member of the Greek and Roman pantheon. Along the way, she absorbs much of theiconography of these deities. To see how her evolution and later Hellenization progresses,however, we must begin at her beginnings.The traditional Egyptian mythology of Isis emphasizes the maternal and wifely qualitiesof the goddess, but the stor ycan be difficult to discern, as the tales of the various events in thelife of Isis and Osiris are not collected together until Plutarch’s treatise,
De Iside et Osiride
.Further, Plutarch’s work details the legend as it stood in the late first or early second century of the common era; there is no indication that Plutarch knows anything of the original Egyptianlegend.
Still, the basic story can be gleaned, if not all of the details. Isis and Osiris are br other and sister, children of the sky goddess Nut and the earth god Geb, and they are said to have fallenin love and coupled in Nut’s womb.
Osiris dies, drowning in an earlier version of the story, butusually being murdered at the handsof his brother and foe, Seth.
In Plutarch’s version, Sethtricks Osiris into lying down into a chest or casket, and then he nails the chest shut, covers it withmeltedlead, and places the chest into the mouth of the Nile, where it is carried into the sea.
Thechest lands in Byblos, in Phoenicia, where a tree grows around it and encloses it; the tree issubsequently cut down for use in a palace by a king whom Plutarch names as Melkander, andIsis, informed by demons as to the chest’s location, goes to Byblos and, after some time, removesOsiris’ casket from the tree.
Her son, Horus, is conceived through a necrophilous and somewhat
Budge, E. A. Wallis.
The Legends of the Gods
Witt, R. E.
Isis in the Graeco-Roman World
ibid., 221, 223.