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De Iside et Osiride

Author(s): P. D. Scott-Moncrieff
Source: The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 29 (1909), pp. 79-90
Published by: The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/624645
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DE ISIDE ET OSIRIDE.

PLUTARCH'S treatise Trep' "Iotov Ica'l 'Ot'Ipt&o, is a work of consider-


able importance not only to the studeht of later Platonism, but also to the
Egyptologist; yet it is a somewhat remarkable fact that it has been much
neglected by the latter, although he alone possesses the knowledge that
would help to clear up many of the confused and contradictory statements
made by Plutarch with regard to Egyptian mythology. The commentaries
of Sayce and Wiedemann on the second Book of Herodotus have been
invaluable to the historian and mythologist alike; nevertheless, Plutarch's
excursus into the realms of Egyptian religious lore has never received the
systematic attention of the Egyptologist.' It can hardly be said that this
is due to the want of importance attached to the subject. It is generally
admitted that, whereas the eleventh chapter of the Metamorphosesof
Apuleius is our principal source of knowledge concerning the Graeco-Roman
cult of Isis, the treatise of Plutarch is almost our only account of the doctrine
which the Alexandrian Platonists wove round that goddess and Osiris.
There can be little doubt that Plutarch's theories were the same as those
generally held by Greek and Roman worshippers of Isis, and the fact that
the treatise is addressed to Klea, who appears to have been a professed
devotee of the goddess, renders them additionally interesting.2 Yet any one
who reads Plutarch's essay cannot fail to notice how dependent the author
is for information not only on the legends of Egyptian priests, but on the
gleanings of his compatriot predecessors in the same field, while he is often
hard put to it to explain away the grosser side of the Egyptian religion, and
to account for its polytheism and worship of animals. In short, Plutarch and
all the other Greek and Roman worshippers of Osiris were separated, by race,
by prejudice, and by speech, from a proper understanding of Egyptian beliefs
and feeling. That this gulf was to a certain extent bridged, is proved by
the great vogue of the Isiac cult among Greeks and Romans, which seems to
have drawn to it many of the noblest spirits of the time. Nevertheless, with
all their eager enquiry and intelligence, the Greek Platonists could no more
thoroughly enter into the spirit of Egyptian religion than the Egyptians
could follow the metaphysical speculations of the Greek Platonists.
1The Egyptological notes in Parthey's edition,
7iKyv .4o'L-v &pXYbY gv ooeav iv
Aeupois 7- v
1850, are out of date. Oudamwv, 5e 'OrsptaLKo7sKaOwOLW4LEV7JV
tepois
' ros
? xxxv ...a- ? 7rpoi- a7rb Rca~-pb
sal l471Tqpd.
yivcwKew&KALa,

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80 P. D. SCOTT-MONCRIEFF
As was to be expected, Plutarch's conception of Isis and Osiris is greatly
influenced by Platonism; but at the same time, he is very careful to expound
the Egyptian side of the mysteries he discusses, and it is these expositions
that it is the purpose of this paper to criticize.3 It should be first explained
that the Egyptian religion was essentially material and concrete, with all its
doctrines based primarily on the working of practical magic. This was
especially the case with the cycle of Osiris legends. Although Osiris had
been slain and even hacked in pieces, he was nevertheless by the magical aid
of his sister and wife Isis revivified and became ruler of the realms of the
dead. He was therefore a precedent by which man might expect to defy
corruption, but only by the same magic as was employed for the benefit of
Osiris himself. Before the funeral the following prayer was recited to the
swathed and bandaged mummy: ' O thou who canst not move like unto
Osiris, O thou whose limbs cannot move like unto those of Osiris. Let not
thy limbs be without movement; let them not suffer corruption; let them
not pass away; let them not decay; let them be fashioned for me as if I
myself were Osiris; '4 and the Rubric says 'If the deceased know this
chapter he shall never suffer corruption, in the underworld.' Thus, by being
mummified and by undergoing the same magical ceremonies as Osiris the
deceased hoped to escape corruption. This was the root idea of the worship
of Osiris; but from the very earliest times all sorts of extraneous doctrines
got to be associated with it, especially those of the solar cult. Nevertheless,
it was this root idea which persisted throughout the whole course of
Egyptian religious history and was never displaced. To the Egyptian Osiris
was at once his judge and the pledge of his future existence. Other gods
and other magic might enable him to overcome the serpents and hostile
demons that beset his path to the 'fields of rest;' but in Osiris, 'lord of
eternity,' lay his hope of living for ever. In him centred all the ideas con-
nected with the springing up of new life from decay and corruption; he
represented the revivifying power in Nature, and especially in man. We
hear little or nothing of what good he did for the living; but for the dead he
was at once the hope, the protector, and the judge. The great popularity of
Isis seems, however, to have grown up in later times chiefly owing to the
skill she was thought to possess in magic, which would naturally endear her
to the superstitious and the magicians. Isis was the great sorceress, the
goddess who had enabled Osiris not so much to overcome his enemy Set, but
to overcome the power of death and of bodily decay. Thus in later times her
aid was universally invoked, and her great and magnificent temple at Philae
saw the celebrations of her mysteries continued right down to the reign of
Justinian, long after the Gotterdnimmerungin Egypt. But it was also in her
capacity of mother of Harpokrates or the infant Horus5 that she found
3 The fact that Plutarch had Ammonios as a Hellenic environment.
teacher is no guarantee of his having any special 4 Chapter xlv. Book of the Dead, ed. Budge.
facilities for acquiring Egyptian religious lore,
as names of this kind were frequently borne by =3 Har-pa-Khrad,
pure Greeksor persons brought up in an entirely lit. 'Horus, the child.'

