History of Literature

Osiris, Isis, and Horus





also called Usir

one of the most important gods of ancient Egypt. The origin of Osiris is obscure; he was a local god of Busiris, in Lower Egypt, and may have been a personification of chthonic (underworld) fertility. By about 2400 bce, however, Osiris clearly played a double role: he was both a god of fertility and the embodiment of the dead and resurrected king. This dual role was in turn combined with the Egyptian concept of divine kingship: the king at death became Osiris, god of the underworld; and the dead king’s son, the living king, was identified with Horus, a god of the sky. Osiris and Horus were thus father and son. The goddess Isis was the mother of the king and was thus the mother of Horus and consort of Osiris. The god Seth was considered the murderer of Osiris and adversary of Horus.

According to the form of the myth reported by the Greek author Plutarch, Osiris was slain or drowned by Seth, who tore the corpse into 14 pieces and flung them over Egypt. Eventually, Isis and her sister Nephthys found and buried all the pieces, except the phallus, thereby giving new life to Osiris, who thenceforth remained in the underworld as ruler and judge. His son Horus successfully fought against Seth, avenging Osiris and becoming the new king of Egypt.

Osiris was not only ruler of the dead but also the power that granted all life from the underworld, from sprouting vegetation to the annual flood of the Nile River. From about 2000 bce onward it was believed that every man, not just the deceased kings, became associated with Osiris at death. This identification with Osiris, however, did not imply resurrection, for even Osiris did not rise from the dead. Instead, it signified the renewal of life both in the next world and through one’s descendants on Earth. In this universalized form Osiris’s cult spread throughout Egypt, often joining with the cults of local fertility and underworld deities.

The idea that rebirth in the next life could be gained by following Osiris was maintained through certain cult forms. In the Middle Kingdom (1938–c. 1630 bce) the god’s festivals consisted of processions and nocturnal rites and were celebrated at the temple of Abydos, where Osiris had assimilated the very ancient god of the dead, Khenty-Imentiu. This name, meaning “Foremost of the Westerners,” was adopted by Osiris as an epithet. Because the festivals took place in the open, public participation was permitted, and by the early 2nd millennium bce it had become fashionable to be buried along the processional road at Abydos or to erect a cenotaph there as a representative of the dead.

Osiris festivals symbolically reenacting the god’s fate were celebrated annually in various towns throughout Egypt. A central feature of the festivals during the late period was the construction of the “Osiris garden,” a mold in the shape of Osiris, filled with soil. The mold was moistened with the water of the Nile and sown with grain. Later, the sprouting grain symbolized the vital strength of Osiris.

At Memphis the holy bull, Apis, was linked with Osiris, becoming Osiris-Apis, which eventually became the name of the Hellenistic god Serapis. Greco-Roman authors connected Osiris with the god Dionysus. Osiris was also identified with Soker, an ancient Memphite god of the dead.

The oldest known depiction of Osiris dates to about 2300 bce, but representations of him are rare before the New Kingdom (1539–1075 bce), when he was shown in an archaizing form as a mummy with his arms crossed on his breast, one hand holding a crook, the other a flail. On his head was the atef-crown, composed of the white crown of Upper Egypt and two ostrich feathers.



The Goddess Isis, wall painting, c. 1360 B.C.


Egyptian Aset or Eset

one of the most important goddesses of ancient Egypt. Her name is the Greek form of an ancient Egyptian word for “throne.”

Isis was initially an obscure goddess who lacked her own dedicated temples, but she grew in importance as the dynastic age progressed, until she became one of the most important deities of ancient Egypt. Her cult subsequently spread throughout the Roman Empire, and Isis was worshipped from England to Afghanistan. She is still revered by pagans today. As mourner, she was a principal deity in rites connected with the dead; as magical healer, she cured the sick and brought the deceased to life; and as mother, she was a role model for all women.

Isis had strong links with Egyptian kingship, and she was most often represented as a beautiful woman wearing a sheath dress and either the hieroglyphic sign of the throne or a solar disk and cow’s horns on her head. Occasionally she was represented as a scorpion, a bird, a sow, or a cow. There are no references to Isis before the 5th dynasty (2465–2325 bce), but she is mentioned many times in the Pyramid Texts (c. 2350–c. 2100 bce), in which she offers assistance to the dead king. Later, as ideas of the afterlife became more democratic, Isis was able to extend her help to all dead Egyptians.

