Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris: „Osiris, Sunken Mysteries of Egypt”

Head of a priest, Ptolemaic Period, Alexandria east harbor, Egypt. Black granite. The skull is probably shaved as was the habit of priests for reasons of cleanliness. The cheekbones are marked and the cheeks hollow; he wears the mark of scarification of the priests on his forehead; the now hollow eyes were probably inlaid. A highly realistic portrait of a man ripe in years whose expression evokes thoughtfulness, silence, and contemplation.

„Osiris, Sunken Mysteries of Egypt”, a landmark exhibition of over 250 antiquities, will open at the Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute) in Paris until January 31st, 2015. On display will be a selection of objects drawn largely from the last ten years of the underwater excavations by the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM) in Aboukir Bay, directed by Franck Goddio who is the curator of this exhibit. The pieces found will be supplemented by 40 objects from museums in Cairo and Alexandria, some of which have never been seen outside Egypt.

Bronze statue of Osiris’ deity found in Aboukir bay.

Together, these artefacts illustrate the „legend of Osiris”, one of the great founding myths of ancient Egypt: Osiris, son of Earth and Heaven, was killed by his brother Seth, who cut his body into 14 pieces and then threw him into the Nile. Isis, Osiris’ sister-wife, magically restored his body, brought him back to life and conceived their son Horus. Osiris became the Master of the Afterlife and Horus, after defeating Seth, received Egypt as his inheritance.

The reawakening of Osiris, Egyptian Museum, Cairo. The warmly colored gneiss sculpture from the 26th dynasty shows the rising god returning to life. His face of timeless beauty expresses serenity and the full certitude of youth renewed. He bears the crown called „tcheni” (the word meaning „to lift”, to „raise”), a headdress often associated with the rising sun, made of gold, electrum and bronze.

The Decree of Canopus – a stele of 238 BC discovered in 1881 at Kom el-Hisn – tells us that ceremonies celebrating the „Mysteries of Osiris” were performed in the Great Temple of Amun-Gereb in Thonis-Heracleion, just as they were in most of the cities of Egypt. According to the text on the stele, these mysteries culminated in a long water procession, transporting Osiris along canals from the temple of Amun-Gereb in Thonis-Heracleion to his shrine in the city of Canopus.

Fragment of the Naos of the Decades, Nectanebo I, 30th dynasty, Canopus, Aboukir Bay, Egypt, discovered by divers of the European Institute of Underwater Archaeology. This unique monument links the observation of the position of the stars and their constellations to their possible good or bad influence.Under Franck Goddio’s leadership, the specialists of underwater-archeology discovered the two cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus in Aboukir Bay, 38 kilometers north-east of Alexandria. There they found the remains of temples mentioned in the Decree that have been submerged since the 8th century AD.

Excavations at these sites brought to evidence directly related to the „Mysteries of Osiris”: monuments, statues, ritual instruments, cult offerings etc., testimonies of the celebrations that were performed there. During the 21 days of this celebration the founding legend of Egypt was commemorated, perpetuated and revived.

Base of a column, Thonis-Heracleion, Aboukir Bay, Egypt An archaeologist measures in situ the foot of a column discovered at the site of the temple of Amun-Gereb of Thonis-Heracleion.

At the Institut du Monde Arabe the celebrations and rituals that were carried out in the utmost secrecy of the temples will be revealed to visitors. They will be guided through the 1,100 square meters to the submerged sites of the two cities and can follow the water processions along the canals.

Institut du Monde Arabe: „Osiris, Sunken Mysteries of Egypt

European Institute of Underwater Archaeology

Franck Goddio

Photos: Christoph Gerigk © Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation

Source: Institut du Monde Arabe

The goddess Thoueris, Egyptian Museum, Cairo, polished greywacke. The statue dates from the 26th dynasty 664-525 B.C.), and shows the goddess as a hippopotamus standing on lion's paws; her drooping breasts and rounded belly symbolize maternity and fecundity. She was the goddess who lived in the Nile, associated to the black silt fertilizing the earth. The goddess, a form of Nut, was the universal mother of Osiris.The wedjat-eye of Horus, Ptolemaic Period, Thonis-Heracleion, Aboukir Bay, Egypt. This pendant amulet is the image of the eye of the falcon god Horus, son of Osiris, wounded by his uncle the god Seth, and healed by the powers of the ibis god Thoth. The wedjat, or full eye, is also the symbol of the full moon whose disk becomes a full circle over the course of 14 days, and the symbol of the reconstitution of the body of Osiris, hacked into 14 parts (for the 14 days of the waxing moon). The eye of Horus, symbol of the healing of wounds and the reconstitution of the body is an extremely widespread and popular amulet.