The Death of Osiris


Osiris. Image courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons.

When Ra ascended to heaven, Osiris and and his consort Isis took the throne and ruled over Egypt. Osiris tamed the people of Egypt, putting in place good laws and judging in wisdom. Isis and Osiris taught the people to grow and harvest crops. They also taught the people to build temples and live in righteousness.

Osiris left Egypt to travel the world, teaching all men as he had in Egypt. While he was gone, his brother Set tried to usurp the throne, but was defeated by Isis. When he realized he couldn’t take the throne by force, Set began planning to destroy Osiris through treachery.

When Osiris returned to Egypt, a great feast was held. Set brought a richly decorated chest, built to Osiris’s exact measurements, and proposed a test to determine to whom he would gift the chest. He caused the people to lie inside the chest one by one, saying he would only the give the chest to the person who exactly fit inside it.

At last Osiris came forward and took his turn. Before he could get out of the chest, Set and his followers nailed the lid shut and sealed it with lead. Set’s followers escaped with the chest and cast it into the Nile. When Isis learned of Set’s treachery, she searched the land for the chest containing Osiris’s body. Meanwhile, Set ascended the throne and ruled the land with tyranny.

The coffin of Osiris was carried on the Nile to Byblos, where a sacred tree grew to enclosed the chest. The king of Byblos saw the great tree and cut it down, erecting the trunk as a pillar in his house. When Isis discovered the location of the chest, she sailed to Byblos and disguised herself as a common woman. She became friendly with the queen’s handmaidens and was invited by the queen to be the nurse of the royal prince.

Isis fed the child on her finger, and placed him in the fire by night. While the babe rested in the fire, Isis transformed into a swallow and flew around the sacred pillar, crying in sorrow.

One night, the queen discovered her child in the fire and drew him forth. Isis revealed her true form, and told the queen that if she had only been allowed to leave the child in the fire for two more nights he would have become immortal. She asked to be given the sacred pillar, and the king granted her wish.

Taking the coffin of Osiris, Isis returned to Egypt. Isis flapped her wings and the air entered Osiris’s nostrils, restoring him to life. Set discovered them while hunting at night and cut Osiris into fourteen pieces, which he cast into the Nile. The pieces were scattered across the land by the Nile, but Isis recovered them and built a tomb for each piece.

Isis and Nepthys wept over the body of Osiris, and Ra heard their cries. He sent Anubis, Thoth, and Horus, who united the pieces of Osiris’s body and wrapped it in linen bandages. He became the Judge of the Dead and lived in the Underworld.


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Spence, Lewis. Ancient Egyptian Myths and Legends. New York, NY: Barnes & Noble, 2005. Print.

This article originally appeared 25 June 2011 on

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