THE MYTH OF OSIRIS,
THE REIGN OF OSIRIS ON EARTH
the Emperor Nero making adorations and playing the sistra in honor of Isis and Osiris enthroned; before the King is represented the Child God Ihy (son of Hathor and Horus), standing on the Sema-Tawy (lotus and papyrus entwined, the symbol of the union of the Two Lands) and playing the sistrum and the menat-necklace. From the interior wall of the Pronaos of the Temple of Hathor at Nitentore (Dendera)
Osiris, together with Isis, reigned on Earth during the ancient times of the kingdom of the First Dynasty of Gods on Earth (corresponding to the Gods of the Ennead of On-Heliopolis), many millennia before the I Dynasty of human Kings, as testified by the egyptian priest Manetho in His work “Aigyptiaka” (Manetho, fr. 1-3) and by the Royal Annals (the Memphite Theology, the Palermo and the Cairo Stones, the Turin King List).
Osiris and Isis are the founders of human civilization, the lawgivers of mankind, and the Gods Who have taught to the human beings the highly sacred rituals to honour the Gods:
“One of the first acts related of Osiris in His reign was to deliver the Egyptians from their destitute and brutish manner of living. This He did by showing them the fruits of cultivation, by giving them laws, and by teaching them to honour the Gods”.
[Plutarch, Isis and Osiris, I, 13]
-THE ROYAL TITULARY OF OSIRIS:
(from the Chester Beatty papyrus I)
the Great God Osiris enthroned, wearing the ‘Atef’-Crown with ram’s horns, holding the ‘Uas’-Scepter of Power and Dominion in His left and the ‘Ankh’ in the right; detail from the Pylon of the Temple of Horus at Behdet
Son of Ptah:
‘The most beneficial for the Two Regions, appearing as Father of His Ennead, He Who eats gold and and all kinds of wonderful gemstones, the Possessor of Sanctity’,
The King of Upper and Lower Egypt:
‘The Bull Who lives in the midst of Iunu-Heliopolis’,
Life! Power! Health!
‘The Lion Who hunts for Himself.’
The Two Ladies:
‘He Who protects the Gods and subdues the Two Lands.’
Horus of Gold:
‘He Who invented mankind in the Primeval Time’
-THE REIGN OF OSIRIS:
“Osiris was the first, they record, to make mankind give up cannibalism; for after Isis had discovered the fruit of both wheat and barley which grew wild over the land along with the other plants but was still unknown to man, and Osiris had also devised the cultivation of these fruits, all men were glad to change their food, both because of the pleasing nature of the newly-discovered grains and because it seemed to their advantage to refrain from their butchery of one another.
As proof of the discovery of these fruits they offer the following ancient custom which they still observe: even yet at harvest time the people make a dedication of the first heads of the grain to be cut, and standing beside the sheaf beat themselves and call upon Isis, by this act rendering honour to the Goddess for the fruits which She discovered, at the season when She first did this. Moreover in some cities, during the Festival of Isis as well, stalks of wheat and barley are carried among the other objects in the procession, as a memorial of what the Goddess so ingeniously discovered at the beginning. Isis also established laws, they say, in accordance with which the people regularly dispense Justice to one another and are led to refrain through fear of punishment from illegal violence and insolence; and it is for this reason also that the early Hellenes gave Demeter the name Thesmophoros (“Lawgiver”), acknowledging in this way that She had first established their laws.
[Diodorus Siculus, I, 14]
scene from the north room of the Temple of Osiris and Opet at ‘Ipet-Sut’, the Precinct of Amon-Ra at ‘Uaset’- Thebes:the King presenting the Wreath of triumph/justification to Osiris “Who is in Uaset”; behind Osiris is represented the Goddess Amaune (one of the Deities of the Ogdoad), the “Mother of Ra”. Behind the King, in the upper register are represented (from right to left) Montu “Lord of Uaset”, Atum “Lord in On-Heliopolis”, Shu “the son of Ra”, Tefnut “the daughter of Atum”; in the lower register (from right to left) Osiris, Isis “the Lady of the Sky”, Haroeris (Horus the Ancient), and Nephthys
“Osiris, they say, founded in the Egyptian Thebaid a city with a hundred gates, which the men of His day named after His mother, though later generations called it Diospolis (“the city of Zeus-Amon”, Uaset), and some named it Thebes. There is no agreement, however, as to when this city was founded, not only among the historians, but even among the priests of Egypt themselves; for many writers say that Thebes was not founded by Osiris, but many years later by a certain King (King Busiris, cfr. I, 45) (…).
