De Iside et Osiride is a literary work written in Roman times by the Greek philosopher and historian Plutarch (c. 46–120 C.E.). In this work, Plutarch retold and interpreted the myth of the Egyptian deities Isis and Osiris, and explained wider aspects of Egyptian myth, belief, cult practices, and etymology.
Plutarch’s teacher was likely an Egyptian, and it is speculated that Plutarch was an early follower in the cult of Isis. He was a priest of Delphi from about 100 C.E. until his death.
Children of Rhea
Although Helios, the Egyptian sun god, warned Rhea, the sky goddess, against having intercourse with Cronus, the Egyptian earth god, she did so anyway. Helios then decreed that Rhea would not give birth on any day of the year.
Hermes, the Egyptian scribe god and moon god, who had also had relations with Rhea, gambled at dice with the Moon and won a bit of the Moon’s light. From this, he fashioned ﬁve additional days of the year, which until this time had only had 360 days. On the ﬁrst new day, Osiris was born; on the second, Aroueris, an Egyptian solar deity; on the third, Typhon, god of the desert waste; on the fourth, Isis; and on the ﬁfth day, Nephthys.
Osiris and Aroueris were the sons of Helios, Hermes fathered Isis, and Cronus fathered Typhon and Nephthys. Osiris and Isis fell in love with each other while still within the womb, where they conceived Aroueris. Isis also gave birth to Aroueris while still within Rhea’s womb. Other sources claim that Aroueris was the son of Helios.
Typhon and Nephthys were wed, possibly also within the womb, but Nephthys’s son, Anubis, was not fathered by Typhon. Osiris had mistaken Nephthys for her elder sister, Isis, and slept with her. Nephthys abandoned the child of this union for fear of her husband’s wrath. With the help of dogs, Isis found Anubis and raised him as her own son.
Osiris and Isis
Osiris, the mythic king of Egypt, introduced agriculture, laws, and religion to the Egyptians and then to the entire world. He traveled without weapons, using instead music and poetry to win the hearts of humankind.
During the time that Osiris was traveling, Isis watched over Egypt. Typhon took the opportunity to hatch a plot with some seventy minions and the Ethiopian queen, Aso, to defeat Osiris. He commissioned the construction of a handsome chest made to ﬁt Osiris’s body perfectly. During a feast, he offered thechest to anyone who was able to lie down inside it. Once Osiris was in the chest, Typhon shut him inside, bolted the lid in place, and dumped the chest in the river. It ﬂoated through the Tanitic mouth of the Nile and out to sea.
Isis learned of this and cut her hair in mourning. She wandered the countryside anonymously, asking children if they had seen the chest, until she learned that it had come ashore at the Syrian city of Byblos. By the time Isis discovered this, a tree had grown up around the chest, which Malcanthros, king of Byblos, had cut down to make a pillar for his palace. Osiris’s chest was within this pillar. Once she arrived in Byblos, Isis wept by a fountain until her divine fragrance attracted the attention of the queen. The queen invited the mysterious woman to serve as nursemaid for the baby prince.
Isis suckled the baby on her ﬁnger and at night lay him in the ﬁre to burn away his mortal parts. She took the form of a swallow and ﬂew around the pillar, lamenting her husband entombed within. The queen caught Isis placing the baby in the ﬁre and snatched up the child, which cost him immortality.
Isis then revealed herself and demanded the pillar, which was given to her. She wailed so loudly that one of the king’s sons died of fright. Another prince accompanied Isis back to Egypt, where he too died of fright when he saw Isis embrace her dead husband.
Isis then took the pillar to Buto, where her son Aroueris was being raised. While hunting one night, Typhon found the chest, cut Osiris’s body into fourteen parts, and scattered them. Isis went out in a papyrus boat to ﬁnd and bury each piece. She was successful thirteen times, but a ﬁsh had eaten Osiris’s penis, so she fashioned a new one.
The dead Osiris, now resurrected since all his body parts had been buried together, returned to train Aroueris for battle. Aroueris fought Typhon. At one point in their battle, Isis found her brother bound and set Typhon free. This enraged Aroueris, and he tore the crown from Isis’s head. Hermes replaced the crown with a helmet in the shape of a cow’s head.
Typhon then made a legal challenge, claiming that Aroueris was illegitimate. But the gods ruled in Aroueris’s favor.