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Horus
Horus.svg
Horus was often the ancient Egyptians' national patron god. He was usually depicted as a falcon-headed man wearing the pschent, or a red and white crown, as a symbol of kingship over the entire kingdom of Egypt.
Details
Country Egypt
Gender Male
Parents Osiris and Isis in some accounts, Nut and Geb in others
Siblings Osiris, Set, Isis and Nephthys (in some versions)
Consort Hathor
Major cult center Nekhen, Behdet Edfu
Symbols The Eye of Horus, falcon, hawk

Horus was the Egyptian deity of war, vengeance, law and order, and the sky, and was the patron of the living Pharaoh, rulers and youths. In ancient Egypt several gods are known by this name, but the most important was the son of Osiris and Isis, identified as king of Egypt. Osiris is the oldest son of Geb ("earth" personified) and Nout or Nut ("mother of the gods" and goddess of the sky), the husband of Isis, whose myth was one of the best known and whose cult was one of the most widespread in pharaonic Egypt. The mythology of Osiris is not preserved completely from an early date, but the essentials are related by Plutarch in On Isis and Osiris (De Iside et Osiride).

The roles, local cult foundations, and titles or epithets of Horus are sometimes correlated with distinct or preferred forms in iconography: for example, the falcon or falcon-headed man, the winged disk, the child with a sidelock of hair (sometimes in his mother's arms). Egyptologists therefore often speak of distinct Horuses or Horus-gods (see Oxford Encyclopedia, vol 2, "Horus" p. 119ff; and Hart, Routledge Dictionary of Egyptian gods and goddesses, "Horus" p. 70ff).

EtymologyEdit

Horus' name (Har in Egyptian) probably means "the high," "the far-off," "the distant one" and is connected with "Hry" ("one who is above/over"). The name appears on Egyptian hieroglyphs in the royal protocol at the very beginning of dynastic civilization (c. 3000 BC).

By Coptic times, the name became Hōr. It was adopted into Greek as Ὧρος Hōros. The original name also survives in later Egyptian names such as Har-si-ese literally "Horus, son of Isis".

Horus was also known as Nekheny, meaning "falcon". Some have proposed that Nekheny may have been another falcon-god, worshipped at Nekhen (city of the hawk), with which Horus was identified from early on. Horus may be shown as a falcon on the Narmer Palette dating from the time of unification of Upper and Lower Egypt

In mythologyEdit

The Osiris-Isis-Horus-Seth mythEdit

In ancient Egyptian tradition, at least as preserved to us, the Osiris-Isis-Horus myth was never recounted as a coherent whole; rather, it served as a source of allusions for a large number of religious texts. It was a sequence of scenes that was unmistakably rooted in the mortuary cult. The only texts that furnish us with a continuous narrative are written in Greek, by Diodorus (1st century BC) and especially by Plutarch (c. 46 - 120 AD). But in their care about a single, meaningful, stimulating story these authors seem to have strayed from the Egyptian form of the myth. The myth has both a prehistory and a starting point. The prehistory is not narrated in the Egyptian texts, yet it is necessary for all that follows (see Jan Assman, Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt, p. 23).

The basic Egyptian myth goes like this: Osiris became ruler of the land, but was tricked and slain by his jealous brother, Seth. According to the Greek version of the story, Typhon (Seth) had a beautiful coffin made to Osiris' exact measurements, and with 72 conspirators at a banquet, promised it to the one who would fit it. Each guest tried it for size, and Osiris was the one to fit exactly. Immediately Seth and the conspirators nailed the lid shut, sealed the coffin in lead, and threw it into the Nile. The coffin was eventually borne across the sea to Byblos, where Isis, who had been continually searching for her husband, finally located it. She returns the body to Egypt where Seth discovers it, cuts the corpse into pieces, and scatters them throughout the country. Isis transforms herself into a kite, and with her sister Nephthys, searches for and finds all the pieces (except the male member, which she replicates), reconstitutes the body, and before embalming to give Osiris eternal life, she revivifies it, couples with it, and thus conceives Horus.

