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© Copyright 2002, Jim Loy
This Egyptian story comes to us mostly from the Greek author Plutarch. Plutarch used the names of Greek gods; here I use the names of the Egyptian gods.
When Ra reigned as king of Egypt, Thoth (Djehuty) prophesied that Ra's wife Nut would have a son who would reign as king. Ra cursed Nut and said, "Nut will give birth to no son on any day of any year, nor at night time either." Ra's curse could not be broken, but Thoth had a clever plan. He went to the moon god Khonsu and offered to play him a game of Senet. Khonsu was a great gambler, and bet some of his own moonlight. Thoth defeated Khonsu over and over, until he had won five days from Khonsu. Thoth fit those five days between the end of the old year, and the beginning of the new year, the year having 360 days. And so here were five days that were not part of any year. Nut gave birth to five children on those five days, Osiris on the first day, Harmachis on the second day, Set on the third, Isis on the fourth, and Nephthys on the fifth.
When Osiris was born, a man of Thebes named Pamyles heard a voice telling him to spread the word that Osiris the good and great king, and savior of mankind, had been born. And so Pamyles spread the word, and Nut entrusted the baby Osiris to Pamyles, to raise and educate, with the help of Thoth. The five children grew up, and Osiris married Isis, and Set married Nephthys.
Eventually, Ra ascended into the heavens to sail across the sky every day, and Osiris sat on the throne, and ruled Egypt as a good and wise king, and Egypt flourished under his rule, and the people (who had previously lived like wild animals) became civilized (learning to use the inundation to replenish the land). And the people worshipped Osiris.
Osiris left Egypt, to teach the people of other lands, and Isis ruled in his place. Set plotted to steal Osiris' throne, but Isis prevented this. Set became the leader of 72 wicked men, along with Aso the evil queen of Ethiopia. He secretly learned the measurements of the body of Osiris, and had a beautiful wooden chest made that was exactly the right size to hold Osiris. Then he invited Osiris to a great feast. Everyone at the feast admired the wooden chest, and desired to own it. Set said that the chest would belong to whoever it fit best. Each person at the feast lay down in the chest, but it fit none of them. When Osiris lay down in the chest, Set and his conspirators, closed the lid, nailed it shut, poured molten lead over it to seal the cracks, and threw it into the Nile. And so Osiris died in the 28th year of his reign.
The chest floated into the Great Green, the sea north of Egypt, and came ashore at Byblos, in Syria. There it was flung by the waves into a tamarisk bush. The bush quickly grew into a mighty tree which enclosed the wooden chest. The king of Syria marveled at the tree, and had it cut down and made into a pillar which supported the roof of his palace.
Meanwhile, Set ruled as king of Egypt; it was a time of great trouble in Egypt. Isis was stricken with grief, and put on the apparel of mourning, and cut off a lock of her hair. Then she went in search of her husband's body, as he had to be buried so that Osiris could go to the Duat, the land of the dead. Eventually, some children told Isis that they had seen the chest floating in the Nile. But Isis was delayed while she gave birth to Horus, the son of Osiris, in Buto on the island of Chemmis. Set learned of the birth of Horus, and plotted to kill him. Isis hid the island, making it move from place to place, and went in search of Osiris' body.
Isis tracked the chest to Byblos. At Byblos, she talked to the queen's maid servants, and braided their hair. The queen was delighted by the wonderful braided hair which smelled of sweet perfume, and invited Isis to the palace. She took care of a baby prince, although she did not suckle the child, but allowed him to suck her thumb. She placed the child in a fire. The queen seeing this, ran to her child and pulled him from the fire, thereby denying him immortality. Isis revealed who she was, and asked the king for the pillar which contained the wooden chest. The pillar was split open and Isis took the wooden chest which contained the body of Osiris. The remainder of the pillar was placed in a temple, and for many ages travelers came to Byblos to see it.
Isis took the wooden chest back to Egypt and hid it in a secret place. Then she returned to her son in Buto. One day Set, while out hunting by moonlight, discovered the chest, opened it, and cut Osiris' body into 14 pieces, which he scattered throughout the land. The crocodiles would not touch the pieces of Osiris, as they feared Isis. Isis, in a boat made of papyrus reeds, searched the land, and buried each piece of Osiris, and a temple was built by men at each place where a piece of Osiris was buried. And thirteen different cities claimed to be the burial place of Osiris. Isis found all but one piece, which had been eaten by a fish in the Nile. And this kind of fish has been accursed ever since. But Osiris entered the Duat, the netherworld, and he rules as its good and just king.
Set still ruled Egypt. As a child, Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis and rightful heir to the throne, was killed by Set in the form of a scorpion, but Thoth brought him back to life, as his destiny as ruler of Egypt, and avenger of the crime against his father, had not yet been fulfilled. Horus grew to be a strong and brave warrior. Osiris appeared to Horus in a vision, and urged him to overthrown Set.
The armies of Horus fought the armies of Set, and defeated them. Set was forced to flee. The final battle was fought at Edfu, where Horus lost an eye. But Horus killed Set and cut his body into pieces. And Horus ruled as the good and just king of Egypt.
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