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This webpage reproduces a portion of
Isis and Osiris

by
Plutarch

published in Vol. V
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1936

The text is in the public domain.

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(Vol. V) Plutarch, Moralia

p49 Isis and Osiris

(Part 2 of 5 on this website)

20 (358) These are nearly all the important points of the legend, with the omission of the most infamous of the tales, such as that about the dismemberment of Horus95 and the decapitation of Isis. There is one thing that I have no need to mention to you: if they hold such opinions and relate such tales about the nature of the blessed and imperishable (in accordance with which our concept of the divine must be framed) and if such deeds and occurrences actually took place, then

Much there is to spit and cleanse the mouth,

as Aeschylus96 has it. fBut the fact is that you yourself detest those persons who hold such abnormal and outlandish opinions about the gods. That these accounts do not, in least, resemble the sort of loose fictions and frivolous fabrications which poets and writers of prose evolve from themselves, after p51the manner of spiders, interweaving and extending their unestablished first thoughts, but that these contain narrations of certain puzzling events and experiences, you will of yourself understand. Just as the rainbow, according to the account of the mathematicians, is a reflection of the sun, and owes its many hues to the withdrawal of our gaze from the sun and our fixing it on the cloud, 359so the somewhat fanciful accounts here set down are but reflections of some true tale which turns back our thoughts to other matters; their sacrifices plainly suggest this, in that they have mourning and melancholy reflected in them; and so also does the structure of their temples,97 which in one portion are expanded into wings and into uncovered and unobstructed corridors, and in another portion have secret vesting-rooms in the darkness under ground, like cells or chapels; and not the least important suggestion is the opinion held regarding the shrines of Osiris, whose body is said to have been laid in many different places.98 bFor they say that Diochites99 is the name given to a small town, on the ground that it alone contains the true tomb; and that the prosperous and influential men among the Egyptians are mostly buried in Abydos, since it is the object of their ambition to be buried in the same ground with the body of Osiris. In Memphis, however, they say, the Apis is kept, being the image of the soul of Osiris,100 whose body also lies there. The name of this city some interpret as "the haven of the good" and others as meaning properly the "tomb p53of Osiris." They also say that the sacred island by Philae101 at all other times is untrodden by man and quite unapproachable, and even birds do not alight on it nor fishes approach it; yet, at one special time, the priests cross over to it, and perform the sacrificial rites for the dead, and lay wreaths upon the tomb, which lies in the encompassing shade of a persea-102tree, which surpasses in height any olive.

21 1  cEudoxus says that, while many tombs of Osiris are spoken of in Egypt, his body lies in Busiris; for this was the place of his birth; moreover, Taphosiris103 requires no comment, for the name itself means "the tomb of Osiris." I pass over the cutting of wood,104 the rending of linen, and the libations that are offered, for the reason that many of their secret rites are involved therein. In regard not only to these gods, but in regard to the other gods, save only those whose existence had no beginning and shall have no end, the priests say that their bodies, after they have done with their labours, have been placed in the keeping of the priests and are cherished there, dbut that their souls shine as the stars in the firmament, and the soul of Isis is called by the Greeks the Dog-star, but by the Egyptians Sothis,105 and the soul of Horus is called Orion, and the soul of Typhon the Bear.a Also they say that all the other Egyptians pay the agreed assessment for the entombment of the p55animals held in honour,106 but that the inhabitants of the Theban territory only do not contribute because they believe in no mortal god, but only in the god whom they call Kneph, whose existence had no beginning and shall have no end.

22 1 Many things like these are narrated and pointed out, and if there be some who think that in these are commemorated ethe dire and momentous acts and experiences of kings and despots who, by reason of their pre-eminent virtue or might, laid claim to the glory of being styled gods, and later had to submit to the vagaries of fortune,107 then these persons employ the easiest means of escape from the narrative, and not ineptly do they transfer the disrepute from the gods to men; and in this they have the support of the common traditions. The Egyptians, in fact, have a tradition that Hermes had thin arms and big elbows, that Typhon was red in complexion, Horus white, and Osiris dark,108 as if they had been in their nature but mortal men. Moreover, they give to Osiris the title of general, and the title of pilot to Canopus, from whom they say that the star derives its name; falso that the vessel which the Greeks call Argo, in form like the ship of Osiris, has been set among the constellations in his honour, and its course lies not far from that of Orion and the Dog-star; of these the Egyptians believe that one is sacred to Horus and the other to Isis.

23 1 I hesitate, lest this be the moving of things immovable109 and not only "warring against the long years of time," as Simonides110 has it, but warring, too, p57against "many a nation and race of men" who are possessed by a feeling of piety towards these gods, and thus we should not stop short of transplanting such names from the heavens to the earth, 360and eliminating and dissipating the reverence and faith implanted in nearly all mankind at birth, opening wide the great doors to the godless throng, degrading things divine to the human level, and giving a splendid licence to the deceitful utterances of Euhemerus of Messenê, who of himself drew up copies of an incredible and non-existent mythology,111 and spread atheism over the whole inhabited earth by obliterating the gods of our belief and converting them all alike into names of generals, admirals, and kings, who, forsooth, lived in very ancient times and are recorded bin inscriptions written in golden letters at Panchon, which no foreigner and no Greek had ever happened to meet with, save only Euhemerus. He, it seems, made a voyage to the Panchoans and Triphyllians, who never existed anywhere on earth and do not exist!

24 1 However, mighty deeds of Semiramis are celebrated among the Assyrians, and mighty deeds of Sesostris in Egypt, and the Phrygians, even to this day, call brilliant and marvellous exploits "manic" because Manes,112 one of their very early kings, proved himself a good man and exercised a vast influence among them. Some give his name as Masdes. Cyrus led the Persians, and Alexander the Macedonians, p59in victory after victory, almost to the ends of the earth; yet these have only the name and fame of noble kings. c"But if some, elated by a great self-conceit," as Plato113 says, "with souls enkindled with the fire of youth and folly accompanied by arrogance," have assumed to be called gods and to have temples dedicated in their honour, yet has their repute flourished by a brief time, and then, convicted of vain-glory and imposture,

Swift in their fate, like to smoke in the air, rising upward they flitted,114

and now, like fugitive slaves without claim to protection, they have been dragged from their shrines and altars, and have nothing left to them save only their monuments and their tombs. Hence the elder Antigonus, dwhen a certain Hermodotus in a poem proclaimed him to be "the Offspring of the Sun and a god," said, "the slave who attends to my chamber-pot is not conscious of any such thing!"115 Moreover, Lysippus the sculptor was quite right in his disapproval of the painter Apelles, because Apelles in his portrait of Alexander had represented him with a thunderbolt in his hand, whereas he himself had represented Alexander holding a spear, the glory of which no length of years could ever dim, since it was truthful and was his by right.

25 1116 Better, therefore, is the judgment of those who hold that the stories about Typhon, Osiris, and Isis, are records of experiences of neither gods nor men, but of demigods, ewhom Plato117 and Pythagoras118 p61and Xenocrates119 and Chrysippus,120 following the lead of early writers on sacred subjects, allege to have been stronger than men and, in their might, greatly surpassing our nature, yet not possessing the divine quality unmixed and uncontaminated, but with a share also in the nature of the soul and in the perceptive faculties of the body, and with a susceptibility to pleasure and pain and to whatsoever other experience is incident to these mutations, and is the source of much disquiet in some and of less in others. For in demigods, as in men, there are divers degrees of virtue and vice. fThe exploits of the Giants and Titans celebrated among the Greeks, the lawless deeds of a Cronus,121 the stubborn resistance of Python against Apollo, the flights of Dionysus,122 and the wanderings of Demeter, do not fall at all short of the exploits of Osiris and Typhon and other exploits which anyone may hear freely repeated in traditional story. So, too, all the things which are kept always away from the ears and eyes of the multitude by being concealed behind mystic rites and ceremonies have a similar explanation.

26 1 As we read Homer, we notice that in many different places he distinctively calls the good "god-like"123 361and "peers of the gods"124 and "having prudence p63gained from the gods,"125 but that the epithet derived from the demigods (or daemons) he uses of the worthy and worthless alike;126 for example:

Daemon-possessed, come on! Why seek you to frighten the Argives

Thus?127

and again

When for the fourth time onward he came with a rush, like a daemon;128

and

Daemon-possessed, in what do Priam and children of Priam

Work you such ill that your soul is ever relentlessly eager

Ilium, fair-built city, to bring to complete desolation?129

The assumption, then, is that the demigods (or daemons) have a complex and inconsistent nature and purpose; wherefore Plato130 assigns to the Olympian gods right-hand qualities and odd numbers, and to the demigods the opposite of these. bXenocrates also is of the opinion that such days as are days of ill omen, and such festivals as have associated with them either beatings or lamentations or fastings or scurrilous language or ribald jests have no relation to the honours paid to the gods or to worthy demigods, but he believes that there exist in the space about us certain great and powerful natures, obdurate, however, and morose, which take pleasure in such things as these, and, if they succeed in obtaining them, resort to nothing worse.

Then again, Hesiod calls the worthy and good p65demigods "holy deities" and "guardians of mortals"131 and

Givers of wealth, and having therein a reward that is kingly.132

cPlato133 calls this class of beings an interpretative and ministering class, midway between gods and men, in that they convey thither the prayers and petitions of men, and thence they bring hither the oracles and the gifts of good things.

Empedocles134 says also that the demigods must pay the penalty for the sins that they commit and the duties that they neglect:

Might of the Heavens chases them forth to the realm of the Ocean;

Ocean spews them out on the soil of the Earth, and Earth drives them

Straight to the rays of the tireless Sun, who consigns them to Heaven's

Whirlings; thus one from another receives them, but ever with loathing;

until, when they have thus been chastened and purified, they recover the place and position to which they belong in accord with Nature.

27 1  dStories akin to these and to others like them they say are related about Typhon; how that, prompted by jealousy and hostility, he wrought terrible deeds and, by bringing utter confusion upon all things, filled the whole Earth, and the ocean as well, with ills, and later paid the penalty therefor. p67But the avenger, the sister and wife of Osiris, after she had quenched and suppressed the madness and fury of Typhon, was not indifferent to the contests and struggles which she had endured, nor to her own wanderings nor to her manifold deeds of wisdom and many feats of bravery, nor would she accept oblivion and silence for them, but she intermingled in the most holy rites portrayals and suggestions and representations of her experiences at that time, and sanctified them, both as a lesson in godliness and an encouragement for men eand women who find themselves in the clutch of like calamities. She herself and Osiris, translated for their virtues from good demigods into gods,135 as were Heracles and Dionysus later,136 not incongruously enjoy double honours, both those of gods and those of demigods, and their powers extend everywhere, but are greatest in the regions above the earth and beneath the earth. In fact, men assert that Pluto is none other than Serapis and that Persephonê is Isis, even as Archemachus137 of Euboea has said, and also Heracleides Ponticus138 who holds the oracle in Canopus to be fan oracle of Pluto.

28 1 Ptolemy Soter saw in a dreamb the colossal statue of Pluto in Sinopê, not knowing nor having ever seen how it looked, and in his dream the statue bade him convey it with all speed to Alexandria. He had no information and no means of knowing where the statue was situated, but as he related the vision to his friends there was discovered for him a much travelled man by the name of Sosibius, who said that p69he had seen in Sinopê just such a great statue as the king thought he saw. Ptolemy, therefore, sent Soteles and Dionysius, who, after a considerable time and with great difficulty, and not without the help of divine providence, 362succeeded in stealing the statue and bringing it away.139 When it had been conveyed to Egypt and exposed to view, Timotheus, the expositor of sacred law, and Manetho of Sebennytus, and their associates, conjectured that it was the statue of Pluto, basing their conjecture on the Cerberus and the serpent with it, and they convinced Ptolemy that it was the statue of none other of the gods but Serapis. It certainly did not bear this name when it came for Sinope, but, after it had been conveyed to Alexandria, it took to itself the name which Pluto bears among the Egyptians, that of Serapis. Moreover, since Heracleitus140 the physical philosopher says, "The same are Hades and Dionysus, to honour whom they rage and rave," people are inclined to come to this opinion. In fact, those who insist that bthe body is called Hades, since the soul is, as it were, deranged and inebriate when it is in the body, are too frivolous in their use of allegory. It is better to identify Osiris with Dionysus141 and Serapis with Osiris,142 who received this appellation at the time when he changed his nature. For this reason Serapis is a god of all peoples in common, even as Osiris is; and this they who have participated in the holy rites well know.

p71 29 1 It is not worth while to pay any attention to the Phrygian writings,143 in which it is said that Serapis was the son of Heracles, and Isis was his daughter, and Typhon was the son of Alcaeus, who also was a son of Heracles; nor must we fail to contemn Phylarchus, who writes that Dionysus was the first to bring from India into Egypt two bulls, cand that the name of one was Apis and of the other Osiris. But Serapis is the name of him who sets the universe in order, and it is derived from "sweep" (sairein), which some say means "to beautify" and "to put in order."144 As a matter of fact, these statements of Phylarchus are absurd, but even more absurd are those put forth by those who say that Serapis is no god at all, but the name of the coffin of Apis; and that there are in Memphis certain bronze gates called the Gates of Oblivion and Lamentation,145 which are opened when the burial of Apis takes place, and they give out a deep and harsh sound; and it is because of this that we lay hand upon anything of bronze that gives out a sound.146 More moderate is the statement of those who say that the derivation147 is from "shoot" (seuesthai) or "scoot" (sousthai), meaning the general movement of the universe. dMost of the priests say that Osiris and Apis are conjoined into one, thus explaining to us and informing us that we must regard Apis as the bodily image of the soul of Osiris.148 But p73it is my opinion that, if the name Serapis is Egyptian, it denotes cheerfulness and rejoicing, and I base this opinion on the fact that Egyptians call their festival of rejoicing sairei. In fact, Plato149 says that Hades is so named because he is a beneficent and gentle god towards those who have come to abide with him. Moreover, among the Egyptians many others of the proper names are real words; for example, that place beneath the earth, to which they believe that souls depart after the end of this life, they call Amenthes, the name signifying "the one who receives and gives." eWhether this is one of those words which came from Greece in very ancient times and were brought back again150 we will consider later,151 but for the present let us go on to discuss the remainder of the views now before us.

30 1 Now Osiris and Isis changed from good minor deities into gods.152 But the power of Typhon, weakened and crushed, but still fighting and struggling against extinction, they try to console and mollify by certain sacrifices; but again there are times when, fat certain festivals, they humiliate and insult him by assailing red-headed men with jeering, and by throwing an ass over the edge of a precipice, as the people of Kopto do, because Typhon had red hair and in colour resembled an ass.153 The people of Busiris154 and Lycopolis do not use trumpets at all, because these make a sound like an ass;155 and altogether they p75regard the ass as an unclean animal dominated by some higher power because of its resemblance to Typhon,156 and when they make cakes at their sacrifices in the month of Paÿni and of Phaophi they imprint upon them the device of an ass tied by a rope.157 363Moreover, in the sacrifice to the Sun they enjoin upon their worshippers not to wear any golden ornaments nor to give fodder to an ass. It is plain that the adherents of Pythagoras hold Typhon to be a daemonic power; for they say that he was born in an even factor of fifty-six; and the dominion of the triangle belongs to Hades, Dionysus, and Ares, that of the quadrilateral to Rhea, Aphroditê, Demeter, Hestia, and Hera, that of the dodecagon to Zeus,158 that of a polygon of fifty-six sides to Typhon, as Eudoxus has recorded.

31 1  bThe Egyptians, because of their belief that Typhon was of a red complexion,159 also dedicate to sacrifice such of their neat cattle as are of a red colour,160 but they conduct the examination of these so scrupulously that, if an animal has but one hair black or white, they think it wrong to sacrifice it;161 for they regard as suitable for sacrifice not what is dear to the gods but the reverse, namely, such animals as have incarnate in them souls of unholy and unrighteous men who have been transformed into other bodies. For this reason they invoke curses on the head of the victim and cut it off, and in early times they used to p77throw it into the river, but now they sell it to aliens.162 Upon the neat animal intended for sacrifice cthose of the priests who were called "Sealers"163 used to put a mark; and their seal, as Castor records, bore an engraving of a man with his knee on the ground and his hands tied behind his back, and with a sword at his throat.164 They think, as has been said,165 that the ass reaps the consequences of his resemblance because of his stupidity and his lascivious behaviour no less than because of his colour. This is also the reason why, since they hated Ochus166 most of all the Persian kings because he was a detested and abominable ruler, they nicknamed him "the Ass"; and he remarked, "But this Ass will feast upon your Bull," and slaughtered Apis, as Deinon has recorded. But those who relate dthat Typhon's flight from the battle was made on the back of an ass and lasted for seven days, and that after he had made his escape, he became the father of sons, Hierosolymus and Judaeus, are manifestly, as the very names show, attempting to drag Jewish traditions167 into the legend.

32 1 Such, then, are the possible interpretations which these facts suggest. But now let us begin over again, and consider first the most perspicuous of those who have a reputation for expounding matters more philosophically. These men are like the Greeks who say that Cronus is but a figurative name for Chronus168 (Time), Hera for Air, and that the birth of Hephaestus symbolises the change of Air into Fire.169 And thus among the Egyptians such men say that Osiris is the p79Nile consorting with the Earth, which is Isis, and that the sea is Typhon into which the Nile discharges its waters and is lost to view and dissipated, esave for that part which the earth takes up and absorbs and thereby becomes fertilized.170

There is also a religious lament sung over Cronus.171 The lament is for him that is born in the regions on the left, and suffers dissolution in the regions on the right; for the Egyptians believe that the eastern regions are the face of the world, the northern the right, and the southern the left.172 The Nile, therefore, which runs from the south and is swallowed up by the sea in the north, is naturally said to have its birth on the left and its dissolution on the right. For this reason the priests religiously keep themselves aloof from the sea, and call salt the "spume of Typhon"; and one of the things forbidden them fis to set salt upon a table;173 also they do not speak to pilots,174 because these men make use of the sea, and gain their livelihood from the sea. This is also not the least of the reasons why they eschew fish,175 and they portray hatred by drawing the picture of a fish. At Saïs in the vestibule of the temple of Athena was carved a babe and an aged man, and after this a hawk, and next a fish, and finally an hippopotamus. The symbolic meaning of this was:176 "O ye that are coming into the world p81and departing from it, God hateth shamelessness." The babe is the symbol of coming into the world and the aged man the symbol of departing from it, and by a hawk they indicate God,177 by the fish hatred, as has already been said,178 because of the sea, and by the hippopotamus shamelessness; 364for it is said that he kills his sire179 and forces his mother to mate with him. That saying of the adherents of Pythagoras, that the sea is a tear of Cronus,180 may seem to hint at its impure and extraneous nature.

Let this, then, be stated incidentally, as a matter of record that is common knowledge. 33 1 But the wiser of the priests call not only the Nile Osiris and the sea Typhon, but they simply give the name of Osiris to the whole source and faculty creative of moisture,181 believing this to be the cause of generation and the substance of life-producing seed; and the name of Typhon they give to all that is dry, fiery, and arid,182 in general, and antagonistic to moisture. bTherefore, because they believe that he was personally of a reddish sallow colour,183 they are not eager to meet men of such complexion, nor do they like to associate with them.

Osiris, on the other hand, according to their legendary tradition, was dark,184 because water darkens everything, earth and clothes and clouds, when it comes into contact with them.185 In young people the presence of moisture renders their hair black, while greyness, like a paleness as it were, is induced by p83dryness in those who are passing their prime.186 Also the spring-time is vigorous, prolific, and agreeable; but the autumn, since it lacks moisture, is inimical to plants and cunhealthful for living creatures.c

The bull kept at Heliopolis which they call Mneuis,187 and which is sacred to Osiris (some hold it to be the sire of Apis), is black and has honours second only to Apis. Egypt, moreover, which has the blackest of soils,188 they call by the same name as the black portion of the eye, "Chemia," and compare it to a heart;189 for it is warm and moist and is enclosed by the southern portions of the inhabited world and adjoins them, like the heart in a man's left side.

34 1 They say that the sun and moon do not use chariots, but boats190 in which to sail round in their courses; dand by this they intimate that the nourishment and origin of these heavenly bodies is from moisture. They think also that Homer,191 like Thales, had gained his knowledge from the Egyptians, when he postulated water as the source and origin of all things; for, according to them, Oceanus is Osiris, and Tethys is Isis, since she is the kindly nurse and provider for all things. In fact, the Greeks call emission apousia192 and coition synousia, and the son (hyios) from water (hydor) and rain (hysai); Dionysus also they call Hyes193 since he is lord of the nature of moisture; and he is no other than Osiris.194 In fact, Hellanicus seems p85to have heard Osiris pronounced Hysiris by the priests, for he regularly spells the name in this way, deriving it, in all probability, efrom the nature of Osiris and the ceremony of finding him.195

35 1 That Osiris is identical with Dionysus who could more fittingly know than yourself, Clea? For you are at the head of the inspired maidens of Delphi, and have been consecrated by your father and mother in the holy rites of Osiris. If, however, for the benefit of others it is needful to adduce proofs of this identity, let us leave undisturbed what may not be told, but the public ceremonies which the priests perform in the burial of the Apis, when they convey his body on an improvised bier, do not in any way come short of a Bacchic procession; for they fasten skins of fawns about themselves, and carry Bacchic wandsº fand indulge in shoutings and movements exactly as do those who are under the spell of the Dionysiac ecstasies.196 For the same reason many of the Greeks make statues of Dionysus in the form of a bull;197 and the women of Elis invoke him, praying that the god may come with the hoof of a bull;198 and the epithet applied to Dionysus among the Argives is "Son of the Bull." They call him up out of the water by the sound of trumpets,199 at the same time casting into the depths a lamb as an offering to the Keeper of the Gate. The trumpets they conceal in Bacchic wands, as Socrates200 has stated in his treatise on The Holy Ones. Furthermore, p87the tales regarding the Titans and the rites celebrated by night agree with the accounts of the dismemberment of Osiris and his revivification and regenesis. 365Similar agreement is found too in the tales about their sepulchres. The Egyptians, as has already been stated,201 point out tombs of Osiris in many places, and the people of Delphi believe that the remains of Dionysus rest with them close beside the oracle; and the Holy Ones offer a secret sacrifice in the shrine of Apollo whenever the devotees of Dionysus202 wake the God of the Mystic Basket.203 To show that the Greeks regard Dionysus as the lord and master not only of wine, but of the nature of every sort of moisture, it is enough that Pindar204 be our witness, when he says

May gladsome Dionysus swell the fruit upon the trees,

The hallowed splendour of harvest time.

bFor this reason all who reverence Osiris are prohibited from destroying a cultivated tree or blocking up a spring of water.

36 1 Not only the Nile, but every form of moisture205 they call simply the effusion of Osiris; and in their holy rites the water jar in honour of the god heads the procession.206 And by the picture of a rush they represent a king and the southern region of the world,207 and the rush is interpreted to mean the watering and fructifying of all things, and in its nature it seems to bear some resemblance to the generative member. Moreover, when they celebrate the festival of the Pamylia which, as has been said,208 is of a phallic member, they expose and carry about a statue of which the male member is triple;209 for the god is the Source, and every source, by its fecundity, multiplies what proceeds from it; and for "many times" we have a habit of saying "thrice," cas, for example, "thrice happy,"210 and

Bonds, even thrice as many, unnumbered,211

unless, indeed, the word "triple" is used by the early writers in its strict meaning; for the nature of moisture, being the source and origin of all things, created out of itself three primal material substances, Earth, Air and Fire. In fact, the tale that is annexed to the legend to the effect that Typhon cast the male member of Osiris into the river, and Isis could not find it, but constructed and shaped a replica of it, and ordained that it should be honoured and borne in processions,212 plainly comes round to this doctrine, that the creative and germinal power of the god, at the very first, acquired moisture as its substance, and through moisture combined with whatever was by nature capable of participating in generation.

dThere is another tale current among the Egyptians that Apopis, brother of the Sun, made war upon Zeus, and that because Osiris espoused Zeus's cause and helped him to overthrow his enemy, Zeus adopted Osiris as his son and gave him the name of Dionysus. It may be demonstrated that the legend contained in this tale has some approximation to truth so far as p91Nature is concerned; for the Egyptians apply the name "Zeus" to the wind,213 and whatever is dry or fiery is antagonistic to this. This is not the Sun, but it has some kinship with the Sun; and the moisture, eby doing away with the excess of dryness, increases and strengthens the exhalations by which the wind is fostered and made vigorous.

37 1 Moreover, the Greeks are wont to consecrate the ivy214 to Dionysus, and it is said that among the Egyptians the name for ivy is chenosiris, the meaning of the name being, as they say, "the plant of Osiris." Now, Ariston,215 the author of Athenian Colonization, happened upon a letter of Alexarchus, in which it is recorded that Dionysus was the son of Zeus and Isis, and is called not Osiris, but Arsaphes, spelled with an "a," the name denoting virility. fHermaeus,216º too, makes this statement in the first volume of his book The Egyptians; for he says that Osiris, properly interpreted, means "sturdy." I leave out of account Mnaseas's217 annexation of Dionysus, Osiris, and Serapis to Epaphus, as well as Anticleides'218 statement that Isis was the daughter of Prometheus219 and was wedded to Dionysus.220 The fact is that the peculiarities already mentioned regarding the festival and sacrifices carry a conviction more manifest than any testimony of authorities.

38 1 Of the stars the Egyptians think that the Dog-star is the star of Isis,221 because it is the bringer of water.222 366They also hold the Lion in honour, and they p93adorn the doorways of their shrines with gaping lions' heads,223 because the Nile overflows

When for the first time the Sun comes into conjunction with Leo.224

As they regard the Nile as the effusion of Osiris,225 so they hold and believe the earth to be the body of Isis, not all of it, but so much of it as the Nile covers, fertilizing it and uniting with it.226 From this union they make Horus to be born. The all-conserving and fostering Hora, that is the seasonable tempering of the surrounding air, is Horus, who they say was brought up by Leto in the marshes round about Buto;227 for the watery and saturated land best nurtures bthose exhalations which quench and abate aridity and dryness.

The outmost parts of the land beside the mountains and bordering on the sea the Egyptians call Nephthys. This is why they give to Nephthys the name of "Finality,"228 and say that she is the wife of Typhon. Whenever, then, the Nile overflows and with abounding waters spreads far away to those who dwell in the outermost regions, they call this the union of Osiris with Nephthys,229 which is proved by the upspringing of the plants. Among these is the melilotus,230 by the wilting and failing of which, as the story goes, Typhon gained knowledge of the wrong done to his bed. cSo Isis gave birth to Horus in lawful wedlock, but Nephthys bore Anubis clandestinely. However, in the chronological lists of the kings they record that p95Nephthys, after her marriage to Typhon, was at first barren. If they say this, not about a woman, but about the goddess, they must mean by it the utter barrenness and unproductivity of the earth resulting from a hard-baked soil.

39 1 The insidious scheming and usurpation of Typhon, then, is the power of drought, which gains control and dissipates the moisture which is the source of the Nile and of its rising; and his coadjutor, the Queen of the Ethiopians,231 signifies allegorically the south winds from Ethiopia; for whenever these gain the upper hand over the northerly or Etesian winds232 which drive the clouds towards Ethiopia, dand when they prevent the falling of the rains which cause the rising of the Nile, then Typhon, being in possession, blazes with scorching heat; and having gained complete mastery, he forces the Nile in retreat to draw back its waters for weakness, and, flowing at the bottom of its almost empty channel, to proceed to the sea. The story told of the shutting up of Osiris in the chest seems to mean nothing else than the vanishing and disappearance of water. Consequently they say that the disappearance of Osiris occurred in the month of Athyr,233 at the time when, owing to the complete cessation of the Etesian winds, the Nile recedes to its low level and the land becomes denuded. As the nights grow longer, the darkness increases, eand the potency of the light is abated and subdued. Then among the gloomy rites which the priests perform, they shroud the gilded image of a cow with a black linen vestment, and display her as a sign of mourning for the goddess, inasmuch as they regard both the cow and the earth234 p97as the image of Isis; and this is kept up for four days consecutively, beginning with the seventeenth of the month. The things mourned for are four in number: first, the departure and recession of the Nile; second, the complete extinction of the north winds, as the south winds gain the upper hand; third, the day's growing shorter than the night; and, to crown all, the denudation of the earth together with the defoliation of the trees and shrubs at this time. On the nineteenth day fthey go down to the sea at night-time; and the keepers of the robes and the priests bring forth the sacred chest containing a small golden coffer, into which they pour some potable water which they have taken up, and a great shout arises from the company for joy that Osiris is found. Then they knead some fertile soil with the water and mix in spices and incense of a very costly sort, and fashion therefrom a crescent-shaped figure, which they clothe and adorn, thus indicating that they regard these gods as the substance of Earth and Water.

40 1 When Isis recovered Osiris and was watching Horus grow up235 367as he was being made strong by the exhalations and mists and clouds, Typhon was vanquished but not annihilated;236 for the goddess who holds sway over the Earth would not permit the complete annihilation of the nature opposed to moisture, but relaxed and moderated it, being desirous that its tempering potency should persist, because it was not possible for a complete world to exist, if the fiery element left it and disappeared. Even if this story were not current among them, one would hardly p99be justified in rejecting that other account, to the effect that Typhon, many ages ago, held sway over Osiris's domain; for Egypt used to be all a sea,237 and, for that reason, beven to‑day it is found to have shells in its mines and mountains.238 Moreover, all the springs and wells, of which there are many, have a saline and brackish water, as if some stale dregs of the ancient sea had collected there.

But, in time, Horus overpowered Typhon; that is to say, there came on a timely abundance of rain, and the Nile forced out the sea and revealed the fertile land, which it filled out with its alluvial deposits. This has support in the testimony of our own observation; for we see, even to‑day, as the river brings down new silt cand advances the land, that the deep waters gradually recede and, as the bottom gains in height by reason of the alluvial deposits, the water of the sea runs off from these. We also note that Pharos, which Homer239 knew as distant a day's sail from Egypt, is now a part of it; not that the island has extended its area by rising, or has come nearer to the land, but the sea that separated them was obliged to retire before the river, as the river reshaped the land and made it to increase.

The fact is that all this is somewhat like the doctrines promulgated by the Stoics240 about the gods; for they say that the creative and fostering spirit is Dionysus, the truculent and destructive is Heracles, the receptive is Ammon, that which pervades the Earth and its products is Demeter and the Daughter, p101and that which pervades the Sea is Poseidon.241


The Editor's Notes:

95 Cf. Moralia, 1026C, and De Anima, I.6 (in Bernardakis's ed. vol. VII p7).

96 Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag., Aeschylus, no. 354.

97 Cf. Strabo, XVII.1.28 (p804).

98 Cf. 358A, supra, and 365A, infra.

99 The introduction of Diochites here is based upon an emendation of a reading found in one MS. only. The emendation is drawn from Stephanus Byzantinus, a late writer on geographical topics.

100 Cf. 362C and 368C, infra.

101 Cf. Diodorus, I.22, and Strabo, XVII. p803, which (p53)seem to support the emendation "Philae." Others think that the gates (the MS. reading) of Memphis are meant.

102 The persea-tree was sacred to Osiris.

103 Cf. Strabo, XVII.1.14 (pp799 and 800). Tradition varies between Taphosiris and Taposiris, and there may be no "tomb" in the word at all.

104 Cf. 368A, infra.

105 Cf. Moralia, 974F.

106 Cf. Diodorus, I.84, ad fin., for the great expense often involved.

107 That is, to die, and thus to lose their claim to divinity; cf. 360B, infra. This is common Euhemeristic doctrine.

108 Cf. 363A and 364B, infra.

109 Proverbial: cf. e.g. Plato, Laws, 684D.

110 Cf. Bergk, Poet. Lyr. Graec. III., Simonides, no. 193, and Edmonds, Lyra Graeca, II. p340 in L. C. L.

111 Doubtless ἡ ἱερὰ ἀναγραφή (sacra scriptio); see Diodorus, V.41‑46, and VI.1.

112 Cf. Herodotus, I.94, IV.45, and W. M. Ramsay, Mitteilungen des deutsch. arch. Institutsº in Athen. VIII.71.

113 Adapted from Plato, Laws, 716A.

114 From Empedocles: cf. H. Diels, Poetarum Philosophorum Fragmenta, p106, Empedocles, no. 2, 4.

115 Plutarch tells the same story with slight variations in Moralia, 182C.

116 In connexion with chapters 25 and 26 one may well compare 418D-419A and 421C-E, infra, and Eusebius, Praepar. Evang. IV.21-V.5.

117 Cf. 361C, infra.

118 Cf. Diogenes Laertius, VIII.32.

119 Cf. Stobaeus, Eclogae, I.2.29.

120 Cf. Moralia, 277A, 419A, and 1051C-D; and von Arnim, Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta, II.1103 (p320).

121 The vengeance which he wreaked on his father Uranus.

122 Homer, Il. VI.135 ff. If φθόροι is read ("destructions wrought by Dionysus") there would be also a reference to the death of Pentheus as portrayed in the Bacchae of Euripides. Cf. also Moralia, 996C.

123 The word is found forty-four times in Homer.

124 Homer employs this expression sixty-two times.

125 See Homer, Od. VI.12.

126 Cf. 415A, infra.

127 IliadXIII.810.

128 Ibid. V.438, XIV.705, XX.447.

129 Ibid. IV.31.

130 Plato, Laws, 717A, assigns the Even and the Left to the chthonic deities, and Plutarch quite correctly derives his statement from this.

131 Hesiod, Works and Days, 123 and 253. Cf. Moralia, 431E, infra.

132 Works and Days, 126, repeated in 417B, infra.

133 Symposium, 202E. Cf. also Moralia, 415A and 416C-F, infra, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiq. I.77.

134 Part of a longer passage from Empedocles; cf. H. Diels, Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, I. p267, Empedocles, no. 115, 9‑12. Cf. also Moralia, 830F.

135 Cf. 363E, infra.

136 Cf. Moralia, 857D.

137 Müller, Frag. Hist. Graec. IV. p315, no. 7.

138 Ibid. II.198 or Frag. 103, ed. Voss.

139 Cf. Moralia, 984A; Tacitus, Histories, IV.83‑84, who tells the story more dramatically and with more detail; (p69)Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus, IV.48 (p42 Potter); Origen, Against Celsus, V.38.

140 Cf. Diels, Frag. der Vorsokratiker, I.81, Heracleitus no. 14.

141 Cf. 356B, supra, and 364D, infra.

142 Cf. 376A, infra, and Pauly-Wissowa, s.v. Sarapis (vol. IA, col. 2394).

143 Cf. Cicero, De Natura Deorum, III.16 (42).

144 Cf. Pauly-Wissowa, l.c., col. 2396‑2397, for other etymologies. The derivation from sairein (sweep) is wholly fanciful.

145 Cf. Diodorus, I.96, and Pausanias, I.18.4, with Frazer's note.

146 Cf. Moralia, 995E-F; Aristotle, Frag. 196 (ed. Rose); or Porphyry, Life of Pythagoras, 41.

147 This derivation (from seuesthai or sousthai) is also fanciful.

148 Cf. 359B, supra, and 368C, infra, and Diodorus, I.85.4‑5.

149 Plato, Cratylus, 403A-404A, suggests various derivations of the name Hades.

150 Cf. 375E-F, infra.

151 Cf. 375D, infra.

152 Cf. 361E, supra.

153 Cf. 359E, supra, and 364A, infra; for Kopto cf. 356D.

154 Cf. Moralia, 150E-F.

155 Cf. Aelian, De Natura Animalium, X.28.

156 Cf. Moralia, 150F.

157 Cf. 371D, infra.

158 As the chief of the twelve gods presumably; cf. Herodotus, II.4.

159 Cf. 359E, supra, and 364A, infra.

160 Cf. Diodorus, I.88.

161 Cf. Herodotus, II.38, and Diodorus, I.88.

162 "To Greeks," says Herodotus, II.39. Cf. Deuteronomy xiv.21, "Thou shalt give it (sc. anything that dieth of itself) unto the stranger that is in thy gates . . . or thou mayest sell it unto an alien."

163 Cf. Herodotus, II.38, and Porphyry, De Abstinentia, IV.7.

164 Cf. Diodorus, I.88.4‑5.

165 362F, supra.

