The mysteries of Osiris

Exhibition in the Arab World Institute, in Paris, reveals the submerged secrets of Ancient Egypt with an assembly of objects found in cities swallowed by waters and will be open until January 31st.

Alexandre Rocha

 Paris – The land sank at the Nile Delta and part of the treasures of Ancient Egypt ended up at the bottom of the Mediterranean. Centuries at the mercy of natural phenomena, including earthquakes, resulted in large monuments of Alexandria, for instance, being swallowed by waters. More than this, whole cities went under the water. However, underwater archeology, allowed the recovery of a considerable number of artifacts and brought to light lesser known fragments of the Egyptian history.

It’s this submerged world that is covered by the exhibition Osiris, submerged misteries of Egypt, open until January 31st at the Arab World Institute (IMA, in the French acronym), in Paris, France, which assembled discoveries made by the team of French archeologist Franck Goddio, also the commissioner of the exhibition, in addition to objects from museums in Cairo and Alexandria.

The exhibition revolves around the cult to the Osiris god and cover, mainly, the end of the Pharaonic period and the centuries of Greek and Roman domination.

The majority of the pieces were taken from the ruins of cities Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, both swallowed by the waters at 7th century A.D. in the Bay of Aboukir, near Alexandria. These places celebrated the ceremony Misteries of Osiris, which lasted 21 days, every year.

 The exhibition tells the story of how this celebration was held and the importance it had for the local people, so much so that it kept being organized for centuries after the decline of the pharaohs.

The legend of Osiris is one of the founding myths of Ancient Egypt. Son of the Sky and the Earth, and a king among men, the god was killed by his brother, Set, and had his body dismembered in 14 parts, which were spread out across Egypt. Isis, his wife and sister, assembled the parts, restored the body and, with the help of her sister, Nephthys, and the jackal god Anubis, executed the mummification ritual.

Osiris defeats death, resurrect and gives humanity the promise of eternal life, becoming the ruler of the beyond. The god is considered the first mummy and he is represented in carvings and statues as such. Fruit of the posthumous union between Osiris and Isis, Horus becomes the legitimate king of Egypt.

The Misteries of Osiris ceremony took place across Egypt and, in the case of the exhibition’s artifacts, ended with a long procession on the Nile that transported the god’s image from the temple of Amun, in Thonis-Heracleion, to its sanctuary, in Canopus. The ruins of the two cities were discovered in 1998 by the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM, in the French acronym), headed by Franck Goddio.

 The exhibition draws parallels between the Osiris legend with other ancient religions, especially the Greek and Roman beliefs, and highlights the importance of Egyptian mythology in the culture of the people that occupied the country after the end of the Pharaonic period.

Among the artifacts found at the bottom of the sea, the highlights are the colossal statue of fertility, represented by an androginous masculine figure identified as the god Hapi; the Thonis-Heracleion Stele, a granite plaque covered by hieroglyphics, which in fact is a custom document issued by pharao Nactabebo I (380-362 B.C.); statues of Osiris, Isis breastfeeding and Horus as a child; and images of Serapis, god that symbolizes the religious syncretism in the Greek-Roman Egypt , since it representes the union between Osiris and the Apis bull, worshiped by Greeks and Romans.

From the pieces that came from Egyptian museums, the highlights are the mummified statue of Osiris inside a sarcophagus, made of sludge and sprouted grains, one of the images used in the annual ceremonies; the sculpture of the god laying down with Isis, with Isis taking the form of a bird and at his genital area; the statue The Awakening of Osiris, which represents the god in the moment of his resurrection; the statue of the goddess Thoueris, with hippopotamus head and lion paws; and the life-size sculpture of the Apis bull, found at the Serapeum in Alexandria.

The decoration of the exhibition seeks to create and submerged environment and, in addition to the artifacts, there are videos and pictures of the underwater explorations.

Osiris, submerged mysteries of Egypt
Open until January 31st, 2016
From Tuesdays to Thursdays, from 10 AM to 7 PM; Fridays, from 10 AM to 9:30 PM; Saturdays and Sundays, from 10 AM to 8 PM. Closed on Mondays.
Tickets: EUR 15.5. Check out other options in the exhibtion’s website
Place: Institut du Monde Arabe, 1 Rue des Fossés-Saint-Bernard, Place Mohammed V, Paris, França
Phone: +33 1 4051-3838

Further information

Arab World Institute:

Franck Goddio:

*Translated by Sérgio Kakitani

Alexandre Rocha

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