Horus was often the ancient Egyptians' national patron god. He was usually depicted as a falcon-headed man wearing the pschent, or a red and white crown, as a symbol of kingship over the entire kingdom of Egypt.
God of the king, the sky and vengeance
Major cult center Nekhen, Behdet Edfu
Symbol The wedjat eye
Parents Osiris and Isis in some myths, and Nut and Geb in others.
Siblings Anubis (in some accounts) or Osiris, Isis, and Nephthys
Consort Hathor (in one version)

Horus is one of the oldest and most significant deities in the Ancient Egyptian religion, who was worshipped from at least the late Predynastic period through to Greco-Roman times. Different forms of Horus are recorded in history and these are treated as distinct gods by Egyptologists.[1] These various forms may possibly be different perceptions of the same multi-layered deity in which certain attributes or syncretic relationships are emphasized, not necessarily in opposition but complementary to one another, consistent with how the Ancient Egyptians viewed the multiple facets of reality.[2]

The earliest recorded form is Horus the Falcon who was the patron deity of Nekhen in Upper Egypt and who is the first known national god, specifically related to the king who in time came to be regarded as a manifestation of Horus in life and Osiris in death.[1] The most commonly encountered family relationship describes Horus as the son of Isis and Osiris but in another tradition Hathor is regarded as his mother and sometimes as his wife.[1] Horus served many functions in the Egyptian pantheon, most notably being the god of the Sky, god of War and god of Protection.



ḥr "Horus"
in hieroglyphs

Horus is recorded in Egyptian hieroglyphs as ḥr.w and is reconstructed to have been pronounced *Ḥāru, meaning "Falcon". As a description it has also typically been thought of as having the meaning "the distant one" or "one who is above, over".[3] By Coptic times, the name became Hōr. It was adopted into Greek as Ὥρος Hōros. The original name also survives in later Egyptian names such as Har-Si-Ese literally "Horus, son of Isis".

Horus was also sometimes known as Nekheny, meaning "falcon". Some have proposed that Nekheny may have been another falcon-god, worshipped at Nekhen (city of the hawk), but then Horus was identified with him early on. As falcon, Horus may be shown on the Narmer Palette dating from the time of unification of upper and lower Egypt.

Horus and the Pharaoh

Pyramid texts ca. the 25th Century BC describe the nature of the Pharaoh in different characters as both Horus and Osiris. The Pharaoh as Horus in life became the Pharaoh as Osiris in death, where he was united with the rest of the gods. New incarnations of Horus succeeded the deceased pharaoh on earth in the form of new Pharaohs.

The lineage of Horus, the eventual product of unions between the children of Atum, may have been a means to explain and justify Pharaonic power; The gods produced by Atum were all representative of cosmic and terrestrial forces in Egyptian life; by identifying Horus as the offspring of these forces, then identifying him with Atum himself, and finally identifying the Pharaoh with Horus, the Pharaoh theologically had dominion over all the world.

The notion of Horus as the Pharaoh seems to have been superseded by the concept of the Pharaoh as the son of Ra during the Fifth Dynasty of Egypt.[4]

Origin mythology

Horus was born to the goddess Isis after she retrieved all the dismembered body parts of her murdered husband Osiris, except his penis which was thrown into the Nile and eaten by a catfish,[5][6] and used her magic powers to resurrect Osiris and fashion a gold phallus[7] to conceive her son. Once Isis knew she was pregnant with Horus, she fled to the Nile Delta marshlands to hide from her brother Set who jealously killed Osiris and who she knew would want to kill their son.[8] There Isis bore a divine son, Horus.

Mythological roles

G9 N27
rˁ-ḥr-3ḫty "Re-Harachte"
in hieroglyphs
Horus represented in relief with Wadjet and wearing the double crown – temple of Hatshepsut
Horus Falcon Statue from Hatshepsut's temple
Horus relief in the temple of Edfu

Sky god

Horus depicted as a falcon

Since Horus was said to be the sky, he was considered to also contain the sun and moon. It became said that the sun was his right eye and the moon his left, and that they traversed the sky when he, a falcon, flew across it. Thus he became known as HarmertyHorus of two eyes. Later, the reason that the moon was not as bright as the sun was explained by a tale, known as the contestings of Horus and Set, originating as a metaphor for the conquest of Upper Egypt by Lower Egypt in about 3000 BC. In this tale, it was said that Set, the patron of Upper Egypt, and Horus, the patron of Lower Egypt, had battled for Egypt brutally, with neither side victorious, until eventually the gods sided with Horus (see below).