The priests of Heliopolis, followers of the sun god Re, developed the myth of Isis. This told that Isis was the daughter of the earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut and the sister of the deities Osiris, Seth, and Nephthys. Married to Osiris, king of Egypt, Isis was a good queen who supported her husband and taught the women of Egypt how to weave, bake, and brew beer. But Seth was jealous, and he hatched a plot to kill his brother. Seth trapped Osiris in a decorated wooden chest, which he coated in lead and threw into the Nile. The chest had become Osiris’s coffin. With his brother vanished, Seth became king of Egypt. But Isis could not forget her husband, and she searched everywhere for him until she eventually discovered Osiris, still trapped in his chest, in Byblos. She brought his body back to Egypt, where Seth discovered the chest and, furious, hacked his brother into pieces, which he scattered far and wide. Transforming into a bird, and helped by her sister, Nephthys, Isis was able to discover and reunite the parts of her dead husband’s body—only his penis was missing. Using her magical powers, she was able to make Osiris whole; bandaged, neither living nor dead, Osiris had become a mummy. Nine months later Isis bore him a son, Horus. Osiris was then forced to retreat to the underworld, where he became king of the dead.

Isis hid with Horus in the marshes of the Nile delta until her son was fully grown and could avenge his father and claim his throne. She defended the child against attacks from snakes and scorpions. But because Isis was also Seth’s sister, she wavered during the eventual battle between Horus and Seth. In one episode Isis took pity on Seth and was in consequence beheaded by Horus (the beheading was reversed by magic). Eventually she and Horus were reconciled, and Horus was able to take the throne of Egypt.

Isis was the perfect traditional Egyptian wife and mother—content to stay in the background while things went well, but able to use her wits to guard her husband and son should the need arise. The shelter she afforded her child gave her the character of a goddess of protection. But her chief aspect was that of a great magician, whose power transcended that of all other deities. Several narratives tell of her magical prowess, far stronger than the powers of Osiris and Re. She was frequently invoked on behalf of the sick, and, with the goddesses Nephthys, Neith, and Selket, she protected the dead. Isis became associated with various other goddesses, including Bastet, Nut, and Hathor, and thus her nature and her powers became increasingly diverse. Isis became known, like other fierce goddesses in the Egyptian pantheon, as the “Eye of Re” and was equated with the Dog Star, Sothis (Sirius).

The first major temple dedicated to Isis was built by the Late Period king Nectanebo II (360–343 bce) at Behbeit el-Hagar, in the central Nile delta. Other important temples, including the island temple of Philae, were built during Greco-Roman times when Isis was dominant among Egyptian goddesses. Several temples were dedicated to her in Alexandria, where she became the patroness of seafarers. From Alexandria her cult spread to Greece and Rome. Images of Isis nursing the baby Horus may have influenced the early Christian artists who depicted the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus.

Joyce Tyldesley



The gods Osiris, Anubis, and Horus


Egyptian Hor or Har

in ancient Egyptian religion, god in the form of a falcon whose eyes were the sun and the moon. Falcon cults were widespread in Egypt. At Nekhen (Greek: Hierakonpolis), however, the conception arose that the reigning king was a manifestation of Horus, and, after Egypt had been united by the kings from Nekhen, this conception became a generally accepted dogma. The first of the Egyptian king’s five names was the Horus name—i.e., the name that identified him with Horus. The hovering form of Horus depicted above a king’s head, sometimes portrayed as a winged sun disk, is that of Horus of Behdet, a town in the Nile River delta where the falcon god enjoyed a cult.

From the 1st dynasty (c. 2925–2775 bce), Horus and the god Seth were perpetual antagonists who were reconciled in the harmony of Upper and Lower Egypt. In the myth of Osiris, who became prominent about 2350 bce, Horus was the son of Osiris. He was also the opponent of Seth, who murdered Osiris and contested Horus’s heritage, the royal throne of Egypt. Horus finally defeated Seth, thus avenging his father and assuming the rule. In the fight his left eye (i.e., the moon) was damaged—this being a mythical explanation of the moon’s phases—and was healed by the god Thoth. The figure of the restored eye (the wedjat eye) became a powerful amulet.

Horus appeared as a local god in many places and under different names and epithets; for instance, as Harmakhis (Har-em-akhet, “Horus in the Horizon”), Harpocrates (Har-pe-khrad, “Horus the Child”), Harsiesis (Har-si-Ese, “Horus, Son of Isis”), Harakhte (“Horus of the Horizon,” closely associated with the sun god Re), and, at Kawm Umbū (Kom Ombo), as Haroeris (Harwer, “Horus the Elder”). Horus was later identified by the Greeks with Apollo, and the town of Idfu was called Apollinopolis (“Apollo’s Town”) in the Greco-Roman period.

