Egyptian Myths and Legends

Week 2: Ancient Near East - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

Osiris, King of the Dead

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 700 words.

Isis brings the body of Osiris back to Egypt but the story is still not over. Even the gods can have dreams, and here you will read about the dream vision that Horus had of his death father Osiris, and what his father commanded him to do.

When Isis reached the land of Egypt she concealed the body of the dead king in a secret place, and hastened towards the city of Buto to embrace her son Horus; but shortlived was her triumph. It chanced that Set came hunting the boar at full moon in the Delta jungle, and he found the chest which Isis had taken back from Syria. He caused it to be opened, and the body of Osiris was taken forth and rent into fourteen pieces, which he cast into the Nile, so that the crocodiles might devour them. But these reptiles had fear of Isis and touched them not, and they were scattered along the river banks. A fish (Oxyrhynchus) swallowed the phallus.

The heart of Isis was filled with grief when she came to know what Set had done. She had made for herself a papyrus boat and sailed up and down the Delta waters, searching for the fragments of her husband's body, and at length she recovered them all, save the part which had been swallowed by the fish. She buried the fragments where they were found, and for each she made a tomb. In after days temples were erected over the tombs, and in these Osiris was worshipped by the people for long centuries.

Set continued to rule over Egypt, and he persecuted the followers of Osiris and Isis in the Delta swamps and along the seacoast to the north. But Horus, who was rightful king, grew into strong manhood. He prepared for the coming conflict, and became a strong and brave warrior. Among his followers were cunning workers in metal who were called Mesniu (smiths), and bright and keen were their weapons of war. The sun hawk was blazoned on their battle banners.

One night there appeared to Horus in a dream a vision of his father Osiris. The ghost urged him to overthrow Set by whom he had been so treacherously put to death, and Horus vowed to drive his wicked uncle and all his followers out of the land of Egypt. So he gathered his army together and went forth to battle. Set came against him at Edfu and slew many of his followers. But Horus secured the aid of the tribes that remained faithful to Osiris and Isis, and Set was again attacked and driven towards the eastern frontier. The usurper uttered a great cry of grief when he was forced to take flight. He rested at Zaru, and there was the last battle fought. It was waged for many days, and Horus lost an eye. But Set was still more grievously wounded, and he was at length driven with his army out of the kingdom.

It is told that the god Thoth descended out of heaven and healed the wounds of Horus and Set. Then the slayer of Osiris appeared before the divine council and claimed the throne. But the gods gave judgment that Horus was the rightful king, and he established his power in the land of Egypt, and became a wise and strong ruler like to his father Osiris.

Another version of the legend relates that when the fragments of the body of Osiris were recovered from the Nile, Isis and Nepthys lamented over them, weeping bitterly. In one of the temple chants Isis exclaims:

Gods, and men before the face of the gods, are weeping for thee at the same time when they behold me!
Lo! I invoke thee with wailing that reacheth high as heaven--
Yet thou hearest not my voice. Lo! I, thy sister, I love thee more than all the earth
And thou lovest not another as thou dost thy sister!

Nepthys cries,

Subdue every sorrow which is in the hearts of us thy sisters . . .
Live before us, desiring to behold thee.

The lamentations of the goddesses were heard by Ra, and he sent down from heaven the god Anubis, who, with the assistance of Thoth and Horus, united the severed portions of the body of Osiris, which they wrapped in linen bandages. Thus had origin the mummy form of the god. Then the winged Isis hovered over the body, and the air from her wings entered the nostrils of Osiris so that he was imbued with life once again. He afterwards became the Judge and King of the Dead.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what did Set do with the body of Osiris?
  • how was Horus wounded in his battle with Set?
  • how did Osiris come back to life?

Source: Egyptian Myth and Legend by Donald Mackenzie (1907). Weblink.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM