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Legends Of The Gods The Egyptian Texts, edited with Translations

Page: 75

They likewise call the former of the two Muses at Hermopolis[FN#264] Isis as well as Dikaiosune,[FN#265] she being none other, it is said, than Wisdom pointing out the knowledge of divine truths to her votaries, the true Hierophori and Hierostoli. Now, by the former of these are meant such who carry about them looked up in their souls, as in a chest, the sacred doctrine concerning the gods, purified from all such superfluities as superstition may have added thereto. And the holy apparel with which the Hierostoli adorn the statues of these deities, which is partly of a dark and gloomy and partly of a more bright and shining colour, seems aptly enough to represent the notions which this doctrine teaches us to entertain of the divine nature itself, partly clear and partly obscure. And inasmuch as the devotees of Isis after their decease are wrapped up in these sacred vestments, is not this intended to signify that this holy doctrine still abides with them, and that this alone accompanies them in another life? For as 'tis not the length of the beard or the coarseness of the habit which makes a philosopher, so neither will these frequent shavings, or the mere wearing of a linen vestment, constitute a votary of Isis. He alone is a true servant or follower of this goddess who, after he has heard, and has been made acquainted in a proper manner with the history of the actions of these gods, searches into the hidden truths which lie concealed under them, and examines the whole by the dictates of reason and philosophy.

[FN#264] The Hermopolis here referred to is the city of Khemenu in
Upper Egypt, wherein was the great sanctuary of Thoth.

[FN#265] i.e., Righteousness, or Justice. The goddess referred to is probably Maat.

IV. Nor, indeed, ought such an examination to be looked on as unnecessary whilst there are so many ignorant of the true reason even of the most ordinary rites observed by the Egyptian priests, such as their shavings[FN#266] and wearing linen garments. Some, indeed, there are who never trouble themselves to think at all about these matters, whilst others rest satisfied with the most superficial accounts of them: "They pay a peculiar veneration to the sheep,[FN#267] therefore they think it their duty not only to abstain from eating its flesh, but likewise from wearing its wool. They are continually mourning for their gods, therefore they shave themselves. The light azure blossom of the flax resembles the clear and bloomy colour of the ethereal sky, therefore they wear linen"; whereas the true reason of the institution and observation of these rites is but one, and that common to all of them, namely, the extraordinary notions which they entertain of cleanliness, persuaded as they are, according to the saying of Plato, "none but the pure ought to approach the pure." Now, no superfluity of our food, and no excrementitious substance, is looked upon by them as pure and clean; such, however, are all kinds of wool and down, our hair and our nails. It would be the highest absurdity, therefore, for those who, whilst; they are in a course of purification, are at so much pains to take off the hair from every part of their own bodies, at the same time to clothe themselves with that of other animals. So when we are told by Hesiod "not to pare our nails whilst we are present at the festivals of the gods,"[FN#268] we ought to understand that he intended hereby to inculcate that purity wherewith we ought to come prepared before we enter upon any religious duty, that we have not to make ourselves clean whilst we ought to be occupied in attending to the solemnity itself. Now, with regard to flax, this springs out of the immortal earth itself; and not only produces a fruit fit for food, but moreover furnishes a light and neat sort of clothing, extremely agreeable to the wearer, adapted to all the seasons of the year, and not in the least subject, as is said, to produce or nourish vermin; but more of this in another place.


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