166 Cf. 355C, supra, and Aelian, Varia Historia, IV.8.

167 Cf. Tacitus, Histories, V.2.

168 Cf. Cicero, De Natura Deorum, II.25 (64).

169 Cf. 392C, infra.

170 Cf. 366A, infra.

171 For Cronus as representing rivers and water see Pauly-Wissowa, XI.1987‑1988.

172 Cf. Moralia, 282D-E and 729B.

173 Ibid. 685A and 729A.

174 Ibid. 729C.

175 Cf. 353C, supra.

176 There is a lacuna in one MS. (E) at this point (God hateth . . . of departing from it). The supplement is from Clement of Alexandria; see the critical note.

The critical note to the Greek text is:

θεὸς . . . δ᾽ ὁ γέρων is supplied from Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis, V.41.4 (p670 Potter): δεο . . . γέρων or δεογέρων. If it were not for the lacuna in E, it would be possible to emend ᾧ γιγνόμενοι καὶ ἀπογιγνόμενοι ἐοίκαμεν.

177 Cf. 371E, infra.

178 Cf. 353C, supra.

179 Cf. Porphyry, De Abstinentia, III.23.

180 Cf. Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis, V.50.1 (p676 Potter), and Aristotle, Frag. 196 (ed. Rose).

181 Cf. 365B, infra.

182 Cf. 369A and 376F, infra.

183 Cf. 359E and 363B, supra.

184 Cf. 359E, supra.

185 Cf. Moralia, 950A.

186 Cf. Aristotle, De Generatione Animalium, V.1 (780 B6).

187 Cf. Diodorus, I.21; Eusebius, Praepar. Evang. III.13.1‑3; Strabo, XVII.1.22; Aelian, De Natura Animalium, XI.11.

188 Cf. Herodotus, II.12.

189 Horapollo, Hieroglyphica, I.22.

190 Cf. Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis, V.41.2 (p566 Potter); Eusebius, Praepar. Evang. III.11.48.

191 Il. XIV.201.

192 Cf. Artemidorus, Oneirocritica, I.78.

193 Cf. the name Hyades of the constellation.

194 Cf. 356B, 362B, supra, and 365A, infra.

195 See 366F, infra.

196 Cf. Diodorus, I.11.

197 A partial list in Roscher, Lexikon d. gr. u. röm. Mythologie, I.1149.

198 Cf. Moralia, 299A, where the invocation is given at greater length; also Edmonds, Lyra Graeca, III. p510 (L. C. L.).

199 Cf. Moralia, 671E.

200 Müller, Frag. Hist. Graec. IV. p498, Socrates, no. 5.

201 358A and 359A, supra.

202 That is, the inspired maidens, mentioned at the beginning of the chapter.

203 Callimachus, Hymn to Demeter (vi.), 127; Anth. Pal. VI.165; Virgil, Georg. I.166.

204 Frag. 153 (Christ). Plutarch quotes the line also in Moralia, 745A and 757F.

205 Cf. 366A, 371B, infra, and 729B.

206 Cf. Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis, VI.31.1 (p758 Potter).

207 Such a symbol exists on Egyptian monuments.

208 355E, supra.

209 Cf. 371F, infra, Herodotus, II.48, and Egyptian monuments.

210 Homer, Od. V.306, and VI.154. It is interesting that G. H. Palmer translates this "most happy."

211 Ibid. VIII.340.

212 Cf. 358B, supra.

213 Cf. Diodorus, I.12.2.

214 Diodorus, I.17.4.

215 Müller, Frag. Hist. Graec. III. p324.

216 Ibid. IV. p427.

217 Ibid. III. p155.

218 Cf. Jacoby, Frag. Gr. Hist. 140, no. 13.

219 Cf. 352A, supra.

220 Cf. Herodotus, II.156.

221 Cf. 359D, supra, and 376A, infra.

222 In the Nile.

223 Cf. Moralia, 670C; Horapollo, Hieroglyphica, I.21.

224 Aratus, Phaenomena, 151. The Dog-star rises at about the same time.

225 Cf. the note on 365B, supra.

226 Cf. 363D, supra.

227 Cf. 357F, supra.

228 Cf. 355F, supra, and 375B, infra.

229 Cf. the note on 356E, supra.

230 Cf. 356F, supra.

231 Cf. 356B, supra.

232 Cf. Moralia, 898A, and Diodorus, I.39.

233 The month of November. Cf. 356C, supra.

234 Cf. 366A, supra.

235 Cf. 357C-F, supra.

236 Cf. 358D, supra.

237 Cf. Herodotus, II.5; Diodorus, III.3, and I.39.11.

238 Cf. Herodotus, II.12.

239 Od. IV.356. Cf. also Strabo, XII.2.4 (p536), and XVII.1.6 (p791).

240 Cf. von Arnim, Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta, II.1093 (p319).

241 Cf. Cicero, De Natura Deorum, I.15 (40), II.28 (71); and Diogenes Laertius, VII.147.


Thayer's Notes:

a For a modern and more detailed view, see R. H. Allen, Star Names, s.v. Orion.

b Manetho, Fragment 80. If in the account of the cult of Serapis that follows, Plutarch seems confused, he has good reason to be: no one yet has been able to get to the bottom of it. For further data — and further bewilderment — see Waddell's note ad loc. and Bevan's House of Ptolemy, p43 ff..

c Cf. Celsus, de Medicina I.3.37; II.1.1‑2, 1.8‑9, 8.24, 8.40, 8.42; V.26.6; VII.14.8 — although for various different reasons. Celsus does, however, at one point specifically associate autumn with dryness (prooem.6).

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