details. In no text do we find any connected history of the god, and nowhere are stated in detail the reasons why he assumed his exalted position as the judge of souls, or why, for about four thousand years, he remained the great type and symbol of the Resurrection. No funerary inscription exists, however early, in which evidence cannot be found proving that the deceased had set his hope of immortality in Osiris, and at no time in Egypt's long history do we find that the position of Osiris was usurped by any other god. On the contrary, it is Osiris who is made to usurp the attributes and powers of other gods, and in tracing his history in the following pages we shall find that the importance of the cult of this god grew in proportion to the growth of the power and wealth of Egypt, and that finally its influence filled both the national and private life of her inhabitants, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sixth Cataract at Shablûkah. The fame of Osiris extended to the nations around, and it is to the hands of foreigners that we are indebted for connected, though short, narratives of his history. These, though full of misunderstandings and actual misstatements, are of considerable interest and value, and we must summarize them and set their principal contents before the reader before we attempt to set out the facts concerning the god which are found in the texts of ancient Egypt.
Plutarch, who was born at Chaeroneia, in Boeotia, about the middle of the first century after Christ, in his famous treatise on Isis and Osiris informed the Lady Clea, for whom he wrote the work, that Osiris was the son of Rhea (in Egyptian, Nut, the Sky-goddess) and Chronos (in Egyptian, keb, the Earth-god). He was born on the first of the five epagomenal days of the Egyptian year, and became king of Egypt; whether he reigned from his birth or was crowned king after he had grown up is not stated. Having become king, he devoted himself to improving the condition of his subjects. He weaned them from their miserable and barbarous manners, he taught them how to till the earth and how to sow and reap crops, he formulated a code of laws for them, and made them to worship the gods and perform service to them. He then left Egypt and travelled over the rest of the world teaching the various nations to do what his own subjects were doing. He forced no man to carry out his instructions, but by means of gentle persuasion and an appeal to their reason, he succeeded in inducing them to practise what he preached. Many of his wise counsels were imparted to his listeners in hymns and songs, which were sung to the accompaniment of instruments of music. During the absence of Osiris his own kingdom was administered by his wife Isis, who performed the duties committed to her charge with great wisdom and prudence. Her task was not easy, for she found it necessary to use all vigilance and to be ever ready to counteract the changes which Typhon, her brother-in- law, was continually endeavouring to introduce.
After Osiris returned from his travels Typhon appears to have made up his mind to get rid of him, and to seize the kingdom, and to take possession of his wife, Isis, with whom he was violently in love. With the view of carrying out his baleful design, he hatched a plot, and persuaded seventy-two persons, as well as a certain queen of Ethiopia, who was called Aso ('As?), to join in the conspiracy. He caused a very handsome box, or chest, to be made the exact size of the body of Osiris, the measure of which he had caused to be taken by craft, and having richly decorated it, he had it brought into his dining room and left there. He then invited Osiris to a banquet, at which all the fellow-conspirators were present, and whilst the guests were admiring the handsome box, Typhon, speaking as if in jest, declared that he would give it to him that was able to lie down comfortably in it. Thereupon one after the other of the seventy-two conspirators tried to get into the box, but were unable to do so. At length Osiris expressed his willingness to make trial if the box would contain him, and finding that it did he lay down in it. All the conspirators rushed to the box, and dragging the cover quickly over it, they fastened it in position with nails, and then poured lead over it. Thus it became impossible for Osiris to breathe, and he was suffocated. The conspirators, under the direction of Typhon, then dragged the box from the banqueting hall to the bank of the Nile, and cast it into the river, which carried it northwards, and it passed out to sea by the Tanitic mouth of the Nile. The day of the murder of Osiris was the 17th of the month of Hathor, when the sun was in the constellation of Scorpio; according to some Osiris was in the 28th year of his reign, and according to others, in the 28th year of his age. When the report of the murder reached Isis, who was then in the city of Coptos, she immediately cut off one of the locks of her hair, and put on mourning apparel, and wandered about the country in a distraught state searching for the box which contained her husband's body. Certain children who had seen the box thrown into the Nile told her what had been done with it, and how it had floated out to sea by way of the Tanitic mouth of the Nile.