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DE ISIDE ET OSIRIDE 81

worshippers by the thousand. According to Plutarch Osiris became the


father of Harpokrates after he had met his death at the hands of Set
(g xix.... rv 8"''Ia-tve 'O0Ipt80?C; CTec TV rEXEUr7VG -VyyEVO/LEVOV rEKEtV
ical Eaaeevij70r KaTro TVy 'AproKp rv) 6 a form of
L2XtOVov of /yviotq
legend expressive of the renaissance.eV life from decay and corruption that is
typically Egyptian in its concrete materialism. The figure of Isis suckling
the infant Horus was very dear to the Egyptians, and thousands of this
group had been made in bronze, faience, and terracotta from Saite times
onwards. Isis not only had rescued Osiris from bodily corruption, but, after
the latter had gone down to the shades to rule as king of the underworld,
she brought forth a child-god as a pledge of his continued existence, and a
type of rejuvenescence and endless youth. Of Typhon or Set it is difficult
to speak with certainty. In the Osiris legend he certainly occupies the r6le
of villain of the piece, and appears to have done so from the earliest times.
He seems to have represented everything that was hostile to Osiris and to
have typified also the terrors of the desert. Nevertheless, under the early
dynasties prayers were frequently addressed to him, along with other gods of
the dead, in the ordinary manner, for food offerings of thousands of oxen,
geese, etc., while several of the great kings of the XIXth Dynasty bore his
name and worshipped him with honour.7 But it seems clear that, being the
enemy of Osiris, he was looked on with dread and even aversion, while the
figures found of him are extremely rare as compared to those of other
Egyptian deities. But of all the above-mentioned deities Osiris was the
most important, the others on the whole playing comparatively subordinate
parts in Egyptian mythology. It is true that Isis and Harpokratess
assumed much greater importance in later times, but this came about chiefly
owing to their connexion with Osiris.
Let us now turn to Plutarch and his treatise. It may be at once
stated that his version of the legend of the fight between Osiris and
Typhon or Set, together with the parts played by Isis, Nephthys, and
Horus, corresponds very well with all that is known from the Egyptian
records and rituals, and there is no doubt that it represents the current
Egyptian myth at the middle of the first century. It is in the long
elaborate disquisitions and exegeses that Plutarch forsakes the realms
of Egyptian theology, although he is at great pains to find an Egyptian
basis for each and every of his ideas. According to him, and in harmony
with the Platonic system, Osiris and Isis are great powers or daemons
(? xxv. Be' tov oV'v
otl Ta rrp T
rTv TTvcf^a xa Ka\ JIotv
"Oa'tptv
6 The last part of this statement seems to be when the dead king took his place among the
merely a mistaken Greek idea which arose from gods.
the appearance of Harpokrates as defined by 9 The divergence between
Harpokrates and
Heru-ur (Haroeris) or Horus the elder became
Egyptian convention complete in late Ptolemaic times. It is hard to
7 On the coffin and in the tomb of Sety I. recognize any connexion between the ancient
the king's name is altered to that of Asary in sky-god Horus of Edfu and the Hellenistic
order not to hurt the susceptibility of Osiris figures of Harpokrates.
H.S.-VOL. XXIX. G

