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, 1 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. 2 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. 1 Others again tell us that the interpretation of the name Memphis 2 is "the haven of good men," and that the true sepulchre of Osiris lies in that little island which the Nile makes at Philae. 3 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.
228:1 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.).
228:2 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.
228:3 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."
228:4 In Egyptian, HERU-PA-KHART, "Horus the Child."
230:1 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.
230:2 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 p. 231 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. Amélineau. It is now in the Egyptian Museum at Cairo.