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Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt

Page: 136

It is notable that, despite the exclusiveness which characterized this phase of the Egyptian religion and the contempt with which the Egyptians regarded everything that was not of their land, several foreign elements crept into their faith and were incorporated with it during the Saïtic and Persian supremacies. The oracles, which played a conspicuous part in the religious government of the country, were probably not of Egyptian origin; the burning of sacrifices was a Semitic custom which the people of the Nile valley had adopted. Already there was a considerable Greek element in Egypt, and in the time of Amasis a Greek town—Naukratis—had been founded there. It is therefore not improbable that Greek ideas also entered into the national faith, colouring the ancient gods, and perhaps suggesting to Herodotus that resemblance which caused him to identify the divinities of Egypt with those of Greece—Osiris with Dionysos, Isis with Demeter, Horus with Apollo, Set with Typhon, and so on. Naturally this identification became much more general and complete in later years, when the Hellenes were masters in Egypt.

Besides these foreign ideas grafted on the Egyptian religion, there were innovations suggested by the native priests themselves, such as the deification of certain national heroes admired by the populace for their skill in learning and magic. Such hero-gods were Imhotep, a distinguished author and architect under King Zoser at an early period of dynastic history, and Amenhetep, son of Hāpu, who was thought to have seen

Horus the Child.


The Ptolemaic Period

As has been said, Greek ideas had already found their way into the religion of Egypt when the Alexandrine conquest in the fourth century B.C. made the Greeks dominant. Yet the ancient religion held its ground and maintained its established character in all essential respects. The Hellenic monarchs vied with their predecessors in the tolerance and respect which they accorded to the native religion. It was they who[Pg 305] maintained the Egyptian deities in splendid state; restored statues, books, and so on which the Persians had taken from the country; even they themselves worshipped the absurd animal deities of the Egyptians.


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