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82 P. D. SCOTT-MONCRIEFF

ao-ropoEva r)el rrarl parTa ~rT' vapcro dXaova h


Oe.~COV Osiris is atoa6vV
the male principle in nature,
I/eydXov elvat he
voAttov're;).
is moistness, the Nile, the productive Power. Isis, on the other hand,
is the female principle, the earth, the receptive Power. Typhon or Set
is aridity, emptiness, waste (? xxxii. o'rTC 7rap'AiyvUrrilots NERov emvat
Tbv "Oo-Lptv, "*Io-t oUvvfra7~ajY, Tvcova S 9aXaoaav d6 "iv 6 NdeXov
erTltr O Ka tao-7rTat 7wrv oov '\?rjV y) p'Ipov avaXaa/vovoa
abavTe.Tat
carl GeXOIJY1
ylverTaL b r' p0I dXXa"O pe , X<ovX
"7ov/t aroo.
v xxxii'i...
a
a'raoav 7vypo7rotov "apx " vvaltv atriavar yeveoeco xal o-7rppaTroI
"77v
ovo'tav 4pCe,
voIT4lOvrE.
? xlii. 6 yp *Oo-pt
dayalo7rootO'"
Kal 'roijvo/a
nrokXXah oX i/to-ra KpaTd7oV
c eepyoiJv xatal ycyaOo7rotovb
0*8'yovo't.
? xxxiii. Tvub&va Sew'av 7 abXpiLypov Kal 7rvp^oSee alt ?pavTtKov
xa 7 rVf rrTt). Of Isis he 1
says, ? liii. '7'ap 'ToIs
oXwoP v 'oX,"Itov bypTp
TTb rijc poeoe 0i9 Xv Kal an-rL 7yevE'oew%,and her
TC'rt to the
relation CreLKV
Logos is shown in the phrase following, 8th TOb '7rrdoa ro
70ri AdOV 7pop
rper7O/LVrf 8is 'XeeoOatca'al These quotations will,
suffice to show how Plutarch has moulded the Egyptian legends into an
Waa.
entirely Platonic form. Osiris is the beneficent principle, Isis the receptive;
but the latter only receives the good and repels the bad forming in her
womb Horus T70 vor7roiK^o'tpov
v elbco6va Before this he
'ovTra 7yevv.
says (? liii.) e'CWv 7yp e a,10o0phv
LAd i
y c
ovotla9w
oartvthus farid heYErive-o,? at rita rooi3o'zro
7"r
ytvo6uevov. Having gone proceeds to elaborate his
theory,
seeing in the story of the fight of Typhon or Set against Osiris and Isis
only another form of the struggle between Ahriman and Auramazda, of
evil against good, of ignorance against reason, of sterility against productive-
ness. In the end Set is not completely destroyed but like Ahriman can
always continue to do harm, although finally Good must always triumph
over Evil.
It need hardly be said that all this is not in the least Egyptian, yet it is
interesting to note how throughout the treatise Plutarch seems thoroughly to
believe that his ideas are the same as those held by the educated
Egyptian
priesthood and that he in common with them is possessed of an esoteric
gnosis about the Egyptian deities. The vulgar might indulge in the gross forms
of superstition derided by Greeks and Romans alike, but for those initiated
into the mysteries of Isis, there was the doctrine on which he dilates in his
treatise, of which the polytheism and worship of animals is only the outer
form. The question is, is it possible that Plutarch was
right? That the
spirit of Platonism had penetrated into the Egyptian religion beyond the
mere Graeco-Roman cult of Isis ?
Looking at the question from the Egyptian side the answer must be in
the negative. It may be admitted that in Plutarch's time
decay and
disintegration had begun to attack the Egyptian religion. The knowledge
of hieroglyphs was becoming more and more rare, while those who were able
to read and write them, were only acquainted with the Ptolemaic and Roman
forms, which are artificial and stilted to a degree. The common people, too,
had been much influenced by Hellenism, and the country had begun to be

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DE ISIDE ET OSIRIDE 83
flooded with those terracotta figures of Isis, Horus, Harpokrates, Bes, and
other favourite deities in Hellenized form. Four centuries of Greek govern-
ment and intermarriage with Greeks could not have failed to modify
the life of even so conservative a people as the Egyptians.9 But the priest-
hood, the very class whom Plutarch considered to possess the same key to the
wisdom of the ages as himself, and into whose manners and customs he
enquires so closely, was the main bulwark against Hellenic influence. All
through the Ptolemaic period the priests at the great religious centres such
as Dendereh, Thebes, Edfu, and Philae had not only carried on the worship of
the ancient gods in the manner prescribed in the past, but had gone to great
pains to investigate into minutiae of ceremony and ritual, so that everything
might be done ' according to the wisdom of Thoth and therefore as set out in
the sacred writings.' 10 This clinging to the religious past was to a great
extent artificial and had become more so in Roman times. Nevertheless, we
know from the temple inscriptions that it was well maintained up to the time
of the Antonine emperors, although the knowledge of the priests about things
ancient had become much more reduced and circumscribed by absurd
traditions, while confusion worse than ever reigned in the arrangement of the
vast Egyptian pantheon. But in spite of this, the priests still held them-
selves aloof from Hellenic influence, and even if they had been capable of
understanding the Platonic interpretation of the Osiris and Isis myth, would
never have dreamed of adopting it.
We shall find confirmation of this if we turn to Plutarch's treatise itself,
although perhaps not so much in the statements made about the Egyptian
religion as in the deductions drawn from these statements. In the first place
it seems clear that he had no acquaintance with the Egyptian language, or he
would never have perpetrated some of the terrible etymologies of which he is
so fond." He was, therefore, apparently quite without a first hand knowledge
of the Egyptian sacred writings, and dependent entirely on what he picked up
from priests and from the writings of Herodotus, Manetho, Hecataeus of Abdera,
and others who had written in Greek on the subject. Where he quotes Egyptian
writings, his quotations have a thoroughly Greek ring; as, for example, when in
speaking of the shrine of Neith at Sais he '
iet riT) 'A0'rvaC,12
says-: To dSv

