Egypt Horus


Patron god of the living Pharaoh, war, rulers, youths, sky, law and vengeance

Gender Male
Major cult center Nekhen, Behdet Edfu
Parents Osiris and Isis in some accounts, Nut and Geb in others.
Siblings Osiris, Set, Isis and Nephthys (in some versions)
Symbol The Eye of Horus, falcon, hawk

Horus, the Egyptian Falcon-god, is "lord of the sky" and a symbol of divine kingship. His name ("Har" in Egyptian) probably means "the high," "the far-off," "the distant one" and is connected with "Hry" ("one who is above/over"). The name appears on Egyptian hieroglyphs in the royal protocol at the very beginning of dynastic civilization (c. 3000 BC).

The roles, local cult foundations, and titles or epithets of Horus are sometimes correlated with distinct or preferred forms in iconography: for example, the falcon or falcon-headed man, the winged disk, the child with a sidelock of hair (sometimes in his mother's arms). Egyptologists therefore often speak of distinct Horuses or Horus-gods (see Oxford Encyclopedia, vol 2, "Horus" p. 119ff; and Hart, Routledge Dictionary of Egyptian gods and goddesses, "Horus" p. 70ff).

In ancient Egypt several gods are known by this name, but the most important was the son of Osiris and Isis, identified as king of Egypt. Osiris is the oldest son of Geb ("earth" personified) and Nout or Nut ("mother of the gods" and goddess of the sky), the husband of Isis, whose myth was one of the best known and whose cult was one of the most widespread in pharaonic Egypt. The mythology of Osiris is not preserved completely from an early date, but the essentials are related by Plutarch in On Isis and Osiris (De Iside et Osiride).

The Osiris-Isis-Horus-Seth myth=Edit

With the rise of the full-blown Osiris-Isis-Horus-Seth myth, the living king was identified as an earthly Horus and the dead king (his father/predecessor) as Osiris. When the king died, he became Osiris, and Horus is his royal heir and successor. The most common geneology of Horus is as the son of Osiris and Isis, making a tenth on the family tree of the Heliopolitan Ennead. But the full picture is more complex: Hathor (herself identified with Isis) also appears as the mother of Horus; Horus the Elder (Haroeris) can appear in the Heliopolitan family tree as a brother of Osiris and son of Geb and Nut, thus an uncle of Horus in his more usual manifestations. Therefore, Horus and Seth are sometimes described as nephew and uncle, sometimes as brothers. In a battle over the throne of Egypt, Horus fought with Seth, and despite losing an eye, was successful in avenging the death of his father Osiris, becoming his legitimate successor.

As early as the Old Kingdom it was envisaged that Horus wrested the kingship of Egypt from the god Seth: Horus takes his father's house from his father's brother Seth. Horus then triumphs over his paternal uncle. However there is a conflation of the two myths because in the Osiris cycle, Osiris and Seth were brothers, while in an independent tradition Horus and Seth were brothers feuding for the throne. Normally Horus is the ascendant, but the supporters of Seth were never completely suppressed (indicating perhaps as the meaning of the myth, that evil will always be with us, and we must be vigilant).

Seth, the embodiment of disorder, was predominantly seen as a rival of Horus, a would-be usurper who assassinated Osiris and was defeated. However, Seth was also portrayed in a balance with Horus, so that the pair represented a bipolar, balanced embodiment of kingship. Thus, on the side of the throne, Horus and Seth --symmetrical and equal -- tie the papyrus and lotus around the sema-sign (sm = "unity"; also the end of the Thutmose III Poetical Stela). From the Shabaqo Stone in the British Museum, a copy of an original document from the Pyramid Age carved in Dynasty XXV, there is a concise statement of the dispute between Horus and Seth. The god Geb is the judge and makes a preliminary decision to divide Egypt between the protagonists: Seth will be king of Upper Egypt and Horus will rule over Lower Egypt, the border being the "Division of the Two Lands", i.e. the apex of the Nile Delta at Memphis where Osiris is said to have drowned. On reflection Geb revises this judgment awarding the whole inheritance of Egypt to Horus. It is stressed that this result is amicably accepted -- the reed of Seth and papyrus of Horus being attached to the door of the god Ptah to symbolize that they were pacified and united.

A fuller and more scandalous description of the trial survives in Papyrus Chester Beatty I written in the reign of Ramesses V (Dynasty XX). The sun-god in this tribunal is not sympathetic to Horus' case to be ruler of Egypt, dismissing him as a youngster with halitosis and preferring the older claimant Seth. Horus pleads that he is being defrauded of his lawful patrimony. Then occurs a series of episodes involving Horus and Seth, each trying to outwit the other and win over the court. In one contest, the two gods are hippopotamuses who intend to see if they can remain submerged under water for three months. Isis refuses to take this opportunity of killing Seth with a harpoon. Horus, enraged, savagely attacks his mother and escapes into the desert. Seth finds him and cuts out both his eyes. Hathor, using gazelle's milk, restores Horus' eyes.