Osiris, they add, also built a Temple to His parents (the Ipet-Sut Precinct of Amon-Ra at Thebes, the greatest Temple of all the world), Zeus/Amon-Ra and Hera/Amaunet-Mut, which was famous both for its size and its costliness in general, and two golden chapels to Zeus/Amon-Ra, the larger one to Him as God of Heaven, the smaller one to Him as former King and Father of the Egyptians, in which rôle He is called by some Amon. He also made golden chapels for the rest of the Gods mentioned above, allotting honours to each of Them and appointing priests to have charge over these. Special esteem at the court of Osiris and Isis was also accorded to those who should invent any of the arts or devise any useful process; consequently, since copper and gold mines had been discovered in the Thebaid, they fashioned implements with which they killed the wild beasts and worked the soil, and thus in eager rivalry brought the country under cultivation, and they made images of the Gods and magnificent golden chapels for Their worship.”
[Diodorus Siculus, I, 14]
scene from the East Wall of the Osirian Complex in the “Great Temple” of Abydos: King Osiry MenMaatRa (Sethi I) making adorations and offering white bread (pyramidal) to Osiris and Isis. Above the King is represented Horus of Behdet in His form of Falcon. Osiris is enthroned and holds in His hands the Heqa-Scepter, the Uas-scepter of Power and Dominion, and the Nekhaka flail
“Osiris, they say, was also interested in agriculture and was reared in Nysa, a city of Arabia Felix near Egypt. (…) And the discovery of the vine, they say, was made by Him near Nysa, and, having further devised the proper treatment of its fruit, He was the first to drink wine and taught mankind at large the culture of the vine and the use of wine, as well as the way to harvest the grape and to store wine.”
[Diodorus Siculus, I, 14-15]
“(…) in that place (Nysa in Arabia) there stands also a stele of each of the Gods (Isis and Osiris) bearing an inscription in hieroglyphs. On the stele of Isis it runs:
“I am Isis, the Queen of every land,
She Who was instructed of Hermes/Thoth,
and whatsoever laws I have established, these can no man make void.
I am the eldest daughter of the youngest God Kronos-Geb,
I am the wife and sister of the King Osiris,
I am She Who first discovered fruits for mankind,
I am the mother of Horus the King,
I am She Who riseth in the star that is in the Constellation of the Dog (Sothis-SIrius),
by me was the city of Bubastis built.
Farewell, farewell, O Egypt that nurtured me”.
And on the stele of Osiris the inscription recites:
”My father is Kronos-Geb, the youngest of all the Gods,
and I am Osiris the King, Who campaigned over every country as far as the uninhabited regions of India and the lands to the north, even to the sources of the river Ister (the Danube of modern Romania) and again to the remaining parts of the world as far as Okeanos.
I am the eldest son of Kronos-Geb, and being sprung from a fair and noble was begotten a seed of kindred birth to Day.
There is no region of the inhabited world to which I have not come, dispensing to all men the things of which I was the discoverer”.
[Diodorus Siculus, I, 27]
-THE CONQUESTS OF OSIRIS:
The myth concerning the conquests of Osiris, especially in Asia, corresponds exactly to the hellenic myth about the conquests of Dionysos; the fullest account about it are the “Dionysiaca” by Nonnos of Panopolis (in Egypt).
