Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt

Page: 128

The Apis Oracle

Thus in the temple of Ptah were great honours paid to the Apis bull, and the Pharaohs gave lavishly of their wealth to its cult, and foreigners, such as Alexander the Great and Titus, presented it with offerings. Oracles, as usual, were looked for from this god, and the method of obtaining them is thus described by Wiedemann:

"Chiefly it was renowned for its oracles, which were imparted in very various ways. When the bull licked the garments of the celebrated Eudoxus of Cnidus, this signified the astronomer's approaching death; a like fate was predicted to Germanicus when it refused to eat at his hand; and the conquest of Egypt by Augustus was announced beforehand by its bellowing. Some inquiries were answered by the animal's passing into one or other of the two rooms placed at its disposition, and others by dreams which were vouchsafed to inquirers who slept in the temple, and which were explained by the sacred interpreters. Other inquiries, again, though presented to the creature itself, found their reply through the voices of children playing before the temple, whose words assumed to the believing inquirer the form of a rhythmic answer to his question. Prophecies of a general kind took place during the procession of the Apis." Of this Pliny says: "Then the youths who accompanied him sang hymns in his honour, while the Apis appeared to understand all, and to desire that he should be worshipped. Suddenly the spirit took possession of the youths and they prophesied."

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There were also sacrifices made to the Apis, and these, strangely enough, were oxen, chosen with the greatest care. The head of the slaughtered animal was usually thrown into the Nile with the following words pronounced above it: "If any evil be about to befall either those who now sacrifice or upon the land of Egypt, may it be averted on this head."

Some authorities state that after a certain number of years the Apis was slain and a new one obtained, but it is generally believed that the Apis died a natural death. Its body was embalmed and general mourning was observed. The mummy was buried with all magnificence.[2] In 1851 Mariette discovered the famous Serapeum wherein had been buried the sacred bulls of Memphis from the middle of the Eighteenth Dynasty, 1500 B.C. Here in the gigantic sarcophagi, weighing about fifty-eight tons each, were discovered some of the remains of these animals. The chapels of the Serapeum were evidently places of pilgrimage, for many votive statues and stelæ have been found there dedicated to the dead Apis, "in hopes of thereby gaining his favour and the fulfilment of their various wishes." The Apis, though dead, was even yet more powerful, for his soul became joined to that of Osiris, and thus the dual god Osiris-Apis was formed, a name more familiar in the Grecian form Serapis. To this god the Greeks ascribed the attributes of their own deity Hades, convinced of the similarity to Osiris, the great god of the underworld. In both Egypt and Greece Serapis came to be looked upon as the male counterpart of Isis. Under the Romans the cult of Serapis extended in all directions of the Empire, claiming devotees of all classes and races. It reached as far north in Britain as York.

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At Heliopolis another bull, Mnevis, was worshipped as typifying the sun and its life-giving powers. Manetho ascribes this cult also to Kaiekhos, of the Second Dynasty, as well as the worship of the Ram of Mendes.