Egyptian Myths: Osiris and Isis

By Marisa Chioini and Shana Silver


Narrative First Retold By Padraic Colum

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"King Osiris and Queen Isis of Egypt"

this is not a story about failure, defeat, or weakness. No, this is an anthem of success, victory, and strength. Through these attributes, order is restored to the world by a goddess named Isis. Straight from the loins of Qeb and Nut, come both a god and goddess of great power and fortune. Qeb, the god of the earth and Nut, the goddess of the daytime sky, produce five offspring. When Nut gives birth to her first child, a loud voice echoes across the earth, exclaiming, “Behold, the Lord of all things is born!” (World Literature 35). Thus, the god of the underworld, Osiris, no no no that is NOT NOT NOT what haooend do not lisin to sophia pastrana na so what i want you to do is go to your mother and say i love ya so um that is baca ilay wwhat i want you rehfvdhfdshgfcbyeyugyutryrfyyvgis brought to life. Along with him, comes his sister, Isis, goddess of motherhood and fertility. Next is Shout, the Wise One and follows is Nephtyes. Lastly, lies Seth, the Violent One and so one of the most famous families of the gods is made. As soon as Osiris, Isis, Thout, Nephthes, and Seth all reach adulthood, Osiris and Isis wed each other out of love, ignoring the fact that they share the same bloodline. Nepenthe and Seth marry each other as well.


Flash forward to ancient Egypt. The king is a god of power and wisdom, notorious for high support and worship from his subjects. The queen is a goddess of strength and beauty, reigning happily with her husband. Their names are Osiris and Isis. They rule together side by side every day in a beautiful desert land and are adored by all the people who live there. Osiris is a ruler of kind nature, providing his people with a full set of knowledge on agriculture and how to plow the earth with a swift hand. He presents them with a code of laws to live by and teaches them to honor the gods at all times. The Egyptians kiss the ground he walks on. One day, when Egypt is quiet and stable, Osiris leaves his kingdom to bring peace and insight to another land. In his absence, he leaves all power in the hands of his queen. Isis carries out this job perfectly, with no conflicts or worries.
Osiris has an enemy though, his cruel and envious brother Seth. He lives further into the desert, where the land is lifeless and brown. Seth hates everything green and lively because of Osiris. The Violent One soon begins plotting against his brother. However, he is unable to carry out his plans of overthrowing the king, since Isis is in command and her authority is indisputable. Finally, Osiris returns home and Seth puts his evil vision into effect. He creates a lovely built decorative chest, based on the measurements of Osiris he so secretly obtains. Seth then decides to throw a great banquet, where he “invites all the children of Earth and Sky” (World Literature 35-36). Attending the event are Osiris and the rest of his brothers and sisters. When they are seated for dinner, they suddenly see the magnificent chest and are intrigued by it. Seth smiles and has them all attempt to squeeze their bodies into the chest, but only Osiris makes the perfect fit. Laying there peacefully and suspecting nothing, his attendants abruptly slam the cover shut and nail it straight down, trapping Osiris completely. They then run away with the sealed chest and toss it into the Nile River; the king is gone.
After this horrific event, Isis wanders for a long time, alone and heartbroken. She searches long and hard, questioning every man and woman she meets about her husband’s whereabouts but finds no success. Determined to find her husband, she follows along a river bank where the chest containing Osiris’s body was thrown. He is not there. Isis, unsure of where else to look, begins wandering aimlessly through the whole world, hoping to find her Osiris. One day, Isis hears of a great tree that has suddenly grown along the shoreline and she instantly sets out to seek it, knowing Osiris must be there. She feels this intuition, having heard of a wonderful fragrance that is rumored to be lying inside the tree’s trunk and its branches, possibly containing the chest. However, when Isis arrives, the tree is nowhere to be seen. She sits in the tree’s place for endless days and nights, never daring to leave and hoping to find a trace of Osiris. The queen of the land, having heard of a stranger by this tree, appears and talks to Isis about what she seeks. When the queen comes, Isis rests her hand upon the woman’s head, allowing the exquisite fragrance to course through every limb of her body.
Isis is soon invited to the queen’s palace, where she gladly accepts the job of taking care of their child in a hall. In this hall, contains the tree that bears the chest she seeks so deeply. Each night, Isis places her finger inside the child’s mouth, in order to nourish it completely. When the child is resting, she begins to strip wood from the bark of the tree and tosses the wood amongst a fire. In this fire, Isis lays the child atop the wood, but the fire does not hurt the youngling’s body one bit. The queen discovers Isis’s midnight activity, however, and instantly grabs the child from the flames, clutching him tightly to her. All at once, Isis swiftly transforms into a swallow, smiling down at the woman with her long, magnificent wings fluttering at her sides. She reveals herself as the goddess of fertility and kindly explains that if the child had stayed in the fire, he would have gained immortality. She adds he will live a long and promising life, but just not be immortal.
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"Isis (in swallow form) breathing life into Osiris"
After exposing her true identity, Isis then requests the tree from the couple, in which the chest lies. The king tears it down and Isis finally retrieves the chest back after searching so hard and mourning for so long. After this, she begins to sail back to Egypt. When she finally returns to her homeland, Isis opens the chest and there lies Osiris. She attempts to revive him by performing mouth to mouth, breathing into his mouth repeatedly. Finally, Isis brings Osiris back to life. And once more, peace is restored in the kingdom of Egypt and Isis begins living with her Osiris again. This serenity shatters quickly though. One night, when the evil Seth is out hunting, he stumbles upon the two sleeping. He is furious and in shock at the sight he sees in front of him. He cannot believe Osiris is alive again! He angrily falls to their bed and tears his brother into fourteen pieces. Seth then scatters them across the land.
Now from when Osiris is dead the first time, death spreads over the land and a malicious war breaks out. During this war, no one is allowed to show any happiness or joy on their faces, let alone feel it. All people must maintain a serious appearance and the land is soon dead, full of no life because of Seth’s cruel act. Until the pieces of Osiris are brought back together, the land is to remain decrepit and lifeless forever. So a determined Isis seeks her dead husband once more, only this time with the help of her sister Nephthys. The two sisters search every inch of the world on a boat made of reeds, until they find every single piece of Osiris; which they do. However, a voice presents itself when Isis brings Osiris back to life and sends him to be the ruler of the Underworld. Despite this, the wars and anarchy finally come to an end and Egypt is once again impassioned with rich life. No longer is danger present.
In the end, Isis bears a child from Osiris, naming him Horus. Nephthys and Thout look after him on the island where he is born. When Horus grows to be a man, he battles Seth and wins victoriously; bringing Seth’s wounded body to his mother. Isis refuses to have him killed however, so Seth becomes one of the lesser gods, and “his power for evil is not so great as it was in the time before Horus grew to be the avenger of his father” (World Literature 38). All is well.

