After he had killed Osiris and ascended to Egypt’s throne, Seth expected to reign for a very long time. As it turned out, however, he was sorely mistaken.
Seth had not reckoned on the birth of Horus or foreseen that this son of his brother Osiris and his sister Isis would come to challenge his uncle for mastery of the lands of the Nile.
Indeed, this is exactly the course of action Horus pursued when he grew old enough. First, he summoned the gods of the sacred Ennead, along with a number of other deities, and asked them to sit in judgment, reviewing his claim for the throne that had once belonged to his father.
One of these deities was his mother, Isis, who over the years had protected her son from Seth and patiently watched the boy grow into a handsome, adult god.
Standing before the other gods, Horus retold the story of how Seth had cruelly slain Osiris and unjustly usurped the kingship. Then, having made his case, Horus demanded that he be allowed to take his rightful place on the throne.
All the gods were impressed by his powers of oratory. And many immediately accepted his claim, agreeing that it would be only right for a king’s son to inherit his titles and property. "Indeed," the wise Thoth exclaimed, "Horus's claim to the throne is so right that he could make that claim a million times and it would be just as right each and every time!"
Isis was so overjoyed at hearing this pronouncement that she began instructing the north wind to carry the good news straight to Osiris in the Underworld.
Suddenly, a hush fell over the meeting. Ra, the sun god, and Seth, who alone among the gods did not approve of Horus's claim to the throne, stood up to speak. "I feel pity for poor Horus," said Ra. "It is a shame he lost his father and the kingship. But when I look at the two claimants for the throne, I see that Seth is clearly the stronger of the two, and I believe that the strongest should be king."
Everyone present was greatly surprised at Ra's remarks. They were not nearly as surprised, however, when Seth delivered this dare: "If Horus wants to challenge me, let him fight me before the assembled gods. I will easily destroy this puny upstart!"
The Judgment of Neith
"Now, wait just a moment," Thoth objected. "I say that Seth's claim is not legal, since Osiris's rightful heir, Horus, lives and is making his valid claim before us at this very moment." But Thoth's wisdom could not sway Ra from his support for Seth, and the disagreement created an impasse that lasted a full eighty years.
Finally the gods agreed to have Thoth, who was the divine scribe, write a letter to the old mother-goddess Neith, to ask for her opinion. It was not long before Neith's answer arrived: "To allow Seth to keep the throne would be an offense against justice," Neith wrote. "You must give Horus what is rightfully his, or else the sky will come crashing down!"
But though she sided with Horus, Neith felt it would not be quite fair to leave Seth with nothing. "Give two of Ra's daughters, Anat and Astarte, to Seth as his wives," she advised. "That should help to compensate him for his loss."
Just about everyone thought Neith's suggestions were fair. But once again, Ra dissented. Thinking he had every right, as the chief god, to throw his weight around, the disgruntled sun god began insulting Horus to his face. "You are nothing but a pathetic little weakling," Ra bellowed. "How can you have the audacity to claim the throne of a great land like Egypt?" These insulting remarks made the other gods angry. And the baboon-headed god, Baba, spoke for everyone when he stood up to Ra and said, "Your shrine is empty!"
Ra was shocked because he knew what Baba's words meant - namely that no one took him, the great sun-god, seriously anymore. Suddenly, like a little boy who sulks when he cannot get his way, Ra retreated into his tent and refused to come out or even to speak to anyone.
This, in turn, made the other gods feel uneasy, for they worried that Ra might stop sailing his boat of light across the skies, and that would undoubtedly upset nature's balance.
Seth’s Threats, Isis’s Trickery
Luckily, another of Ra's daughters, Hathor, thought of a way to brighten her father's mood. She began dancing and singing and stripping off her clothes. To act this way at such a serious moment appeared so silly that it made everyone laugh and applaud.
Ra heard the commotion, peeked outside his tent to see what was going on, and could not help but laugh himself. His good mood restored, he called for Horus and Seth to step forward and make their respective cases for the kingship once again.
This time, however, the dispute became increasingly heated. First, Seth claimed that he was the logical choice because, as Ra had said before, he, Seth, was the strongest. Seth said: "Each day when Ra sails his boat below the horizon, he travels through the Underworld. Sometimes the evil snake-god, Apophis, attacks the boat and tries to kill Ra. Only I, protector of the gods, with my
mighty scepter, can save him."
