صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

suffocated or destroyed every living creature exposed to its influence; the darkness and chillness of winter, stripping the leaves of foliage; the eclipses of sun and moon, obscuring the light and heat and genial influence of Isis and Osiris; in short, every occurrence which in any way lessened the comforts of life, or marred the beauty of nature, or interfered with the fruitfulness of the earth, was concentrated into one evil being named Typhon, a dread and malignant power. We have said one evil being; he has, however, like all the Egyptian gods, a consort, Nepthe, who, though sometimes referred to, generally as the evil power, was more properly the deification of the sands of the Libyan Desert, which bordered on Egypt, and threatened to over whelm it with barrenness and desolation.

Regarded as the cause of all evil and misfortune, as a power capricious and cruel, the essential part of the worship here consisted in propriations of his wrath, and in endeavours to avert his savage revenge. We need not here advert to the worship of indignant powers, a more convenient opportunity will be afforded in the attempt to sketch the philosophy or spirit of the Egyptian mythology, before concluding.

Meanwhile, we revert, for a few moments, to the connexions believed to subsist between Osiris, Isis, and Typhon. A relentless enmity, as might readily be imagined, was believed to obtain between the opposite principles of good and of evil, and in the legends of the Egyptian creed, the details of the conflicts, and success of these dissimilar powers, occupy a large and important share. Without entering into the minutiae of these mythological fables, it may suffice to say, that Osiris, in his capacity of ruler of the whole earth, was believed to sway the sceptre of peace. During his reign, all nature smiled; the bountiful earth brought forth abundantly, the Nile ran deep and majestically to the sea, evil was not known, and the earth was in her golden age. Against

this mighty and benevolent power, Typhon, the evil principle, conspired, secretly assailed and overcame him. The spirit of Osiris was believed to descend to the shades below (where he acted in an important capacity afterwards to be noticed), and his body was hewn to pieces by his ruthless murderer, and scattered to the winds. Thus the evil principle became the presiding genius of the earth. During his reign, nature lost all her beauty; the withered foliage dropped from the trees, the Nile dwindled to a small stream, and the winds of the south whirled the noxious sand of the Libyan over the whole land, making the earth barren and desolate; pestilential vapours arose from the surface of the ground, and the fields swarmed with serpents and scorpions, and all noxious animals.

Meanwhile Isis, with a wife's affectionate care, gathered together the fragments of her lord's murdered body, and arrayed it together. Soon after Osiris returned from the subterranean realms, vanquished Typhon, and imprisoned him; and again restored the earth to beauty and fertility. It is important to notice that the conflict between the powers of good and evil was a yearly event, and solemnized as such.

Commentators on the ancient Egyptian mythology have abundantly shown that in this mythic fable were shadowed forth certain natural occurrences. And it is easy to trace in the preceding tradition, an allegorical representation of the course of the sun and the changes of the seasons. Thus the golden age of the earth and her beautiful appearance during the reign of Osiris, were the richness and loveliness of nature in spring and summer when the sun and moisture contribute to fill the earth with fruits and flowers and happy living beings; and the fading grandeur of autumn, when the earth looks old and wan, and the desolate cheerlessness of winter, with its tempests and diseases, was embodied in the evil Typhon. Isis was nature, smiling and rejoicing under the warm rays of the

sun, and mourning and losing all her beauty when the god of day departed and storms shook the land, but again rising into new life and regaining her charms when her beloved sun assumed the sceptre of the earth. Accordingly, in Egypt, and in many other nations of the ancient world, festivals, mournful in their character, were solemnized in the close of autumn for the death of Osiris and the grief of Isis, in other words, for the departure of the sun and the desolation of nature; and a second festival, but one of rejoicing, was held in spring when the young herbs were springing from the earth, watered by the Nile, and the days becoming longer than the nights, showed that the sun was regaining his power; for the joy of Isis at the re-appearance of Osiris.

