Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt
Bes—Photo W.A. Mansell & Co.
From the many sources whence comes our knowledge of ancient Egypt there
is to be gathered a most comprehensive survey of the great extent
and influence which animal-worship attained to in that country. It
prevailed there from the earliest times and was far older than Egyptian
civilization. That much of it is of totemic origin cannot be gainsaid,
an origin to be
Procession of the Sacred Bull
From the picture in the Corcoran Art Gallery, Washington, by F.A. Bridgman.
Procession of the Sacred Bull
From the earliest times the bull was worshipped in Egypt as the personification of strength and virility and might in battle. Manetho traces the cult of Apis to Kaiekhos, a king of the Second Dynasty, who appointed a chosen bull, Hap, to be a god; but Ælian ascribes this to Mena, the first historical king of Egypt.
Much of our knowledge concerning this cult is derived from Greek sources. Herodotus gives the following description of Apis: "He is the calf of a cow which is incapable of conceiving another offspring, and the Egyptians say that lightning descends upon the cow from heaven and that from thence it brings forth Apis. This calf has the following marks: it is black and has a square spot of white on the forehead; and on the back the figure of an eagle; and in the tail double hairs, and on the tongue a beetle."
Again, Diodorus gives an account of the finding of the Apis and the method of its installation on the death[Pg 285] and funeral of a former incarnation of the god Osiris: "After the splendid funeral of Apis is over those priests who have charge of the business seek out another calf as like the former as they can possibly find, and when they have found one an end is put to all further mourning and lamentation, and such priests as are appointed for that purpose lead the young ox through the city of Nile and feed him forty days. Then they put him into a barge wherein is a golden cabin and so transport him as a god to Memphis and place him in Vulcan's grove. During the forty days before mentioned none but women are admitted to see him, and these, naked, are placed full in his view. Afterward they are forbidden to come into the sight of this new god. For the adoration of this ox they give this reason. They say that the soul of Osiris passed into an ox and therefore whenever the ox is dedicated, to this very day the spirit of Osiris is infused into one ox after another to posterity. But some say that the members of Osiris (who was killed by Typhon) were thrown by Isis into an ox made of wood covered with ox-hides, and from thence the city of Bubastis was called."
Great honour was also paid to the mother of the chosen bull, and apartments in the temple were set apart for her beside the splendid ones occupied by the Apis. This animal was given rich beds to lie upon, its food was of the purest and most delicate, while water from a special well at Memphis was given to it alone, the water of the Nile being considered fattening. A number of carefully selected cows were presented to the Apis, and these again had their attendant priests. Usually the sacred bull was kept in seclusion, but when on certain occasions he appeared in public a crowd of boys marched in procession beside him singing hymns. The birthday of the Apis was[Pg 286] celebrated for seven days with great rejoicings, and it was believed that during this period no man was attacked by a crocodile.