The Nile River: The Holder of Ancient Secrets

By Gabrielle Frulla

            The Nile River, the world’s largest river, spanning 4,132 miles, was considered the source of life by ancient Egyptians. Its fertile reputation may have come from The Osiris Myth, a tale of brotherhood and jealousy. The story involves the four gods and goddesses: Isis, Osiris, Set, and Nepthys, and Isis’ determination to resurrect her husband.

            Set, the god of chaos, the desert, storms, disorder, and violence, tricked his brother Osiris, god of fertility, the Lord of the Underworld, and judge of the dead, to lay inside a bejeweled sarcophagus, which would be gifted to whomever fit perfectly inside. Unluckily for Osiris, the it fit him perfectly. The moment Osiris laid down, Set, fueled by hatred towards his more popular and powerful brother, closed the sarcophagus, and threw it into the Nile. Isis, Osiris’ wife, searched for her husband’s body hoping to resurrect him. In doing so, she stumbled upon a group of children playing on the shores of the Nile. The children told her where she could find Osiris’ body, which gave the Egyptians the belief that children possessed the gift of divination[1].

            While Isis searched for Osiris, his body floated down the Nile until it lodged itself in a Byblos tree, which eventually enclosed and disguised the tomb. The king of Byblos had taken a liking to the tree due to its sturdy trunk, and ordered it to be installed as a column in his palace. Upon her arrival to the palace, Isis stayed for a little while and took care of the king’s children, disguised as an old woman. When asked how he could repay her, Isis requested the column. Now that Osiris was safe at home, Osiris’ sister Nepthys, a protective goddess who symbolized the experience of death, stood watch as Isis gathered herbs and other components for the resurrection ritual. It was during this time that Set heard about Osiris’ retrieval, and forced Nepthys to tell him where the body was. Set then hacked Osiris’ remains to pieces, and scattered them about Ancient Egypt. Isis and Nepthys set out to find the remaining pieces of Osiris’ body. When the pair found each body part, they properly buried it, and erected a shrine in his honor. These shrines have been called nomes, the thirty-six territorial divisions of Ancient Egypt. It is said that the one body part of Osiris’ that was never found or properly buried was his genitals. It’s been told that a crocodile ate them, which is where the association of fertility and the Nile, as well as crocodiles, came about. Many thought that should you be eaten by a crocodile, you were fortunate enough to experience a pleasant death [1].

            Ancient Egyptians believed that the Milky Way was considered a mirror image of the Nile, which is where the sun god, Ra, sailed his ship. Ancient Egyptian gods were heavily involved in the lives of the Egyptians, and Hapi, the Nile god, was responsible for annually flooding the river. Thus, came the notion that if the Ancient Egyptian’s pleased the gods then the Nile would flood in return. The brown layer of silt was filled of nutrients, and left on land after it receded back into the river, which helped the Ancient Egyptian farmers cultivate crops [2]. The river, and its overabundance of nutrients, allowed the farmers to grow wheats, beans, and cotton on the banks [2]. The Nile became known as the “Father of Life” because of the abundance of crops grown from the annual floods. From this stems the notion that Isis taught the Egyptians agricultural skills, which helped them develop canals, irrigation, and intricate and sophisticated systems to work the land [1]. Khnum, the god of the source of the Nile, depicted with a ram’s head, controlled the flow, and also sent yearly floods to help the Egyptian’s fertilize the land.

            The Nile River may be the largest river in the world, but it also holds magic and stories that have enchanted people for centuries. Without the Nile River, life would not be able to sustain itself in the dry, hot climate of Northeastern Africa. So long as the Egyptians, and other inhabitants treat the waters of this ancient river with respect, the rains will continue to flood it, and the abundance of food will never cease.

 

References

1. Mark, Joshua J. “Nile.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 10 Apr. 2019, ancient.eu/nile/.

2. https://pages.vassar.edu/realarchaeology/2017/04/09/impact-of-the-nile-river-on-ancient-egypt/



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