Indeed all the hellenic sources identify Osiris with Dionysos, without any doubt or hesitation, but as a well known religious truth. And it is important to remember that with His conquest of Asia, Alexander the Great followed the example of Osiris-Dionysos, realizing again what the Great God has done in the most ancient times: and in fact Alexander the Great was called New Dionysos.
the Great God Osiris enthroned, detail from the II Hypostyle Hall of the “Great Temple” of Abydos
“Of Osiris they say that, being of a beneficent turn of mind, and eager for glory, He gathered together a great army, with the intention of visiting all the inhabited earth and teaching the race of men how to cultivate the vine and sow wheat and barley. (…)
Now after Osiris had established the affairs of Egypt and turned the supreme power over to Isis His wife, they say that He placed Hermes-Thoth at Her side as counsellor because His prudence raised Him above the King’s other friends, and as general of all the land under His sway He left Herakles (Herakles is identified with Herishef/Arsaphes, with Khonsu, with Shu and Khonsu-Shu), Who was both His kinsman and renowned for His valour and physical strength, while as governors He appointed Busiris over those parts of Egypt which lie towards Phoenicia and border upon the sea, and Antaeus over those adjoining Ethiopia and Libya; then He Himself left Egypt with His army to make His campaign, taking in His company also His brother, whom the Greeks call Apollo (Haroeris, Horus the Ancient). And it was Apollo-Haroeris, they say, Who discovered the laurel, a garland of which all men place about the head of this God above all others. The discovery of ivy is also attributed to Osiris by the Egyptians and made sacred to this God, just as the Greeks also do in the case of Dionysos. And in the Egyptian language, they say, the ivy is called the “plant of Osiris” and for purposes of dedication is preferred to the vine, since the latter sheds its leaves while the former ever remains green; the same rule, moreover, the ancients have followed in the case of other plants also which are perennially green, ascribing, for instance, the myrtle to Aphrodite-Hathor and the laurel to Apollo-Haroeris.
Now Osiris was accompanied on His campaign, as the Egyptian account goes, by His two sons Anubis and Macedon-Upuaut, Who were distinguished for Their valour. Both of Them carried the most notable accoutrements of war, taken from certain animals whose character was not unlike the boldness of the men, Anubis wearing a dog’s skin and Macedon-Upuaut the fore-parts of a wolf; and it is for this reason that these animals are held in honour among the Egyptians. He also took Pan-Min along on His campaign, Who is held in special honour by the Egyptians; for the inhabitants of the land have not only set up statues of Him at every Temple but have also named a city after Him in the Thebaid, called by the natives Khemmis, which when translated means City of Pan (Panopolis). In
His company were also men who were experienced in agriculture, such as Maron in the cultivation of the vine, and Triptolemos in the sowing of grain and in every step in the harvesting of it.
And when all His preparations had been completed Osiris made a vow to the Gods that He would let His hair grow until His return to Egypt and then made His way through Ethiopia; and this is the reason why this custom with regard to their hair was observed among the Egyptians until recent times, and why those who journeyed abroad let their hair grow until their return home.”
(Diodorus Siculus, I, 17-18)
detail of the Great God Osiris, wearing the Hedjet (the White Crown) and the Menat-necklace; on the right, the Heqa and the Uas Scepters, and the Nekhakha-Flail. From the north wall of the II Hypostyle Hall of the “Great Temple” of Abydos
“While He (Osiris) was in Ethiopia, their account continues, the Satyr people were brought to Him, who, they say, have hair upon their loins. For Osiris was laughter-loving and fond of music and the dance; consequently He took with Him a multitude of musicians, among whom were nine maidens who could sing and were trained in the other arts, these maidens being those who among the Greeks are called the Muses; and their leader, as the account goes, was Apollo-Haroeris, Who was for that reason also given the name ‘Musegetes’ (‘Leader of the Muses’). As for the Satyrs, they were taken along in the campaign because they were proficient in dancing and singing and every kind of relaxation and pastime. For Osiris was not warlike, nor did He have to organize pitched battles or engagements, since every people received Him as a God because of His benefactions. In Ethiopia He instructed the inhabitants in agriculture and founded some notable cities, and then left behind Him men to govern the country and collect the tribute.