As Horus was the ultimate victor he became known as Harsiesis, Heru-ur or Har-Wer (ḥr.w wr 'Horus the Great'), but more usually translated as Horus the Elder. In the struggle Set had lost a testicle, explaining why the desert, which Set represented, is infertile. Horus' left eye had also been gouged out, which explained why the moon, which it represented, was so weak compared to the sun.

It was also said that during a new-moon, Horus had become blinded and was titled Mekhenty-er-irty (mḫnty r ỉr.ty 'He who has no eyes'). When the moon became visible again, he was re-titled Khenty-irty (ḫnty r ỉr.ty 'He who has eyes').

Horus was occasionally shown in art as a naked boy with a finger in his mouth sitting on a lotus with his mother. In the form of a youth, Horus was referred to as Neferhor. This is also spelled Nefer Hor, Nephoros or Nopheros (nfr ḥr.w) meaning 'The Good Horus'.

Wedjat, eye of Horus

The Eye of Horus is an ancient Egyptian symbol of protection and royal power from deities, in this case from Horus or Ra. The symbol is seen on images of Horus' mother, Isis, and on other deities associated with her.

In the Egyptian language, the word for this symbol was "Wedjat".[9][10] It was the eye of one of the earliest of Egyptian deities, Wadjet, who later became associated with Bast, Mut, and Hathor as well. Wedjat was a solar deity and this symbol began as her eye, an all seeing eye. In early artwork, Hathor is also depicted with this eye.[11] Funerary amulets were often made in the shape of the Eye of Horus. The Wedjat or Eye of Horus is "the central element" of seven "gold, faience, carnelian and lapis lazuli" bracelets found on the mummy of Shoshenq II.[12] The Wedjat "was intended to protect the king [here] in the afterlife"[12] and to ward off evil. Ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern sailors would frequently paint the symbol on the bow of their vessel to ensure safe sea travel.[13]

God of war and hunting

Horus was also said to be a god of war and hunting. The Horus falcon is shown upon a standard on the predynastic Hunters Palette in the "lion hunt".

Thus he became a symbol of majesty and power as well as the model of the pharaohs.[14] The Pharaohs were said to be Horus in human form.

Furthermore Nemty, another war god, was later identified as Horus.[15]

Conqueror of Set

Horus was told by his mother, Isis, to protect the people of Egypt from Set, the god of the desert, who had killed his father Osiris.[16][17][18]

Horus had many battles with Set, not only to avenge his father, but to choose the rightful ruler of Egypt. In these battles, Horus came to be associated with Lower Egypt (where Horus was worshipped), and became its patron.

One scene stated how Horus was on the verge of killing Set; but his mother (and Set's sister), Isis, stopped him. Isis injured Horus, but eventually healed him.[19]

According to Papyrus Chester-Beatty I, Set is depicted as trying to prove his dominance by seducing Horus and then having intercourse with him. However, Horus places his hand between his thighs and catches Set's semen, then subsequently throws it in the river, so that he may not be said to have been inseminated by Set. Horus then deliberately spreads his own semen on some lettuce, which was Set's favorite food. After Set had eaten the lettuce, they went to the gods to try to settle the argument over the rule of Egypt. The gods first listened to Set's claim of dominance over Horus, and call his semen forth, but it answered from the river, invalidating his claim. Then, the gods listened to Horus' claim of having dominated Set, and call his semen forth, and it answered from inside Set.[20][21]

However, Set still refused to relent, and the other gods were getting tired from over eighty years of fighting and challenges. Horus and Set challenged each other to a boat race, where they each raced in a boat made of stone. Horus and Set agreed, and the race started. But Horus had an edge: his boat was made of wood painted to resemble stone, rather than true stone. Set's boat, being made of heavy stone, sank, but Horus's did not. Horus then won the race, and Set stepped down and officially gave Horus the throne of Egypt.[19] But after the New Kingdom, Set still was considered Lord of the desert and its oases.[22]

This myth, along with others, could be seen as an explanation of how the two kingdoms of Egypt (Upper and Lower) came to be united. Horus was seen as the God of Lower Egypt, and Set as the God of Upper Egypt. In this myth, the respective Upper and Lower deities have a fight, through which Horus is the victor. However, some of Horus (representing Lower Egypt) enters into Set (Upper Egypt) thus explaining why Lower Egypt is dominant over Upper Egypt. Set's regions were then considered to be of the desert.