According to the principal version of the story cited by Plutarch, Isis had already given birth to her son, but according to the Egyptian Hymn to Osiris, she conceived him by the revivified corpse of her husband.

Osiris' rule plays a great role in Egyptian texts. They almost always speak of him as ruler of the realm of the dead, an office he assumed only as a dead god, and almost never about his earthly kingship, which he exercised over gods and men in the world above as successor of Geb. Osiris' reign came to a violent end as he was slain by his brother, Seth. Later Horus avenges his father Osiris' death and succeeds him without completely destroying Seth. Thus did death come into the world, confronting the gods with a great problem. This is the prehistory of which there is no coherent narrative in the Egyptian texts (see Jan Assmann, p. 24).

The Birth and Flight of HorusEdit

The slaying and dismemberment of Osiris, and his re-joining and rejuvenation by his wife Isis, is a common theme of a large corpus of texts, which do not actually describe it but rather presuppose it as the trigger for various actions whose aim is to cope with this catastrophe. Just as it was Osiris' undoing that he was the first of the divine rulers to have a brother and thus a rival for the throne, so his sisters became his "salvation." Isis, his sister-wife, was the first to take action by traversing the land to collect his scattered body parts.

Isis' activities with regard to the corpse of Osiris culminate in the posthumous conception of Horus. In the accounts of Greek historians Diodorus and Plutarch, Isis recovers all the body parts of the slain god except for his virile member, which had been swallowed by a fish. She was thus obliged to replace this member with an artificial one that she uses as an instrument for her posthumous insemination to produce Horus.

A longer passage is from the Coffin Texts (Spell 148) which describes the birth and flight of Horus (as the Falcon god), and has further references to Osiris' "seed":

TAKING SHAPE AS A FALCON. The lightening flash strikes, the gods are afraid, Isis wakes pregnant with the seed of her brother Osiris. She is uplifted, (even she) the widow, and her heart is glad with the seed of her brother Osiris. She says:

"O you gods, I am Isis, the sister of Osiris, who wept for the father of the gods, (even) Osiris who judged the slaughterings of the Two Lands. His seed is within my womb, I have moulded the shape of the god within the egg as my son who is at the head of the Ennead. What he shall rule is this land, the heritage of his (grand-) father Geb, what he shall say is concerning his father, what he shall kill is Seth the enemy of his father Osiris. Come, you gods, protect him within my womb, for he is known in your hearts. He is your lord, this god who is in his egg, blue-haired of form, lord of the gods, and great and beautiful are the vanes [feathery part of plume as distinct from the stem] of the two blue plumes."

"Oh!" says Atum, "guard your heart, O woman!"

"[Isis says:] How do you know? He is the god, lord and heir of the Ennead, who made you within the egg. I am Isis, one more spirit-like and august than the gods; the god is within this womb of mine and he is the seed of Osiris."

Then says Atum: "You are pregnant and you are hidden [allusion to pregnant Isis hiding in the marshes of Chemmis], O girl! You will give birth, being pregnant for the gods, seeing that he is the seed of Osiris. May that villain who slew his father not come, lest he break the egg in its early stages, for the Great-of-Magic will guard against him."