9 See Hall, P.S.B.A. xxvii. pp. 16, 17. Asar. Busiris) with the definite article prefixed,
10 Diimichen, Resultate, 38-41.
11 E.g. 'EAAwXXfKbv 1 r alC 6 or else 'i j(Ta ape(t)
?
'loals E(T7L
y7p
Oe V' yvoLav Ial
7r Kal
Tvg(pv, Asar), 'the place of Osiris.' Of Osiris himself
erETUcoAWvos ( ii.).
WTdr77vwroh4,tuos Tucpv was of he has several interpretations, the most absurd
course quite unknown to the Egyptians; his
being 6 8 'Oaiips ?, 70o 6-ov ial royvoua
native name was Set. . . , 7~yv8'
aIv. ... 7rV-
' AE/tL7Y4ivov
The etymology loepoi
of Osiris is
OL/lov orroXv vaXha8fer, rov 7r /4XpL
vrvE ?rdAeL
quite unknown.
yaX.n-ce.
ovvola 'vo/a
Kowrrd6, E'rEporL 7?) aY7).alvtrv odov'raL
, 12Neith a goddess sometimes, but
arfp77alv (? xiv.). OrK',rL V7roL ho'you Se-LoOaL
Tap64LpwLV ab'rrb yp ppdc~ev av
racp
"rYv The "rotyvo/a of this rarely, thought to have certain attributes in
'OoIpLsos (? xxi.). Egyptian original common with Isis.
was probably either (Per
~id~(Per
G2

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84 P. D. SCOTT-MONCRIEFF

77v cal 'Ictv volovLtv, '0Swl


rtrypar?7v eXe TotavT7)v, 'Eyd ra^v Tb
c K etC
yeryovo Kai acabde evov, /al 7rE7-Xov
orbel6 OVYrq
TObvo 7to
a7redKXv#ev' (8 ix.). No parallel inscription has ever been found on any
temple in Egypt, nor is it in the least Egyptian in spirit; on the contrary it
is Greek and is dragged in to fit Plutarch's preconceived idea of Isis. On
the other hand when he follows Manetho, who was himself an Egyptian, as
for example in his interpretation of the word Amen, he is t'rt
correct":
TCrV
awoXXCOv VO?oLLVTO.VrW &ov rap' A1yvTwrlot9'vovia 70o AtLd elvat T'
'AFloirvMaveO vw v 0 1Eevv`Trc; TO KKPicpV[LLvoV o~fEat. This, we know,
was the correct Egyptian explanation of the name as given by the priests
and as shown by the determinative . The symbols of the name
of Osiris himself he has only got partially right. "Oo-tpLv bOaXo KIcal
cat E
8teplpJVVovI 7roXV OaXLtov,dsv
cnr-rpo, T tovtv" *'vtot Tovolia
f/pd
7o ILVoV r9
, roXvo,
'70o8 tpt \v 3O0aXp0\v AlyrivTr1ayX ;'7 dTpdo-roa
(? x.). The ordinary hieroglyphic writing of Osiris is either , ~ or

Z . There is an eye but no sceptre, nor can his mistake be justified by
the current demotic forms 13 Again he says dv ~dE yo vT d7v r r70
tEpOV 7T7 'A7Ova5 (7vy17vey1y6-Y voJ) /pe*fO9, ,/prOv, KcaL ,rETa rporrXp
TOV7o tipa?,
8E)4 6~)' l lO, a a SI rord1p7tov*
rw rt7r rTo Sp ev8o7Lt
4jXov W
Ka' y ... [lacuna] ye'pov.' l~palct 8E
t(v64pevot dJroYtv6pevotL t3o vbv EebY
10 cr
dorvep 8tt Tr)\ Oda`XaraV, tr7
Ipdvove, epr77at
3' aval6t&av (? xxxii.).14
loo, Here we have a garbled account of somerrorTa~U.l
inscription
with just enough about it that is correct for us to realize how hopelessly
unintelligible the original must have been to the author. A hawk was
certainly the sign for a god, and a babe and an old man may very well be
connected wlth old age and youth, but even o-v~4poXtLccZ& it is difficult to
understand the rest. 7v too looks as if the whole thing were
yeryXvypI'vov
hearsay, and here, as elsewhere, it gives the impression that Plutarch had
never visited the spot at all. In speaking of Thebes he says: dv8e
o-av 5 & O7 On/3ave
elKtov~ avaKcel/pevat 8ticarv ~daXEtPep , pXt8tcKaotro ^cKara-
c&0 o
v.ovo-a r70To b6laoatv,
t/.a
;8copov 7v &KtLatooa-vrv KaLtIVEVTEVKTOV
oa-av(v x.). Again the use of the past tense gives the appearance of a
quotation, or a hearsay report. This symbolic idea of the incorruptibility
of justice would seem to have arisen in the mind of some Greek traveller
who had noticed figures of Theban functionaries, either with the hands
broken off, or, as is more likely, folded within the robe, a very common
attitude in which Egyptian portrait figures were represented. But such
symbolism as closed eyes, and lack of hands to express an unbribable

