Would you like to know what Osiris represented in ancient Egypt and what he was the god of?
Passionate about the myths and stories of ancient Egypt, our team has prepared an article for you on the "god of death" of the Egyptian pantheon.
What is Osiris the god of? Osiris, husband of Isis, was originally the pharaoh of all of ancient Egypt. Unjustly killed by his brother Set, Osiris could no longer rule the kingdom of the living. He will then become the "god of death" alongside his son Anubis.
In this article, you will discover:
- The reasons for the murder of Osiris
- The unfolding of the myth of Osiris
- The roles of Osiris after his death according to Egyptian mythology
You will soon know everything about one of the most famous gods of ancient Egypt.
To understand who Osiris is, let's start this article with the myth of which he is the main actor: the myth of Osiris!
1) The myth of Osiris
Osiris being one of the gods of the ancient Egyptians for about 3000 years, the myth of Osiris has known many changes over time. Yet, the myth of Osiris always began with his coronation as the first pharaoh of Egypt. He was much appreciated by his subjects. Just and kind to all, his reign brought a peace and prosperity that Egypt had never known.
However, Set did not appreciate Osiris' success and conspired to kill his brother.
Indeed, Set could not bear the fact that his wife, Nephthys, had impersonated Isis and seduced Osiris (the god Anubis being the fruit of this union). According to some versions, Set also planned this assassination because he secretly coveted Isis as his new wife.
Set quickly put in place a plan for revenge. Set ordered the construction of a chest made entirely of precious stones, that exactly replicated the morphology of Osiris. He then invited his brother to a banquet and proposed at the end of the meal to offer this chest to anyone who could enter it.
All the guests then tried it, but since it was designed only for Osiris, they all failed to fit into the richly decorated chest.
Finally, when it was Osiris' turn to enter the chest, Set nailed its lid on. Then, Set sealed it firmly with molten lead and rushed it into the Nile to drown his brother.
The evil Set traps Osiris in a chest that becomes the first sarcophagus in history.
The chest was then stuck in the roots of a small tree growing on the shore of the city of Byblos in Phoenicia.
The divine presence of the body of Osiris accelerated the tree's growth. Only a few months later, the tree had become immense and had crushed the trunk with its roots and absorbed Osiris into its trunk.
Later, impressed by the size of this majestic tree, the local king had it shaped into a pillar for his palace (although he did not know of the existence of Osiris' body inside).
2) The myth of the resurrection of Osiris
Isis, who had gone in search of her beloved, finally arrived disguised as an old woman in this famous palace, where she felt the presence of Osiris' body.
Revealing her divine nature and saving the king of Phoenicia's wife, the king allowed her to ask him for any of his possessions. She obviously chose the column and thus found the remains of Osiris.
The goddess returned to Egypt and worked to reconstitute her husband's physical body. Isis grew wings and combined a few magic words and the flapping of her wings to revive Osiris temporarily. She then conceived a child with him before he died a second time.
This child will be the falcon-headed god Horus (who thus pulls his hawk's head from the wings his mother used to bring Osiris back to life). Isis hid her husband's body and went to raise her son in a swamp on the far side of Egypt where Set would not find them.
But one day, Set met the body of Osiris while he was hunting a herd of antelopes. To prevent Osiris from being resuscitated by Isis in a near future, Set cut Osiris' body into several pieces. The number of pieces differed according to the texts: fourteen (half an Egyptian month), sixteen (the Egyptian ideal height of sea level in cubits), or forty-two (the number of provinces in ancient Egypt). Set then scattered parts of the body of Osiris throughout the Nile valley.
When Isis discovered the mischief of Set, she tried to reconstitute again the body of Osiris by looking for its parts. Yet, there is a part that she could not find: the genitals of Osiris that had been swallowed and digested by an oxyrhynchus fish (a forbidden food in ancient Egypt due to this myth).
With the assistance of Anubis and Nephthys, Isis reconstituted Osiris' broken corpse the best they possibly could and prepared it for a proper funeral.
