Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Isis at Byblos

Several versions of the Isis myth are readily found online. Here's one we have by way of Plutarch, which begins from the point when Isis has learned that Set, or Seth, has killed her brother/husband Osiris:

Isis on [hearing] the news, sheared off one of her tresses, and put on a mourning robe, whence the city, even to the present day has the name of “Copto” (I beat the breast). . . . She learnt by inquiry that the chest had been washed up by the sea at a place called Byblus [Byblos], and that the surf had gently laid it under an Erica tree. This Erica, a most lovely plant, growing up very large in a very short time had enfolded, embraced and concealed the coffer within itself. The king of the place being astonished at the size of the plant, and having cut away the clump that concealed the coffer from sight, set the latter up as a pillar to support his roof. 
They tell how Isis having learnt all this by the divine breath of fame, came to Byblus, and sitting down by the side of a spring all dejected and weeping spoke not a word to any other persons, but saluted and made friends of the maid servants of the queen, by dressing their hair for them, and infusing into their bodies a wonderful perfume out of herself; when the queen saw her maids again, she fell a longing to see the stranger, whose hair and whose body breathed of ambrosial perfume; and so she was sent for, [and] becoming intimate with the queen, was made nurse of her infant. The king’s name they say was Malacander, herself some call Astarte, others Sooses, others Neinanoë, who is the same with the Greek Athenais. 
Winged Isis
Isis is said to have suckled the child by putting, instead of her nipple, her finger into his mouth, and by night she singed away the mortal parts of his body. She turned herself into a swallow and flew around the pillar until the queen watched her, and cried out when she saw her child all on fire, and so took away the boy’s immortality.* Then the goddess, manifesting herself, asked for the pillar of the roof, and having removed it with the greatest ease, she cut away the Erica that surrounded it. This plant she wrapped up in a linen cloth, pouring perfume over it, and gave it in charge of the king; and to this day the people of Byblus venerate the wood, which is preserved in the temple of Isis.

*Note the strong resemblance of this part to the story of Demeter in the Homeric Hymn
A more detailed version of the story is here.

Osiris Isis Horus

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