however.
13 os is probably the rendering of 'was' 14 Clement of Alexandria has a similar

a kind of sceptre, which does not mean 'many.' version, perhaps incorrectly copied from
of an eye, Plutarch, Stromateis v. 7.
Lpt is the correct vocalization
.,

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DE ISIDE ET OSIRIDE 85

justice was never employed as far as is known by the Egyptians, and was
quite foreign to their ideas. It is the same with his conception of the
sphinxes, which is entirely coloured by the Greek legend of the Sphinx:
rp0 rcov tEcujv 7a9 1-rdT7a-6,64
. .apas?7XoVvo awrotp 0-0yya E&rtEtfKcT
The
alvtryiaT
a a ooclav T^ OEoXoytla9abr(cv eov-xoy (? ix.). Egyptian
sphinx was not a female monster who propounded riddles, but a man-headed
lion-couchant, emblem of Harmachis and the might and power of the
rising sun.
That side of the Egyptian religion which was most typical of the
Egyptian mind is precisely the one that Plutarch understands least. All the
gross and materialistic legends about Osiris which had their origin in the
primitive epoch of Egyptian history he passes over as unworthy of belief or
to be understood symbolically by the initiated (? xx.). But there is every
reason to suppose that outside Alexandria, among the native priests and the
peasants, exactly the same beliefs were current in Plutarch's time as had
been from time immemorial in Egypt. Again with Plutarch as with all
foreigners the animal gods of Egypt were a sore stumbling-block, and he is
fain to pass them off as mere symbols or as utilitarian interpretations.
He admits that Aiyvwrrtowv 84 ol' n7roXX OepaTretovTCE ara rTah T a tcat
7repte7TrovTE O~eobVc ryXoTroc v8
o XXevayp.LoV KaT&a7Err'XrrrKcat
o, tovo
avt iepovpyla%,TdXh 70o70ror7i a/EeXrplaC edXcXurorvdE-rtt/aKEdi (? lxxi.),
but goes on to explain that the Egyptians worshipped animals in two ways,
symbolical and utilitarian. In the latter, the ox, the sheep, and the
ichneumon, on account of their usefulness to man; in the former, the asp as
being immortal and capable of motion without limbs, the crocodile because it
veils its eyes with a thin transparent membrane so as to see without being
seen, which is the attribute of the Supreme God, while a still more extra-
ordinary reason is assigned to the weasel, icaraTb
~ rTart rTicrov-av, Eitcarta r ro70
7(0 86\ X~yovrt o OXevoX.EVrlv"
A6yov YEV~OEmetvat (? lxxiv.).
As a matter of fact the Egyptians worshipped their animal deities without
assigning any fanciful reason for doing so, as they had always worshipped them
from the time that they were the local nome totems in the predynastic
period. The fact that in one district the crocodile was venerated, that in
another it was hated and hunted, that in one town sheep were eaten and in
another considered sacred, and that the people of Oxyrhynchus, who were
fish-worshippers, descended one day on the people of Cynopolis, who were
having a fish dinner, and sacrificed and ate all the latters' dogs, thereby
causing a riot which led to rough usage on the part of the Roman garrison,
did not seem to the Egyptians extraordinary or illogical in the least. To
Plutarch it is inexplicable and accountable only as the s~uperstitionof the
rabble. But if Plutarch had known Egypt better he would probably have
found that the fray at Dogtown was instigated and led by the opposing
factions of priests, the very people whom he considers to be possessed of the
same great and esoteric gnosis as himself. The priests he looks on as models
of asceticism and ceremonial purity, because they largely abstained from
eating flesh, shaved their heads, and wore only linen garments. That

