Isis and Nephthys, Essential in the Ancient Egyptian Union of Re and Osiris.

The union of Re and Osiris supposed a challenge to the Ancient Egyptian Art, since new iconography was needed for decorating the tomb walls and the papyri.

From the XVIII Dynasty, some passages of the Book of the Dead were introduced in the royal tombs decoration and that meant to depict moments and gods from the Myth of Osiris into a royal space. However the monarchy was assimilated to the sun god, so some Osirian images suffered a solarization. That forced the ancient Egyptian artist to think of an Osiris-Re iconography.

 

Khepri on the bark between two images of Osiris. Tomb of Tutmosis III. Ancient Egypt

Khepri on the bark with two images of Osiris. Tomb of Tutmosis III.

We saw that in the XVIII Dynasty the figure of Khepri rising up between two images of a kneeling Osiris was the image of the first hour of the Amduat. But the Osirian world was maybe too important in ancient Egyptian belief for reducing it just to this iconography. The conception of the dead god, which resurrected thanks to the action of two women (Isis and Nephthys) was maybe too stablished in the ancient Egyptian thought.
Not for nothing in the XIX Dynasty Sethos I introduced Osirian iconography in royal monuments and he did not forget the two professional mourners:

  • In the temple of Abydos was depicted the resurrection process of Osiris, where Isis as a kite put herself over the phallus of her dead husband.
Isis over Osiris. Temple of Abydos. Sethos I. Ancient Egypt.

Isis over Osiris. Temple of Abydos. Sethos I. Photo: wikimedia

  • In his funerary temple of Dra Abu el-Naga Sethos I included a scene of the resurrection process where the two mourners at both ends of the corpse were performing the mourning rite of shaking hair towards the mummy.
The two mourners shaking hair towards the mummy. Funerary temple of Sethos I. Ancient Egypt

The two mourners shaking hair towards the mummy. Funerary temple of Sethos I. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo

 

  • The Osirian rites of resurrection were also quite detailed included in the decorative program of his tomb (KV17), where the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony was depicted in a very complete way, including the figure of the mourning woman.
Scene of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. Slaughtering the ox in front of the mourner. Tomb of Sethos I. Ancient Egypt

Scene of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. Slaughtering the ox in front of the mourner. Tomb of Sethos I.

It was a fact, that the ancient Egyptian corpus of images would need iconography for expressing the union of Re and Osiris. And little by little in this iconography Isis and Nephthys, the two mourners of Osiris, became essential.

In following posts we will see the iconographical solutions that the ancient Egyptian artists found for including the two mourners Isis and Nephths into the solar-osirian images.

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