Meanwhile the waves had carried the box to the coast of Syria and cast it up at Byblos, and as soon as it rested on the ground a large Erica tree sprang up, and growing all round the box enclosed it on every side. The king of Byblos marvelled at the size of this tree, and had it cut down, and caused a pillar for his palace to be made of that portion of the trunk which contained the box. When this news reached Isis she set out at once for Byblos, and when she arrived there she sat down by the side of the fountain of the palace and spoke to no one except the queen's maidens, who soon came to her. These she treated with great courtesy, and talked graciously to them, and caressed them, and tired their heads, and at the same time transferred to them the wonderful odour of her own body. When the maidens returned to the palace the queen perceived the odour which emanated from their hair and bodies, and learning from them that it was due to their contact with Isis, she sent to her and invited her to come to the palace. After a conversation with her she appointed her to be the nurse of one of her children. The name of the king of Byblos was Melkarth, and that of his wife Astarte (Ishtar, Ashtoreth). Isis gave the child her finger instead of her breast to suck, and at night she burned away in fire his mortal parts, whilst she herself, in the form of a swallow, flew round and round the pillar which contained the body of Osiris, uttering mournful chirpings. After she had treated the child thus for some time, the queen one night saw her son burning in the fire, whereupon she uttered a piercing cry, and so prevented him from obtaining the gift of immortality which was about to be bestowed upon him. Then Isis revealed herself to the queen, and told her her story, and begged that the pillar might be given to her. When this had been done, she removed it and cut out the box, and having wrapped the pillar up in fine linen and anointed it with unguents, she gave it back to the king and queen, who sent it to the temple of Byblos, where it was duly and regularly worshipped by the people of the city. The tree trunk, or pillar, is confused with the Tet, the raising up of which to an upright position was one of the most sacred ceremonies of the great festival of Osiris. The illustration shows the Tet in the form in which it was worshipped at Abydos. This done, Isis threw herself upon the box and uttered such piercing shrieks and lamentations that the younger of the king's sons was frightened into convulsions and died on the spot. She then placed the box in a boat, and taking the elder son with her, she set sail for Egypt.
Soon after her departure she opened the box, and laying her face on that of her dead husband, she embraced his body, and wept bitterly. Meanwhile the boy, wondering what was happening, stole up behind and spied upon her; when Isis became aware of this she turned round suddenly, being in a great passion, and in her anger cast so terrible a look upon him that he died of fright. Some, however, say that he did not die through the wrath of the goddess, but that he fell into the sea and was drowned. He is said to be the "Maneros" upon whom the Egyptians call during their feasts.
In due course Isis arrived in Egypt from Byblos, and having placed the box in an out-of-the-way place, she set out to visit her son Horus, who was being reared at Butus. The box was, however, discovered by Typhon, the murderer of Osiris, one night whilst he was hunting by the light of the moon, and knowing whose the body was, he broke it up into fourteen pieces, which he scattered throughout the country. When the news of the dismemberment of Osiris reached Isis, she set out in search of his scattered limbs. This region of the Delta being full of marshes and canals Isis travelled about in a boat made of the papyrus plant, which was sacred to her. No crocodile dared to attack her in her papyrus boat, and unto this day men make their boats of papyrus, because they believe that when in them they are safe from the attacks of crocodiles. Isis was successful in her search, and wherever she found a member of her husband's body she buried it, and built a sepulchre over it; this explains why there are so many tombs of Osiris in Egypt. Some say that Isis only buried figures of Osiris in the various cities and pretended that they were his body, so that she might thereby cause the worship of her husband to be general, and that Typhon, distracted by the number of the tombs of Osiris, might despair of ever being able to find the true one. Isis found all the members of the body of Osiris save one, which was cast by Typhon into the Nile after he had severed it from the body, and had been eaten by the Lepidotus, Phagrus, and Oxyrhynchus fishes, but she made a figure of it which was ever after used in commemorative festivals.
