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6.7.5a Lucius Apuleius, "Isis, Queen of Heaven" (circa 155 CE)

E. J. Kenny, E.J., Translator.
1998
Book
Apuleius, Lucius. “Isis, the Queen of Heaven.” In Metamorphoses Book 11, translated by E. J. Kenny, 171. London: Penguin Classics, 1998).
The passage you read is from a Roman novel about a man called Lucius who had been transformed into a donkey. After many adventures and misfortunes, Lucius prayed to Isis, who pitied him and changed him back into a human. In the Egyptian religion, Isis was the wife and sister of Osiris, the king of Egypt. The evil god Seth murdered his brother Osiris, cut his body into pieces, and scattered them across Egypt. Isis used her magical powers to collect the pieces and revive her brother-husband Osiris, who then became the king of the Underworld. Isis and Osiris had a son, Horus. The Roman Senate never made the cult of Isis an official part of the Roman state religion, but some Romans had adopted the cult of Isis by the early first century CE. Isis was very compassionate and kind. She could cure the sick, and she also helped the dead enter the afterlife. Isis was a very important goddess and was especially popular among women, poor people, and slaves. Vocabulary godhead: divine nature Providence: divine care and guidance Visual caption for object: This portrait of the goddess Isis shows her wearing an elaborate headdress with pink flowers. The front of her mantle is tied in a knot on her chest. That knot is an attribute — a characteristic or feature — of Isis. When people saw the knot they knew that the painting represented Isis.
In this excerpt from Lucius Apuleius’s novel The Golden Ass, Isis appears to Lucius in all her divine glory and claims to be all goddesses, the Queen of Heaven — the most important of all the gods and goddesses. In traditional Egyptian religion, Isis was the wife and sister of Osiris, the king of Egypt. The evil god Seth murdered his brother Osiris, dismembering his body and scattering the pieces across Egypt. Isis collected the pieces and magically revived her brother-husband Osiris, who became the king of the Underworld and the afterlife. Isis and Osiris (syncretized into Serapis in Ptolemaic Egypt) had a son, Horus (Harpocrates). The cult of Isis was first adopted by the Greeks and then by the Romans, and it spread throughout the vast Roman Empire from modern-day England to Afghanistan by the early first century CE. Isis was a goddess with vast magical powers, including the ability to heal the sick and to help the dead enter a pleasant afterlife. The compassionate goddess and loving mother who promised salvation was especially appealing to women and the lower classes. Many scholars believe that the image of the mother Isis holding the baby Horus influenced Christian Madonna and Child images.
"[Isis says:] I, mother of the universe, mistress of all the elements, first-born of the ages, highest of the gods, queen of the shadows, first of those who dwell in heaven, representing in one shape all gods and goddesses. My will controls the shining heights of heaven, the health-giving sea-winds, and the mournful silences of hell; the entire world worships my single godhead in a thousand shapes, with different rituals, and under many different names.… [but] the Egyptians who excel in ancient learning, honor me with the worship which is truly mine and call me by my true name: Queen Isis. I am here in pity for your misfortunes, I am here with favor and goodwill. Stop now your weeping, put an end to your crying, banish your grief: now by my Providence the day of your release is dawning" (171).