Thus says Isis: "Hear this, you gods, which Atum, Lord of the Mansion of the Sacred Images, has said. He has decreed for me protection for my son within my womb, he has knit together an entourage about him within this womb of mine, for he [Atum] knows that he [Horus] is the heir of Osiris, and a guard over the Falcon who is in this womb of mine has been set by Atum, Lord of the gods. Go up on earth, that I may give you praise [said to the unborn Horus]. The retainers of your father Osiris will serve you, I will make your name, for you have reached the horizon, having passed by the battlements of the Mansion of Him whose name is hidden. Strength has gone up within my flesh, power has reached into my flesh, power has reached...." [there is a textual omission at this point]

"...who conveys the Sunshine-god, and he has prepared his own place, being seated at the head of the gods in the entourage of the Releaser." [unidentifiable speaker, probably either Isis or Atum]

"[Isis speaks to her son who has now been born:] O Falcon, my son Horus, dwell in this land of your father Osiris in this your name of Falcon who is on the battlements of the Mansion of Him whose name is hidden. I ask that you shall be always in the suite of Re of the horizon in the prow of the primeval bark for ever and ever."

Isis goes down to the Releaser who brings Horus, for Isis has asked that he may be the Releaser as the leader of eternity.

"See Horus, you gods! [Horus proclaims his power] I am Horus, the Falcon who is on the battlements of the Mansion of Him whose name is hidden. My flight aloft has reached the horizon, I have overpassed the gods of the sky, I have made my position more prominent than that of the Primeval Ones. The Contender [Seth] has not attained my first flight, my place is far from Seth, the enemy of my father Osiris. I have used the roads of eternity to the dawn, I go up in my flight, and there is no god who can do what I have done. I am aggressive against the enemy of my father Osiris, he having been set under my sandals in this my name of.... [meaning unknown]. I am Horus, born of Isis, whose protection was made within the egg; the fiery blast of your mouths does not attack me, and what you may say against me does not reach me, I am Horus, more distant of place than men or gods; I am Horus son of Isis."

(Egyptian Coffin Text, Spell 148, translation found in The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts, volume 1, p. 125-127, by R.O. Faulkner; another translation with commentary can be found in Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt by R.T. Rundle Clark, p. 213-217)

This text begins with the dark days immediately after the death of Osiris, when Seth and his henchmen are tyrannizing over the world. Horus assumes control of his own destiny. He appears as a falcon and soars up into the sky beyond the flight of the original bird-soul, beyond the stars (the "gods of Nut") and all the divinities of olden time whose souls inhabit the constellations. In so doing he brings back light and the assurance of a new day, thus subduing Seth, who personifies the terrors of darkness and death. The opening section moves within the main Osiris myth, but this disappears when Isis suddenly realizes she will give birth, not to a child, but to a falcon. Isis dreams prophetically that the child quickening in her womb will grow up to restore the rightful order of the world. In a new scene, the birth is about to take place, Isis comes forward to Atum who is surrounded by his divine courtiers. Finally, Horus is born and flys up of his own accord (see Clark, Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt, p. 213ff).

There were two primary gods called Horus: the first was the original falcon who flew up at the beginning of time -- the most ancient bird -- and the other was the son of Isis and heir to Osiris. They are compounded in this Coffin Text. Instead of being born in the Delta swamps and growing up in secret, Horus is offered a place in the sun's boat, but he transcends both his earthly fate and that as a subordinate to Re. He flies up and across the night sky of the Underworld to land on the edge of the world, bringing with him the twilight that comes just before full day. The old belief is that Horus was the leader of the decanal stars which circled around the sky in the path of the sun. The appearance of Horus just before dawn is the mark of a new year, and the world's great age begins anew (see Clark, p. 216-217).

The Battle between Horus and SethEdit

As early as the Old Kingdom it was envisaged that Horus wrested the kingship of Egypt from the god Seth: Horus takes his father's house from his father's brother Seth. Horus then triumphs over his paternal uncle. However there is a conflation of the two myths because in the Osiris cycle, Osiris and Seth were brothers, while in an independent tradition Horus and Seth were brothers feuding for the throne. Normally Horus is the ascendant, but the supporters of Seth were never completely suppressed (indicating perhaps as the meaning of the myth, that evil will always be with us, and we must be vigilant).

