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Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt

Page: 42

In the myth of the battles of Horus it is easy to discern what is perhaps the most universal of all mythological conceptions—the solar myth. Horus (called in the Edfû text Horbehûdti, i.e. Horus of Edfû) was originally a sun-god, and as such was equivalent to Ra, but in time the two gods came to be regarded as separate and distinct personages, Ra being the highest, and Horus serving him as a sort of war-captain. The winged disk, therefore, and all his train represented the powers of light, while the wicked Set and his companions symbolized darkness. Thus it is that while Horus was always victorious over his enemies, he never succeeded (according to the most widespread form of the tradition) in destroying them utterly.

When Horus had routed the enemy in the form of a winged disk, that symbol came to be regarded as an excellent protective against violence and destruction. It was therefore repeated many times—especially in the New Kingdom—in temples, on monuments, stelæ, and so on, and it was believed that the more numerous the representations of it, the more efficacious did the charm become. In its simplest form the image is[Pg 93] merely that of a winged disk, but at times there is a serpent on either side of the disk, representing the goddesses Nekhbet and Uazet.

The principal version of the myth, dealing with Hor-Behûdti, or Horus of Edfû, was really a local form belonging to Edfû, though in time it gained a wider acceptance. In other forms of the legend other gods took the chief rôle as destroyer of the enemies of Ra.

With this legend of light and darkness came to be fused another, that which relates how Horus avenged the death of Osiris. It is noticeable that in this second myth there exists some confusion between Horus the Elder and Horus the Child, respectively brother and son of Osiris. No mention is made of Osiris in the Edfû text, but that this myth is a sequel to the legend of Osiris is implied by the circumstance that Set is handed over for punishment to Isis and Horus the Child. In the later form of the story the conflict is not properly between light and darkness, but rather between the forces of good and evil.

In this legend one of the most noteworthy circumstances is that the followers of Horus were armed with weapons of metal. His followers are called in the Egyptian text Mesniu, or Mesnitu, which in all probability signifies 'workers in metal,' or 'blacksmiths.' The worshippers of Horus of Behudet continually alluded to him as 'Lord of the Forge-city,' or Edfû, where tradition asserted he carried on the work of a blacksmith. At Edfû, indeed, the great golden disk of the sun itself had been forged, as we see from a certain inscription, and in the temple of that city was a chamber behind the sanctuary called Mesnet, or 'the foundry,' where the blacksmith caste of priests attended upon the god. From sculptures upon the walls of the[Pg 94] temple we see that these are arrayed in short robes and a species of collar which is almost a cape, that they carry their spears head downward, and a weapon of metal resembling a dagger. Horus of Behudet, who accompanies them, is dressed in a similar fashion, and is represented as spearing a hippopotamus, round which he has wound a double chain of metal. This illustrates the story of the defeat of Set by Horus of Behudet, and we may be justified in believing that the legend possessed a more or less historic basis. Here we have a tribe or caste of metal-workers at war with what is obviously a more primitive race, whom they defeat with their weapons of metal and bind with their chains, afterward slaughtering them at leisure. It is significant that they do not slay them out of hand. For what, then, do they reserve them? Obviously for human sacrifice. They are a caste of sun-worshippers, and human blood was as necessary to the sustenance of the sun in early Egypt as it was in ancient Mexico, where the military caste, living under the patronage of the sun, always refrained from slaying an enemy in battle if they could make him prisoner, to be sacrificed at leisure. The circumstances of the legend would appear to indicate that we are here following the adventures of some West Asiatic invader who, with followers armed with metal, landed on the soil of Egypt, made himself master of Edfû, and, marching northward, established himself in the land by force of arms. This story, or portion of history, probably became amalgamated, perhaps by priestly influence, with the legend of Horus, the god of heaven in the earliest times.


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