The Egyptian myth described in The Contendings of Horus and Seth is as graphic as it is bizarre.
Osiris ruled as pharaoh of Egypt with his sister-wife Isis, bringing peace and prosperity to the land. But his elder brother, Seth (or Set), became insanely jealous and led Osiris to a watery death 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.
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: the sun god Ra (aka Re); Thoth, the god of wisdom; and Shu, the god of air.
Thoth and Shu declared Horus the rightful ruler of Egypt, but Ra argued that Seth was more powerful and therefore deserved the throne.
“The throne is mine by virtue of my strength,” 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.
Hippos Holding Their Breath
Seth decided that the first feat of strength would be to have them both turn into hippopotami 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. Realizing this, she pulled free the harpoon and cast it back into the water. This time it sunk into the body of 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!
Fear not, though: Thoth picked up Isis’ head and reunited it with her body.
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 did reconcile, but the wily 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 (the one 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 intended to humiliate his nephew by fucking him up the ass — but Horus secretly caught Seth’s semen in his hands. When young Horus showed his mother, Isis, what had happened, she cut off her son’s hands, aroused him and jerked him off into a jar. Not quite a Disney movie.
Isis then tossed Seth’s semen into the marshes of the Nile and devised a plan to deceive him:
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.”
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, where Isis had dumped it.
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 a golden solar disk. Thoth snatched it away and placed it as a crown upon his own head.
The Stone Ship Race
Despite this damning evidence, Seth somehow convinced 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 once again transformed into a hippopotamus 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 argued that his son, Horus, deserved to be pharaoh, and Seth, in chains as a prisoner, finally conceded. –Wally