Seth, the embodiment of disorder, was predominantly seen as a rival of Horus, a would-be usurper who assassinated Osiris and was defeated. However, Seth was also portrayed in a balance with Horus, so that the pair represented a bipolar, balanced embodiment of kingship. Thus, on the side of the throne, Horus and Seth --symmetrical and equal -- tie the papyrus and lotus around the sema-sign (sm = "unity"; also the end of the Thutmose III Poetical Stela). From the Shabaqo Stone in the British Museum, a copy of an original document from the Pyramid Age carved in Dynasty XXV, there is a concise statement of the dispute between Horus and Seth. The god Geb is the judge and makes a preliminary decision to divide Egypt between the protagonists: Seth will be king of Upper Egypt and Horus will rule over Lower Egypt, the border being the "Division of the Two Lands", i.e. the apex of the Nile Delta at Memphis where Osiris is said to have drowned. On reflection Geb revises this judgment awarding the whole inheritance of Egypt to Horus. It is stressed that this result is amicably accepted -- the reed of Seth and papyrus of Horus being attached to the door of the god Ptah to symbolize that they were pacified and united.

A fuller and more scandalous description of the trial survives in Papyrus Chester Beatty I written in the reign of Ramesses V (Dynasty XX). The sun-god in this tribunal is not sympathetic to Horus' case to be ruler of Egypt, dismissing him as a youngster with halitosis and preferring the older claimant Seth. Horus pleads that he is being defrauded of his lawful patrimony. Then occurs a series of episodes involving Horus and Seth, each trying to outwit the other and win over the court. In one contest, the two gods are hippopotamuses who intend to see if they can remain submerged under water for three months. Isis refuses to take this opportunity of killing Seth with a harpoon. Horus, enraged, savagely attacks his mother and escapes into the desert. Seth finds him and cuts out both his eyes. Hathor, using gazelle's milk, restores Horus' eyes.

On another occasion Seth suggests a race in boats of stone. Horus secretly builds a vessel of pine covered with plaster to imitate stone. Seth's boat of 36 meters of solid stone, sinks and he turns himself into a hippo. Horus is prevented from slaying Seth by the other gods.

Since the beginning of the 20th century in Egyptological research, much debate has ensued over whether the struggle between Horus and Seth was primarily historical/geo-political, or cosmic/symbolic. When the full Osiris complex became visible, Seth appears as the murderer of Osiris and would-be killer of the child Horus. The symbolism of Horus' eventual triumph over Seth (e.g. the pharaoh cutting the throat of an oryx or spearing a turtle) permeates many temple reliefs. It also lies behind the gilded wooden statuette of Tutankhamun standing on a papyrus boat, lasso in one hand, harpoon in the other: the king is in the act of spearing the hippo Seth (see Oxford Encyclopedia, vol 2, "Horus" p. 120; Hart, Routledge Dictionary, "Horus" p. 72-73).

In the battle between Horus and Seth (which lasts 80 years), despite losing an eye, Horus is successful in avenging the death of his father Osiris, becoming his legitimate successor. The injury inflicted by Seth on the eye of Horus is alluded to in the Pyramid Texts where royal saliva is prescribed for its cure. The restored eye of Horus becomes, in singular form, the symbol for a state of soundness or perfection -- the "udjat" eye (the whole or sound "eye of Horus"). It can also stand for the strength of the monarch; the concept of kingship; protection against Seth; royal purification agent; offerings at the festival of the waxing moon wine, etc. Its iconography consists of a human eye with the cosmetic line emanating from its corner, below it are the markings of a falcon's cheek. As an amulet the "udjat" was placed in mummy wrappings or worn on a necklace. In the Middle Kingdom, it was painted on the sides of rectangular coffins (Hart, p. 73).

Osiris becomes king of the (dead) underworld, and Horus the king of the living. As mentioned, Horus is usually represented as a falcon, or as a sky god whose outstretched wings filled the heavens; his sound eye was the sun, and injured eye the moon.

Forms of HorusEdit

Horus is one of the earliest attested of the major ancient Egyptian deities, becoming known as early as the late Pre-dynastic period (Naqada III / Dynasty 0; c. 3200-3000 BC). The earliest documented chapter in the career of Horus was as Horus the falcon, god of Nekhen (Hierakonpolis) in southern Upper Egypt. In this capacity Horus was the patron deity of the Hierakonpolis monarchy that grew into the historical pharaonic state, hence the first known national god, the god of kingship. He was still prominent in the latest temples of the Greco-Roman period (c. 300 BC - 300+ AD), especially at Philae and Edfu as well as Old Coptic and Greco-Egyptian ritual-power or magical texts.

Horus the falcon was predominantly a sky god and a sun god; as the former his eyes are the sun and moon, as the latter, he has a sun disk on his head and is syncretized with the sun-deity Re (or Ra), most often as Re-Harakhty. Horus the falcon/disk had the epithet "Great God, Lord of Heaven, Dappled of Plumage." Three main forms of Horus are as the Child, as the Son of Isis, and as a sun-god.

Horus the ChildEdit

In the Pyramid Texts the god is once called "Horus the child with his finger in his mouth." This aspect refers to his birth and upbringing in secret by his mother Isis. Born at Khemmis in the northeast Delta, the young god was hidden in the papyrus marshes, hence his epithet Har-hery-wadj or "Horus who is upon his papyrus plants." This appears visually in a wall relief in the temple of Sety I (Dynasty XIX) at Abydos as a hawk on a column in the shape of a papyrus reed.

From the Egyptian Har-pa-khered literally "Horus-the-child" the Greeks created the name of Harpokrates. In this form Horus is depicted as a young vulnerable-looking child, sitting on the knees of Isis, wearing the sidelock of youth and sometimes sucking his fingers. In the Late Dynastic cippi objects, Harpokrates acts as an amuletic force warding off dangerous creatures. Horus as a boy with the sidelock appears dominating crocodiles, serpents, and other noxious animals on cippi or apotropaic stelae of "Horus-on-the-Crocodiles," the common manifestation of the importance of Horus in healing ritual and popular ritual practice. The healing of Horus from scorpian stings by Isis provided the reason for the production of the cippi of Horus and his role in healing.

The Harsomtus version of Horus can be traced back to the Pyramid Texts as Har-mau or "Horus the uniter." The idea is the king as upholder of the unification of North and South Egypt. Since in temple dogma the divine child of a god and goddess could be thought a manifestation of the pharaoh, Harsomtus is used merely as "filling" in a sacred triad. He is e.g. the son of the elder Horus and Hathor at Edfu temple. Similarly at the temple of Kom-Ombo the same couple are the parents of Harsomtus under the name of Pa-neb-tawy or "lord of the Two Lands."

Horus the child / Horus son of Isis and Osiris was often portrayed as a boy wearing the sidelock and frequently appeared in the arms of his mother Isis. Bronzes representing him, with or without Isis, were ubiquitous in Late and Greco-Roman times. On cippi, the head of the child Horus was often surmounted by a full-faced Bes-head or mask.

Horus the Son of IsisEdit

The Harsiese ("Horus, the son of Isis") form emphasizes his legitimacy as the offspring of the union of Isis and Osiris. In the Pyramid Texts, Harsiese performs the vital "opening the mouth" ceremony of the dead king, a ritual that restored faculties to the corpse for their Afterlife, and was carried out at the time of the burial by the successor-monarch (or Horus). A typical pictorial of this rite being performed by one pharaoh upon another can be found on the wall of the sarcophagus chamber in the tomb of Tutankhamun (Dynasty XVIII).

Another funerary priestly title, Horus Iun-mutef, or "pillar of his mother" is evocative of Horus' success in regaining the throne of his father Osiris, because of Isis' careful upbringing of her son. At funeral ceremonies the eldest son of the deceased -- or a mortuary priest -- dressed in panther skin, played the role of Horus Iun-mutef burning incense and scattering purified water before the coffin.