Many of the gods had to admit that Seth had a point. However, Thoth continued to argue that it would be more lawful to award the throne to Horus. In addition, Isis made an impassioned speech on behalf of her son that seemed to make most of the gods sympathize with Horus.
Livid with rage, Seth roared, "You sniveling cowards! I will teach you the hard way who is the strongest god of all! If you refuse to give in to my demands, I will use my scepter to beat one of you to death each day until you do! Furthermore, I will never recognize the decision of any court of which Isis is a part."
"Very well," said Ra. "We will move our proceedings and continue deliberating the matter on one of the Nile islands. And I will order Nemty, the ferryman, not to allow any woman who resembles Isis to cross over to the island." Then the gods proceeded to move their court, as Ra had ordered.
With ease, she disguised herself as an old woman and offered Nemty, the ferryman, a gold ring if he would but row her across. Completely fooled, he did as she asked.
Once on the Nile island, Isis changed her appearance again, this time into a beautiful young woman. When she saw Seth approaching, she pretended to cry. "What is wrong, my pretty young thing?" Seth inquired. "Can I possibly help you?"
"I hope so," she answered. "My husband, a herdsman, recently died, and my son, as is the law and custom, took charge of his cattle. But then an arrogant stranger came, kicked my son out, and claimed our cattle for himself."
"The scoundrel!" said Seth indignantly. "Fear not, my dear. I will see that this man is punished and that your son regains his rightful inheritance."
"Ha ha, just as I thought!" Isis screamed, as she turned herself into a kite and flew to the top of a nearby tree. "You have just condemned yourself, Seth, for the case I cited was completely identical to the one you are disputing with my son, Horus!"
Seth’s blunder cost him greatly. The gods, who had been watching the exchange, finally decided in Horus's favor, and soon the son of Osiris felt the white crown of Egypt being placed on his head.
Still, Seth would not accept the verdict of the divine court. "If you are truly worthy of the kingship," he told Horus, "you must be able to meet and overcome all challengers. Therefore, I challenge you to meet me in mortal combat. And the winner shall be Egypt’s king!"
Eager to prove himself, Horus accepted his uncle's dare, and a series of fantastic and dangerous battles ensued. In the first, the two gods transformed themselves into huge hippopotamuses and plunged into the deep river, where their battle sent great waves crashing over the riverbanks.
Attempting to aid her son, Isis quickly fashioned a copper harpoon and, hoping to kill Seth with
the weapon, sent it hurtling into the water. Unfortunately, however, it hit Horus instead! After using her magic powers to remove the harpoon from her son, Isis threw it again, and this time she managed to spear Seth.
"For pity's sake," wailed Seth, as he surfaced, bleeding, "I am your brother! Surely you wouldn't kill your own brother, would you?" Isis thought this was a strange thing for Seth to say, considering that earlier he had killed his own brother, Osiris.
Yet she took pity on Seth anyway and pulled the harpoon out. Her sparing of Seth angered Horus so much that he lost his temper, cut off his mother's head, and strode off into the mountains. The other gods were horrified by this act, and Ra vowed that Horus would be punished. First, they restored Isis to her familiar form, and then they went looking for Horus.
As it turned out, Seth was the first to find Horus, who lay sleeping under a tree. Wasting no time, Seth jumped on his nephew, gouged out his eyes, and buried them in the desert. Once more, a sympathetic goddess intervened on Horus's behalf.
This time it was the lovely sky-goddess Hathor, who rubbed his empty eyesockets with milk from a gazelle, which made his eyes grow back. With Horus restored to his old self, it was not long before he and Seth were at each other's throats again.
Finally, after many more contests and fights, Osiris, lord of the Underworld, settled the dispute once and for all. In a letter to the divine court, he said, "You should not have denied my son his rightful inheritance, and you must give it to him immediately. Do not be foolish enough to defy my will; for there are terrible serpents and other creatures I can let loose to ravage the earth's surface; moreover, consider that even you, the gods, must eventually sink below the horizon into my realm, where you will then be under my power and susceptible to my wrath."
These threats made all the gods, including the mighty Ra, think twice. So they restored Horus as king of Egypt. And even after his reign had ended, he remained on the throne, in a very real sense, forever, as a force inhabiting every living pharaoh. As for Seth, Ra took him into the sky. Ever since, Seth's voice has been frequently heard in the form of thunder.
Label: Egyptian mythology