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SETH . In Egyptian mythology Seth figures prominently, usually as a villain. He was the son of Geb and brother of Osiris. Jealous of Osiris' rule of the earth, he tricked and slew him, dismembered his body, and scattered the parts. Isis, the sister of both and consort of Osiris, bore Osiris' son, Horus, who had to avenge the death of his father. According to late mythological stories, the case was judged by the tribunal of gods with some contests that showed that the cleverness of Horus was certainly more than a match for the strength of Seth. From earlier mythical allusions in mortuary texts, it is known that Horus emasculated Seth and lost his eye in the conflict. For his role in this drama, Seth became a symbol for evil, trickery, blundering, and blustering. He was identified with the Mesopotamian storm god and was a supporter of Egypt's Asian enemies.

The animal representation of Seth is readily recognizable from its tall, upright, flat-topped ears and long, upright tail divided at the top, but it is not certainly identifiable. It usually appears to be some sort of hound or jackal, but is occasionally more like a hippopotamus, a pig, or an ass. If one single animal were intended, perhaps it would be a feral hog.

From earliest times there seems to have been some connection between Seth and Ash, a Libyan deity. Even before the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt there were probably shrines to Seth in both south and north. Ombos was his principal cult center, but it has provided almost no information about the god or his cult. He is usually associated with the north, and his defeat by Horus represents the conquest of Lower Egypt (the north) by Upper Egypt (the south). The myth of the conflict between Horus and Seth may also have been associated with a struggle over the right of succession, that from father to son winning out over that from brother to brother.

Apparently Seth was not always an evil figure in Egyptian history. During the second dynasty one king identified himself with Seth rather than Horus, and another identified himself with both gods. Later the kings of the fifteenth and sixteenth dynasties were regarded as Sethian, but this is easily explained by their foreign origin. In the New Kingdom Seth was regularly shown as one of the gods accompanying the sun god, Re, on his bark sailing through the day and night skies. In this case Seth clearly assists Re, and the evil being to be opposed by spells or force is Apopis, the serpent who threatens to devour the sun. In the nineteenth dynasty, not only were divisions of the Egyptian army named for Seth, but two kings also took Sety as their throne name.


Hornung, E. "Seth, Geschichte und Bedeutung eines ägyptischen Gottes." Symbolon (Cologne), N. F. 2 (1974): 4963.

Velde, H. te. Seth, God of Confusion: A Study of His Role in Egyptian Mythology and Religion. Probleme der Ägyptologie, vol. 6. Leiden, 1967.

Leonard H. Lesko (1987)

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