Gift of the nile the myths of egyptPresentation Transcript
Gift of the Nile: The Myths of Egypt
How did myths “rule” in ancient Egypt?
Egypt was established as the first true nation along the banks of the Nile, it was a complete theocracy – a place where religion and government were inseparably linked in the minds of rulers, priests, and people.
Not only were Egypt’s royalty the leaders of the nation, they were actually thought to be gods.
The pharaoh’s status as god’s incarnate was what motivated tens of thousands of workers to list and arrange millions of blocks of stone that weighed more than two and a half tons apiece.
These workers were not beaten under the lash of oppressive overseers. They worked willingly in the belief that the king must have a proper resting place from which he could ascend to the heavens, joining the other gods in his eternal life.
Making sure that the pyramids and other tombs were properly constructed and well provisioned with the “grave goods” required for a comfortable life in the afterworld was no small concern. Only then could the resurrected king help ensure that the Egyptian world and its timeless order would continue, uninterrupted by drought, flood, or foreign invaders.
There are two great forces that shaped this ancient civilizations' history and destiny:
The river and the desert, a perfect duality of life and death.
Having developed the world’s first national government, the Egyptians had also created the 365-day calendar, pioneered geometry and astronomy, developed one of the first forms of writing, and invented papyrus – the paperlike writing material that was essential to the birth of the book.
The Egyptian hieroglyphic system may have been invented for administrative and ritual purposes.
Hieroglyphics were inscribed on monuments, temples, and tombs, and were set down on official texts, many of which were preserved over the centuries in Egypt’s hot, dry climate, providing generations of scholars and archaeologists with a rich array of sources for studying Egypt’s past.
The Egyptians developed irrigation systems, invented ox-drawn ploys, and created the world’s first bureaucracy.
Why was Egypt the “gift of the Nile”?
Cutting through the harsh landscape of the desert flowed the Nile, the world’s longest river, with its beginnings in the mountains near the equator in central Africa.
Gathering the rainfall and snowment of the Ethiopian highlands and all of northeastern Africa, and wandering for more than 4,100 miles, the Nile was Egypt’s life force.
Starting at the end of June, when the rainy season began in central Africa, the Nile flooded its banks each year, leaving a strip of fertile, dark silt that averaged about 6 miles wide on each side of the river.
The annual rising of its waters set the Egyptian calendar of sowing and reaping with its three seasons of four months each: inundation, growth, harvest.
The flooding of the Nile from the end of June till late October brought down the rich silt, in which crops were planted and grew from late October to late February, to be harvested from late February till the end of June.
Egypt’s farmers could anticipate and rely upon a surplus that allowed for trading.
Trading led to commerce, commerce led to a merchant class, which eventually allowed for the development of the ranks of artisans and craftsmen who didn’t need to depend on farming to life.
All of this came from the Nile.
Highway of commerce, the Nile was also a freight way for materials of colossal temples and pyramids.
Since the welfare and existence of the whole country depended on this one central phenomenon – the annual flooding of the Nile – the river became the centerpiece of Egypt’s religious ideas.
What do we know about Egyptian myth and how do we know it?
Egypt was a society that spent a great deal of energy on the idea of posterity.
They were proud of what they had achieved, and some kings in particular spared little expense in making sure the world knew about what they had done.
Much of it was “set in stone.”
Pyramid Texts , considered the world’s oldest known religious writings, carved more than four thousand years ago in the tome of King Unas.
Pyramid Texts were more like “how-to” manuals for the after life.
The Book of the Dead
The Book of the Dead, known to the Egyptians as “The Book of Coming Forth by Day,” was a New Kingdom innovation, consisting of almost two hundred spells of formulas designed to assist the spirits of the dead achieve and maintain a full and happy after life.
At one time, these spells and rituals had been for the exclusive use of the pharaohs. But The Book of the Dead became everyman’s chance at eternity, and copies of it eventually came to be buried with any Egyptian who could afford one.
Who was the first family of Egyptian myth?
Egypt’s Great Ennead – the first family of the gods – took those fraternal quarrels to cosmic heights and created the core myths of ancient Egypt.
All of the most significant deities in the Egyptian world grew out of the Heliopolis Creation story, which continued as the twin brother and sister, Shu and Tefnut, became the first divine couple.
They next produced another pair of twins, Geb and his sister, Nut, the grandchildren of the sun god Atum.
Geb was the male earth god and his sister consort, the female Nut, represented the sky and heavens.
The following myth was the great beating heart, focal point of all Egyptian belief.
The sun’s daily birth and death symbolize the eternal cycle of life and death.
Geb and Nut
Passage – pp.79-80
Geb and Nut’s Children:
Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nepthys
Osiris, the oldest child, became one of the most significant gods in the Egyptian pantheon.
God of fertility, death, and resurrection.
