Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Myth of Isis and Osiris

Summary of the Myth of Isis and Osiris
(taken from

The first son of Geb and Nut, Osiris was tall, slender, and handsome, with jet black hair. When his father, Geb, gave up the reigning power over Egypt and retired into the heavens, Osiris took over the kingship and married his sister, the beautiful Isis. Under his wise authority the Egyptians were persuaded to renounce cannibalism. He taught them farming and the pleasures of music, and he framed a just legal code for them. Egypt flourished peacefully under his rule.

Coffin Panel: Enthroned Osiris and his Entourage
Egyptian, 30 B.C. - 395 A.D.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Then Osiris went off to civilize the rest of the world and brought the same blessings to Europe, the Near East, and the Orient. In his absence Isis reigned as queen of Egypt and the land continued to prosper.

However, Osiris had an ugly and evil brother with red, coarse hair like an donkey's pelt. This was Set, a born plotter who envied the power and attractiveness of his elder brother. Set had another reason for hating Osiris: His own wife, Nephthys, had conceived a child by Osiris — the jackal-headed Anubis. By bribery and cunning Set gained many allies during Osiris' absence, and together they devised a plan for the king's death.

When it was announced that Osiris would return, Set held a banquet and invited his brother. After the festivities Set had a beautiful chest brought forth and said that it would belong to the person who fitted it perfectly. After everyone had tried, Osiris stepped into the chest. Then Set and his toadies slammed the lid shut and sealed the joints with lead. Osiris suffocated, the chest was thrown into the Nile, and Set became king of Egypt.

Click here for a great article about the discovery of the possible TOMB OF OSIRIS in Upper Egypt!
When Isis learned of her husband's death she traveled along the Nile in the deepest grief, searching for the chest containing Osiris. She found Anubis, who had been abandoned by Nephthys, and she nursed and educated him. Isis continued looking for Osiris through repeated discouragements, until one day she learned the chest had sailed to Phoenicia, where a tamarisk tree had enveloped it within its trunk.

Isis went to Phoenicia and found the tree in the king's palace serving as a pillar. Isis taught the court ladies the art of perfumery and hair dressing, and upon meeting the queen Ishtar, she was engaged as a nurse to Ishtar's infant son. At night she performed a magic ritual to make the infant immortal by burning away his mortal parts, but Ishtar interrupted the ceremony and the spell was broken. Then Isis revealed herself as a goddess in all her glory and asked to have the chest in the palace pillar. Awed, Ishtar granted the request, and Isis returned to Egypt with the chest.

Statuette of Osiris
Egyptian, 1075 - 656 B.C.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Aided by Nephthys, Isis revived Osiris through magic and conceived a son by him. And Set then put her in prison, from which she escaped with the help of Anubis. Isis fled to the swamps of the Nile delta and, living like a peasant, she gave birth to Osiris' son, Horus the hawk, born to avenge his father's murder.

In fear of Set, Isis raised Horus in seclusion. The boy was bitten by beasts, stung by a scorpion, and suffered intense pains throughout his childhood, and only his mother's witchcraft managed to save him. Often Osiris would appear to the young Horus to instruct him in the arts of war in preparation for the coming battle with Set. Horus grew to manhood as a valiant, handsome young general.

In time Set learned of Horus' existence and of his destiny to take over the throne of Egypt. Set also learned that Isis possessed the chest containing Osiris' corpse, so at night Set would hunt through the Nile delta in search of the chest. At length he found it and cut Osiris' body into fourteen pieces and threw them into the Nile.

Isis was appalled at this second calamity to befall her husband, but with her customary patience she collected thirteen pieces of Osiris' body from the river. Horus, having learned the art of sorcery, was able to join his father's body together again. However, Osiris' genitals had been eaten by some fish, so Isis was obliged to make a model of them.

By this time Horus had gathered an army with which to attack Set. Under Set's reign Egypt had become parched and infertile, and many of Set's followers were deserting to serve Horus. After restoring his father's body, Horus set out to wreak vengeance on the dreadful king. Set and Horus fought furiously for three days and nights in hand-to-hand combat, and Set was defeated. Horus turned the wretched captive over to his mother Isis and went off to pursue and kill Set's followers.

Set seemed merely pitiable in chains, and using all his powers of persuasion, he talked the forgiving Isis into releasing him. When Horus returned and learned of this, his anger was so great that he chopped off his mother's head. The god Thoth then replaced Isis' head with that of the cow-goddess Hathor and brought her back to life.

Together Horus and Isis pursued Set, and when they met the fighting was even more intense. Set managed to grab Horus' eye and tear it out, but Horus wrested it back and finally drove Set into the Red Sea forever.

Horus and Isis then returned to the temple where Osiris' body lay. Horus embraced the body and fed it his own eye that had been torn out, and Osiris revived as a truly godlike personage. Next Horus prepared a ladder for his father to ascend into heaven. By this means Osiris rose into the sky, with Isis on one side of him and Nephthys on the other. The gods sat in judgment on him, and with Thoth as his advocate Osiris was declared to have lived a pure and truthful life. From there Osiris went to the Seat of Judgment, where he in turn was allowed to judge the souls of the dead.

