Legends Of The Gods The Egyptian Texts, edited with Translations

Page: 91

[FN#325] For it must be observed that the Egyptians look upon the east as the front or face of the world,[FN#326] upon the north as its right side,[FN#327] and upon the south as its left.[FN#328] As, therefore, the Nile rises in the south, and running directly northwards is at last swallowed up by the sea, it may rightly enough be said to be born on the right and to perish on the left side. This conclusion, they say, is still farther strengthened from that abhorrence which the priests express towards the sea, as well as salt, which they call "Typhon's foam." And amongst their prohibitions is one which forbids salt being laid on their tables. And do they not also carefully avoid speaking to pilots, because this class of men have much to do with the sea and get their living by it? And this is not the least of their reasons for the great dislike which they have for fish, and they even make the fish a symbol of "hatred," as is proved by the pictures which are to be seen on the porch of the temple of Neith at Sais. The first of these is a child, the second is an old man, the third is a hawk, and then follow a fish and a hippopotamus. The meaning of all these is evidently, "O you who are coming into the world, and you who are going out of it (i.e., both young and old), God hateth impudence." For by the child is indicated "all those who are coming into life"; by the old man, "those who are going out of it"; by the hawk, "God"; by the fish, "hatred," on account of the sea, as has been before stated; and by the hippopotamus, "impudence," this creature being said first to slay his sire, and afterwards to force his dam.[FN#329] The Pythagoreans likewise may be thought perhaps by some to have looked upon the sea as impure, and quite different from all the rest of nature, and that thus much is intended by them when they call it the "tears of Kronos."

[FN#325] Plutarch here refers to Osiris as the Moon, which rises in the West.

[FN#326] According to the texts the front of the world was the south, khent, #### and from this word is formed the verb #### #### "to sail to the south."

[FN#327] In the texts the west is the right side, unemi, #### in
Coptic, ####.

[FN#328] In the texts the east is the left side, abti.

[FN#329] Each of these signs, ####, except the last, does mean what Plutarch says it means, but his method of reading them together is wrong, and it proves that he did not understand that hieroglyphics were used alphabetically as well as ideographically.

[Secs. XXXIII., XXXIV. Some of the more philosophical priests assert that Osiris does not symbolize the Nile only, nor Typhon the sea only, but that Osiris represents the principle and power of moisture in general, and that Typhon represents everything which is scorching, burning, and fiery, and whatever destroys moisture. Osiris they believe to have been of a black[FN#330] colour, because water gives a black tinge to everything with which it is mixed. The Mnevis Bull[FN#331] kept at Heliopolis is, like Osiris, black in colour, "and even Egypt[FN#332] itself, by reason of the extreme blackness of the soil, is called by them 'Chemia,' the very name which is given to the black part or pupil of the eye.[FN#333] It is, moreover, represented by them under the figure of a human heart." The Sun and Moon are not represented as being drawn about in chariots, but as sailing round the world in ships, which shows that they owe their motion, support, and nourishment to the power of humidity.[FN#334] Homer and Thales both learned from Egypt that "water was the first principle of all things, and the cause of generation."[FN#335]]

[FN#330] Experiments recently conducted by Lord Rayleigh indicate that the true colour of water is blue.

[FN#331] In Egyptian, Nem-ur, or Men-ur, and he was "called the life of Ra."

[FN#332] The commonest name of Egypt is Kemt, "black land," as opposed to the reddish-yellow sandy deserts on each side of the "valley of black mud." The word for "black" is kam.

[FN#333] Plutarch seems to have erred here. The early texts call the pupil of the eye "the child in the eye," as did the Semitic peoples (see my Liturgy of Funerary Offerings, p. 136). The Copts spoke of the "black of the eye," derived from the hieroglyphic "darkness," "blackness."

[FN#334] There is no support for this view in the texts.

[FN#335] It was a very common belief in Egypt that all things arose from the great celestial ocean called Nu, whence came the Nile.

[Sec. XXXVI. The Nile and all kinds of moisture are called the "efflux of Osiris." Therefore a water-pitcher[FN#336] is always carried first in his processions, and the leaf of a fir-tree represents both Osiris and Egypt.[FN#337] Osiris is the great principle of fecundity, which is proved by the Pamylia festivals, in which a statue of the god with a triple phallus is carried about.[FN#338] The three-fold phallus merely signifies any great and indefinite number.]