On Isis and Osiris


There are some who give the name Typhon to the earth's shadow, into which they believe the moon slips when it suffers eclipse. Hence it is not unreasonable to say that the statement of each person individually is not right, but that the statement of all collectively is right; for it is not drought nor wind nor sea nor darkness, but everything harmful and destructive that Nature contains, which is to be set down as a part of Typhon. The origins of the universe are not to be placed in inanimate bodies, according to the doctrine of Democritus and Epicurus, nor yet is the Artificer of undifferentiated matter, according to the Stoic doctrine, one Reason, and one Providence which gains the upper hand and prevails over all things. The fact is that it is impossible for anything bad whatsoever to be engendered where God is the Author of all, or anything good where God is the Author of nothing; for the concord of the universe, like that of a lyre or bow, according to Heraclitus, is resilient if disturbed; and acco rding to Euripides,

The good and bad cannot be kept apart,
But there is some commingling, which is well.

Wherefore this very ancient opinion comes down from writers on religion and from lawgivers to poets and philosophers; it can be traced to no source, but it carried a strong and almost indelible conviction, and is in circulation in many places among barbarians and Greeks alike, not only in story and tradition but also in rites and sacrifices, to the effect that the universe is not of itself suspended aloft without sense or reason or guidance, nor is there one Reason which rules and guides it by rudders, as it were, or by controlling reins, but, inasmuch as Nature brings, in this life of ours, many experiences in which both evil and good are commingled, or better, to put it very simply, Nature brings nothing which is not combined with something else, we may assert that it is not one keeper of two great vases who, after the manner of a barmaid, deals out to us our failures and successes in mixture, but it has come about, as the result of two which guides us along a straight course to the right, while the other turns us aside and backward, that our life is complex, and so also is the universe; and if this is not true of the whole of it, yet it is true that this terrestrial universe, including its moon as well, is irregular and variable and subject to all manner of changes. For it is the law of Nature that nothing comes into being without a cause, and if the good cannot provide a cause for evil, then it follows that evil, just as she contains the source and origin of good.

The great majority and the wisest of men hold this opinion: they believe that there are two gods, rivals as it were, the one the Artificer of good and the other of evil. There are also those who call the better one a god and the other a demon, as, for example, Zoroaster the Magus, who, they record, lived five thousand years before the time of the Trojan War. He called the one Ahura Mazda and the other Ahriman; and he further declared that among all the things perceptible to the senses, Ahura Mazda may best be compared to light, and Ahriman, conversely, to darkness and ignorance, and midway between the two is Mithras; for this reason the Persians give to Mithras the name of "Mediator". Zoroaster has also taught that men should make votive offerings and thank-offerings to Ahura Mazda, and averting and mourning offerings to Ahriman. They pound up in mortar a certain plant called Haoma, at the same time invoking Hades and Darkness; then they mix it with blood of a wolf that has been sacrificed, and carry it out and cast it into a place where the sun never shines. In fact, they believe that some of the plants belong to the good god and others to the evil demon; so also of the animals they think that dogs, fowls, and hedgehogs, for example, belong to the good god, but that water-rats belong to the evil one; therefore the man who has killed the most of these they hold to be fortunate.

However, they also tell many fabulous stories about their gods, such, for example, as the following: Ahura Mazda, born from the purest light, and Ahriman, born from the darkness, are constantly at war with each other; and Ahura Mazda created six gods, the first of Good Thought, the second of Truth, the third of Order, and, of the rest, one of Wisdom, one of Wealth, and one the Artificer of Pleasure in what is Honourable. But Ahriman created rivals, as it were, equal to these in number. Then Ahura Mazda enlarged himself to thrice his former size, and removed himself as far distant from the Sun as the Sun is distant from the Earth, and adorned the heavens with stars. One star he set there before all others as a guardian and watchman, the Dog-star. Twenty-four other gods he created and placed in an egg. But those created by Ahriman, who were equal in number to the others, pierced through the egg and made their way inside; hence evils are now combined with good. But a destined time shall come when it is d ecreed that Ahriman, engaged in bringing on pestilence and famine, shall by these be utterly annihilated and shall disappear; and then shall the earth become a level plain, and there shall be one manner of life and one form of government for a blessed people shall all speak one tongue. Theopompus says that, according to the Magi, one god is to overpower, and the other to be overpowered, each in turn for the space of three thousand years, and afterward for another three thousand years they shall fight and war, and the one shall undo the works of the other, and finally Hades shall pass away; then shall the people be happy, and neither shall they need to have food nor shall they cast any shadow. And the god, who has contrived to bring about all these things, shall then have quiet and shall repose for a time, no long time indeed, but for the god as much as would be a moderate time for a man to sleep.

Such then, is the character of the mythology of the Magi. The Chaldeans declare that of the planets, which they call tutelary gods, two are beneficent, two maleficent, and the other three are median and partake of both qualities. The beliefs of the Greeks are well known to all; they make the good part belong to Olympian Zeus and the abominated part to Hades, and they rehearse a legend that Concord is sprung from Aphrodite and Ares, the one of whom is harsh and contentious, and the other mild and tutelary.