The story of Osiris and Isis

In the history of African literature, the Egyptian gods play a major role. They believe that the Egyptian civilization is a creation of gods. They worshipped several gods. Among them god Osiris stands out from others.

According to Egyptian historical legends, in the beginning of the world, the world was a formless abyss.  It was called Nuu. From that abyss appeared Raa, the sun; he was the most divine of all beings. He created all forms on the earth. He created the earth and the sky. From the eye of Raa the first man and woman came to the world.

And from the earth, being father and the air being the mother, Osiris was born with his sister Isis. Later came Thout, the Egyptian god of wisdom followed by Nephthys. Finally, the last born Seth came to exist, he was a violent one and said that he tore a hole in his mother’s side.

Osiris and Isis fell in love and became husband and wife and together they reigned over the land. Thout was with them and he taught men the art of writing and reckoning. Nephthys went with Seth and became his wife, and they reigned in the vast desert.

Seth was angry about he was being pushed to a barren land where there was no life. He envied Osiris ruling the flourishing land with vine, grain and flowers. Many a times he tried to destroy his brother but his plots were always baffled by the watchful care of Isis.

One day Seth took the measurement of Osiris’s body from the size of his shadow and built a chest that was the exact size of him. Soon, Seth gave a banquet and invited all the children of the earth and the sky. At the banquet they could see the chest made of fragrant and diversified woods. All admired that chest. Seth suggested a game, anyone whose body fitted to the size of the chest would receive the chest as the gift. All tried but left a space above his or her head. Then Osiris took the crown off his head and laid himself in the chest. His form filled in its length and breadth. Everybody congratulated him upon coming into possession of the splendid chest Seth had made.

However, Seth had another plan in his mind. He ordered his attendants to put a heavy cover upon the chest, hammer nails and soldered it all over with melted lead. Nor could Isis, Thout or Nephthys stop that. Then Seth took the chest out of the hall into the darkness; as the night was dark the three children were separated from Seth and his crew. Seth flung the sealed chest into the river. When Isis, Thout and Nephthys arrived to the river bank, it was too late –the current had taken the chest into the sea.

Isis wandered through the world lamenting for Osiris. The chest had casted upon an island called Byblos. A tree had grown wrapping the chest covering it from the world. The king and the queen Melquart and Astrate heard about this wonderful tree and made a wonderful column out of the tree and placed it in the king’s palace. Isis followed the trails and found the chest inside the column and recovered the chest breaking the column down.

Isis brought the chest back to Egypt and breathed life into Osiris’s body with her divine power. They separated from the children of the earth and sky and lived peacefully together. But in one night Seth as he was hunting gazelles by moonlight, came upon Osiris and Isis sleeping. He fell upon his brother and tore his body into fourteen pieces and scattered them over the land.  

In the absence of Osiris, Death had come into the land; war was spreading; men always had arms in their hands. No longer did music sound, no longer did men and women talk sweetly and out of the depth of their feelings. Less and less did grain, and fruit trees and the vine flourish. The greenery everywhere was giving way to the desert. Seth was triumphant; Thout and Nephthys were helpless before the power of Seth.

The beautiful world created by Raa was to be destroyed if the pieces of Osiris’s body were not brought together. So, Isis sought for them, and Nephthys, her sister helped her in her seeking. Isis, in a boat that was made of reeds, floated over marshes seeking for the pieces. One, and then another and then another was found. At last she had all the pieces of his torn body. She laid them together on a floating island, and reformed them. And the body of Osiris was formed once more, the wars that men were waging died down; peace came; grain, and the vine and the fruit trees grew once more.

Osiris lived again but not in the mortal world. He lived in the Underworld where he was now the Judge of the Dead. People had to live a worthy life to get a better judgement in their afterlife. So, Osiris’s influence made people to spend their lives worthy.  Osiris and Isis had a child. His name was Horus, the falcon headed Egyptian sky god who succeeded his father Osiris as ruler of Egypt. He strove against the evil power of Seth; in a battle he overcame him.  He was not slain but lived as a lesser god.

This story was adapted from the retold story of Osiris and Isis by Padraic Colum in Glencoe’s book of World Literature. There are many versions of the story but the gist of the story is the same. This story has been the source for many cinematic creations, poetry and stories. Osiris and Isis were major gods of Egypt and still their story marvels the world.

I hope that you would find this wonderful story interesting. When you study African literature, you will find allusions related to god Osiris and Isis. Share the story if you find it interesting. Leave a comment stating poems related to Osiris and Isis.


Post a Comment