While Osiris and His army were thus employed, the Nile, they say, was at the time of the rising of Sothis-Sirius, which is the season when the river is usually at flood (it was the Akhet season, that is the ‘Season of the Inundation’), breaking out of its banks inundated a large section of Egypt and covered especially that part where Prometheus was governor; and since practically everything in this district was destroyed, Prometheus was so grieved that he was on the point of quitting life wilfully. Because its water sweeps down so swiftly and with such violence the river was given the name Aëtus; but Herakles (Herakles is identified with Herishef/Arsaphes, with Khonsu, with Shu and Khonsu-Shu), being ever intent upon great enterprises and eager for the reputation of a manly spirit, speedily stopped the flood at its breach and turned the river back into its former course. (…) The river in the earliest period bore the name Oceane, which in Greek is Okeanos; then because of this flood, they say, it was called Aëtus, and still later it was known as Aegyptos after a former King of the land. (…) Its last name (‘Nile’) and that which the river now bears it received from the former King Nileus.
Now when Osiris arrived at the borders of Ethiopia, he curbed the river by dykes on both banks, so that at flood-time it might not form stagnant pools over the land to its detriment, but that the flood-water might be let upon the countryside, in a gentle flow as it might be needed, through gates which He had built.
After this He continued His march through Arabia along the shore of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean as far as India and the limits of the inhabited world.”
[Diodorus Siculus, I, 17-20]
detail of the Great God Osiris from the chapel of Isis in the Osirian Complex of the “Great Temple” of Abydos; on the right is represented an incense-burner
“He (Osiris) also founded not a few cities in India, one of which He named Nysa, wishing to leave there a memorial of that city in Egypt where He had been reared. He also planted ivy in the Indian Nysa, and throughout India and those countries which border upon it the plant to this day is still to be found only in this region. And many other signs of His stay He left in that country, which have led the Indians of a later time to lay claim to the God and say that He was by birth a native of India (in the Hindu Religion the Great God Osiris is identified with MahaDeva, the Great God, Shiva).
Osiris also took an interest in hunting elephants, and everywhere left behind Him inscribed pillars telling of His campaign.
And He visited all the other nations of Asia as well and crossed into Europe at the Hellespont. In Thrace He slew Lycurgus, the King of the barbarians, who opposed His undertaking, and He left there Maron, who was now old, to supervise the culture of the plants which He introduced into that land and caused him to found a city to bear his name, which he called Maroneia. Macedon-Upuaut His son, moreover, He left as King of Macedonia, which was named after him, while to Triptolemos He assigned the care of agriculture in Attica.
Finally, Osiris in this way visited all the inhabited world and advanced community life by the introduction of the fruits which are most easily cultivated. And if any country did not admit of the growing of vine He introduced the drink prepared from barley, which is little inferior to wine in aroma and strength (the beer).
On His return to Egypt He brought with Him the very greatest presents from every quarter.”
[Diodorus Siculus, I, 17-20]
-THE REBELLION OF SETH AGAINST OSIRIS AND THE WANDERINGS AND LAMENTATIONS OF ISIS:
the Great God Osiris, wearing the Nemes with the Uraeus and a crown with ram’s horns and two feathers, holding the flail and the royal scepters; detail from the south-west wall (lower register) of the Chapel of Osiris in the “Great Temple” of King Sethi I at Abydos. (The face of Osiris has been impiously hammered by the christians…)
“During the absence of Osiris (during His conquest of Asia and all the inhabited earth) the tradition is that Typhon-Seth attempted nothing revolutionary because Isis, Who was in control, was vigilant and alert.
But when Osiris returned home, Typhon-Seth contrived a treacherous plot against Him and formed a group of conspirators seventy-two in number. He had also the co-operation of a queen from Ethiopia who was there at the time and whose name they report as Aso. Typhon-Seth, having secretly measured Osiris’s body and having made ready a beautiful chest of corresponding size artistically ornamented, caused it to be brought into the room where the festivity was in progress. The company was much pleased at the sight of it and admired it greatly, whereupon Typhon-Seth jestingly promised to present it to the man who should find the chest to be exactly his length when he lay down in it. They all tried it in turn, but no one fitted it. Then Osiris got into it and lay down, and those who were in the plot ran to it and slammed down the lid, which they fastened by nails from the outside and also by using molten lead. Then they carried the chest to the river and sent it on its way to the sea through the Tanitic Mouth. Wherefore the Egyptians even to this day name this mouth the hateful and execrable. Such is the tradition. They say also that the date on which this deed was done was the seventeenth day of Hathor, when the Sun passes through Scorpion. (…)
The first to learn of the deed and to bring to men’s knowledge an account of what had been done were the Pans and Satyrs who lived in the region around Khemmis (Panopolis), and so, even to this day, the sudden confusion and consternation of a crowd is called a panic.