In connexion with the preceding deities, and as a deified natural power or element, we must refer to the god Horus, although some obscurity prevails as to his supposed attributes and history, he was the son of Isis and Osiris, and worshipped over a large portion of Egypt. He was adored as the god of light; and obelisks, the symbols, as is supposed, of the rays of the sun, were dedicated to him. There appears in this a clashing with the attributes of Osiris. It will be observed, however, that Osiris was the sun, as the power vivifying nature, and that it was as a source of heat he was as highly adored; so that his light not being included in this deification, was given to another god, Aroeris. Perhaps, also, this latter deity presided over light from all sources, as well artificial as from the heavenly bodies; and a student of mythology must not be a stickler for consistency, or he will soon drop the investigation. Whatever were his attributes, he was confessedly an important deity in the eyes of the Egyptians. In connexion with Osiris and Typhon, he formed the chief triad of the Egyptian creed, which seems to have included a triple personification of the generative, the destructive, and the restoring powers of

nature; the latter, however, being attributed to Aroeris as his light, evidenced in the increase of day over night; first seen in spring, was the earliest proof of the restoration of Orisis to his kingly power. Like the other gods, Horus had a consort, Bubastis, who bore the same relation to the moon which he did to the sun, but in addition, she was believed to watch over the birth of children, an idea traceable to a superstitious belief among the Egyptians, and almost every nation of antiquity, the Jews not ex cepted, that the hopes and happiness of all beings depended on the phase of the moon under which they were born. The last god who personified some natural principle was Sem; a curious deity, power personified. Whatever operations of nature exhibited resistless force were combined to form this object of adoration. The impetuous fury of the wind, the crash of masses of rock dashed to the earth, the headlong course of the Nile at the cataracts, the speed and deadly influence of the winged lightning, and the wild rage of the sea, lashed by a storm, may all reasonably be believed to have been centred in this deity's attributes. The last divinity in this class was Buto, a goddess, who appears to have been the personification of night or shade, sometimes considered as the emblem of primeval darkness and chaos; she is beautifully termed the mother of dew, and was at first strictly termed the goddess of night. Her powers were afterwards increased, without, however, altering her characteristics; thus she was believed to preside over the gloom of the darkness of the tomb, and carried out still farther to be the presiding goddess of the gloomy infernal regions.

Egypt, like every other country of the human race shut out from the guidance of revelation, had a deified personation of love. This goddess, however, as worshipped in Egypt, has not been handed down to us by a distinct and significant name; she seems to have been looked upon as Isis, or rather, in a peculiar deification, adored as such.

No divinity, not even Osiris himself, was so universally worshipped over Egypt as this goddess. The most splendid temple in the valley of the Nile, the famous temple of Dendera, was consecrated to her. In splendour of design and execution, in richness and delicacy of sculpture and painting, and in the beauty and variety of its decorations, this sacred edifice stands pre-eminent in Egypt; and many of its alto-reliefs and statues might vie with the exquisite productions of the Grecian school.

The personified ideas, sentiments, and affections, next occupy our attention, these include a meagre list, and yet a very singular class of divinities. The Egyptians, beautiful though their country was for a great part of the year, and stern and sublime for the other, have been justly characterized as a quaint and unimaginative people, and as far as may be judged from the records of history and the details of travellers, the lovers of poetry and the romantic have little reason to believe that the deciphering of the Egyptian hieroglyphics would add any to this stock of beautiful sentiments or sublime imagery.

Foremost among these may be noted Harpocrates, the god of silence. Although his attributes are confused, and sometimes contradictory, his most prominent characteristics were silence and mystery. He is generally represented as a young boy, with his finger on his closed lips, standing beside Isis, or sitting on a lotus flower. He is found represented in almost every temple from the Delta o Ethiopia, and from this it is extremely probable that he stood in relation to the sacred mysteries performed at certain seasons in all the temples of Egypt, which none but the initiated were permitted to behold, as a memento or warning of the inviolable secrecy demanded of their privileged spectators. A more important rank is occupied by another deity, Thoth, the Hermes Trismegistus of notorious memory, believed to possess many endow

[ocr errors]
« السابقةمتابعة »