Heru-pa-khered (Horus the Younger)

Horus the Younger, Harpocrates to the Ptolemaic Greeks, is represented in the form of a youth wearing a lock of hair (a sign of youth) on the right of his head. In addition, he usually wears the united crowns of Egypt, the crown of upper Egypt and the crown of lower Egypt. He is a form of the rising sun, representing its earliest light.

Heru-ur (Horus the Elder)

Horus, (Louvre Museum), 'Shen rings' in his grasp

In this form he represented the god of light and the husband of Hathor. He was one of the oldest gods of ancient Egypt. He became the patron of Nekhen (Heirakonpolis) and the first national god (God of the Kingdom). Later, he also became the patron of the pharaohs, and was called the son of truth.[23] – signifying his role as an important upholder of Maat. He was seen as a great falcon with outstretched wings whose right eye was the sun and the left one was the moon. In this form, he was sometimes given the title Kemwer, meaning (the) great black (one).

The Greek form of Heru-ur (or Har wer) is Haroeris. Other variants include Hor Merti 'Horus of the two eyes' and Horkhenti Irti.[24]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "The Oxford Guide: Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology", Edited by Donald B. Redford, Horus: by Edmund S. Meltzer, p164–168, Berkley, 2003, ISBN 0-425-19096-x
  2. ^ "The Oxford Guide: Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology", Edited by Donald B. Redford, p106 & p165, Berkley, 2003, ISBN 0-425-19096-x
  3. ^ Meltzer, Edmund S. (2002). Horus. In D. B. Redford (Ed.), The ancient gods speak: A guide to Egyptian religion (pp. 164). New York: Oxford University Press, USA.
  4. ^ Samuel Noah Kramer. Mythologies of the Ancient World. Quadrangle Books: Chicago, 1961. pp. 35–43
  5. ^ New York Folklore Society (1973). "New York folklore quarterly". 29. Cornell University Press. p. 294. http://books.google.com/books?lr=&cd=4&id=92LYAAAAMAAJ&dq=horus+isis+osiris+penis&q=penis#search_anchor. 
  6. ^ Ian Shaw (2003). The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-815034-2. 
  7. ^ Piotr O. Scholz (2001). Eunuchs and castrati: a cultural history. Markus Wiener Publishers. p. 32. ISBN 1-55876-201-9. http://books.google.com/?id=N90jBg01ZI0C&pg=PA32&dq=horus+isis+osiris+penis&cd=9#v=onepage&q=horus%20isis%20osiris%20penis&f=false. 
  8. ^ Roy G. Willis (1993). World mythology. Macmillan. p. 43. ISBN 0-8050-2701-7. http://books.google.com/?id=ojccFpRU8DwC&pg=PA44&dq=horus&cd=3#v=onepage&q=horus&f=false. 
  9. ^ Pommerening, Tanja, Die altägyptischen Hohlmaße (Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur, Beiheft 10), Hamburg, Helmut Buske Verlag, 2005
  10. ^ M. Stokstad, "Art History"
  11. ^ Lady of the West at hethert.org
  12. ^ a b Silverman, op. cit., p.228
  13. ^ Charles Freeman, The Legacy of Ancient Egypt, Facts on File, Inc. 1997. p.91
  14. ^ Egypt: Gods of Ancient Egypt Main Menu
  15. ^ The Contendings of Horus and Seth
  16. ^ Ancient Egyptian Culture
  17. ^ The Gods of Ancient Egypt – Horus
  18. ^ Ancient Egypt: the Mythology – Horus
  19. ^ a b Mythology, published by DBP, Chapter: Egypt's divine kingship
  20. ^ Theology WebSite: The 80 Years of Contention Between Horus and Set
  21. ^ Fleming, Fergus, and Alan Lothian. The Way to Eternity: Egyptian Myth. Duncan Baird Publishers, 1997. pp. 80–81
  22. ^ Set, God of Confusion, by TeVelde
  23. ^ Heru-ur; Horus the Elder
  24. ^ Patricia Turner, Charles Russell Coulter, Dictionary of ancient deities, 2001

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