Egypt: The Death of Osiris

This story is part of the Ancient Egypt unit. Story source: Egyptian Myth and Legend by Donald Mackenzie (1907).

The Death of Osiris

When Osiris returned from his mission, there was great rejoicing in the land. A royal feast was held, and Set came to make merry, and with him were his fellow conspirators.

He brought a shapely and decorated chest, which he had caused to be made according to the measurements of the king's body. All men praised it at the feast, admiring its beauty, and many desired greatly to possess it. When hearts were made glad with beer-drinking, Set proclaimed that he would gift the chest unto him whose body fitted its proportions with exactness. There was no suspicion of evil design among the faithful subjects of Osiris. The guests spoke lightly, uttering jests one against another, and all were eager to make trial as Set had desired.

So it happened that one after another entered the chest on that fateful night, until it seemed that no man could be found to win it for himself. Then Osiris came forward. He lay down within the chest, and he filled it in every part. But dearly was his triumph won in that dark hour which was his hour of doom. Ere he could raise his body, the evil followers of Set sprang suddenly forward and shut down the lid, which they nailed fast and soldered with lead. So the richly decorated chest became the coffin of the good king Osiris, from whom departed the breath of life.

The feast was broken up in confusion. Merrymaking ended in sorrow, and blood flowed after that instead of beer. Set commanded his followers to carry away the chest and dispose of it secretly. As he bade them, so did they do. They hastened through the night and flung it into the Nile. The current bore it away in the darkness, and when morning came it reached the great ocean and was driven hither and thither, tossing among the waves. So ended the days of Osiris and the years of his wise and prosperous reign in the land of Egypt.

When the grievous tidings were borne unto Isis, she was stricken with great sorrow and refused to be comforted. She wept bitter tears and cried aloud. Then she uttered a binding vow, cut off a lock of her shining hair, and put on the garments of mourning. Thereafter the widowed queen wandered up and down the land, seeking for the body of Osiris.

Nor would she rest nor stay until she found what she sought. She questioned each one she encountered, and one after another they answered her without knowledge. Long she made search in vain, but at length she was told by shoreland children that they had beheld the chest floating down the Nile and entering the sea by the Delta mouth which takes its name from the city of Tanis.

Meanwhile Set, the usurper, ascended the throne of Osiris and reigned over the land of Egypt. Men were wronged and despoiled of their possessions. Tyranny prevailed and great disorder, and the followers of Osiris suffered persecution. The good queen Isis became a fugitive in the kingdom, and she sought concealment from her enemies in the swamps and deep jungle of the Delta. Seven scorpions followed her, and these were her protectors. Ra, looking down from heaven, was moved to pity because of her sore distress, and he sent to her aid Anubis, "the opener of the ways," who was the son of Osiris and Nepthys, and he became her guide.

One day Isis sought shelter at the house of a poor woman, who was stricken with such great fear when she beheld the fearsome scorpions that she closed the door against the wandering queen. But a scorpion gained entrance and bit her child, so that he died. Then loud and long were the lamentations of the stricken mother.

The heart of Isis was touched with pity, and she uttered magical words which caused the child to come to life again, and the woman ministered unto the queen with gratitude while she remained in the house.

(700 words)

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