Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Horus, Son of Osiris

Figure 1 - Horus and Nectanebo II, Metropolitan Museum
     The god Horus was, to the ancient Egyptians, the shining example of what a good son should be. Conceived after his father's death (we will get to that in a moment!), he avenged his father's murder and took his place as the king of Egypt. Each Pharaoh in turn was thought to be the earthly form of Horus.

     Osiris was murdered by his evil brother Seth and his body was torn into many different pieces. The pieces were patiently re-assembled by Isis, the sister and wife of Osiris. She then copulated with her dead husband and conceived Horus.

Figure 2 - Horemheb and Horus, Kusthistorisches Museum, Vienna
     After Horus reached adulthood he waged a series of battles against Seth. These battles were detailed in the sometimes bawdy "Tale of the Contendings of Horus and Seth" (as told on Papyrus Chester Beatty I). Eventually Horus tricked Seth into a race in the river using boats made of stone. Seth's boat, predictably, sank. Horus however used a wooden boat painted to look like stone and won the race. At this point the gods chose Horus as the legitimate King of Egypt and successor to his father Osiris.

Figure 3 - Horus, 18th Dynasty, Munich
     Horus is very often portrayed in Egyptian art. He is frequently shown with the Pharaoh, sometimes standing above the king with the Pharaoh standing between the god's legs (figure 1, Dynasty 30, reign of Nectanebo II) and other times with the Pharaoh standing beside the him (figure 2).

Figure 4 - Mummified Raptor, Late Period / Ptolemaic
     Horus usually took the form of a hawk with the long lappets of a headdress hanging down over his shoulders (figures 2 and 3) and is frequently shown wearing the white and red crowns (the so-called "double" crown) in his role as the King of Egypt.

     The Egyptians also mummified animals, including raptors, which were then offered to the gods. Figure 4 is an example of this and is currently exhibited in the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences (on loan from the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University).

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