Interpretation By Marisa Chioini and Shana Silver

A king is heinously murdered and his body lost, and a queen’s soul will not rest until she finds him. As a powerful goddess of Egypt, Isis possesses all the skills and powers necessary to rescue her husband, Osiris. If only she can find him. The Egyptian myth of Osiris and Isis examines the persevering struggle of love against all odds that many men and women have faced for centuries, and they continue to this day. When King Osiris is repeatedly murdered by his envious, tyrannical brother Seth, Queen Isis takes her husband’s fate into her own hands, and the essence of the myth creates a fluid insight of how far a human being will go for another; in Isis’s case, the ends of the world. The value of Isis’s desperate search for Osiris showcases the unbreakable bonds between a husband and wife. Through her unyielding perseverance, she finds strength in rescuing her other half. Based upon Isis’s undying devotion to her husband, Osiris and Isis highlights why love and marriage are resolute, and her simple belief of never giving up inspires other couples. Only through Isis’s unshaken courage and efforts in finding Osiris, no matter the levels of difficulty in doing so love conquers all.
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"Osiris and Isis embracing each other"
In the kingdom of Osiris and Isis, life is good and peaceful under King Osiris’ reign; death and the rage of war do not exist in this land. People speak kindly to one another and respect their king immensely. Osiris and Isis are married siblings, meaning that they are brother and sister as well as husband and wife. Marriage between siblings of the royal family is common in ancient Egypt to keep the royal bloodline pure and intact. The values of discipline and leadership are demonstrated through Osiris’ royal duties as king to his subjects. He gives them a code of laws to live by and heeds them to honor the gods at all times. He also teaches them proper agriculture and how to plow the earth swiftly. The people of Egypt appear to be more than satisfied with his guidance. An analysis of Osiris as king could be given as such:
“The oldest religious texts refer to Osiris as the great god of the dead, and throughout these texts it is assumed that the reader will understand that he once possessed human form and lived on earth. As the first son of Geb, the original king of Egypt, Osiris inherited the throne when Geb abdicated. At this time the Egyptians were barbarous cannibals and uncivilized. Osiris saw this and was greatly disturbed. Therefore, he went out among the people and taught them what to eat, the art of agriculture, how to worship the gods, and gave them laws. Thoth helped him in many ways by inventing the arts and sciences and giving names to things. Osiris was Egypt's greatest king who ruled through kindness and persuasion.” (Ancient Egypt: The Mythology - Osiris, 4).
In another standpoint, Osiris’s leave of absence is not brought up until the near end of the myth in the World Literature book, whereas compared to other texts, he sets off for another land at the beginning of the story, and Seth’s plot of assassination is still in the works. A sample of an additional text showing this difference can be viewed as such:
“Having civilized Egypt, Osiris traveled to other lands, leaving Isis as his regent, to teach other peoples what he taught the Egyptians. During Osiris' absence, Isis was troubled with Seth's plotting to acquire both her and the throne of Egypt. Shortly after Osiris' return to Egypt, in the twenty-eighth year of his reign, on the seventeenth day of the month of Hathor (late September or November), Seth and 72 conspirators murdered him. They then threw the coffin in which he was murdered into the Nile, with his divine body still inside.” (Ancient Egypt: The Mythology - Osiris, 3-4).
Ultimately, the core meaning of this myth is “love conquers all”. Isis never gives up on Osiris and makes several attempts to revive him back to life each time he is killed. Despite all the endeavors and difficulties she faces, she pushes through her pain and does all she can; from taking care of a queen’s child in a far away palace to searching all over the world on a boat for the missing pieces of his body, just to be reunited with her husband, Osiris.

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"Egyptain painting of Osiris and Isis"

Works Cited by Marisa Chioini and Shana Silver

McDevitt, April. Ancient Egypt: the Mythology - Osiris. Ed. April McDevitt. N.p., 1997. Web.

14 Oct. 2011. <http://www.egyptianmyths.net/osiris.htm>.

Colum, Padraic. World Literature: Osiris and Isis. 1998th ed. Orlando, Florida:

Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1998. 35-38. Print.