Thursday Fun: Isis and Osiris

Today the story we decided to discuss is the Egyptian myth of Osiris’s death and subsequent resurrection by this wife, Isis.

I fished around on the internet for about twenty minutes and the best (no, really) that I could find as a quick summary without a lot of extraneous commentary and old-fashioned language was the wikipedia entry. If you aren’t familiar with the story, I’ll wait.


Ok, when I was a kid, Egyptian mythology did not grab me the way Celtic, Native American, Aztec, Babylonian and Japanese did. I have no idea why. I love some small bits of it, like the obsession with death. Mummies are super cool. And they pulled people’s brains out through their noses!

(I suspect that it might be tied up in the natural history of it all – Egyptian mythology changed with different dynasties, very drastically, and I could never keep it straight in my head. Plus, mummies aren’t magic – they’re real. I saw one the other day at the Field Museum, and before that at the Smithsonian. For me, Egypt was too overtly historical to be magical.)

That being said, I have always known the story of Osiris’s murder by his brother Seth and Isis’s search to find him again. It stuck in my head. I’d say it’s because Osiris becomes a God of Death, but he’s never really as keen as Anubis. (Or Hades, or Arawn, or Mictlantecuhtli, or Izanami). All I’m left with to explain why I liked this story is: what kid wouldn’t be fascinated by the thought of a God running around without his junk?

Sophomoric humor aside, I wonder if I liked it because it’s yet another example of a Goddess moving along in the background cleaning up after her husband/son/brother/lover/father/uncle/etc. Isis’s journey never struck me as quite as impressive as Innana’s, though. Isis doesn’t discover anything about herself, and might be viewed as merely performing her wifely duties to the absolute end.

So, readers, do you, or did you ever like this story? What about it appeals to you?

3 thoughts on “Thursday Fun: Isis and Osiris

  1. Well, I know for me personally, I’m a sucker for every story ever about someone traveling to the underworld to get their loved one back. There’s something fundamental about it. Not only does the braving-death allegory prove the depth of one’s love far more succinctly than performing arbitrary tasks, but it also demonstrates ingenuity and capability. It’s where the lover-character really gets a chance to shine–particularly if the hero of the story is the one who’s died, and not the one doing the retrieving.

  2. I like traveling to the Underworld, too. But you know, in a lot of the versions I found, she *doesn’t*. She finds his bits all over the world – NOT in the Underworld.

    (of course, in a lot of the versions I read, they don’t mention just which part of the thirteen parts she doesn’t retrieve!)

  3. I know *sad sigh* (it’s sooo romantic, though).

    I actually think I’m just partial to that version because it was class material for part of a Dying God Myth unit (yes, I had a class with a Dying God Myth unit). It was awesome, because Isis’s journey along the Nile kind of transmuted itself into a journey into the underworld, and there were crocodiles and snakes and all kinds of danger, and she was on a boat and it was scary. But I have an inexplicable horror of water, so maybe that’s just me.

    Oh, and my other favorite part of the story is that in most of the versions, she has to petition Anubis to help her, which is the absolute stuff of soap-operas, because he’s Set’s son and her nephew, and he’s wandering around looking like a jackal, and everybody has conflicting loyalties, and then she totally has Osiris’s baby, even though he’s her brother and missing his thingy and he can’t leave the underworld. Which adds a lot of mystery to the whole situation. So, basically I guess what I’m saying is, the whole story is my favorite part.

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