Universitätsbibliothek HeidelbergUniversitätsbibliothek Heidelberg

Murray, Margaret Alice
The Osireion at Abydos — London, 1904

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26. Legend of Osiris.—From the Greek authors
we are able to get a fairly connected account of
Osiris. They agree that he came from the north,
Plutarch saying that he was born on the right side
of the world, which he explains as the north; but
Diodorus mentions the town from which he came,
namely, Nysa in Arabia Felix, on the borders of
Egypt. The Book of the Dead gives his birth-
place as Deddu (Busiris), and this statement is
given by Plutarch on the authority of Eudoxus.
Plutarch gives the legend of his birth on the first of
the intercalary days (see Nut, sect. 13, No. 13) as the
firstborn of the deities Geb and Nut, and says that on
his entrance, into the world a voice was heard saying,
"The Lord of all the earth is born," but Diodorus
speaks of him as a human king. The two Greek
authors, Plutarch and Diodorus, go on to tell us
that on coming to the throne Osiris proceeded to
teach his subjects the arts of civilization, introducing
corn and the vine, and reclaiming the Egyptians
from cannibalism and barbarism. Having reduced
his own kingdom to civilization and order, he gave
the government into the hands of his wife Isis, and
travelled southwards up the Nile, teaching the
people as he went. The army that accompanied
him was divided into companies, to each of whom
he gave a standard. He was accompanied also by
musicians and dancers, and he introduced the art
of music, as well as the knowledge of agriculture
into all the countries through which he passed. He
built Thebes of the hundred Gates, and at Aswan
he made a dam to regulate the inundation of the
Nile. He travelled through the then known world,
which included India and Asia Minor, and ended his
peaceful mission by returning happily and in triumph
to Egypt. There he found everything in order, but
his brother Set, consumed with jealousy and longing
to usurp the kingdom, determined on his death.
To this end, Set, with his fellow-conspirators,
invited Osiris, under pretence of friendship, to a
banquet, and there exhibited a wooden coffer,
beautifully decorated, which he promised to give
to any one whose body it fitted. All the conspirators
in turn lay down in it, but it fitted none of them,
for the measurements had been carefully taken from
Osiris himself without his knowledge. Osiris un-
suspectingly entered the coffer and lay down, where-
upon Set and his companions hastily clapped on

the cover, nailed it down, and poured molten lead
over it. They then carried the coffer down to the
Nile and threw it into the water. Here there comes
a discrepancy in the narrative. According to the
Metternich stele, one of the few Egyptian authorities
extant, Isis fled to Buto, in the marshes of the
Delta, to escape from Set, and there she brought
forth her son Horus, and remained in that place till
he was old enough to do battle with his father's
murderer. Plutarch, however, makes no mention of
this, but says that Isis w;as at Koptos when she
heard of the death of Osiris, that she cut off a lock of
her hair and put on mourning apparel, and at once
instituted a search for her husband's body. After
many wanderings she arrived at Byblos, and found
that the coffer had lodged in the branches of a tamarisk
tree. The tree had grown round it and had become
so large and luxuriant as to attract the notice and
admiration of the king of Byblos, who had it cut down
and made it into a pillar to support the roof of his
palace. Isis became nurse to the infant prince and
in reward for her services was permitted to open the
pillar and remove the coffer. She took it away into
the desert and there opened it, and throwing herself
on the corpse wept and lamented. Afterwards she
hid away the chest with the body still inside it, and
went to Buto, where her son Horus resided, pre-
sumably meaning to return and bury the dead Osiris.
Meanwhile, however, Set, hunting wild boars by
moonlight, came across the coffer and recognized it.
In his fury he flung it open, tore the body to pieces,
and scattered the fragments far and wide. Isis, on
her return, found what had occurred. Mourning
and lamenting she searched through the length and
breadth of Egypt, burying each piece of the body
in the place where she found it, and raising to its
memory a temple or a shrine.

This is the legend of Osiris as it was known in
Greek times. From what Herodotus says, and
from other indications in mythological texts, it would
seem that the Egyptians, like the Jews and Hindus,
had a Supreme Deity whose name it was not lawful
to mention, and who manifested himself, as in
Hinduism, under many forms and names. It
appears evident that this Supreme God was known
commonly among the Egyptians by the name of
Osiris, but his true name was hidden from all except
those initiated into the mysteries. In the pyramid
texts, Unas says, " O great god, whose name is
unknown," On the stele of Re-ma there is the
same expression, " His name is not known."