Horus was recognized by the gods as being Osiris' legitimate son and the rightful heir to the throne of Egypt. Under his dominion Egypt grew fruitful again, and he sired four pure sons from whom the entire line of Egyptian Pharaohs descended.

Major Egyptian Deities and Religious Beliefs

Noun: A god or goddess (in a polytheistic religion)

Egyptians, like most ancient civilizations, were polytheistic. The important thing to understand about polytheistic religions is that the gods and goddesses REPRESENT ASPECTS OF NATURE. Keep this in mind when you're trying to understand how these religions developed.

For example, the Egyptians and Greeks both have deities that represent water, storms, the sky, death, an afterlife, love, war, and other concepts from the natural world or from human behavior.

  • God of the Underworld
  • Husband of Isis
  • Killed by his brother, Set
  • Egypt’s first mummy
  • Father of Horus
  • Shown with green skin

  • Queen of the gods
  • Wife of Osiris
  • Goddess of love and beauty
  • Mother of Horus
  • Brought her husband’s pieces to Anubis to be mummified

Anubis looking over a mummy
  • God of the dead
  • Shown with the head of a jackal on a human body
  • God of mummification
  • Weighs the heart of the dead person to see if they deserve a good afterlife

Horus guiding a pharaoh
  • Son of Isis and Osiris
  • Sky god
  • Shown with the head of a falcon
  • Protector of all pharaohs
  • His eye had healing power

Amun Re
Amun Re
  • King of the gods
  • God of the sun
  • Sometimes depicted as a man with a sun-disk on his head
  • Often shown as the sun itself

Thoth taking notes
  • Scribe of the gods
  • Shown with the head of an ibis (a water bird similar to a flamingo)
  • Records the deeds of gods and pharaohs

  • Evil god
  • God of destruction, storms, and darkness
  • Murdered his brother, Osiris
  • Pulled out the eye of Horus when they fought

Hathor in a clump of lotus plants
  • Goddess of fertility (meaning surplus of crops, wealth, children)
  • Shown as a cow, or as a woman, or as a combination of both
  • Goddess of motherhood

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

It's Groundhog Day!

It is February 2, and that means that folks are looking to the groundhog to see if there will be six more weeks of winter. You can check out the most famous quadrupedal weatherman, Punxatawney Phil, out in western Pennsylvania or any number of imitators around North America (or celebrate Marmot Day in Alaska).

Even National Geographic has a story about the Groundhog Day tradition!

The origins of Groundhog Day date back to the earliest pagan rituals associated with the changing of the seasons. February 2 falls exactly between the first day of winter (the winter solstice) and the first day of spring (the vernal equinox), and so was very important to early astronomers.

In pre-Christian Europe the festivals surrounding Imbolc, the holiday marking the midpoint between winter and spring, often dealt with predicting the weather and checking for signs of spring, looking for hibernating animals to return or not. Later Christians incorporated the holiday of Candlemas to replace the pagan holiday.

The tradition of Groundhog Day may come from a poem about Candlemas:

As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and rain
Winter will be gone and not come again
A farmer should on Candlemas day
Have half his corn and half his hay
On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop
You can be sure of a good pea crop

Whatever the origin, Groundhog Day is definitely one of those weird, funny holidays. It was also the subject of a hilarious movie starring Bill Murray.

Here are some Groundhog Day videos:

This year's Groundhog Day prediction from Punxatawney:

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Egypt: The Geography of the Nile

The Geography of the Nile River

Class Notes for World Studies book pgs. 68-75, Questions 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, and 2c:

Human settlements had to be within a few miles of the Nile River.

1a. The Nile River begins in the lakes and marshes of Central Africa. Its true source is Lake Victoria (the largest lake in Africa). The Nile starts as two rivers: the Blue Nile and the White Nile. The beginning part of the Nile cuts through a mountainous area.

      The Blue and White Nile come together in modern day Sudan. The city of Khartoum is built where they intersect. The Nile twists and turns through 1,000 miles of desert. In its course, there are six cataracts (steep rapids or waterfalls). As it gets close to the Mediterranean Sea, it breaks into many little streams that empty into the sea. This creates a large triangular area of rich soil called a delta.

1b. The Ancient Egyptians relied on the Nile River for survival. The Nile gave the Egyptians certain “gifts”: water, silt (mud), food animals (birds, fish, etc.), papyrus, and flax. The Nubians and Egyptians used the Nile for trading.

1c. The farmers would have a lot more trouble growing food if the Nile did not flood (making survival a lot less likely). It’s very possible that the Egyptians never would have built the pyramids because the farmers would have spent all their time trying desperately to grow crops.

Imagine all of the danger and excitement you would experience on a journey up the Nile - Not to mention the aggressive hippos!