Originally god of vegetation, Osiris was credited with bringing plants and seasons to the earth, teaching humans to farm, and creating civilization. He abolished cannibalism, taught men to use tools, and showed them how to make wind and bread.
He also ruled on earth and became the first pharaoh, instituting both religion and the legal system.
Most significant, he later became the judge of the dead, a crucial role in a society so concerned with the afterlife.
Geb and Nut’s second child, Isis, was both the twin sister and wife of Osiris, and another of the most significant figures in Egyptian myth.
In some versions of the myth, her story begins in the womb where she first makes love to Osiris, her brother and husband.
Credited with creating the Nile River with the tears she wept at the death of Osiris, she taught the Egyptians how to grind flour, spin, and weave and was a healer goddess who could cure illnesses.
Isis was also credited with introducing marriage.
She was known as the Great Mother, devoted wife and a powerful source of magic.
She is sometimes compared, in Christianity, to Mother Mary.
Seth (or Set)
The third child of Geb and Nut was the evil Seth, the brother and enemy of Osiris.
He was known as the incarnation of evil.
Seth personified rage, anger, and violence.
He was charged with protecting and defending the sun god during his nightly journey through the underworld.
As a desert god of the “Red Land,” Seth was viewed as the force of destruction and chaos that threatened vegetation, and their conflict, played out in the saga of Isis and Osiris, is a central piece of one of the most significant myths in world history.
The fourth child of Geb and Nut was Nephthys, who clearly plays second fiddle to her older sister Isis, the superstar of Egyptian myth.
First married to her brother Seth, Nephthys deserted Seth for her other brother, Osiris.
Seemingly barren with Seth, she conceives a child who becomes the jackal-headed god Anubis, another key deity in Egyptian burial rituals.
Nephthys also becomes significant as a funerary goddess who protects the dead and is often shown on coffins and jars that held the vital organs of the deceased.
These nine deities – Atum, his children Shu and Tefnut, their children Geb and Nut, and their children Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys - were responsible for bringing all other life into being. They are traditionally known by the Greek word for nine, ennea , as the Great Ennead.
Who was Re?
The sun god Re evolved into the most important member of the Egyptian pantheon, and for much of Egypt’s history, he was the supreme deity.
Re was considered both the ruler of the world and the first divine pharaoh.
Which god became Egypt’s lord of the dead?
After Re, no god was considered more important or greater in Egypt than Osiris, and no story was more important than the myth of his life, death, and rebirth.
Passage – Pp.85-87.
Who was Egypt’s most significant goddess?
This epic story continued with the conflict between Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris, and his uncle Seth.
With Osiris in the underworld, evil Seth remained the kind. But when Horus reached manhood, he vowed to avenge his father and challenged his uncle for the throne.
Does this sound familiar to you?
Isis brought Osiris back to life, helped Horus to defeat Seth, and other significant feats.
She represents the mother of god, healer, the powerful goddess with deep knowledge of magical arts and sexual power.
What was the “weighing of the heart”?
After death, Egyptians hoped to become one with Osiris, the god of resurrection and the underworld.
The elaborate rituals of mummification and burial were all expressions of this desire.
And the centerpiece of the elaborate rituals that guided the journey of the sould of the dead to the afterlife was the belief that the dead person would come to be judged be the gods in a ceremony known as the “weighing of the heart.”
The Weighing of the Heart
The deceased was brought into the great hall of judgment, before Osiris, accompanied by Isis and Nephthys and other gods.
Standing before the gods on this judgment day, the dead person would attest to having lived a just life.
Then his heart was weighed on the scales of justice against the feather of the goddess Maat, a daughter of Re, who was the personification of the Egyptian idea of Maat, the philosophy, religious notion, concept of harmony, and code of behavior that served as the basis for the stability of Egyptian society. It was the cosmic order that came through justice and right living.
For those who failed the weighing of the heart, the fearsome Ammut, “devourer of the dead,” waited, eager to ravenously eat the heart of the deceased.
If the heart was in balance with the feather of truth, the soul of the deceased was saved and could join Osiris and the other gods.
Why are there so many animals – real and imaginary – in Egypt’s myths?
Images and references to hawks, falcons, lions, serpents, crocodiles, and bulls fill the pantheon of Egypt and are vividly illustrated in Egyptian art.
The Egyptians often buried animals in ritual graves, mummified them, provided them with food on their journeys to the afterlife, and used them in worship ceremonies at temples.
What’s so great about the “Great Pyramid”?
It is now believed that the Egyptians, although lacking machinery or iron tools, cut large limestone blocks with copper chisels and saws.
They used ramps to stack the blocks.
No one knows for sure how long it took to build the Great Pyramid, but some experts claim that it took approximately twenty three years.
How could they figure that number? Consider the Nile…