On another occasion Seth suggests a race in boats of stone. Horus secretly builds a vessel of pine covered with plaster to imitate stone. Seth's boat of 36 meters of solid stone, sinks and he turns himself into a hippo. Horus is prevented from slaying Seth by the other gods.

Since the beginning of the 20th century in Egyptological research, much debate has ensued over whether the struggle between Horus and Seth was primarily historical/geo-political, or cosmic/symbolic. When the full Osiris complex became visible, Seth appears as the murderer of Osiris and would-be killer of the child Horus. The symbolism of Horus' eventual triumph over Seth (e.g. the pharaoh cutting the throat of an oryx or spearing a turtle) permeates many temple reliefs. It also lies behind the gilded wooden statuette of Tutankhamun standing on a papyrus boat, lasso in one hand, harpoon in the other: the king is in the act of spearing the hippo Seth (see Oxford Encyclopedia, vol 2, "Horus" p. 120; Hart, Routledge Dictionary, "Horus" p. 72-73).

In the battle between Horus and Seth (which lasts 80 years), despite losing an eye, Horus is successful in avenging the death of his father Osiris, becoming his legitimate successor. The injury inflicted by Seth on the eye of Horus is alluded to in the Pyramid Texts where royal saliva is prescribed for its cure. The restored eye of Horus becomes, in singular form, the symbol for a state of soundness or perfection -- the "udjat" eye (the whole or sound "eye of Horus"). It can also stand for the strength of the monarch; the concept of kingship; protection against Seth; royal purification agent; offerings at the festival of the waxing moon wine, etc. Its iconography consists of a human eye with the cosmetic line emanating from its corner, below it are the markings of a falcon's cheek. As an amulet the "udjat" was placed in mummy wrappings or worn on a necklace. In the Middle Kingdom, it was painted on the sides of rectangular coffins (Hart, p. 73).

Osiris becomes king of the (dead) underworld, and Horus the king of the living. As mentioned, Horus is usually represented as a falcon, or as a sky god whose outstretched wings filled the heavens; his sound eye was the sun, and injured eye the moon.

Forms of HorusEdit

Horus is one of the earliest attested of the major ancient Egyptian deities, becoming known as early as the late Pre-dynastic period (Naqada III / Dynasty 0; c. 3200-3000 BC). The earliest documented chapter in the career of Horus was as Horus the falcon, god of Nekhen (Hierakonpolis) in southern Upper Egypt. In this capacity Horus was the patron deity of the Hierakonpolis monarchy that grew into the historical pharaonic state, hence the first known national god, the god of kingship. He was still prominent in the latest temples of the Greco-Roman period (c. 300 BC - 300+ AD), especially at Philae and Edfu as well as Old Coptic and Greco-Egyptian ritual-power or magical texts.

Horus the falcon was predominantly a sky god and a sun god; as the former his eyes are the sun and moon, as the latter, he has a sun disk on his head and is syncretized with the sun-deity Re (or Ra), most often as Re-Harakhty. Horus the falcon/disk had the epithet "Great God, Lord of Heaven, Dappled of Plumage." Three main forms of Horus are as the Child, as the Son of Isis, and as a sun-god.

Horus the ChildEdit

In the Pyramid Texts the god is once called "Horus the child with his finger in his mouth." This aspect refers to his birth and upbringing in secret by his mother Isis. Born at Khemmis in the northeast Delta, the young god was hidden in the papyrus marshes, hence his epithet Har-hery-wadj or "Horus who is upon his papyrus plants." This appears visually in a wall relief in the temple of Sety I (Dynasty XIX) at Abydos as a hawk on a column in the shape of a papyrus reed.

From the Egyptian Har-pa-khered literally "Horus-the-child" the Greeks created the name of Harpokrates. In this form Horus is depicted as a young vulnerable-looking child, sitting on the knees of Isis, wearing the sidelock of youth and sometimes sucking his fingers. In the Late Dynastic cippi objects, Harpokrates acts as an amuletic force warding off dangerous creatures. Horus as a boy with the sidelock appears dominating crocodiles, serpents, and other noxious animals on cippi or apotropaic stelae of "Horus-on-the-Crocodiles," the common manifestation of the importance of Horus in healing ritual and popular ritual practice. The healing of Horus from scorpian stings by Isis provided the reason for the production of the cippi of Horus and his role in healing.

The Harsomtus version of Horus can be traced back to the Pyramid Texts as Har-mau or "Horus the uniter." The idea is the king as upholder of the unification of North and South Egypt. Since in temple dogma the divine child of a god and goddess could be thought a manifestation of the pharaoh, Harsomtus is used merely as "filling" in a sacred triad. He is e.g. the son of the elder Horus and Hathor at Edfu temple. Similarly at the temple of Kom-Ombo the same couple are the parents of Harsomtus under the name of Pa-neb-tawy or "lord of the Two Lands."

