Interpretation of Horus Myth

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<p>Egypt Exploration Society</p> <p>The Interpretation of the Horus-Myth of Edfu Author(s): J. Gwyn Griffiths Source: The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 44 (Dec., 1958), pp. 75-85 Published by: Egypt Exploration Society Stable URL: . Accessed: 07/05/2011 11:01Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at . . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact</p> <p>Egypt Exploration Society is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology.</p> <p></p> <p>(75)</p> <p>THE INTERPRETATION OF THE HORUS-MYTH OF EDFU'By J. GWYN GRIFFITHS</p> <p>VERY divergent explanations have so far been offered of this version of the conflict of Horus and Seth. On the whole, the tendency has been to reject the original view that the legend reflects a cult war in favour of the view that it incorporatesan early historical tradition.2 Newberry3believed that the Edfu story is in essentials a record of the Seth-rebellion of Peryebsen in the Second Dynasty. In Naville, Mythe d'Horus, pl. i i, he saw a representation of King Djoser's vizier, Imhotep, 'reading from a scroll as though he were actually reading a record of the war written in the lines of inscription in front of him'; in front of Imhotep is a figure who is cutting up a hippopotamus, and Newberry takes the animal to represent the 'country of Set', which Imhotep directs to be cut up. But it is doubtful whether this is the Imhotep of Djoser's time. The inscription4above refers to him as 'the chief lector, scribe of the god's book'; the reference to the original Imhotep is present only in so far as he had by this time become the half-deified type of sacred scribe.5 The hippopotamus is doubtless a Sethian animal here; but hardly a symbol of Seth's country. Again, Newberry compares the statement from the Edfu text, that the rebellion arose when the Horus-king was with his army in Nubia, with the record on a fragment of a stela of Khasekhem, commemoratingthat king's conquest of Nubia. Although the captives depicted in Hierakonpolis,II, pl. 58 are probably meant to be Nubians, there is no inscription describing the conquest, and it is clear that a similar comparisonmight be made with episodes from the lives of a number of Egyptian kings. The Edfu rebellion is dated in the 363rd year of Harakhti.Newberry takes this as an era dating: 'It gives the number of years from the establishment of the monarchy by the Horus-king Menes to the time of the outbreakof the Set rebellion recorded in the text.' Meyer's restorationof a part of the Annals Stone is followed, whereby 375 years are counted from the accession of Menes to the beginning of the reign of Khasekhemui -a difference of twelve years from the era date at Edfu. The correlationseems good enough as it stands; but even the small difference involved could be accounted for, argues Newberry, if it were presumed that the ancient annalists recorded the reign of Khasekhemui only from the time he united the whole country. This is altogether too ingenious.I I am indebted to Professor H. W. Fairman for criticisms and suggestions; also to the late Professor A. M.</p> <p>with whom I readthe texts. Blackman, 2 See especiallyKees, Kultlegende und Urgeschichte (Nachr. G6ttingen, 1930). 3 AncientEgypt, 1922, 40-46. 4 Chassinat, Edfou, vi, 87, 9. Naville takesit to refer to the architectof part or whole of the Edfu temple.5 Cf. Sethe, Imhotep, I7, and Kees, op. cit. 345.</p> <p>76</p> <p>J. GWYN GRIFFITHS</p> <p>Brugsch' would base the legend on the polemics of the local priestly societies, each with its special doctrine and festival calendar. An historical element is introduced by Maspero2 in the theory that the followers of Horus of Edfu, the Msntyw, translated 'Smiths', are connected with an African people who became dominant through the discovery of the use of iron weapons; otherwise, he follows Brugschin claimingthe struggle to be a theological one in which the scenes of conflict are the nomes where Seth has a sanctuaryand partisans. Sethe,3 on the other hand, suggests vaguely that historical reminiscences may be conserved in the legend of Mesen, 'Harpoon-City', the name frequently applied to Edfu in the legend. Both Meyer4 and Junker5claim that the myth reflects the original conflict between Horus and Seth which they place in predynastic times. H. R. Hall6 thinks that the myth is a late working-up of historical reminiscencesof the arrivalof the Upper Egyptians from Nubia and the south. H. W. Fairman,7who completed, with A. M. Blackman,a much-needed study of the myth in the way of translationand commentary, regardsNewberry's opinion as 'attractiveand plausible', but reserveshis own opinion for a future statement. Kees8 marks out as the two chief features of the legend: (i) The driving out of Seth over the north-east boundary near Sile, the god being connected with the hereditaryAsiatic enemy. (2) The conflict with the cults of the crocodile and the hippopotamus, hated in the falcon-cities, which forms the kernel of the harpoon-myth and is skilfully interwoven with the destruction of all the Sethian cult-places in Egypt. He dwells on the early identification of Seth with the foreign land or the desert,9 but argues against connecting the legend generally with predynastic or early dynastic events. He points out that in the early texts Horus and Seth are described as sharing Egypt between them; now Horus is given the wholeI0and Seth is driven out. This may be the result of his becoming the state-god of the Hyksos, and his subsequent association with the arch-enemy of Egypt, Semitic Asia. His temporary return to power in the Ramesside period was followed by a general persecution, which would have been very strong under the bigoted orthodoxy of the Ethiopic rule.I Abh.2</p> <p>I77. G6ttingen, I4 (I868-9), c'Ltudes de mythologie et d'archeologie egyptiennes', in Bibl. egyptol., II, 313 ff. Sethe's view that the</p> <p>Msntyw are 'harpooners', i.e. hunters of the hippopotamus, is now generally accepted, e.g. Kees, op. cit. 349,and Fairman in JEA 2I, 29, n. 2.</p> <p>Urgeschichte, I55-62. In i6i he states: 'Man k6nnte denken, daB wirklich in Edfu, am damaligen Siidende des Landes, der letzte Schlag in dem Kampf der Unteraigypter des Reiches von Damanhur gegen die Oberagypter des Reiches von Ombos gefallen sei . ...' 4 E. Meyer, Gesch. Alt., 3rd edn. i, 2, 181, I99. 5 H. Junker, Onurislegende,20. 6 H. R. Hall, Ancient History of the Near East, 94. 7 H. W. Fairman, 'The Myth of Horus at Edfu, I', inJEA 21, 28, n. 2. His statement that 'Kees. .. claims that these legends have no historical value' is an exaggeration of that scholar's position. Blackman and Fairman in JEA 28, 32-33 give prominence to Sethe's view.8</p> <p>3</p> <p>9 It is doubtful whether Seth was the god of foreign countries as early as the Old Kingdom. See Gardinerand Gunn, JEA 5, 44, n. 2.</p> <p>Op. cit. 355.</p> <p>10 This is already the case with Geb's second verdict in the Denkmal memphitischerTheologie.</p> <p>THE INTERPRETATION OF THE HORUS-MYTH OF EDFU</p> <p>77</p> <p>Kees must be granted to have demonstrated at least that if the legend is based on history, its connexions are other than prehistoric. Seth, he says, frequently appears in this legend as the representativeof Lower Egypt; which is never the case in the early literature. The persecution of the cults of the hippopotamus and crocodile, which is so important an element, must be placed at least in the New Kingdom. Save-Soderbergh' has pointed to earlier instances of hippopotamus-huntingbeing representedor alluded to; but a Sethian meaning is not clearly attested before the New Kingdom. The Ptolemaic texts of Edfu and Denderah show that the Horus-cities led in this persecution, and the Edfu legend includes among the cities which supported such an attitude the cities of Osiris and Min. To these facts emphasized by Kees may be added the manifest difference in the conception of the kingship. In the Pyramid Texts the king is sometimes represented as an incarnationof Horus and Seth, and this can be construed as a clue to the historical meaning of the political unity achieved after the predynastic conflict. There is no such fusion of the two gods in the Edfu legend. The king is ReI-Harakhti,and Horus of Behdet is his chief guardian god. Seth, on the other hand, is completely degraded in a manner which would not have been possible in any text originating from the Old Kingdom. It may be argued, of course, that all these differences are accretions contributed by a late theology, and that the matter which conserves the early conflict is only a thin substratum or a bare outline. But the difficulty of defining this substratum is great, since it is not only the theology that is different, but the topography of the quarrel and the main details of the action. At least three Horuses are prominent in the Edfu account-Horus of Behdet, Horus the son of Isis, and Horus the Elder. Heliopolis and Pr-rh42 are no longer importantin the topographyof the conflict, and Gehesti and Nedeyet are not mentioned. The mutilation of the eye of Horus does not figure in the action; generally there is only a mass attack on the crocodiles and the hippopotami, which is often followed by a vengeful sacrificialmeal,3paralleledin the Pyramid Texts only by the sacrificialeating of the bull. The interpretationoffered by Kees is that parts of the myth, especially the Legend of the Winged Disk, reflect a cult feud ratherthan a political conflict.4At the same time he sees in the whole myth the impress of two great historical experiences, the expulsion of the Hyksos and, more vividly, the expulsion of the Persians. A referenceto the latter experience is found by him in the use of the word Mdy,5 which he translates 'Mede'I On Egyptian Representationsof Hippopotamus Hunting as a Religious Motive (Horae Soederblomianae, Uppsala, 1953). On p. I7 he cites an example which is probably prehistoric: it is on a schist palette (fig. 8) now in the Egyptian Museum at Stockholm. He wisely refrains from suggesting that the hippopotamus at this stage represents Seth. E. J. Baumgartel, The Cultures of Prehistoric Egypt, 30, 33-35, 65, 84, is equally cautious; but not so Wainwright, The Sky-Religion in Egypt, Ii. 2 According to Chassinat, Edfou, VI, 121, 13, Re' moors his barque there, but no fighting takes place. 3 E.g. Horus of Behdet, according to Chassinat, op. cit. vi, i i6, 8 ff., brought 142 enemies before Re(: 'He slew them with his knife and gave their inner parts to those who were in his following and gave their flesh to every god and goddess who was in this barque of Re( on the bank of Hebenu.' Cf. ibid. 127; and ii, 65; i, 68; vi, 119, 7 if. a personal combat between Seth and Horus of Behdet is described, but without the ancient details. 4 s See Chassinat, op. cit. VI, 214, 12 and 215, 2. Op. cit. 348.</p> <p>78</p> <p>J. GWYN GRIFFITHS</p> <p>and which Sethe had connected with the Coptic s^tTol 'soldier'. The Late Egyptian idiom of the section about the 'Red Hippopotamus' may be an argument for Kees's interpretationof that section; it suggests, at least, in company with other differences, that the various parts of the myth may diverge greatly in origin and meaning. The particularreference to the Persians is, however, doubtful. It is disconcerting, for one thing, that the term Mdy is applied to Horus and not to Seth,' even if the appellation is scornful. If Seth truly represents the Persian invader, he would not be ridiculing Horus by calling him a 'Mede'.2 Sethe, it is true, connects the Coptic iatoi with the Egyptian Mdy, suggesting that the meaning 'soldier' developed from the meaning 'Mede'.3 The present passage, however, strongly suggests that this development has alreadytaken place, and that Mdy here means 'soldier'. 'Re( said to Thoth, What is this they are speaking of, Horus and Seth? And Thoth answered, Seth said to Horus, Let us call the Mdyw with the names of the foreign countries. Horus said to Seth, A challenge to the name of the Egyptians from Seth.'4 Now the foreign-land determinative supports the view that Mdy means 'Mede', at least originally.But in the passage quoted, this meaning yields very poor sense. The Mdyw are here clearly equated with the Egyptians; further, if they did mean 'Medes', it would be no insult to give them foreign names. Applied as the term is to Horus and his followers, it probably denotes armed Egyptian soldiers. As this is the main point in Kees's 'Persian' interpretation,it cannot be said that his position is well founded. On the other hand, the view here put forwardas to the meaning of Mdy in this context would involve giving a still later date, perhaps, to this section of the legend.The Winged Disk</p> <p>There are certain facts about the legend of 'The Winged Disk' which suggest that it may be historical. The struggle against Seth is led by the 'King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Re(-Harakhti';5Horus of Behdet and Horus son of Isis are only his assistants.6 The opening, with its description of the king's return from Nubia, does not pretend to be mythological. Action in Nubia is also mentioned later on, as a part of the general campaign against Seth and his confederates.7The campaign begins near Edfu, and results in the driving of the enemies into the sea. It must be confessed that a number of places mentioned in the description of the drive northwards seem to owe their prominence to cult propagandaand conflict. TheI Chassinat, op. cit. VI, 214, I2: 'Seth said, Come, Mdy! It was said as a challenge.' Wb. ii, 177 (2i) knows Mdy, written with the Seth-animal as a determinative, as an epithet of Seth. It does not apparently record the present word. 3 Sethe, Spuren der Perserherrschaftin der spdteren dgyptischenSprache (Nachr. Gottingen, 1916), 124 ff. It was formerly thought that the Coptic -t&amp;Toi was derived from the Egyptian Md;y, which was identified by Schaiferwith the word Mdy as used in the Nastesen inscription. See H. Scha...</p>