The Bloody Eye of Horus

Ever read a newspaper story about someone mutilated in an accident? We can’t look away from these things. As human beings, we’re drawn to the macabre. It seems the Ancient Egyptians were no different. The myth surrounding the eyes of Horus (god of kingship, victory, and the sky) is a bizarre tale.

horus vs. set

Illustration by James Ryman. Click to go to his website.

Every year I help put on an Egypt Day at my school for the sixth graders. This year, I wanted to give them a taste for the myths of the Egyptians. After digging around through my books, I discovered some really bizarre things about Horus.

First off, there are so many legends and myths in Egypt that contradict each other. For example, the god Seth is sometimes Horus’s brother and other times his uncle.I settled for one that I could string together in one sitting.

The Left Eye of Horus (The Wadjet Eye)

The Egyptians had two different types of desert: The red desert and the black desert. As Westerners, we’re trained to think of black as evil, but the opposite was true in Egypt. If you travel down to Home Depot or Lowes and buy some potting soil, chances are it will be black. That’s because black soil meant life. Red soil, at least to the Egyptians, represented the dry harsh desert.

Horus was the god of the black desert, which meant he represented life. His brother, Seth, stood for the red desert. So obviously these guys weren’t going to get along. As I researched this, their dynamic seemed similar to Thor and Loki.

Seth was jealous of Osiris, their third and eldest brother (a whole lot of other mythology surrounds the resurrection of Osiris and is better left to those with more authority). Let’s just say that Seth wanted what Osiris had and was willing to fight to get it.

Seth transformed himself into a bull (lots of animal transformations with these older gods) and trampled Osiris to death. Horus sough Seth out for revenge. Seth dealt the first blow, ripping out Horus’s left eye. Seth then cut the eye into six pieces.

Each piece became magical and stood for one of the basic senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and thought.

But still, Horus wanted his eye back. He turned to Thoth (god of Wisdom and the guy who always seems to get Egyptian gods out of a jam). Thoth glued the pieces back together using spit. Yes, spit.

EyeofHorusFractions

Here’s the geeky math part in me. Each part of Horus’s eye stood for a fraction. ( The part was also the hieroglyphic symbol for that fraction). When you add all the parts together, something interesting happens.

math

When you create common denominators (I also teach math in my myths) you find that there’s a piece missing. In other words, when you add all the pieces of Horus’s eye back together, one tiny part is missing. The Egyptians believed that that this missing part was filled in by Thoth’s spit.

So there you have it, Horus has a brand new eye. Now he’s ready to give Seth a beat down. He catches up with his brother and promptly slices off his leg. (Remember, Seth is still in bull form). Horus wants to make sure that the hoof that killed Osiris never harms anyone ever again.

You can still see this severed leg anytime you look into the night sky. Instead of seeing a big dipper, the Egyptians saw this constellation as Seth’s severed leg.

leg

In the next post, I’ll talk about Horus’s right eye (the Eye of Ra) and Sekhmet (the goddess you don’t want to invite to dinner, unless you have plenty of beer).

Tim Kane

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Did the Greek Gods Eat Mini Marshmallows?

Ambrosia. The word either inspires dread or joy from the coconut and marshmallow concoction. But the origin of this word leads to a recipe for immortality.

Now, why the interest in the snack food of a defunct pantheon? Besides the fact that mythology is plain cool, I’m doing research for a new novel. What better way than to blog about it. Now, I’ve really dug how Rick Riordan handled the Greek gods in Lightning Thief. But I feel he could have done more with ambrosia and nectar. (Maybe he has in subsequent books). So, I’m here to explore these mythical foods, as well as what makes a god immortal.

It seems that the Greeks interchanged ambrosia and nectar. Ambrosia could be eaten or drunk. Nectar was mostly drunk, but sometimes eaten. Me, I always thought of ambrosia as the food (maybe because of the fruit salad) and nectar as the drink.

There’s little information on how ambrosia and nectar are made. Apparently doves carried the food to the gods on Olympus. Ambrosia is described as being nine times sweeter than honey and its fragrance guards against disagreeable speech. I take this last part to mean that arguments won’t break out over the dinner table—good idea when you’re dealing with the Olympian family dynamic. (My guess, they weren’t serving Ambrosia when Eris plunked her golden apple on the table.)

What is clear is that eating the stuff makes you a god. Right after Apollo had been born, he climbed up to mount Olympus (a stunning feat for a newborn) where he received ambrosia and nectar to make him immortal.

A version of the Tantalus myth has the fellow dining at the table of the gods. Tantalus slips some nectar and ambrosia in his toga, and then shares the stuff with his friends on Earth. Not a cool move. Sure you get immortality, but is that really going to help you when Zeus hurls a thunderbolt at your butt?

My first exposure to the stuff (not literally, but in literature) was with the 1904 novel The Food of the Gods and How it Came to Earth by H. G. Wells. In this story these scientists, Bensington and Redwood, create a new chemical food called Herakleophorbia IV, which makes things grow to ginormous size. Being responsible nineteenth century scientists, they feed this stuff to their kids and the result is 40 foot babies. Kind of a weird story, but it falls in line with the Greek myths. The gods and titans were supposed to be gigantic.

The interesting thing I stumbled on was the gods’ blood, or lack thereof. It seems that the Greek gods bleed ichor. I only knew this stuff from Dungeons and Dragons and H. P. Lovecraft, so in my mind, I saw this black oily liquid. However, the ichor of the gods is a golden and resplendent. The theory goes that since the gods do not eat mortal food (food that rots and dies) neither do they. After all, the word ambrosia derives from the root of mbrotos, meaning mortal. Add the prefix “a” prefix to get “not mortal”. The food won’t rot, so neither will the consumer.

So what happens when these immortal gods don’t get their food fix? Well, they can’t die. Instead, the godly ones lie down, breathless, and sleep. They loose all power until they get more ambrosia and nectar.

Now eating (or drinking) ambrosia changes mortals. I’m assuming a human’s blood would transmute to ichor. I don’t know how much you need to ingest. Did Tantalus eat enough? Who’s to say.  After Achilles died, Thetis anointed him with ambrosia to destroy the human side he inherited from his mortal father, Peleus. This implies that simply rubbing the stuff on your skin transforms you, killing your mortality.

Bottom line, you start sipping from the nectar cup, there might be no turning back. It’s like the forbidden apple. One taste is too much. No wonder the gods were irked when someone stole the stuff. There were too many bickering brothers and sisters in Olympus already. Why add a few interlopers?

Ambrosia serves as the ultimate class division between mortals and immortals. Gods have it. Men yearn for it. And no, the recipe for immortality does not include marshmallows.

Tim Kane