Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 186

Apis, the Bull of Memphis, was worshipped with the greatest reverence by the Egyptians. As soon as a bull marked with the marks which have been described, was found by those sent in search of him, he was placed in a building facing the east, and was fed with milk for four months. At the expiration of this term the priests repaired at new moon with great pomp, to his habitation, and saluted him Apis. He was placed in a vessel magnificently decorated and conveyed down the Nile to Memphis, where a temple, with two chapels and a court for exercise, was assigned to him. Sacrifices were made to him, and once every year, about the time when the Nile began to rise, a golden cup was thrown into the river, and a grand festival was held to celebrate his birthday. The people believed that during this festival the crocodiles forgot their natural ferocity and became harmless. There was however one drawback to his happy lot; he was not permitted to live beyond a certain period; and if when he had attained the age of twenty-five years, he still survived, the priests drowned him in the sacred cistern, and then buried him in the temple of Serapis. On the death of this bull, whether it occurred in the course of nature or by violence, the whole land was filled with sorrow and lamentations, which lasted until his successor was found.

A new Apis was found as late as the reign of Hadrian. A mummy made from one of the Sacred Bulls may be seen in the Egyptian collection of the Historical Society, New York.

Milton, in his Hymn of the Nativity, alludes to the Egyptian deities, not as imaginary beings, but as real demons put to flight by the coming of Christ:

  "The brutish gods of Nile as fast,
  Isis and Horus and the dog Anubis haste.
  Nor is Osiris seen
  In Memphian grove or green
  Trampling the unshowered* grass with lowings loud;
  Nor can he be at rest
  Within his sacred chest;
  Nought but profoundest hell can be his shroud.
  In vain with timbrel'd anthems dark
  The sable-stoled sorcerers bear his worshipped ark."

*(There being no rain in Egypt, the grass is "unshowered," and the country depends for its fertility upon the overflowings of the Nile. The ark alluded to in the last line is shown by pictures still remaining on the walls of the Egyptian temples to have been borne by the priests in their religious processions. It probably represented the chest in which Osiris was placed.)

Isis was represented in statuary with the head veiled, a symbol of mystery. It is this which Tennyson alludes to in Maud, 0V.8

"For the drift of te Maker is dark, an Isis hid by the veil."


Oracle was the name used to denote the place where answers were supposed to be given by any of the divinities to those who consulted them respecting the future. The word was also used to signify the response which was given.