Together they created the first mummy and Anubis became the first embalmer. The Sun god Ra then resurrected Osiris, but being incompletely embalmed (due to a loss of one of his body's parts), he could no longer rule the land of the living. So, Osiris became the judge and ruler of the underworld.
Horus will eventually avenge his father by defeating Set and becoming the new king of Egypt. But this is another story.
Following an incomplete embalming, Osiris can no longer reign over the kingdom of the living. So he became the first of the Egyptian mummies of the ancient world and the judge-ruler of the underworld.
3) The attributes of Osiris
According to the legends of Egyptian civilization, Osiris judged the dead alongside Anubis and ruled relentlessly over the underworld of ancient Egypt.
Brother-husband of the goddess Isis, he is one of the most important gods in the Egyptian pantheon. The name "Osiris" is the ancient Roman translation of the Egyptian name for the god: "Usir", originally meaning "powerful" or "almighty".
Osiris was born shortly after the creation of the universe, the first son of the earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut. After becoming pharaoh of Egypt at the side of his sister-wife Isis, he was quickly assassinated by his brother Set and then brought back to life by the magic of his sister-wife Isis. This myth and the deities involved in it would later become a central element of Egyptian mythology.
Osiris was originally only the god of fertility. Moreover, Osiris was originally a god of Syria (although this claim is disputed). Osiris quickly became so popular that he absorbed the functions of the ancient gods Andjeti (the ancient Egyptian god of life) and Khentiamentid (the ancient Egyptian god of agriculture). He is often represented by the symbol of the "djed pillar" (the symbol of the stability of all things).
On this papyrus, Osiris is depicted with his Atef headdress, decorated on either side with feathers of the legendary Egyptian bird Bennu. As the first of the pharaohs, he also holds a scepter and a scourge: his pharaonic attributes that will be carried by the greatest pharaohs to succeed him at the head of Egypt: Ramesses II, Akhenaten, Khufu, Tutankhamun, Hatshepsut, and many others!
Osiris is often depicted with a green skin (representing its regenerative power) or with a black skin (symbolizing the mud that is conducive to the agriculture of the Nile). He is also frequently depicted partially or completely mummified, his working garb as judge of the dead.
His sculptures and portraits depict him as a strong and handsome man in a royal silk tunic.
He is recognizable by his royal scepter and scourge and by his Upper Egyptian pschent (an Egyptian crown) in the form of a feathered headdress called Atef. This headdress is associated with the legendary Egyptian bird Bennu, who has the power to rise from its own ashes (and who inspired the myth of the Greek phoenix).
In ancient Egypt, Osiris was known under many names, including Wennefer, "The Hanging One" and Khentiamenti, "The First of Westerners" referring to his role as judge of the dead (the West being associated with death, "Westerners" represented those who have left the kingdom of living for the Afterlife). Finally, Osiris was known under the names of the "Former king of the living", the "Eternal Lord" and the "First of all pharaohs".
Osiris was perceived as a right god welcoming the dead in the Afterlife. For this reason, Osiris was the second most popular Egyptian god (after the goddess Isis) and the one who was worshiped for the longest period of time.
Indeed, his cult spanned three millennia. The latter began to be very strong during the start of the ancient Egyptian empire (2700 BC) and only ended with the death of Cleopatra (30 BC). Indeed, the death of Cleopatra will sign the end of the old Egyptian polytheistic religion (which will be replaced rather quickly by the Christianity and the Islam).
Moreover, Egyptologists (the historians of ancient Egypt) agree today that Osiris was venerated before the advent of the kings of Egypt called pharaohs. Indeed, we find many verses of small cults dedicated to Osiris during the period of Egypt known as "Predynastic period" (the period of ancient Egypt without pharaohs, from 6000 BC to 2700 BC).
On the columns of the Nefertiti necropolis in Luxor, one can see two Egyptian representations of djed pillars and their colors that have survived three millennia for our eyes to enjoy.