After these things Osiris returned from the Other World and encouraged his son, Horus, to do battle with Typhon. A fight took place between them which lasted for several days, and at length the murderer of Osiris was vanquished and taken prisoner, and handed over to the custody of Isis. Feeling some compassion for her brother-in-law she cut his bonds, and set him at liberty, an act which enraged Horus so greatly that he tore the royal crown off his mother's head. In its place Thoth gave her a crown made in the shape of an ox's head. Typhon made use of his liberty to accuse Horus of illegitimacy, but the matter was tried before the gods, and by the assistance of Thoth, who acted as his advocate, Horus was enabled to prove to the gods that he was the lawful successor to the throne of his father, Osiris. Subsequently Isis had union with her husband, Osiris, and the result of the god's embrace was the child Harpokrates, who came into the world prematurely, and was lame in his lower limbs in consequence. "Such are the principal facts of "this famous story, the more harsh and shocking parts "of it, such as the dismemberment of Horus, and the "beheading of Isis being omitted."
Diodorus, who was born at Agyrium in Sicily in the latter half of the first century B.C., relates in his famous history the following concerning Osiris and Isis: The early generations of men thought there were two principal gods that were eternal, that is to say, the sun and the moon; the former they called "Osiris," and the latter "Isis" The name Osiris means "many-eyed" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), and is rightly applied to the sun, which darts his rays everywhere, seeing as it were with many eyes what is on land and sea. The name "Isis" means "ancient," and has been applied to the moon from time immemorial. Osiris and Isis govern the whole world, and they foster and protect everything in it, and they divide the year into three parts, spring, summer, and winter. After Hephaistos, the next king who reigned over Egypt was Kronos (in Egyptian, keb), who married his sister Rhea (in Egyptian, Nut), and became the father of Osiris and Isis. Others say that Zeus and Hera were the rulers of Egypt, and that from them five gods were born, one upon each of the five epagomenal days, viz., Osiris, Isis, Typhon, Apollo, and Aphrodite. Those who hold this view identify Osiris with Bacchus, and Isis with Ceres. Osiris married Isis, and after he became king he performed many things for the benefit and advantage of mankind generally. He abolished cannibalism, which was common in Egypt, he taught the people to plough and to sow, and to raise crops of wheat and barley, and Isis showed them how to make bread, and was the first to make them acquainted with the use to which wheat and barley could be put. For this reason they offer to Isis the firstfruits of the ears of corn at harvest, and invoke her powerful assistance with loud cries. It is also said that Isis formulated a code of laws which provided wholesome punishments for wild and violent men.
Osiris was greatly devoted to agriculture. He was brought up in Nysa, a town of Arabia Felix, where he discovered the use of the vine. He was the first to drink wine, and he taught men to plant the vine, and how to make and preserve wine. He held Hermes (in Egyptian, Thoth) in high honour, because of his ingenuity and power of quick invention. Hermes taught men to speak distinctly, he gave names to things which possessed none before, he invented letters, and instituted the worship of the gods, he invented arithmetic, music, and sculpture, and formulated a system of astronomy. He was the confidential scribe of Osiris, who invariably accepted his advice upon all matters. Osiris raised a large army, and he determined to go about the world teaching mankind to plant vines and to sow wheat and barley. Having made all arrangements in Egypt he committed the government of his whole kingdom to Isis, and gave her as an assistant Hermes, his trusted scribe who excelled all others in wisdom and prudence. He appointed to be the chief of the forces in Egypt his kinsman Hercules, a man of great physical strength. Osiris took with him Apollo (in Egyptian, Horus), Anubis who wore a dog's skin, Macedo who wore a wolf's skin, Pan (in Egyptian, Menu), and various skilful husbandmen. As he marched through Ethiopia, a company of satyrs was presented to him; he was fond of music and dancing, and therefore added them to the body of musicians and singers, both male and female, who were in his train. Having taught the Ethiopians the arts of tillage and husbandry, he built several cities in their country, and appointed governors over them, and then continued his journey. On the borders of Ethiopia he raised the river banks, and took precautions to prevent the Nile from overflowing the neighbouring country and turning it into a marsh, and he built canals with flood-gates and regulators. He then travelled by way of the coast of Arabia into India, where he built many cities, including Nysa, in which he planted the ivy plant. He took part in several elephant hunts, and journeying westwards he brought his army through the Hellespont into Europe. In Thrace he killed Lycurgus, a barbarian king, who refused to adopt his system of government. Osiris became a benefactor of the whole world by finding out food which was suitable for mankind, and after his death he gained the reward of immortality, and was honoured as a god.
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