The Har-nedj-itef or "Horus the savior of his father" (Greek Harendotes) refers to Horus' vindication of his claim to succeed Osiris, rescuing his father's former earthly domain from the usurper Seth.

Horus the sun godEdit

As a cosmic deity Horus is imagined as a falcon whose wings are the sky, right eye is the sun, left eye the moon. From the reign of King Den (Dynasty I), on an engraved ivory comb, the hawk's wings as an independent entity covey the celestial imagery while a hawk in a boat suggests the journey of the sun-god himself. Textual evidence from the Pyramid Era refers to Horus as "lord of the sky" or as a god "of the east"; i.e. the region of sunrise.

The form Harakhti or "Horus of the horizon" refers to the god rising in the east at dawn to bathe in the "field of rushes." The Pyramid Texts mention this aspect of the god linked to the sovereign: the king is said to be born on the eastern sky as Harakhti. Also since the element -akhti can be a dual form of the noun akhet (horizon), there is a play on words when the king is given power over the "two horizons" (i.e. east and west) as Harakhti.

Naturally the Egyptians had to accept that technically their pharoah, as "son of Re" (or Ra) the sun-god, could not achieve a total identification with this aspect of Horus, especially with the coalescence of this form with the Heliopolitan sun-god to become as Re-Harakhty (or Ra-Harakhti). Thus Senwosret I (Dynasty XII) was appointed "shepherd of this land" by Harakhti. In laudatory or propagandist inscriptions the assimilation of the pharaoh to Harakhti is maintained, as for instance in the case of the Sudanese King Piye (Dynasty XXV) on his stela commemorating the conquest of Egypt.


Other FormsEdit

Horus of BehdetEdit

"Horus of Behdet" or the Behdetite was normally shown as a hawk-winged sun disk with pendant uraei (snakes). The location of Behdet was in the marshy north-east Delta. It is not mentioned in the Pyramid Texts and the antiquity of the site as a cult centre of Horus (in relation to Edfu) cannot yet be ascertained. It becomes an ubiquitous motif -- e.g. in temple decorations of ceilings or gate lintels, or the upper border or frame of wall-reliefs or the lunette of stelae.

Har-em-akhetEdit

The form Har-em-akhet or Harmachis (Harmakhis) or "Horus in the horizon" aptly regionalizes Horus as sun-god. Pharaonic inscriptions of the New Kingdom reinterpreted the Great Sphinx at Giza, originally representing King Khafra guarding the approach to his pyramid, as Harmachis looking towards the eastern horizon.

Various other formsEdit

Aside from the sun disk, Horus in various forms also wore the Double Crown, a status as king of Egypt; the atef (a type of crown); triple atef; and a disk with two plumes, etc. There are also ancient localities with a Horus cult. The two most important sanctuaries in terms of historical and archaeological evidence belong to Horus of Nekhen and Horus of Mesen.

By the fifth dynasty (2498 - 2345 BC), the Horus-king also became "son of Re" the sun god by personifying mythologically the entire older genealogy of Horus as the goddess Hathor, or "house of Horus" who was also the spouse of Re and mother of Horus. Horus was also combined, syncretized, and closely associated with deities other than Re, notably (but not exclusively) Min, Sopdu, Khonsu, and Montu. The Greeks associated Horus with Apollo giving rise to the author of the Hieroglyphica, Horapollo.

While Egyptologists often speak of distinct Horus-gods, combinations, identifications, and differentiations were possible, and they are complementary rather than antithetical. A judicious examination of the various "Horuses" and the sources relating to them supports the possibility that the roles in question are closely interrelated, so they may be understood as different aspects or facets of the same divine persona (see Oxford Encyclopedia, vol 2, "Horus" p. 119ff; Hart, Routledge Dictionary, "Horus" p. 70ff).