Isis, when the tidings reached Her, at once cut off one of Her tresses and put on a garment of mourning in a place where the city still bears the name of Kopto. Others think that the name means deprivation, for they also express “deprive” by means of “koptein”.
(Plutarch, Isis and Osiris, I, 13)
“But Isis wandered everywhere at Her wits’ end; no one whom She approached did She fail to address, and even when She met some little children She asked them about the chest. As it happened, they had seen it, and they told Her the mouth of the river through which the friends of Typhon-Seth had launched the coffin into the sea. Wherefore the Egyptians think that little children possess the power of prophecy, and they try to divine the future from the portents which they find in children’s words, especially when children are playing about in holy places and crying out whatever chances to come into their minds.
Thereafter Isis, as they relate, learned that the chest had been cast up by the sea near the land of Byblos and that the waves had gently set it down in the midst of a clump of heather. The heather in a short time ran up into a very beautiful and massive stock, and enfolded and embraced the chest with its growth and concealed it within its trunk. The King of the country admired the great size of the plant, and cut off the portion that enfolded the chest (which was now hidden from sight), and used it as a pillar to support the roof of his house.
These facts, they say, Isis ascertained by the divine inspiration of Rumour, and came to Byblos and sat down by a spring, all dejection and tears; She exchanged no word with anybody, save only that She welcomed the Queen’s maidservants and treated them with great amiability, plaiting their hair for them and imparting to their persons a wondrous fragrance from Her own body.”
(Plutarch, Isis and Osiris, I, 13-18)
the Chapel of Isis in the Osirian Complex of the “Great Temple” of Abydos
“But when the Queen (the Queen of Byblos) observed her maidservants, a longing came upon her for the unknown woman and for such hairdressing and for a body fragrant with ambrosia. Thus it happened that Isis was sent for and became so intimate with the Queen that the Queen made Her the nurse of her baby. They say that the King’s name was Malcander; the Queen’s name some say was Astarte, others Saosis, and still others Nemanus, which the Greeks would call Athenaïs.
They relate that Isis nursed the child by giving it Her finger to suck instead of Her breast, and in the night She would burn away the mortal portions of its body. She Herself would turn into a swallow and flit about the pillar with a wailing lament, until the Queen who had been watching, when she saw her babe on fire, gave forth a loud cry and thus deprived it of immortality. Then the Goddess disclosed Her true nature and asked for the pillar which served to support the roof. She removed it with the greatest ease and cut away the wood of the heather which surrounded the chest; then, when She had wrapped up the wood in a linen cloth and had poured perfume upon it, She entrusted it to the care of the Kings; and even to this day the people of Byblos venerate this wood which is preserved in the shrine of Isis. Then the Goddess threw Herself down upon the coffin with such a dreadful wailing that the younger of the King’s sons expired on the spot. The elder son She kept with Her, and, having placed the coffin on board a boat, She put out from land. Since the Phaedros river toward the early morning fostered a rather boisterous wind, the Goddess grew angry and dried up its stream. In the first place where She found seclusion, when She was quite by Herself, they relate that She opened the chest and laid Her face upon the face within and caressed it and wept. The child came quietly up behind Her and saw what was there, and when the Goddess became aware of his presence, She turned about and gave him one awful look of anger. The child could not endure the fright, and died. Others will not have it so, but assert that he fell overboard into the sea from the boat that was mentioned above. He also is the recipient of honours because of the Goddess; for they say that the Maneros of whom the Egyptians sing at their convivial gatherings is this very child. Some say, however, that his name was Palaestinus or Pelusius, and that the city founded by the Goddess was named in his honour. They also recount that this Maneros who is the theme of their songs was the first to invent music.”