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86 P. D. SCOTT-MONCRIEFF
ceremonial purity, especially in later times, was connected with these priestly
observances is to a certain extent true, but the climate of Egypt naturally
bred an abstemious people, while the custom of shaving the head had been
universal from time immemorial with all classes, and linen had always been
the most suitable and the most easily prepared material provided by the
country's natural resources. But the shaven head, the linen robe, and
oriental frugality passed into the Graeco-Roman cult of Isis and Osiris as
the outward signs of the rigid asceticism demanded by the Platonic idealism
which dominated it.
There is a good deal of evidence in favour of Plutarch's theory that
Osiris represents the Nile and moisture. In the same way as Isis in later
times absorbed the attributes of Hathor and Mut, so Osiris absorbed those of
the productive Nature gods, but his association with the Nile is of peculiar
interest and serves to show how confused the attributes of the various
Egyptian gods became. During the XVIIIth and XIXth Dynasties the
priests of Hapi or Apis, the bull-god of Memphis, anxious that their deity
should gain greater prestige, declared that their sacred bull was none other
than the incarnate spirit of Osiris. From this arose the identification of
Osiris with Hapi under the name of Asar-hapi, or Serapis, as he was called
later by the Greeks. Once confused with Hapi of Memphis it is easy to
understand how he became identified with Hapi the Nile-god, and how his
priests naturally claimed for him the gratitude of all those who profited by
the fertilizing and beneficent irrigation caused by the annual inundation. In
this way, in late times,Osiris became almost an agricultural deity, a fact on which
great stress has been laid by Mr. J. G. Fraser,15who draws a good many of his
conclusions from Plutarch's idea of Osiris being the Nile and Moisture. That
this belief was held in Plutarch's time there is no gainsaying, especially as
some of the agricultural religious ceremonies, which probably originated in
veneration of Hapi and other gods, had become absorbed in those of Osiris.
But Osiris was not in reality a corn-god but a dead god who lived again
as ruler of the dead. The planting of Osiris beds in the tombs had no
agricultural or telluric significance whatever, but was a magical ceremony to
produce for the deceased life from death by the sympathetic imagery of seed
sprouting from inanimate earth, and the same may be said of the corn and
wax figures of the god. Both, also, are funerary and not agricultural customs.
But in Roman times and to Plutarch's contemporaries, Osiris had absorbed
the functions of many other deities including those of Hapi of Memphis and
Hapi the Nile-god.
Before leaving the subject of Serapis it may be well to notice the well-
known version of Plutarch with regard to the origin of the Alexandrian cult of
that deity (? xxviii.). According to this account, Ptolemy Soter saw the colossus
of Pluto at Sinope in Pontus in a vision, who ordered him to bring the statu&

1~ Adonis, Attis, Osiris. The authorities Ptolemaic or Roman in period, when the belief
quoted in this work in support of the theory about Osiris had diverged considerably from
that Osiris was a corn-god are nearly all those of early times.

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DE ISIDE ET OSIRIDE 87
to the newly founded city of Alexandria without delay. After much difficulty
Ptolemy had the statue stolen from Sinope and brought to Alexandria,
whereupon Timotheus his interpreter and Manetho persuaded him that it
was none other than Serapis. When it had been set up in the city, it rapidly
got the name that Pluto bears among the Egyptians, i.e. Serapis. This story
has always been a mythological puzzle. As we have seen, Serapis had been
in existence at Memphis for a thousand years before, and why a Black Sea
town should be the place of origin assigned to one of the most popular
Egyptian deities is a mystery. In connexion with this, Letronne's shrewd
conjecture is well worth recalling. This suggests 16 that the Greeks, who
were a people always desirous of ascribing everything to themselves, invented
the legend that Serapis came from Sinope, when as a matter of fact he really
came from a mountain named Sinopion 17near Memphis. The close proximity
of Memphis to the Serapeum at Sakkara, where the sacred Apis bulls were
buried, makes Letronne's theory the most satisfactory yet offered. It is
probable, however, that there is some truth in Plutarch's story. There is no
doubt that Ptolemy Soter was anxious to find a divinity for Alexandria that
could be worshipped alike by Greeks and Egyptians. He must have been
informed that the cardinal doctrines of the Egyptian religion centred round
the cult of the dead and the god of the dead Osiris who was also incarnate in
the Apis bull, and so Serapis was adopted as the most acceptable deity to
become supreme god of Alexandria. On the other hand the Greeks might
object to a purely Egyptian god being given precedence over the deities of
Olympus, and accordingly the story was promulgated either at the time or
soon after that, as the new deity was a god of the dead, he was really Pluto,
and it is easy to understand how, whether by accident or by design, the confusion
between Sinope in Pontus and Sinopion at Memphis was made of his place of
origin. It is probably for the same reason, namely, in order not to arouse
Greek prejudice, that the Alexandrian type of Serapis is never in the least
Egyptian, but compares more with the usual type of Zeus with curly locks
and flowing beard, for it is not likely that Greek taste would have sanctioned
the worship of a human mummy with a bull's head, which was at that time
the usual Egyptian representation of Asar-Hapi.
But to return to Plutarch and his conceptions of Osiris and the Egyptian
religion. He is obviously much attracted by the old identification of Osiris
and Dionysus. Comparison had long been drawn between Demeter and Isis,
and Dionysus and Osiris thus linking up the Egyptian system with the
mysteries of Eleusis is and this fact would naturally make a great appeal to
Plutarch. He compares the garments of the priests at the burial of the Apis
bulls with those worn at the Bacchic rites. yap VeptpSa919 7rept-
Ka'
aOdarTov7Tat, at 6po-ovu dopoio-t (? xxxv.) and states that opoXore 84E al
16 Fragments d'H&rond'Alexandrie,
p. 210. 18 Lafaye, Culte des Divinitis d'Alexandrie
17 This represents the Egyptian Se-n-hapi, hors de l'tgypte, p. 20.
'place of Apis.' The locality is mentioned 19 The leopard skin was the more usual garb
by Eustathius in Dionys. Perig. v. 255. See of the upper priesthood, but this would agree
also Brugsch, GcographischeInschriften, p. 240. equally well with Bacchic costume.