In the Ptolemaic period, the vanquishing of Seth became a symbol of Egypt triumphing over its occupiers. At Idfu, where rebellions frequently interrupted work on the temple, a ritual drama depicting Horus as pharaoh spearing Seth in the guise of a hippopotamus was periodically enacted.



Egyptian Goddess





Amun and Amun-Re






Egyptian God Horus and Queen Nefertari

Egyptian Gods Horus and Thoth coronate Pharaoh Seti I




Egyptian God Osiris and Goddesses Isis and Nephtys with Egyptian Princess

Egyptian Gods Osiris and Horus with Pharaoh Seti I




Egyptian Goddess Hathor and Queen Nefertari

Egyptian Goddess Hathor and Queen Nefertari

Egyptian Goddess Hathor and Pharaoh Ramses II

Egyptian Goddess Hathor and Pharaoh Ramses II




Egyptian Goddesses Isis and Nephtys with God Osiris and Egyptian Princess



Osiris, Isis, and Horus

was originally a king in the upper world where he taught the Egyptians (and later, the rest of the world) how to live, worship, and grow corn (when they had previously been cannibals). He earned the name Wennefer, "eternally good". He was murdered by his jealous brother Seth who tricked him into a wooden chest, which he sealed up, and sent down the Nile. Osiris' wife Isis rescued the corpse, but when Seth found it, he cut it up and scattered the pieces all over Egypt. Sorrowfully, Isis and her sister Nepthys collected every piece and, with the help of Anubis, the guide of souls to the underworld, and Thoth, the gods' scribe, they pieced Osiris back together, as the first mummy. Isis transformed herself into a kite and, hovering over the body, she fanned life into it with her wings; it was at this moment that she conceived a son, Horus, who would avenge his father. The revived Osiris went down to the dark and desolate underuorld, to be the lord and judge of the dead.

Horus, Osiris and Isis

Isis and the Scorpions

Pregnant, Isis fled from Seth to the Nile delta accompanied by seven scorpions. One night, she begged shelter of a rich lady named Usert, but she refused her. Furious, the scorpions pooled all their venom and bit Usert's son. Pitying the dying child, Isis cured him. She then went to Khemmis and gave birth to Horus. Desperately poor, Isis often had to leave die baby alone while she found food. One day, she returned to find Horus King rigid, bitten by a scorpion. But Isis could not save him, having used her power to cure Usert's son. Her anguish halted Re as he crossed the sky and the world went dark. Re sent Thoth to cure Horus for until he recovered, there would be no light, the wells would dry up, and the crops would wither.




This statuette shows the god Osiris raised on а plinth, with his loyal wife and son Horus on each
side. Osiris was believed to have once been a king of Egypt. His son Horus was the last god to
be king but he sent his spirit into each pharoah who inherited the earthly throne.




After Osiris descended to the underworld, he could no longer rule his earthly kingdom, so he
bequeathed it to his son Horus. But his evil brother Seth, the god of chaos and confusion, laid claim to the throne.
Only after 80 years did Re judge Horus the winner, award him the kingdom, and banish Seth to the desert.

HORUS first performed the key mummification rite of opening the mouth on his father Osiris.
With other rites, it ensured that all the bodily functions could be restored
after death through the spells contained in the Book of the Dead.



Horus is shown here as a falcon-winged wedjat eye.
His origins lie in the early Egyptian conception of the sky as the wings of a falcon.
The eyes and speckled belly of the falcon were the sun, moon, and starry night sky.




To achieve eternal life, the Egyptians preserved their corpses by mummification, following as
closely as possible the technique used by the jackal-headed Anubis, god of mummification, in preparing the body of Osiris.

Like the Greek Demeter during her search for Persephone, Isis, in her search for
Osiris, becomes a nursemaid to a prince; both goddesses try to give
the boys immortality by burning away their mortal parts, but they
are interrupted. Isis uttered so terrible a cry on seeing Osiris'
corpse that it killed the baby prince she was caring for.



tells of a death and resurrection that mirrors the harvesting of corn and its regrowth from seed;
miniature figures of Osiris filled with corn seed were placed in Egyptian tombs as a promise of rebirth.



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