(Plutarch, Isis and Osiris, I, 13-18)
lineshroud with a representation of the Great God Osiris wearing the Atef-Crown, flanked by Isis and the Sun on the left, and by Nephthys and the Moon on the right; in the middle register are represented the Four Sons of Horus (from left to right Duamutef, Imsety, Qebehsenuef and Hapi); in the lower register on the right, Anubis performing the sacred rites for Osiris; dated to the graeco-roman age, now in the Museum of Lyon
“As they relate, Isis proceeded to Her son Horus, Who was being reared in Pe-Buto, and bestowed the chest in a place well out of the way.
But Typhon-Seth, who was hunting by night in the light of the Moon, happened upon it. Recognizing the body he divided it into fourteen parts and scattered them, each in a different place. Isis learned of this and sought for them again, sailing through the swamps in a boat of papyrus. This is the reason why people sailing in such boats are not harmed by the crocodiles, since these creatures in their own way show either their fear or their reverence for the Goddess. The traditional result of Osiris’s dismemberment is that there are many so-called tombs of Osiris in Egypt; for Isis held a funeral for each part when She had found it. Others assert that She caused effigies of Him to be made and these She distributed among the several cities, pretending that She was giving them His body, in order that He might receive divine honours in a greater number of cities, and also in order that, if Typhon-Seth should succeed in overpowering Horus, he might despair of ever finding the true tomb when so many were pointed out to Him, all of them called the tomb of Osiris. Of the parts of Osiris’s body the only one which Isis did not find was the male member, for the reason that this had been at once tossed into the river, and the lepidotus, the sea-bream, and the pike had fed upon it; and it is from these very fishes the Egyptians are most scrupulous in abstaining. But Isis made a replica of the member to take its place, and consecrated the phallus, in honour of which the Egyptians even at the present day celebrate a festival.”
(Plutarch, Isis and Osiris, I, 18-19)
the Chapel of Osiris in the Osirian Complex of the “Great Temple” of Abydos: Horus leading King Osiry-MenMaatRa to the presence of the Great God Osiris; Osiris is enthroned, and behind Him is represented Isis
“Later, as they relate, Osiris came to Horus from the NetherWorld and exercised and trained Him for the battle.
After a time Osiris asked Horus what He held to be the most noble of all things. When Horus replied,
“To avenge one’s father and mother for evil done to them”,
Osiris then asked Him what animal He considered the most useful for them who go forth to battle. And when Horus said,
Osiris was surprised and raised the question why it was that He had not rather said a lion than a horse. Horus answered that a lion was a useful thing for a man in need of assistance, but that a horse served best for cutting off the flight of an enemy and annihilating him. When Osiris heard this He was much pleased, since He felt that Horus had now an adequate preparation.
It is said that, as many were continually transferring their allegiance to Horus, Typhon-Seth’s concubine, Thueris (‘Tauret’), also came over to Him; and a serpent which pursued Her was cut to pieces by Horus’s men, and now, in memory of this, the people throw down a rope in their midst and chop it up.
Now the battle, as they relate, lasted many days and Horus prevailed. Isis, however, to Whom Typhon-Seth was delivered in chains, did not cause him to be put to death, but released him and let him go. (…)
Typhon-Seth formally accused Horus of being an illegitimate child, but with the help of Hermes-Thoth to plead His cause it was decided by the Gods that He was legitimate. Typhon-Seth was then overcome in two other battles.
Stories akin to these and to others like them they say are related about Typhon-Seth; how that, prompted by jealousy and hostility, he wrought terrible deeds and, by bringing utter confusion upon all things, filled the whole Earth, and the ocean as well, with ills, and later paid the penalty therefor.
But the avenger, the sister and wife of Osiris, after She had quenched and suppressed the madness and fury of Typhon-Seth, was not indifferent to the contests and struggles which She had endured, nor to Her own wanderings nor to Her manifold deeds of wisdom and many feats of bravery, nor would She accept oblivion and silence for them, but She intermingled in the most holy rites portrayals and suggestions and representations of Her experiences at that time, and sanctified them, both as a lesson in Godliness and an encouragement for men and women who find themselves in the clutch of like calamities.”
(Plutarch, Isis and Osiris, I, 19; I, 27)