Will the Real Horus Please Stand Up?

One of the major gods of the Olympian pantheon is Horus, perhaps more accurately rendered as Heru. The fact that most of what we know about ancient Egypt was filtered through Greek first gives us a lot of extra S’s, just like with Jesus and Moses. I’ve mentioned Horus before in my posts about Osiris and Set, but I’d say he deserves his own entry. Horus was a god of the sky, often depicted with the head of a falcon, with his eyes representing the sun and moon.

As I’ve said before, it’s a little difficult to tell exactly who Horus is, as the name is used for both a son of Geb and Nut and one of Osiris and Isis. I’ve seen an attempt to fit these two different stories together by saying that Osiris and Isis gave birth to Horus while they were still in the womb, but not only is this incredibly disturbing, but also contradicts how Isis is said to have impregnated herself after Osiris was chopped into pieces by Set. Images of the baby Horus, pretty much always accompanied by Isis, show him as paralyzed from the waist down, an affliction that apparently no longer affected him in his adult years.

It seems that the earliest version of Horus was the brother of Osiris, Isis, and Set, with his identification as son of Isis being a later development. Of course, with pretty much any mythology, there are going to be contradictions, often arising from how different religious traditions were merged. Unlike some other cultures with their gods, I’m not sure the Egyptian religious leaders were all that interested in coming up with a consistent life story for Horus. The more important thing was that he was personified in the person of the Pharaoh, who would become the incarnation of Osiris when he died. In The Red Pyramid, Rick Riordan deals with the contradictory accounts by saying that it has to do with the hosts the gods took, who were related in different ways.

A theme running through pretty much all of the stories of Horus involves his constant struggle with Set, representing both order opposing chaos and day opposing night. A popular version of the myth has it that Ra, the sun god and original leader of the pantheon, favored Set as his successor, but most of the other gods preferred Horus. This led to many contests between the two, including physical fights in which Set gouged out at least one of the falcon god’s eyes (this was sometimes said to be why the Moon didn’t give as much light as the Sun), and Horus castrated his rival. Another rather disgusting tale has it that Set raped Horus, hence proving his dominance. Isis managed to remove Set’s semen from her son’s body, and then tricked the god of chaos into eating lettuce laced with Horus’ semen, leading the other gods to believe that Horus had been the dominant one. (Talk about a society that dealt harshly with rape victims!) The final contest that determined Horus’ kingship was a boat race between the gods, supposedly in stone boats, but the sky god cheated by using a wooden boat that only LOOKED like it was made of stone. Apparently Set gave in after this despite the fact that Horus cheated, perhaps because a dark god wouldn’t have had much clout in declaring someone else broke the rules. This story is identified with the unification of Egypt, as Horus represented Upper Egypt and Set Lower Egypt.

This entry was posted in Egyptian, Kane Chronicles, Mythology, Rick Riordan and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Will the Real Horus Please Stand Up?

  1. vilajunkie says:

    I find it interesting that we really have no clue how Egyptians outside of the royal family and royal priests felt about the gods. The gods associated with the sun or aspects of mummification are extremely important to the highest classes, but I would imagine agricultural and mercantile gods were more important to the working classes. I think we know a lot more about ancient Greek mythology (mainland Mycenaean Greece that is, not the Minoan island culture) because ancient Greek scholars were concerned with writing down just about everything they knew about the stories and rituals, but even still it feels like the priority of ancient Greek scholars was the bloodlines of gods and heroes. It really hasn’t been until the late 18th Century that the stories and rituals of common people were being recorded, and almost always it’s called folklore (originally “antiquities”) instead of mythology. It’s as if mythology is only allowed to be the state-sanctioned religion of the aristocrats and highest levels of priesthood rather than the daily religion of working members of society.

    • Nathan says:

      Since, as you mentioned, not a lot of records pertaining to the common people were preserved, we don’t really know a whole lot about their religious practices. On the other hand, it seems that most pantheons included gods who would have been more appealing to the working classes than the nobility, like deities of agriculture and metalworking.

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  10. Jones says:

    This is an interesting write up, but could be taken a little more seriously if you cited your references to these stories. Its been insinuated that Set attempted to rape Heru and now you suggest that in the story it did happen… Maybe some references to validate your article?

    • Nathan says:

      That’s a fair point. Most of the time the sources I consult are ones I find via a quick Google search, but I could probably stand to mention them. I found the story about Set’s rape of Horus in a few different places, though, if I remember correctly.

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