2a. Many different kinds of goods traveled through Nubia on their way to Egypt. They included: ebony wood, ivory from elephant tusks, ostrich feathers and eggs, panther skins, and a type of boomerang used for hunting called a throwstick.

2b. The cataracts could be quite dangerous and had to be avoided. The Nubians would often take their boats out of the river and drag them around the cataracts. They built a road network to make up for that. The Egyptians used the cataracts to mark their southern boundary.

2c. The Nubians were famous traders because they traveled so far and traded so many unique goods.

Maps of Ancient Egypt

Here are the places you should be able to locate on a blank map:

Open your atlas to page 115 (Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East) and look closely at the areas of Israel, Egypt, Sudan, Jordan, Syria, Libya, and Lebanon.

Label the following places clearly, then copy the list of places on the back. Be sure your map has your name on it!

The dotted line represents when the Egyptian Empire was at its greatest size, in the time of the Pharaoh Ramses the Great.

Click the map for a larger version

Mediterranean Sea
Red Sea
Dead Sea

Nile River
Euphrates River
Jordan River
White Nile
Blue Nile

First, Second, Third, and Fourth Cataracts

Aswan High Dam (modern)
What a completed map should look like: Click for a larger version.


Lower Egypt
Upper Egypt

Egypt Unit Vocabulary

Our Ancient Egypt Vocabulary Words

1. Delta: A triangle-shaped area of rich soil where a river dumps into a larger body of water

A graphic map of the Nile River delta--the Mediterranean is to the north.

2. Cataract: Steep rapids in a river, or a very large waterfall

The cataracts are usually caused by rocks or a narrow spot in the river.

People often had to be creative in getting their boats past the cataracts.

Cataracts represented a hazard for boats of all kinds.

Even crossing the width of the river was a challenge at a cataract.

3. Mummy: A dead body embalmed according to the Egyptians’ religion

The mummy of Ramses the Great (pharaoh during the time of Moses) is remarkably well preserved.

Mummies were often placed in highly decorated coffins.

4. Hieroglyphics: Egyptian writing system in which pictures are used for sounds

Hieroglyphics like these were usually brightly painted with many colors.

5. Pyramid: Structure built in ancient Egypt as a tomb with four triangular sides and a square base

The Great Pyramids of Giza are the largest and most well known pyramids.

The pyramids were guarded by the Great Sphinx- a mythical creature with a lion's body and a man's head.

6. Pharaoh: The king of ancient Egypt - believed to be a divine human with magical powers 

The death mask of King Tutankhamun is one of the most famous images of an Egyptian pharaoh.

The massive statues of Ramses at Abu Simbel show that most pharaohs had very high self esteem.

7. Dynasty: A series of rulers from the same family

The complicated family tree of Ptolemy I and the famous Queen Cleopatra VII shows that certain names get a lot of use throughout each generation of the family.

This head from the MFA Boston is a ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty and has a wicked chin beard. 

8. Afterlife: A life after death - believed by the Egyptians to be better than this life

Before going to the afterlife, the god Anubis had to weigh the dead person's heart to be sure they were a good person.

If they were good, Anubis might give them a high-five.

9. Papyrus: A long, thin reed that grows along rivers; also the paper-like writing material made from these reeds

This papyrus sheet comes from one of the oldest math textbooks in history.

Papyrus are tall plants that grow along the river, and their stems were used for making paper

10. Embalm: To prevent the decay of a dead body by treating it with preservatives

Mummification was a complicated process that took up to 70 days to properly embalm the body

Priests would work to prepare the pharaoh's body for the afterlife.

11. Obelisk: A tall, four-sided stone pillar that tapers to a point like a pyramid

An obelisk stood as a symbol of the pharaoh's greatness, like this one at the temple of Karnak.

Obelisks were a single piece of stone, cut and moved into place. If one cracked during the process, it was abandoned and a new one started.

12. Upper Egypt: The SOUTHERN area around the narrow Nile - extending 500 miles to the south

Because the Nile River flows NORTHWARD, the up-river area is in the south. The word "upper" means that it is closer to the source of the Nile River, Lake Victoria.

Upper Egypt extended from the first cataract all the way north to the beginning of the Nile delta.

13. Lower Egypt: The NORTHERN part of Egypt, around the delta

At the beginning of its history, Egypt consisted of two separate kingdoms--Upper and Lower Egypt. Once united, the pharaoh started wearing the double crown to symbolize his power over both.

Lower Egypt is a triangular-shaped are of land consisting of the Nile delta, where the river splits up and flows into the Mediterranean Sea.

14. Nubia: Geographic region in the Nile Valley between the first and fifth cataracts; where the present day country of Sudan is located, south of Egypt

Ancient Nubia was a separate kingdom south of Egypt and bordered by the cataracts.

Here a line of Nubians are depicted in an Egyptian wall painting. Sometimes the Egyptians and Nubians were at peace and traded, other times one or the other kingdom conquered and dominated.
And now, you've earned a super cheezy song from the '80s!