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The myth of Osiris in the ancient Egyptian pyramid texts: a study in narrative myth

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posted on 02.03.2017, 01:33 by Stewart, David
This thesis intervenes in the longstanding debate concerning the late development of myth in ancient Egypt by testing the notion that a myth is essentially narrative, and by challenging the belief that during the Old Kingdom, narrative myth only existed in the oral sphere, if at all. It does so by investigating the appearance and use of the myth of Osiris in the Pyramid Texts. Focussing on the form that mythic thought took during the Old Kingdom, it examines how this was actualised in the royal mortuary literature. This thesis argues that the unhelpful divergence of scholarship on myth, conceptualising it as either narrative, following a sequential or coherent pattern, or non-narrative, as a network of associations and connections between gods, is a result of scholars’ adherence to narrow definitions of myth. The multifaceted nature of myth prevents the effective use of definitions to delineate its conceptual borers. Through a contextualising approach, this thesis looks beyond a definition as a primary analytical tool. This study has three major directions of investigation. The first is the collection, translation and analysis of the core material relating to the Osiris myth. The emphasis of this aspect of the study is on the relationships between deities, which comprise the building blocks of the mythic ideas in the Pyramid Texts. The second direction of this study involves the idea of the fluidity of the Egyptian pantheon; that different gods could undertake the same roles within the actions or events of the myth. This facet of the study will test the idea that before a canon was set, mythic ideas were fluid and subject to variation. The spatial and temporal patterns of distribution comprise the third course of analysis in this study, aimed at developing a deeper understanding of the interplay between text and monument. This thesis demonstrates that a low level of narrativity in the Pyramid Texts does not preclude the existence of a narrative mythic structure. Variability is shown to be an operative force in the Pyramid Texts, which prioritise the inclusion of different traditions over their exclusion, without concern for strict coherence. The way in which individuals chose to arrange the texts informs us about their religious priorities. The increased incorporation of the myth, reflected in the spatial and temporal distribution of the texts, shows the changing religio-political landscape of the Old Kingdom, as the Heliopolitan priesthood rose in prominence. Myth emerges from this thesis as an ever changing phenomenon, subject to the ebbs and flows of social, religious and political currents. If we are to understand its complexity we must situate it in its cultural and temporal milieu.


Principal supervisor

Colin Hope

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

School of Philosophical, Historical & International Studies

Additional Institution or Organisation

Centre for Ancient Cultures


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts