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Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 183

The original God, the origin of all things, manifests himself to men, in lesser forms, according to this mythology, more and more human and less and less intangible. These forms are generally triads, and resolve themselves into a male deity, a female deity, and their child. Triad after triad brings the original Divinity into forms more and more earthly, till at last we find "that we have no longer to do with the infinite and intangible God of the earliest days, but rather with a God of flesh and blood, who lives upon earth, and has so abased himself as to be no more than a human king. It is no longer the God of whom no man knew either the form or the substance: it is Kneph at Esneh, Hathor at Durderah, Horus, king of the divine dynasty at Edfoo." These words are M. Maspero's.

The Greek and Latin poets and philosophers, as they made some very slight acquaintance with Egyptian worship, give Greek or Latin names to the divinities worshipped. Thus we sometimes hear Osiris spoken of as the Egyptian Hermes. But such changes of names are confusing, and are at best but fanciful (In the same way Plutarch, a Greek writer, says of the Jews' Feast of Tabernacles, "I know that their God is our Bacchus." This was merely from the vines, vine leaves and wine used in the ceremonies.) It would happen sometimes, in later times, that a fashion of religion would carry the worship of one God or Goddess to a distance. Thus the worship of Isis became fashionable in Rome in the time of Nero and Paul, as readers of Bulwer's Last Days of Pompeii will remember.

The latest modern literature occasionally uses the Egyptian names, as the last two centuries have disinterred them from the inscriptions on the monuments, and from the manuscripts in the tombs. Earlier English writers generally use the names like Osiris, Anubis, and others found in Latin and Greek writers.

The following statement as to these deities and their names is from Mr. Birch:

"The deities of ancient Egypt consist of celestial, terrestrial, and infernal gods, and of many inferior personages, either representatives of the greater gods or attendants on them. Most of the gods were connected with the sun, and represented that luminary through the upper hemisphere or Heaven and the lower hemisphere or Hades. To the deities of the solar cycle belonged the great gods of Thebes and Heliopolis. In the local worship of Egypt the deities were arranged in local triads; thus at Memphis, Ptah, his wife Merienptah, and their son Nefer Atum, formed a triad, to which was sometimes added the goddess Bast or Bubastis. At Abydos the local triad was Osiris, Isis, and Horus, with Nephthys; at Thebes, Amen Ra or Ammon, Mut and Chons, with Neith; at Elephantine, Kneph, Anuka, Sati, and Hak. In most instances the names of the gods are Egyptian; thus, Ptah meant 'the opener'; Amen, 'the concealed'; Ra, 'the sun or day'; Athor, 'the house of Horus';' but some few, especially of later times, were introduced from Semitic sources, as Bal or Baal, Astaruta or Astarte, Khen or Kiun, Respu or Reseph. Besides the principal gods, several inferior or parhedral gods, sometimes personifications of the faculties, senses, and other objects, are introduced into the religious system, and genii, spirits or personified souls of deities formed part of the same. At a period subsequent to their first introduction the gods were divided into three orders. The first or highest comprised eight deities, who were different in the Memphian and Theban systems. They were supposed to have reigned over Egypt before the time of mortals. The eight gods of the first order at Memphis were 1. Ptah; 2. Shu; 3. Tefnu; 4. Seb; 5. Nut; 6. Osiris; 7. Isis and Horus; 8. Athor. Those of Thebes were 1. Amen Ra; 2. Mentu; 3. Atum; 4. Shu and Tefnu; 5. Seb; 6. Osiris; 7. Set and Nepthys; 8. Horus and Athor. The gods of the second order were twelve in number, but the name of one only, an Egyptian Hercules, has been preserved. The third order is stated to have comprised Osiris, who, it will be seen, belonged to the first order." GUIDE TO THE FIRST AND SECOND EGYPTIAN ROOMS, BRITISH MUSEUM. S. Birch


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