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Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt

Page: 46

It was probably about the Twenty-second Dynasty that the worship of Set began to decline, and that he took on the shape of an evil deity. The theory has been put forward that the Hyksos invaders identified him with certain of their gods, and that this sufficed to bring him into disrepute with the Egyptians.

Set and the Ass

Plutarch, in his De Iside et Osiride, has an interesting passage concerning the alleged resemblance between the ass and Set. He says (the translation is the old one of Squire):

"Hence their ignominious treatment of those persons, whom from the redness of their complexions they imagine to bear a resemblance to him; and hence likewise is derived the custom of the Coptites of throwing an Ass down a precipice; because it is usually of this colour. Nay, the inhabitants of Busiris and Lycopolis carry their detestation of this animal so far, as never to make any use of trumpets, because of the similitude between their sound and the braying of an ass. In a word, this animal[Pg 102] is in general regarded by them as unclean and impure, merely on account of the resemblance which they conceive it bears to Typho; and in consequence of this notion, those cakes which they offer with their sacrifices during the last two months Paϋni and Phaophi, have the impression of an ass, bound, stamped upon them. For the same reason likewise, when they sacrifice to the Sun, they strictly enjoyn all those who approach to worship the God, neither to wear any gold about them, nor to give provender to any ass. It is moreover evident, say they, that even the Pythagoreans looked upon Typho to have been of the rank or order of Demons, as, according to them, 'he was produced in the even number fifty-six.' For as the power of the Triangle is expressive of the nature of Pluto, Bacchus, and Mars, the properties of the Square of Rhea, Venus, Ceres, Vesta, and Juno; of the Dodecagon of Juppiter; so, as we are informed by Eudoxus, is the figure of 56 angles expressive of the nature of Typho: as therefore all the others above-mentioned in the Pythagorean system are looked upon as so many Genii or Demons, so in like manner must this latter be regarded by them. 'Tis from this persuasion likewise of the red complexion of Typho, that the Egyptians make use of no other bullocks in their sacrifice but what are of this colour. Nay, so extremely curious are they in this respect, that if there be so much as one black or white hair in the beast, 'tis sufficient to render it improper for this service. For 'tis their opinion, that sacrifices ought not to be made of such things as are in themselves agreeable and well-pleasing to the Gods, but, on the contrary, rather of such creatures wherein the souls of wicked and unjust men have been confined during the course of their transmigration. Hence sprang that custom, which was formerly observed by them, of pronouncing a solemn[Pg 103] curse upon the head of the beast which was to be offered in sacrifice, and afterwards of cutting it off and throwing it into the Nile, though now they dispose of it to foreigners. No bullock therefore is permitted to be offered to the Gods, which has not the seal of the Sphragistæ first stamped upon it, an order of priests peculiarly set apart for this purpose, from whence likewise they derive their name. Their impress, according to Castor, is 'a man upon his knees with his hands tied behind him and a sword pointed at his throat'. Nor is it from his colour only that they maintain a resemblance between the ass and Typho, but from the stupidity likewise and sensuality of his disposition; and agreeably to this notion, having a more particular hatred to Ochus than to any other of the Persian monarchs who reigned over them, looking upon him as an execrable and abominable wretch, they gave him the nickname of the Ass, which drew the following reply from that prince, 'But this ass shall dine upon your ox,' and accordingly he slew the Apis: this story is thus related by Dino."


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