Horus the child / Horus son of Isis and Osiris was often portrayed as a boy wearing the sidelock and frequently appeared in the arms of his mother Isis. Bronzes representing him, with or without Isis, were ubiquitous in Late and Greco-Roman times. On cippi, the head of the child Horus was often surmounted by a full-faced Bes-head or mask.

Horus the son of IsisEdit

The Harsiese ("Horus, the son of Isis") form emphasizes his legitimacy as the offspring of the union of Isis and Osiris. In the Pyramid Texts, Harsiese performs the vital "opening the mouth" ceremony of the dead king, a ritual that restored faculties to the corpse for their Afterlife, and was carried out at the time of the burial by the successor-monarch (or Horus). A typical pictorial of this rite being performed by one pharaoh upon another can be found on the wall of the sarcophagus chamber in the tomb of Tutankhamun (Dynasty XVIII).

Another funerary priestly title, Horus Iun-mutef, or "pillar of his mother" is evocative of Horus' success in regaining the throne of his father Osiris, because of Isis' careful upbringing of her son. At funeral ceremonies the eldest son of the deceased -- or a mortuary priest -- dressed in panther skin, played the role of Horus Iun-mutef burning incense and scattering purified water before the coffin.

The Har-nedj-itef or "Horus the savior of his father" (Greek Harendotes) refers to Horus' vindication of his claim to succeed Osiris, rescuing his father's former earthly domain from the usurper Seth.

Horus the sun godEdit

As a cosmic deity Horus is imagined as a falcon whose wings are the sky, right eye is the sun, left eye the moon. From the reign of King Den (Dynasty I), on an engraved ivory comb, the hawk's wings as an independent entity covey the celestial imagery while a hawk in a boat suggests the journey of the sun-god himself. Textual evidence from the Pyramid Era refers to Horus as "lord of the sky" or as a god "of the east"; i.e. the region of sunrise.

The form Harakhti or "Horus of the horizon" refers to the god rising in the east at dawn to bathe in the "field of rushes." The Pyramid Texts mention this aspect of the god linked to the sovereign: the king is said to be born on the eastern sky as Harakhti. Also since the element -akhti can be a dual form of the noun akhet (horizon), there is a play on words when the king is given power over the "two horizons" (i.e. east and west) as Harakhti. Naturally the Egyptians had to accept that technically their pharoah, as "son of Re" (or Ra) the sun-god, could not achieve a total identification with this aspect of Horus, especially with the coalescence of this form with the Heliopolitan sun-god to become as Re-Harakhty (or Ra-Harakhti). Thus Senwosret I (Dynasty XII) was appointed "shepherd of this land" by Harakhti. In laudatory or propagandist inscriptions the assimilation of the pharaoh to Harakhti is maintained, as for instance in the case of the Sudanese King Piye (Dynasty XXV) on his stela commemorating the conquest of Egypt.

"Horus of Behdet" or the Behdetite was normally shown as a hawk-winged sun disk with pendant uraei (snakes). The location of Behdet was in the marshy north-east Delta. It is not mentioned in the Pyramid Texts and the antiquity of the site as a cult centre of Horus (in relation to Edfu) cannot yet be ascertained. It becomes an ubiquitous motif -- e.g. in temple decorations of ceilings or gate lintels, or the upper border or frame of wall-reliefs or the lunette of stelae.

The form Har-em-akhet or Harmachis (Harmakhis) or "Horus in the horizon" aptly regionalizes Horus as sun-god. Pharaonic inscriptions of the New Kingdom reinterpreted the Great Sphinx at Giza, originally representing King Khafra guarding the approach to his pyramid, as Harmachis looking towards the eastern horizon.

Aside from the sun disk, Horus in various forms also wore the Double Crown, a status as king of Egypt; the atef (a type of crown); triple atef; and a disk with two plumes, etc. There are also ancient localities with a Horus cult. The two most important sanctuaries in terms of historical and archaeological evidence belong to Horus of Nekhen and Horus of Mesen.

By the fifth dynasty (2498 - 2345 BC), the Horus-king also became "son of Re" the sun god by personifying mythologically the entire older genealogy of Horus as the goddess Hathor, or "house of Horus" who was also the spouse of Re and mother of Horus. Horus was also combined, syncretized, and closely associated with deities other than Re, notably (but not exclusively) Min, Sopdu, Khonsu, and Montu. The Greeks associated Horus with Apollo giving rise to the author of the Hieroglyphica, Horapollo.

While Egyptologists often speak of distinct Horus-gods, combinations, identifications, and differentiations were possible, and they are complementary rather than antithetical. A judicious examination of the various "Horuses" and the sources relating to them supports the possibility that the roles in question are closely interrelated, so they may be understood as different aspects or facets of the same divine persona (see Oxford Encyclopedia, vol 2, "Horus" p. 119ff; Hart, Routledge Dictionary, "Horus" p. 70ff).