Horus vs. Seth: Homosexuality, Hippos and Familial Violence

The Egyptian myth described in The Contendings of Horus and Seth is as graphic as it is bizarre.

The young falcon-headed god Horus battles his canine-headed evil uncle Seth to become pharaoh of Egypt

The young falcon-headed god Horus battles his canine-headed evil uncle Seth to become pharaoh of Egypt

Osiris ruled as pharaoh of Egypt with his sister-wife Isis, bringing peace and prosperity to the land. But his brother, Seth (or Set), became insanely jealous, and, drowned Osiris in the Nile after tricking him into a perfectly fitted coffin.

The story of how he chopped his brother into pieces, which Isis hunted down to reassemble, is a tale for another blog post. This one deals with the power struggle that ensued between the two contenders for the throne: the murderous Seth and Osiris’ son, the falcon-headed Horus. The story is told in the Chester Beatty Papyrus No. 1, The Contendings of Horus and Seth, which dates back to the early Middle Kingdom (2040-1674 BCE). The myth most likely has origins even earlier than that.

Be warned: Parts of this twisted tale get quite graphic.

Seth argues that Horus cannot be king because his breath stinks — an allusion to Horus breastfeeding from his mother, Isis, and a dig at his youth

Seth argues that Horus cannot be king because his breath stinks — an allusion to Horus breastfeeding from his mother, Isis, and a dig at his youth

The Battle to Become Pharaoh of Egypt

As the son of Osiris, Horus presented his claim to the throne to a tribunal of three of the most powerful deities in the Egyptian pantheon: Re, the god of the sun; Thoth, the god of wisdom; and Shu, the god of air.

Thoth and Shu declared Horus the rightful ruler of Egypt, but Re argued that Seth was more powerful and therefore deserved the throne.

“The throne is mine by virtue of my strength,” canine-headed Seth said. “‘Let Horus prove that he is better than I, and he can have the throne!”

“Challenge me to what you will. I will prove you the weaker!” Horus declared.

Much like the shapeshifting Egyptian gods Horus and Seth, these hippos battle for dominance

Much like the shapeshifting Egyptian gods Horus and Seth, these hippos battle for dominance

Hippos Holding Their Breath

Seth decided that the first feat of strength would be to have them both turn into a hippopotamus and sit on the bottom of the Nile. The first to come up for air would lose.

Isis, desperately wanting her son to be pharaoh, magically created a copper harpoon, which she threw into the water. Her aim was off, though, and she hit Horus instead of Seth. She then hurled another harpoon, and this one hit Seth. But the injured god appealed to Isis as her brother and she caved and helped him. Horus, enraged, emerged from the water. He wasn’t worried about losing the first challenge — he was focused on taking revenge on his mother for what he felt was a betrayal. Horus cut off Isis’ head, carried it up a mountain and tossed it away. Talk about mommy issues!

Thoth picks up Isis’ head and reunites it with her body.

Seth really liked salad — only that wasn’t ranch dressing on it!

Seth really liked salad — only that wasn’t ranch dressing on it!

Homosexual Incest and Semen-Covered Lettuce

Tired from decapitating his mother, Horus went to sleep on the mountaintop. Seth snuck up and gouged out his nephew’s eyes, burying them in the ground. Overnight, they grew into lotuses. Taking pity on the blinded boy, the cow-headed goddess Hathor came to Horus’ aid, pouring gazelle milk on his wounds and restoring his sight.

The judges wanted the two gods to make amends. They reconciled, but Seth decided to seduce his nephew.

Seth wasn’t discriminate in his liaisons. In the world of Ancient Egypt, there wasn’t any real conception of homosexuality. What mattered was who was the top (that is, who was doing the penetrating), as that proved dominance over the other person.

Now afterward, [at] evening time, bed was prepared for them, and they both lay down. But during the night, Seth caused his phallus to become stiff and inserted it between Horus’ thighs. Then Horus placed his hands between his thighs and received Seth’s semen. Horus went to tell his mother Isis: “Help me, Isis, my mother, come and see what Seth has done to me.” And he opened his hand[s] and let her see Seth’s semen.

She let out a loud shriek, seized the copper [knife], cut off his hand[s] that were equivalent. Then she fetched some fragrant ointment and applied it to Horus’ phallus. She caused it to become stiff and inserted it into a pot, and he caused his semen to flow down into it.

So to sum this up: Seth thought he was fucking his nephew up the ass — but he actually shot his load into Horus’ hands. When young Horus showed his mother, Isis, what had happened, she cut off her son’s hands, and then got him hard and jerked him off into a jar. Not quite a Disney movie.

Isis and Horus tossed Seth’s semen into the marshes of the Nile and devised a plan to deceive Seth:

Isis at morning time went carrying the semen of Horus to the garden of Seth and said to Seth’s gardener: “What sort of vegetable is it that Seth eats here in your company?” So the gardener told her: “He doesn’t eat any vegetable here in my company except lettuce.” And Isis added the semen of Horus onto it. Seth returned according to his daily habit and ate the lettuce, which he regularly ate. Thereupon he became pregnant with the semen of Horus.

Seth approached the tribunal and declared with confidence, “Let me be awarded the office of Ruler … for as to Horus, the one who is standing [trial], I have performed the labor of a male against him.”

This drawing on a shard of pottery shows that even Ancient Egyptians had a gay old time

This drawing on a shard of pottery shows that even Ancient Egyptians had a gay old time

Semen Calling

Horus spoke up: “All that Seth has said is false. Let Seth’s semen be summoned that we may see from where it answers, and my own be summoned that we may see from where it answers.”

Thoth put his hand on Horus’ shoulder and said, “Come out, you semen of Seth.” It answered him instead from the marsh along the Nile.

The god then put his hand on Seth’s shoulder and said, “Come out, you semen of Horus.” Because it had been ingested with the lettuce leaves, it answered from inside Seth’s stomach.

Deeming itself too important to flow out of Seth’s ear, the divine seed emerged from his head in the form of gold disk. Thoth snatched it and put it upon his own head.

At some point, Horus and Seth seem to have made up, for here they are both adoring Ramses

At some point, Horus and Seth seem to have made up, for here they are both adoring Ramses

The Stone Ship Race

Despite this damning evidence, Seth somehow convinces the trio of judges to stage one more contest: a race of stone ships down the Nile. That didn’t seem like the wisest choice, since Seth’s boat sunk instantly. But Horus’ floated along the water — for he had tricked everyone by making his boat out of pine and covering it in gypsum, a sort of plaster, so that it looked like it was made of stone.

In a rage, Seth turned into a hippo again and bashed his head into Horus’ ship. It came apart in splinters, exposing the young god’s deceit.

This back and forth had now gone on for 80 years. Seeking a final verdict, the judges decided to appeal to Osiris, who now ruled the underworld. Not surprisingly, Osiris argues that his son, Horus, deserves to be pharah, and Seth, in chains as a prisoner, finally concedes. –Wally