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88 P. D. SCOTT-MONCRIEFF

Tr tiTavdtK xa vv\ TEXela TOZ9XEro/14votV9 /al Tag


'Oa-pt8Og &aoaTrao/toE
dvaf8tcia Kat 7raXtyyew'voat9, O/hopol xaS/ rtrEpt
7rdpt raCdb (? xxxv.).
at
He even goes so far as to say that the Egyptians call the ivy 20
c ao-t, Xevdatopte
This
v04aro,
'roi a, Ortdyv opens
a-/r)alvoro 'Oa-Ipt80.
up the whole question of the connexion between the initiated at the
Eleusinian mysteries and those possessing the inner doctrines of the Greek
Isiac cult. That they were very closely connected is undoubted. Plutarch
addresses Klea as a devotee of both Dionysus and Osiris'OTtr EVov'y ar'Od
`
o-
(i.e. Osiris) da-rt Aovdao-p, riva FztaXXoV \YI'9tICeLV, KXda, 8 rpooio'dv
Eorw, yapX?7r/o
"tiv ovaav AV I?eX4oTC v Ovta'ov, 98 'Oo-tptalcot
-roc
lepot 4ndr iraTrp?4 iat ; ( xxxv.) and infers that her
0aoamtwvv?vr
double initiation must make her well /P~rppvc
acquainted with the fact that
Dionysus and Osiris are one and the same deity. It has even been argued
by M. P. Foucart that the Eleusinian mysteries were directly descended
from the worship of Osiris which had been spread in Asia and the Greek
islands during the fifteenth century B.c. by conquering and travelling
Egyptians.21 But the author of this theory builds the majority of his
arguments on the Osiris doctrines of Plutarch, doctrines which are contorted
to suit Platonic theories, and compiled without any real insight into the
fundamentals of Egyptian belief. There can be no doubt that the old identifi-
cation of Osiris with Dionysus was eagerly seized upon by the later syncretists,
who hoped to prove thereby an intimate connexion between the Greek
mysteries and the Egyptian, but it is probable that if the two were traced back
to their native sources they would be found to have nothing whatever to do
with one another. To go back to the XVIIIth and XIXth Dynasties for the
origin of the Eleusinian mysteries is a far cry. But apart from the great
distance in time involved, we know that the Egyptian domination in Palestine
and the sea-board further north left little influence on the peculiar cults of the
Semitic inhabitants, and it is still less likely that Egyptian religious ideas
should have taken root further afield among the early Greeks. Perhaps when
more is known about the Mycenaean religion some connecting links may be
made in that direction, but it would seem in any case that Dionysus was
of North-Aryan (Thracian) origin.22 He certainly has no equivalent among
the Semites.
In spite of the racial barriers that precluded Plutarch from a real
understanding of Egyptian beliefs, he has left us many interesting side-lights
on the native religion of his time. His account of the actual Osiris and Set
legend, of the slaying of Osiris, of the part played by Isis and Nephthys, and
20
Ivy has not been identified among the
-plants of ancient Egypt. Xedotspts may be for

Ake Shont-n-Asar, which would mean the ' Acacia of


4M 11 AN~AAke-n-Asar. Osiris.'
21
was, however, most probably an onion. Parthey Academie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres,
vol. xxxv. 1896.
suggests the Coptic Hft, 'tree.' A third 22 See Hall, Oldest
Civilization of Greece,
etymology which is within the bounds of p. 239. Jane Harrison, Prolegomena to the
possibility is Study of GreekReligion, chap. viii.

