The story of the life and death of Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead, and chief member of the Ennead, is, probably, the most important contribution which the ancient Egyptians made to the general body of religious myth. Osiris was the son of Nut and Ra or of Nut and Geb, the brother and husband of Isis, and the brother of Nephthys and Set. Before the birth of Osiris, Ra was so infuriated at the faithlessness of Nut that he decreed that her children should not be born in any month of the year. Thoth, however, gambled with the moon for a seventy-second part of the day and eventually won five days, which were added to the Egyptian lunar year of 360 days, thus enabling not only Osiris but his four brothers and sisters to be born out of any month. The addition of these days, known as the Epact, to the year in connection with the birth of Osiris, shows that it was at this time that the adjustment of the calendar took place. Later, when Osiris had grown up and married Isis, he was known as a wise and beneficent ruler, who spread civilization throughout Egypt and the surrounding countries. This aroused the hatred of his brother Set, who plotted his murder. This was accomplished by secretly obtaining the measurements of Osiris, and making a special coffer to fit him. On the occasion of a banquet he offered to present the coffer to whomsoever it fitted. On Osiris taking his turn, the lid was slammed down and sealed, and the coffer thrown into the Nile. The waters of the river carried it as far as Byblos, a town in the papyrus swamps of the Delta. It came to rest by a tamarisk-tree, which grew around the coffer, enclosing it.
   After a long search Isis obtained possession of the coffer, but during her absence it was discovered by Set, who cut the body of Osiris into fourteen pieces which he scattered in the marshes. Isis recovered the pieces and reassembled them, and by the aid of Thoth brought Osiris to life again for sufficient time for him to beget the infant Horus.
   Alternative versions say that the fourteen pieces were buried where they were found, or that they were reassembled and made into a mummy. After this—in all the stories—Osiris became ruler of the kingdom of the dead, Amenti, the Land of the West.
   When he came of age, Horus claimed the throne of Egypt, but this was opposed by Set on the grounds that he was illegitimate, owing to the method of his conception. Ra favoured Set, who was a sun and sky god, and the trial was reduced to a succession of combats between Horus and Set, in which, by the aid of magic, they both assumed the forms of wild beasts of various kinds. In one episode, where they were both black bulls goring each other, Isis killed them both.
   The council of the gods, however, failed to come to any decision, and Osiris sent a letter pointing out that he was the creator of the barley, on which both gods and men lived, and that for this reason his son should be declared the winner. This also brought no result, so finally Osiris resorted to threats and told the council that he would send savage messengers to fetch the whole Ennead to the nether world unless they declared in favour of Horus. To this they finally agreed. Other aspects of the conflict are given under Horus, Isis and Set.
   In the myth of Osiris we seem to have the history of a king of pre-dynastic Egypt, interwoven with the ritual sacrifice of a barley god, and a conflict between two priest kings of Upper and Lower Egypt, perhaps for temporal gain or connected with the driving out of the older sun and sky religion of Set by the newer one represented by Osiris. It has been authoritatively stated that ‘The evidence of Osiris as the source of vegetable life, as far as the Old Kingdom is concerned, must be admitted to be very scanty and indecisive, and is completely out-weighed by the evidence testifying as to his kingly character.’
   Frazer attributes a lunar origin to Osiris, as did Plutarch. This factor might well explain the violence of the fight with Set.
   Over a period of several thousands of years the original conception of Osiris as a harsh god of the nether world was gradually modified to a point where the myth of his resurrection by Isis became the basis for the faith of the average Egyptian for a life beyond the grave. The linking of Osiris with Nephthys as the father of Anubis may be a late development.
   Osiris was called by many names, of which the following are the best known: Andjeti, Asari, Asartaiti and Wennofer.

Who’s Who in non-classical mythology . . 2014.

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