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DE ISIDE ET OSIRIDE 89
of the birth of Harpokrates is all thoroughly in accordance with the current
native traditions. Most interesting is his brief description of the autumn
ceremony, when a gilt ox was covered with black linen, as a token of the
fallen Nile, and when, later, on the nineteenth of Athyr, the 'Dressers' and
priests brought out a sacred coffer containing a golden ark, into which water
was poured from the Nile, and a shout raised by the assistants, as if Osiris
had been found; after this earth and spices were kneaded with the water
into a little image of the moon, which was then robed and decorated. Here
we have a glimpse of a purely native ceremony in connexion with the
inundation, in which Osiris certainly seems to have played the part of the
Nile-god, and also of some lunar deity, perhaps Khons-Ioh. It would almost
seem at first sight a ceremony very closely parallel with the finding of Adonis
and the rejoicings celebrating the end of winter; but the celebrations in this
case take place in autumn and are entirely connected with the river, while
they have little or nothing of agricultural or Nature significance. Unfor-
tunately, Plutarch, whether from ignorance or from fear of revealing mysteries
to the gaze of the vulgar, gives us no account of any of the religious
ceremonies connected with the passion of Osiris, or with any other of the
great deities he mentions, although he discourses on sistra, the vestments of
Isis, and incense. The ceremonial described in such detail in the texts of
Dendereh and Edfu seems quite unknown to him: even if he had been
acquainted with it, he would have found it very hard to reconcile with his
Platonic scheme. Nevertheless, he has gathered many scraps of knowledge
which are known to be correct, as when he tells us that Abydos was formerly
the chief burying-place of kings and nobles, that many towns claimed to be
tombs of Osiris, that Set had the head of an ass,23 that Osiris was usually
represented as being black, and so on. Among many horrible travesties of
etymology he has a few philological explanations to offer, such as those of
Hathor and Mut, which are correct. Throughout he seems always desirous
of being thought one who was well acquainted with everything Egyptian.
But the fact is, Plutarch saw Egypt through a distorted medium-through
,the medium of the Alexandrian doctrines about Osiris and Isis. How and
when this Alexandrian school grew up it is difficult to say. The causes
'which led to its establishment were the general syncretism of the age and
the mixture of the Greek and native populace. But Greeks and Egyptians
or Egypto-Greeks brought up under Hellenic influence desired, like Plutarch
himself, to steer a middle course between Atheism and Superstition, where-
fore the grosser side of the Egyptian religion was dropped or treated
symbolically, while Osiris, Isis, Anubis, and one or two other deities were
picked out and declared not only to be the Egyptian equivalents of some of
the greater dwellers on Olympus,but, in accordance with the Platonic feeling
of the time, to be world-spirits carrying out the bidding of the Logos. As

23 Prof.
Breasted has made a daring and quite History of Egypt, p. 30. In XIth Dynasty
unwarranted flight into the realms of zoology funerary inscriptions Set is represented
by declaring that Set bore the head oTan okapi. unmistakably as an ass.

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90 DE ISIDE ET OSIRIDE
this cult grew up it must have diverged further and further from the
doctrines of the native priests, who can have had little sympathy with it; but
its devotees assumed that in their ritual and ceremonial they were preserving
the ancient customs and mysteries of the Egyptian religion. These latter,
in Plutarch's time, were dying fast, although still maintained intact in the
great religious centres away from Alexandria. The ceremonial of the
Alexandrians was, however, a mere bastard offspring, that grew less and less
like the original as time went on. It was this Alexandrian cult which spread
from Egypt to Rome and Italy, to Athens and Greece, to the banks of the
Rhine and to the uttermost limits of the Roman empire. Its devotees
fondly imagined that they were not only possessed of an esoteric gnosis of
the most comforting kind, but were possessed of all the knowledge of the
Egyptians; 2 yet the visit of a native priest to the temple of Isis at Pompeii
would have left him bewildered and amazed, not only at the way in which
the great goddess was worshipped, but at the company she found herself in.25
The descendants of great priests like Setne Khaemuas, whose name in
Plutarch's time was a tradition of the might and magical powers of the
priesthood in the past, lived to see their beloved religion flourishing in many
foreign lands, but changed beyond all recognition.
Plutarch, along with other Greeks and Romans, naturally thought this
Alexandrian cult to be the real and true Egyptian one. His treatise on Isis
and Osiris shows how deeply interested he was in the whole subject, but he
never got far enough to see that the cult of Alexandria had diverged very
considerably from the old native beliefs. He naturally looked at the
Egyptian religion through the medium of Alexandrian ideas. To him the
native religion certainly contained the pure ore, but the pure ore was covered
by layers of accretions and superstitions which barriers of race and language
prevented him from penetrating, wherefore it was only fit for the uneducated
and vulgar; the Alexandrians alone held the key of the true Egyptian faith.
This was, of course, a total inversion of the facts. The teeming crowds who
flocked to witness the ceremonies at Edfu or Philae were taking part in
rituals which had their origin in the first Egyptian Dynasties. The ascetic
philosopher of Alexandria who adopted a shaven crown and white linen robes
was a member of an artificial esoteric society that was called into being by
the intermixture of Greek and Egyptian civilization. But it is to Plutarch
we owe our knowledge of this society, and his mistakes and misconceptions
show us the distance by which it had become separated from its Egyptian
original.
P. D. SCOTT-MONCRIEFF.

See Apuleius, Metamorphosesxi.


24 vated at Kom-el-Shugafa, near Alexandria, is
Lafaye, Culte des Divinitds d'Alexandrie
25 also most typical of the Grecized Egyptian cult of
hors de l'tkgypte. The remarkable tomb exca- Alexandria.

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